Chemistry Graduate Schools may provide students with a broad background in chemistry, while at the same time offering an opportunity to conduct interdisciplinary research. One of the major branches of the physical sciences, chemistry graduate programs examine the make-up, structure, properties and changes of matter.
written by Rana Waxman
Due to the breadth of the discipline, a graduate program in chemistry might focus on an area of emphasis in a subfield, along with experimental techniques and general concepts. Potential chemistry emphases include organic chemistry, analytical chemistry, inorganic chemistry, physical chemistry, polymer chemistry, materials science, and biochemistry.
Chemistry Graduate Programs may be offered at various levels and award certificates or Master of Arts (MA), Master of Science (MS) and Doctor of Philosophy (PhD) degrees in chemistry. Each may have their own goals and requirements. However at any level, a graduate degree in chemistry could help students develop critical judgement and the ability to address scientific problems at the molecular level.
While some chemistry graduate schools take a more general approach, a student may be able to customize their degree plan to accommodate specific interests. Thus, one might be able to build skills and knowledge in a specific area such as cancer biochemistry, materials chemistry, forensic chemistry, medicinal chemistry or something else.
Admission to chemistry graduate schools typically requires a minimum GPA and a bachelors degree in chemistry. If an applicant has an undergraduate degree in another scientific discipline, they usually need to fulfill some prerequisites. This might be the equivalent of a full year of work in analytical chemistry, organic chemistry, physical chemistry, physics, and calculus. Other application materials could include transcripts, letters of recommendation and GRE scores. Scores for the subject test in chemistry may also be requested. Contact an admission advisor for program-specific requirements.
DID YOU KNOW?
A graduate degree in Chemistry is required for many research-based career paths.i
Chemistry Masters programs could lead to a Master of Science (MS) in Chemistry degree or, in some cases, a Master of Arts (MA) in Chemistry degree. Either masters in chemistry program could help students learn to relate advanced areas of chemistry to one another. Many programs also provide an opportunity to apply advanced chemical principles to other areas like planetary chemistry or environmental chemistry. Students could learn to use these concepts to solve problems or recognize periodic trends and use them to predict and explain structure and reactivity.
While variable, a Masters in Chemistry program could entail about 30 credits of coursework. At some chemistry graduate schools, candidates for the MS degree may also have a choice to culminate their degree with a final thesis or capstone project report. By comparison, MA degree chemistry students may need to take more courses (e.g. six), but may not need to complete a research thesis.
A Master of Science in Chemistry program typically requires students to demonstrate a general knowledge in the field and an ability to conduct original research in a specific area of chemistry. While MS students may not need to take cumulative examinations, they usually must complete several courses (e.g. four) along with one semester of a graduate seminar. Those who select a thesis track must also present and defend a thesis that describes and discusses their research.
MS Chemistry Degree Plan: Often, a student, together with an adviser, chooses courses to create a customized degree plan that best meets their interests, needs, and career goals. Each student's curriculum might then be subject to the approval of the director of their chemistry graduate program.
Generally, masters in chemistry coursework consist of core and focus area courses, along with research courses and credits. Core courses are designed to help students broaden their grasp of chemical knowledge and build research skills (such as chemistry writing). Focus area courses could enhance knowledge in a subfield. Focus courses and concepts might also be used to bring students up to speed if there are any undergraduate deficiencies in chemistry that need to be addressed.
MS Chemistry Courses: Coursework varies between programs but could include some of the examples below.
Focus Areas: Focus areas differ between chemistry graduate schools because they could be determined by faculty interests, research grants, and school facilities. You might look for concentrations such as organic chemistry, polymer chemistry, biochemistry and more.
Research Topics: Research topics in chemistry masters programs are usually based on a student’s interests. Research could explore anything from enzyme discovery, cancer imaging, and photonics, to materials for 3D printing, carbon nanotubes or an other area. In fact, some chemistry graduate schools may recognize that current chemists already conduct research in their workplace and offer some credit for it. Contact programs directly to learn if this might be an option for you.
Master of Science in Pharmaceutical Chemistry programs are chemistry graduate programs specifically designed for those interested in working in the pharmaceutical industry. Applicants may need experience in both undergraduate chemistry (physical and organic chemistry) and laboratory work. A grasp of calculus and one year of physics with lab work may also be required.
To complete their 31 to 36 credits, students may take a series of core courses in medicinal chemistry, as well as electives. Medicinal chemistry is based heavily on organic chemistry and aims to improve a drug’s therapeutic effect while minimizing adverse side effects. Other courses could cover topics such as biochemistry, pharmacology, and the rate drug absorption in the body.
Chemistry PhD programs are terminal, research-focused programs. The PhD is awarded primarily to students who have conducted original research which results in an advance of knowledge within an area of the field. PhD candidates also need to show a firm grasp of the key principles, experimental techniques and current theories of chemistry. An extensive series of courses and seminars may help students stay abreast of these latest developments.
