July 17, 2024, 06:57:49 AM
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Topic: How would you change your chemistry bachelor's degree curriculum if you could?  (Read 17485 times)

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Offline jjwinkle

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In trying to get feedback other than my own, I have been looking for data on what bachelor’s degree chemists do after graduation. I found the results of a survey the National Science Foundation (NSF) (http://www.nsf.gov/statistics/nsf10318/pdf/tab35.pdf) did of US graduates in science and engineering fields about 10 years ago.

The NSF table lists 23,100 people graduating with bachelor’s degrees chemistry in the US in 2003-2005 and employed (at something) on April 1, 2006, 10,100 of them in “Occupation and degree in the same broad field”, 7,700 of them in “Occupation in different broad science/engineering or science/engineering-related field” and 5,300 in a non- science/engineering occupation.

At studentsreview.com I examined the 37 people in the alumni section who had received bachelor’s degrees in chemistry. The degrees of these people were obtained at an array of universities/colleges, small liberal arts colleges being abundant among them, and only one was from outside the US. The people were at various points in their careers. The list of their current occupations is interesting and, I think, adds to the proof of a major problem we have in the US with our higher education. Of the 37 people, 6 were physicians or in medical school, 7 were bench chemists (predominantly analytical), 6 were in graduate school in chemistry. The rest were strewn out among 17 different occupations, most, but not all, of which were professional, and these occupations were roughly divided between those which significantly entailed chemistry and those which did not.

The sheer boringness of the work that awaits US bachelor’s degree chemists may be driving them to other kinds of work.

But the even bigger problem we have is that we educate people without any regard for their ability to find relevant employment afterward. The liberal arts are notorious for this, but even in science fields we have it. The NSF data shows only 19% of “biological, agricultural and environmental life sciences” bachelor’s degree recipients having an occupation “in the same broad field” 1-2 years later! On a huge scale we are pouring taxpayers’ and student families’ money and students’ time, effort and financial indebtedness into their learning things they will never use.


Offline jjwinkle

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This article shows, fortunately, some concern about excessively producing chemistry PhDs - which results in some being unable to get appropriate work - and, also (toward the end of it), concern about safety negligence in academic laboratories: "US urged to rethink chemistry graduate education" at http://www.rsc.org/chemistryworld/2012/12/american-chemical-society-chemistry-graduate-phds-report .

Offline curiouscat

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The sheer boringness of the work that awaits US bachelor’s degree chemists may be driving them to other kinds of work.

As opposed to what nation? Are bachelors in Chemistry doing grossly more interesting work in other places?


Offline jjwinkle

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The sheer boringness of the work that awaits US bachelor’s degree chemists may be driving them to other kinds of work.

As opposed to what nation? Are bachelors in Chemistry doing grossly more interesting work in other places?



I don't intend to imply that it is only a US problem. I don't know how it is elsewhere, although I suspect it would be a greater problem in the US because the emphasis on college is unusually high in the American culture, so the competition for interesting jobs might be higher in the US than elsewhere.


Offline jjwinkle

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Quote
The sheer boringness of the work that awaits US bachelor’s degree chemists may be driving them to other kinds of work.

As opposed to what nation? Are bachelors in Chemistry doing grossly more interesting work in other places?



I don't intend to imply that it is only a US problem. I don't know how it is elsewhere, although I suspect it would be a greater problem in the US because the emphasis on college is unusually high in the American culture, so the competition for interesting jobs might be higher in the US than elsewhere.



Some light, I think, is shed on the situation in the UK at the bottom of the page I have just now found at http://www.prospects.ac.uk/options_chemistry.htm. Only a little more than a fifth of new chemistry graduates were found to be working in "Science" while the rest were "Technicians and other professionals" (17.5%), "Business, HR and financial"(12.3%), "Retail, catering and bar work" (11.7%) and "Other" (36.9%). Interesting.

Offline curiouscat

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I don't intend to imply that it is only a US problem. I don't know how it is elsewhere, although I suspect it would be a greater problem in the US because the emphasis on college is unusually high in the American culture, so the competition for interesting jobs might be higher in the US than elsewhere.

I don't think Chemistry Majors do work any more boring than other majors. In the US or elsewhere.

I think "boringness" in itself is a bad metric to measure because it is so subjective. My boring might be your dream job. I'm sure there are people out there perfectly content to run the same dairy fat analysis 20 times a day, five days a week for the whole year.

As an aside, most jobs that run the modern economy are boring more or less, agnostic to major. So long as they are useful it is OK I think.

Offline Raphael

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I graduated in May of the 2014. My degree required 2 semesters of analytical chemistry along with labs. The labs both involved using many different kinds of instruments. I can't say I could have walked out into industry and run these instruments but I at least had seen them and understood something about them.

The things I would have changed in my curriculum would have been a whole class dedicated to polymers, more math (statistics, linear algebra, differential equations), a class that teaches an in depth look at using excel and maybe an intro class to computer sciences.

These ideas are mainly based on my time in industry right after I graduated as a polymer synthesis tech.

I would also like to note that 1 semester of organic chemistry sounds crazy to me. Without all the organic chemistry I took and did as an undergraduate I never would have gotten my job less than a month after I graduated.

