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Key practical competencies

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I can see where AgG is coming from in that "chemist" do tend to specialise, but I think this comes after the basic degree. Also degrees may be different in other countries so I will give you my study path that led to me being a chemist (this is fairly representative of study in Australia):

High school (years 11 and 12) chemistry, physics, maths, english

University (first year) chemistry, physics, geology, biology
(second year) organic chem, phys&inorg chem, biochem
(third year) organic, physical, inorganic chemistry

(honours, fourth year counted as post-grad) research project

(MSc/PhD) by research 2-4 years (on average)

So by the end of third year (or on graduation) you are ageneral chemist who has studied all of the major "general" field of chemistry and done many hours of lab work. At this stage you are a "chemist" and can get a job in the field. My problem with this is that there seems to be no one regulating the level to which this occurs. However there should be a general expectation that graduates after three years know a certain amount of chemistry.

I totally agree with Mitch that it would be great if undergrads could do research work (a very small number of them get the chance) but on the whole it is too expensive and impractical). I have been trying to come up with a way by which we could work out what skills/knowledge is required of chemists. Perhaps by a top down approach, ie here is a proffessional chemistry job and the skills required to perform it and then work backwards to first year to determine what students should know by the completion of each academic year.

This is again a question of specialization.  The production chemist working in an analytical chemistry lab may need to have a great deal of knowledge about columns, solvent polarities and GC/MS procedure in order to effectively complete certain extractions and characterizations while the industrial chemist may only be concerned with polymer viscosity, flow rates and rates of reaction.  The two jobs require totally different skills - almost to the point of exclusivity. Skills are easy to learn, however, and therefore I beleive  that the stress or the focus should be placed more upon a fundamental theoretical understanding of chemistry.  Emphasis should be placed upon problem solving based on these fundamental ideas. For example, the ability to use a balance, while helpful, is not particularly useful when one does not understand the concept of stoichiometry and molecular weights unless, of course, the person is following a procedure that has been performed before and has been written down step-by-step.  It does not take a very intelligent or knowledgable person to follow a procedure.  Following a procedure does not require any knowledge about the chemistry that is occurring or chemistry that will occur if something goes wrong.  It is my feeling that skills can be taught in a matter of hours or days and that a company or university should not be concerned about the sort of skills that a particular person has.  Rather they should realize the benefits of a hard honest worker who is able to understand why certain procedures are employed and who has the ability to make their own decisions.


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