PhD Chemistry Coursework: In some chemistry graduate schools, there are no total credits allotted for the PhD in Chemistry, although students do fulfill coursework and other requirements. For instance, in their first-year students may take courses to expand their knowledge in the fields of organic and organometallic chemistry; chemical biology and biochemistry; inorganic; and physical and analytical chemistry. Each student might then pursue a course of study, with the approval of their advisor, that aligns with career or educational goals. Usually in their second year, students take a comprehensive exam to test their comprehension of course material.
Research: Once the exam has been successfully passed, students might submit a proposal for their dissertation. Perhaps the most important and time-consuming aspect of the PhD Chemistry program is dissertation research. This requires each student to complete a noteworthy piece of scientific inquiry and write a thesis which details the work and the hypotheses to be drawn from that work. Then the student must defend their work before a committee of chemistry and non-chemistry faculty.
Teaching: Some Chemistry PhD programs also entail some form of teaching requirements. Usually, the student is paired with an experience that is suited to their overall program of studies. Contact individual chemistry graduate programs to learn how they handle these assignments.
A PhD in Environmental Science with a focus on environmental chemistry program could provide students with an opportunity to conduct research into organic chemistry in the environment, and water, soil and air chemistry. Courses could explore numerous modern issues such as the impact of agricultural production technologies and factors that affect social policy. Environmental biology courses could also expand on topics such as population biology, water pollution, human impact and endangered animals.
Graduate Certificates in Chemistry are often designed for chemist or material scientists with an undergraduate background who want to expand their expertise in a specific area. In some chemistry graduate schools, a certificate might entail two required courses from the core curriculum, plus two approved electives. These course credits may be applied towards a M.S. or Ph.D. degree in some cases. Other certificates may act as stand alone credentials. Contact schools individually to learn if program credits might be transferable.
Chemists often choose to focus their scientific research on one branch of chemistry. While some chemistry graduate programs may cover coursework in several areas, you might choose a program with a narrower focus. Some of the possibilities are listed below. i
Analytical Chemistry Degree Programs might prepare students to use principles from several branches of chemistry and advanced equipment to measure and analyze substances. The research of analytical chemists has a wide range of applications that include food safety, pharmaceuticals and pollution control.
Inorganic Chemistry Degree Programs might discuss the structure, properties and reactions of molecules that do not contain carbon, such as metals. Inorganic chemists examine how non-living materials (e.g. ceramics and superconductors) could be modified, separated, or used in products. Topics of study could include materials chemistry, kinetics and mechanisms, and bioinorganic chemistry.
Organic Chemistry Degree Programs could focus on any substance that involves carbon molecules and their structure, properties and behaviors.
Physical Chemistry Programs could stress courses in math and physics. Physical chemists study, research and test solids, liquids and gases to see how each material reacts.
Theoretical Chemistry Degree Programs could explore the theoretical methods that are used to predict the outcomes of chemical experiments. Theoretical chemistry intersects with many other areas that include computation and programming.
Medicinal Chemistry Programs might focus on the research and development of chemical compounds that could be used as pharmaceutical drugs.
Each type of chemistry graduate program may prepare graduates for very different career paths. When choosing a chemistry degree, you should, per the American Chemical Society (ACS), “take the time to consider different areas of science, places of employment, and types of work.” ii
The largest employers of chemists are in research and development within the physical, engineering and life sciences. Chemists in basic research might investigate the properties, composition and structure of matter through experiments with the elements. Other chemists who engage in applied research may look for ways to innovate and come up with new products or better formulas. Chemists are also employed in the pharmaceutical industries, laboratories, government and basic chemical manufacturing. I
When deciding between chemistry graduate programs, one of the things to consider is program format. Are you looking for chemistry graduate schools by location? Or, are you an at-work scientist who is excited to earn their chemistry degree online?
Either format may appeal for different reasons. On-campus programs include live seminars, face-to-face discussions and the opportunity to use onsite facilities and laboratories. Campus programs may also provide opportunities to participate in faculty research projects.
Online chemistry graduate programs could be great if you live too far from an university or prefer to study independently. They may offer additional flexibility, with courses accessible anywhere with an internet connection.
Whatever format you choose, you might consider earning your chemistry graduate degree at a regionally accredited institution. Accreditation is a voluntary process where a school is reviewed by an outside agency to see if it meets and/or exceeds, quality standards. Some of the areas addressed are fiscal stability, faculty, student services and curriculum.
Ready to search for a Masters or PhD in Chemistry program? Use the on-page menu to filter chemistry graduate programs by degree level and program format. This refines the list of programs to to a few great options. From there, all you have to do is fill out the brief form to contact the chemistry graduate schools directly! Take the next step now.
[i] bls.gov/ooh/life-physical-and-social-science/chemists-and-materials-scientists.htm | [ii] acs.org/content/acs/en/education/students/graduate/gradschool/choosing.html