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Careers in Organic Chemistry

Updated on March 26, 2017
AliciaC profile image

Linda Crampton has a honors degree in biology. She has taught high school biology, chemistry, and other science subjects for many years.

Chemistry lab equipment
Chemistry lab equipment | Source

The Nature of Organic Chemistry

Organic chemistry is the study of carbon compounds, which are also known as organic compounds. These chemicals are found in our bodies and in the bodies of other living things, where they have a myriad of functions. In addition, they are made by chemists in the laboratory.

Millions of organic compounds exist and more are being created every day. They’re present in foods, food additives, medicines, cosmetics, fuels, plastics, agricultural chemicals, paper, fabrics, rubber, and many other substances.

Organic chemistry is the largest subdivision of chemistry and offers an exciting range of careers. Organic chemists work both inside and outside the laboratory. Many are involved in research. Others work in an interdisciplinary career, combining organic chemistry with another science or with technology. Some people with a chemistry degree become administrators or choose to work as educators. Others use their degree to help them in a career that is only distantly related to chemistry.

Urea was the first organic compound synthesized in the laboratory
Urea was the first organic compound synthesized in the laboratory | Source

What Are Organic Compounds?

Originally the term “organic compounds” referred to carbon-containing chemicals that could only be obtained from organisms, or living things. This definition is inadequate now that we can make the chemicals in the lab. Today the definition of “organic compound” is a little fuzzy. It refers to both natural and synthetic carbon compounds. Not every compound that contains carbon is considered to be organic, however. For example, carbon dioxide (CO2) and carbon monoxide (CO) are classified as inorganic.

Sometimes organic compounds are said to be those that contain carbon atoms joined to other carbon atoms, or that have carbon atoms joined to hydrogen atoms, but these definitions eliminate urea. Urea is famous for being the first organic compound synthesized in the laboratory. Our bodies produce urea from the breakdown of amino acids, which are the building blocks of protein. The urea is excreted in our urine. In practice, a chemical is considered to be organic by the general consensus of chemists.

The Life of a Chemist

Research chemists discover new carbon compounds in nature, create new ones in the lab, and study the properties and behaviour of the chemicals. They often modify natural chemicals to improve their characteristics or to make them safer.

Researchers

Organic chemists frequently work in the area of research and development. They discover new information about chemicals and their behaviour and sometimes use this information to develop a new product. Discovering an unknown fact about the natural world or creating a chemical that improves human lives is often very satisfying for scientists. Their work can be creative, challenging, and highly rewarding.

Research chemists do laboratory work, but they also do library or Internet research, discuss their work with other scientists, and write reports. They often use sophisticated lab equipment and computer software in their work. Computers are used to store and analyze data. In addition, computer-aided design software (CAD software) is used to help chemists create molecular models of organic compounds and modify the structure of the molecules.

Many chemists collaborate with other researchers, so the ability to work with others is essential for an organic chemistry graduate. Research chemists often work in teams under a project leader. They may be employed by government agencies, pharmaceutical, agricultural, or petrochemical companies, environmental organizations, processed food manufacturers, or industries that manufacture other useful products. Industrial chemists may be involved in creating, analyzing, and testing products. Research chemists are also employed by universities, where they both perform research and teach.

Organic Chemistry Lab Equipment

Medicinal Chemists

Most medicinal chemists are involved in finding, producing, and analyzing new pharmaceutical drugs in the laboratory. Sometimes a medicinal chemist performs a desk job, such as reviewing drug applications, and doesn't actually work in a laboratory.

Medicinal chemistry is sometimes known as pharmaceutical chemistry. Some organizations consider the subjects to be the same discipline while others consider them to be different, although the stated differences vary. They are at least very closely related. A student interested in training for one—or both—of these careers should check the description of a relevant university or college program carefully.

An organic chemistry degree is excellent preparation for becoming a medicinal chemist, since most medicines are organic compounds. A knowledge of biology is helpful, too. A medicinal chemist will probably be working with biologists or with people trained in pharmaceutical science.

A Career in Medicinal Chemistry

Biochemists

Biochemistry is an interdisciplinary area that involves both chemistry and biology. A career as a biochemist could be a fascinating choice for someone who is interested in the chemical reactions that take place in living things.

Organisms are made of chemicals, so understanding the behaviour of these chemicals inside their body is a vital activity. Research performed by biochemists may not only help us to understand life better but may also have practical importance in areas such as medicine, veterinary medicine, agriculture, and toxicology.

