Chemistry Professor

Opportunities

Competition for tenure-track positions at the college and university level is intense, with many institutions relying on adjunct or part-time faculty and graduate students to make up a larger share of staff than in the past.

Education

  • Two-year colleges: Master's degree required for most full-time teaching positions.
  • Four-year colleges and universities: Doctorate degree required for full-time, tenure-track positions.

Salaries

  • Median annual wage: $71,140 (2012)

 

 


Overview

Teaching allows you to share your passion for chemistry with others. Many educators say the most satisfying aspect of their work is helping to shape the lives and minds of students. It is important to feel enthusiastic about the subject, to be truly interested in students and their development, and to be able to make abstract principles come alive. Professors must be interested in expanding their own knowledge and working with students on research projects.

Professors at Predominantly Undergraduate Institutions (PUI)

chemist conduction research

PUI chemistry professors teach advanced concepts in the field of chemistry to both science and nonscience majors. Many professors enjoy the challenge of research and may have an interest in publishing their findings.

On an average day, chemistry professors give lectures, conduct discussions, and guide students in labs. Professors are responsible for class preparation, developing and grading tests, and working with students outside of class. Professors at four-year colleges and universities also spend time keeping up with professional literature and new developments in the field and attend professional conferences. At PUIs, chemistry professors conduct and publish scientific research, and a main focus is teaching students how to conduct research properly.

Chemistry Professors at Research Institutions

Professors at research universities spend more time with graduate students engaged in basic or applied research. Their work involves helping students grow their own knowledge, sharing expertise, and advancing the field of chemistry and knowledge in general through research.


Education

Two-year colleges: Master's degree required for most full-time teaching positions.

Four-year colleges and universities: Doctorate degree required for full-time, tenure-track positions

Competition for tenure-track positions at the college and university level is intense, with many institutions relying on adjunct or part-time faculty and graduate students to make up a larger share of staff than in the past.

Chemistry faculty at four-year colleges and universities must have doctorates and often have postdoctoral experience. Be certain to check the specific requirements in your state and region and those of individual colleges and universities.


Workspace

Undergraduate Institutions

Workloads at colleges and universities vary based on the size of the institution. In a smaller liberal arts college with smaller class sizes, for example, there may be more emphasis on teaching and student contact.

In larger institutions, professors may teach as many as 400 students in introductory courses and have the help of one or more teaching assistants. These larger institutions will have smaller class sizes for advanced courses and may be expected to spend somewhat more time on research, though this aspect of their work is not as significant as it is in graduate research universities.

Stephanie Wettstein at work

Research Institutions

On an average day, being a chemistry professor at a graduate research institution includes teaching responsibilities for undergraduate and graduate level courses and seminars, as well as research activities involving both independent work and work with graduate students.

Specifically for professors at graduate and research universities, the focus is on new developments in the field, publishing papers regularly, sometimes writing textbooks, and mentoring Ph.D. candidates. At nearly all universities, faculty members also dedicate time to apply for funding to support their research.

Graduate and research universities—master’s and Ph.D. granting institutions—offer a highly focused environment catering to students serious about research. Professors mentor Ph.D. candidates and spend time helping them complete the steps involved in achieving a doctorate degree. Research universities often have high-quality equipment and can offer students and teachers excellent lab experience.


Is This Career a Good Fit for You?

Becoming a professor at an undergraduate institution might be a good fit if you have a passion for science and for sharing that science with students. You must be willing to teach both lecture and lab courses, as well as instructing in a more individual setting in your own laboratory.


Technical Skills

  • In-depth knowledge of chemistry and chemical concepts, with particular expertise in a specific field
  • Instructional skills, including the ability to explain difficult concepts and the ability to engage students in learning
  • Patience when working with students of different abilities and backgrounds
  • Communication and interpersonal skills when dealing with students in class and in your laboratory, with other faculty members, and with college or university administration
  • Independence, initiative, innovation, and leadership to conceive and conduct original research
  • Technical writing skills for grant proposals, reports, papers, and other documents


Career Path

Professors at PUIs generally start as an assistant professor and after six years of successful employment are considered for tenure. They tend to remain at the same institution, where they have established a laboratory and a strong rapport with students and other members of the faculty.

Salary Information The median annual wage in 2012 was $71,140, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.


Future Employment Trends

The job market for chemistry professors is competitive. At the college level, hundreds of qualified applicants can vie for a single teaching position. Although competition will remain tight for tenure-track positions at four-year colleges and universities, there will be a considerable number of part-time and renewable term appointments (adjunct faculty) available at these institutions and at community colleges.

Real-World Chemists
Chris Bradley

Chris Bradley is an Assistant Professor at Mount St. Mary’s University.

More about Chris


Stephanie Wettstein

Stephanie Wettstein is an assistant professor at Montana State University.

More about Stephanie


Matthew Mio

Matthew Mio is an associate professor of chemistry & biochemistry at the University of Detroit, Mercy.

More about Matt


 

Related Resources  

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