Chemistry Undergraduate Overview
The faculty of the Department of Chemistry, through courses and research opportunities, provides a nurturing but challenging environment for students pursuing undergraduate degrees in chemistry. Undergraduate students in our department typically take a total of 45 credits in chemistry courses for a B.S. degree and 36 credits for a B.A. degree. The courses offered range from general chemistry, to the two-semester sequence of organic chemistry and more advanced courses in physical, organic and inorganic chemistry. Many students also choose to do research, as hands-on laboratory experience is vital in the development of a chemist. When graduating from our department, undergraduate students follow diverse paths, such as working for the chemical industry or going to graduate and medical school.
Which degree in chemistry is right for you, the B.A. or the B.S.?
The major that works best for you depends mostly on what careers you are thinking about. If you are considering going to medical school than the B.S. in chemistry on the medicinal chemistry track might be right for you. If you do not know yet if you wish to go to medical school, or the medical side of chemistry is not your primary focus and you wish to develop a different focus, consider the ACS-recognized B.S. in chemistry. The B.S. in chemistry provides paths to narrow your interests.
If you are considering double majoring in another department, or just want a more general education in chemistry, then the B.A. in chemistry is right for you. With fewer required courses, you have more time to explore chemistry course offerings and discuss your options with your advisor or faculty mentor.
If you have strong interests in the biological side of chemistry, then a biochemistry major might be best for you. Realize, however, that majoring in chemistry does not mean that you cannot go to graduate school in biochemistry or vice versa. You may have an easier time with course requirements and with beginning research if your undergraduate major is in the same subject, but this sort of crossover is very common.
According to admissions data and statistics compiled by the American Association of Medical Schools, chemistry and biochemistry majors are very competitive candidates for, and have high rates of admission to, medical school.
Bachelor’s Degree with Distinction
A new development is the Degree in Chemistry with Distinction. To receive this degree, a student must graduate with a 3.4 GPA (both overall and in chemistry) and complete a thesis describing a significant research project.
For some people, the experience of doing research can be as important to their education as their classes. Undergraduate research allows you to see how chemistry is really 'done'. This can be pivotal, preparing you for later opportunities, making you more interesting to employers and graduate schools, and helping you to know whether a research-based career is what you want. Starting early - as a sophomore or junior (or even as a first-year student) is great if you can arrange it in your schedule! What you can learn in a single semester of research is expanded in a longer research project.
How do you go about doing research? It doesn't happen on its own. It depends on your initiative. You should first review the department's faculty and research pages. Look for the types of projects that sound interesting to you. Make a list of faculty whom you might like to work with, and start contacting them by phone, email, or knocking on doors. You will likely find some who are unable to take another student. Working with someone new in the lab takes time! If you cannot set something up right away, you probably will be able to make arrangements for the next semester. You will get credit for the research that you do, usually as CHE 450.
Students need to fill out a Research Proposal Form in order to receive credit for CHE 450/BCM 460.
Other departmental research opportunities exist in the summer, for which you will generally be paid (rather than earn credit).
Our department is also home to an NSF REU program, in which about 21 students, including a few SU students, do research for ten weeks for a stipend. Many such REU programs exist, supported by the National Science Foundation, and these offer great research experiences.
What can I do with my chemistry degree?
There are many career possibilities for chemists. Some work in industry for chemical, oil and pharmaceutical companies and thrive in these fields. However, chemists also find engaging careers in manufacturing. Manufacturers employ chemists, to assist in the production of fragrances, steel, dyes, computers and other electronics, cosmetics, environmental remediation products and more.
Additionally, companies that do testing, cleaning, analysis, or communications often employ chemists to assist in the diagnostic, analytical and testing aspects of the work. Chemists also work for the government, either at national laboratories, various agencies, or in the military. Chemists can take their skills and research from the labs and become entrepreneurs, working for - or running - start-up companies. Chemists sometimes become lawyers - and become highly sought after for their unusual expertise. Finally, chemists also go into academia because of their love of the field and to prepare the next generation of chemists. Interestingly, many chemists work at jobs that do not appear to involve chemistry, yet their scientific background allows them to do jobs that others cannot.
The American Chemical Society (ACS) has a detailed list of career opportunities for chemists.
The BA in Chemistry has two main tracks.
- BA in Chemistry track
- BA in Biological Chemistry track
This interdisciplinary program of study is administered by both the Biology and Chemistry departments, and includes faculty from both departments.
There are two main tracks to the B.S. in chemistry:
- B.S. in Chemistry
- B.S. in Medicinal Chemistry
The B.S. in Biochemistry is a different degree program within the department of Chemistry
The minor in chemistry is offered to provide students with a basic understanding of the structure and behavior of matter at the atomic and molecular level.