The Importance of Biochemistry

Forensic Chemists

Forensic chemistry requires a knowledge of organic compounds. In this career scientists identify substances found in material collected at a crime scene to help solve the crime. Many of these substances are organic, including chemicals from body fluids or tissues and chemicals from clothing, but inorganic compounds are present as well. A forensic investigator therefore needs a good knowledge of both organic and inorganic chemistry.

Some universities offer special courses or programs in forensic chemistry. These should be investigated if you want to work as a forensic chemist, since you will need to learn specialized techniques as well as chemistry.

A Forensic Chemist Describes a Typical Work Day

Chemical Informatics or Cheminformatics

Chemical informatics, also known as cheminformatics, could be an interesting career for someone who is interested in computers as well as chemistry. It involves the storage, retrieval, manipulation, and application of data about chemicals. Since organic compounds are so important to humans, a knowledge of organic chemistry is important in informatics. A student aiming for this career needs to learn about all types of chemicals, however.

Cheminformatics deals with both real molecules and hypothetical ones. A particular database may include the predicted properties of a virtual compound that is related to a real one. It may also help researchers to discover how to synthesize the virtual molecule.

Chemists of all kinds will almost certainly have to use a computer as well as lab equipment.
Chemists of all kinds will almost certainly have to use a computer as well as lab equipment. | Source

Biotechnologists

Some organic chemists work in the field of biotechnology, which is the use of microorganisms or of chemicals made by living things to perform a manufacturing or industrial process. The microorganisms may be genetically altered to make them more useful. The goal is to make a product that is useful for humans,. Although microbes are most often used for genetic manipulation, other organisms are used as well. The methods used to change the genes of an organism are part of biotechnology.

Biotechnology is an interdisciplinary science involving both biology and chemistry. Many of the useful chemicals made by microorganisms, such as DNA and enzymes, are organic. An organic chemist can be a valuable member of a team that is working on a biotechnology project. It's helpful if the chemist knows some biology as well.

DNA and Biotechnology

Teachers

Some organic chemists combine teaching and research at a university. Others teach at the college level or in a high school. A high school teacher usually teaches several related subjects instead of just one subject, unless they're teaching in a large school with a high student enrollment. If you plan on a career as a high school chemistry teacher, make sure that you study other science subjects as well. You will also need a knowledge of both organic and inorganic chemistry.

Teaching Chemistry

A Chemistry Career Poll

Which career interests you the most?

See results

Other Possible Careers

Chemistry graduates have skills that are valuable in any career. They are trained to think logically, to solve problems, to perform experiments in an organized fashion, to record data clearly, to analyze data, to do math calculations, and to use computers.

Organic chemists may get further training and work as lawyers, specializing in cases involving chemicals and chemistry. They may also work in marketing and sales departments for chemical companies. Excellent oral and written communication skills are necessary in a sales career. The chemist may be required to promote chemicals or the equipment used in chemistry laboratories. Another less traditional career for organic chemists is scientific or technical publishing (provided the student has taken English courses and has studied other sciences in addition to taking organic chemistry courses).

The study of chemicals is an interesting and potentially very useful activity.
The study of chemicals is an interesting and potentially very useful activity. | Source

How Can I Become an Organic Chemist?

Organic chemists need a university degree in chemistry and must make sure that they take lots of organic chemistry courses in their studies. Computer science courses are important too, since the computer is often an important tool for chemists.

Chemists with all types of chemistry degrees can find a job in a research lab, but generally those with a PhD lead a project and direct people with other degrees. Someone with a bachelor's degree can advance in their career as they gain experience, but the advancement will almost certainly go much further if the person has a PhD.

University teachers require a PhD. College teachers need a PhD or a master's degree. High school teachers require a bachelor's degree followed by extra training to qualify for a teacher's certificate. Some other careers, such as forensic chemistry, also require specialized training in addition to a knowledge of chemistry.

A career in organic chemistry is a very worthwhile goal. Chemists have the opportunity to make a useful contribution to humanity, since organic compounds are so important in our lives. Chemistry can also be very rewarding for someone who is curious about the physical or biological world and how it operates.

Further Information

© 2012 Linda Crampton

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    • Melissa A Smith profile image

      Melissa A Smith 5 years ago from New York

      This stuff is plain evil. I'm re-taking organic chemistry for the THIRD time next semester. Errr. Nice hub.

    • Ahmed Foyez profile image

      Ahmed Foyez 5 years ago from sylhet

      nice

    • AliciaC profile image
      Author

      Linda Crampton 5 years ago from British Columbia, Canada

      Hi, Melissa. I'm sorry you're having such a hard time with your chemistry course! Organic chemistry can be a challenging subject. Good luck for next semester!!