Offline Electrolyte37

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At San Diego State University I was fortunate that I was required to take both analytical chemistry with a lab as well as an analytical instrumentation course also with a lab. This combined with the amount of analytical instruments available to undergraduate students who do research really set me ahead compared to UCSD undergraduates who were unfamiliar with a lot of instruments. I was even able to take a polymer science course at SDSU but ended up hating it because it was taught by a soft matter physicist who saw me working out a basic condensation polymerization reaction on the board before class started as far beyond the scope of the class. In the end it turned out to be all about physical properties of polymers and not chemistry at all even though 12 of the 15 students were chemistry students (The other two or three students where her physics masters students).

If I could change the way undergraduate curriculum works I would drive a much harder split between biochem and general chemistry majors. I feel that since higher level math is not useful to most biochemists and to a degree organic chemists it hinders general chemists when classes gloss over the concepts that are more grounded in math. I feel I got a better understanding of particle in a box from my applied math class then I did in Pchem. In Pchem my professor spent a couple lectures explaining the concept and the creation of the equation to model it then just gave us the answer and spent some more time explaining the implications of the answer. The professor was great and I learned a lot but felt that because of the lack of deep mathmatical rigor in the class there were holes in my understanding of some of the concepts, where as my applied math teach who is a trained physicist and mathematician explained the thought expariment, gave us the boundary conditions and then walked through the construction of the PDE, solved it, asked if we had any questions and then moved on. It took all of 20 minutes and I felt I had a better understanding of particle in a box.

So simply put all chemistry undergrads should have 2 semesters or Gen chem, Ochem, Achem, and Pchem as well as the normal 3 semesters of calculus and either a basic programming or mathematical modeling class. The gen chem majors have their two semesters of inorganic and one semester of biochem as well as a differential equation and possibly a linear algebra class. The Biochemists should have the inverse of the general chemists because second semester inorganic probably wont be too useful to most biochemists.

As for graduate students I would ask that they take a class or are given a seminar that teaches them how to operate in industry. The PhDs who I work with at the job I am currently at have all come with no understanding of how to work in a business based lab. Which you can't blame them for seeing as all they know about when it comes to working in a lab is how they operated in graduate school, but having to explain to the new PhD that he cant take a set of reagents to his work space and hide them there because if we get inspected and the inventory says shelf H the chemical can't be in his drawer under a stack of papers for his convenience. If it is we will get in trouble with people we cannot afford to get in trouble with; or that expired chemicals need to be disposed of not saved because we have space. But that is more of a personal rant.

Offline jjwinkle

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Electrolyte 37,

What do you exactly do in your current job?

Offline Irlanur

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I am not exactly a chemist, but that's the situation in Zurich:
In the first two years I had 3 Semesters of Math, 2 Physics, 1 Computer Science, 2 Analytical Chemistry, 4 OC, 4 PC, 4 Inorganic, 3 Biology (General, Bio chem, Cell biology). In addition there were Lab courses in General Chem, Pchem, Ochem and very basic biology.
After that I was completely free to choose whatever I want to do, as long as it is more or less coherent. I focused on Molecular Biology and PChem, just because I am very interested in it, others chose lots of Ochem and Polymers, or even Biotech stuff.

The course I am doing is called "interdisciplinary natural sciences". I love it, wouldn't change too much about it. It's just a bit strange that there is also a "regular" chemistry BSc/MSc with a lot of overlapp. In my opinion, a university should teach the basics very rigorously and then let the students decide what they want to learn more about. It's not that the Professors really know what Industry wants. I am also not really sure if the industry know what they want. Probably very young students with excellent grades and 100 years of working experience...

In my opinion (probably a very swiss one), a university should not just directly prepare for industry. It should teach very basic, fundamental knowledge and the ability to drive a field forward. That's why I think many students in my year are not suited for an academic education. not because their stupid, but because they're just not interested. If the chemical industry wants specialized people, they should teach people on their own. maybe with some theoretical help by universities/colleges/higher education schools/whatever you call it.

Offline Electrolyte37

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Electrolyte 37,

What do you exactly do in your current job?

Since graduating I have worked as both a production chemist and as a lab technician. The lab tech position I held longer and enjoyed more because of the variety of work I got to do. That job was basically do what ever the PhD needed me to do which was usually cleaning and doing purification and other simple material analyses, while also doing a bit of administrative paper work.

Offline Ben Bob2

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Electrolyte, your situation is similar to mine in the University of Maryland system: the program here is quite biology-oriented but weak in mathematics.

This is doubly frustrating because a pure biochemistry program, as well as premedical/predental concentrations are already offered separately. This forces me to squeeze in the extra math credits on my own just to stay competitive.

I am pleased with two aspects of my program though: the emphasis on analysis (6 credits of analytical, and 4 of instrumentation), and on undergraduate research/independent study (10 credits in total).
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Offline Ingeniosuccinimide

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Not sure if it is a common practice elsewhere (I'm from central-eastern Europe), but I would definitely add some computational chemistry to the BSc program which I finished. For some, mostly tradition-based reason we had way too much thermodynamics and analytical chemistry, and way too little polymers and computational.

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