    • AliciaC profile image
      Author

      Linda Crampton 5 years ago from British Columbia, Canada

      Thank you for the comment, Ahmed.

    • GERALD-710 profile image

      GERALD-710 5 years ago from United States

      I am an Industrial Chemist.I did not find organic chemistry that hard(Got As in both Organic Chem 1 and 2) compared to say Structural Chemistry.

      However,it provides a good foundation for medicinal chemistry for sure!

    • GERALD-710 profile image

      GERALD-710 5 years ago from United States

      Nice hub.I loved Organic chemistry and I used to ace it(both organic chem 1 and 2).It gives you a basic foundation when you do the Medicinal Chemistry units.

      @Mellisa.You have to bond with the carbon atoms and learn to love them :)

    • AliciaC profile image
      Author

      Linda Crampton 5 years ago from British Columbia, Canada

      Thank you for the comments, GERALD-710. Bonding with carbon atoms sounds like an interesting idea!

    • profile image

      Supriya 5 years ago

      Its grt! Really helpful...

    • AliciaC profile image
      Author

      Linda Crampton 5 years ago from British Columbia, Canada

      Thank you for the comment, Supriya. I'm glad you found the hub useful.

    • mwilliams66 profile image

      mwilliams66 5 years ago from Left Coast, USA

      Great hub Alicia. I found it to be both comprehensive and easily understood. I thoroughly enjoy your hubs!

    • AliciaC profile image
      Author

      Linda Crampton 5 years ago from British Columbia, Canada

      Thank you so much for the visit, mwilliams66. I appreciate your comments very much!

    • b. Malin profile image

      b. Malin 5 years ago

      As usual a very through and Informative Hub on Careers in Organic Chemistry, Alicia. Lots of Career opportunities which are so valued in this Economy. Wonderful research which we could all understand, and gain useful Information, as well as knowledge from. Thanks for sharing.

    • AliciaC profile image
      Author

      Linda Crampton 5 years ago from British Columbia, Canada

      Hi, b. Malin. Thanks for the visit and the kind comment. I hope you enjoyed your trip and are now settled into your summer home!

    • Aditi Karmarkar profile image

      Aditi Karmarkar 5 years ago from India

      I love organic chemistry and after finding out about the opportunities available, i like it even more. This hub was very useful. Thanks.

    • AliciaC profile image
      Author

      Linda Crampton 5 years ago from British Columbia, Canada

      Thank you, Aditi. I think that organic chemistry is an interesting subject to explore.

    • drbj profile image

      drbj and sherry 5 years ago from south Florida

      You are making it much easier, Alicia, for prospective students with interests in Chemistry to make a choice about their future career. Brava, m'dear.

    • AliciaC profile image
      Author

      Linda Crampton 5 years ago from British Columbia, Canada

      Thank you very much for the comment, drbj! I appreciate all your visits to my hubs.

    • yograj yog profile image

      Yogesh Oza 2 years ago from Ahmedabad, Gujarat, INDIA.

      This is very inspiring hub. Organic chemistry is vast and it's knowledge through such hub makes it interesting. It is a great service to society.

    • AliciaC profile image
      Author

      Linda Crampton 2 years ago from British Columbia, Canada

      Thank you very much, yograj yog. Organic chemistry is a fascinating and important subject.

    • yograj yog profile image

      Yogesh Oza 2 years ago from Ahmedabad, Gujarat, INDIA.

      Thanks for reciprocating, AliciaC. There are numerous organic compounds, we come across in our day to day life. Is it possible to write an individual hub on each of them? Like on: toothpaste, shaving cream, deodorant, shampoo, soap, detergent, etc., so as to inspire people to build their career with them?

    • AliciaC profile image
      Author

      Linda Crampton 2 years ago from British Columbia, Canada

      That's an interesting idea, yograj yog! I will definitely think about it.

    • yograj yog profile image

      Yogesh Oza 2 years ago from Ahmedabad, Gujarat, INDIA.

      Let us all serve our people with the knowledge of chemistry we have gained so far. There is no better way to salute the subject.

    • AliciaC profile image
      Author

      Linda Crampton 2 years ago from British Columbia, Canada

      That's a lovely thought, yograj yog.

    • yograj yog profile image

      Yogesh Oza 2 years ago from Ahmedabad, Gujarat, INDIA.

      O.K., AliciaC.

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