Chemistry Professor

Chemists in the Field

Chris Bradley

Chris Bradley
Assistant Professor, Mount St. Mary’s University

Stephanie Wettstein

Stephanie Wettstein
Assistant Professor, Montana State University

Matthew Mio

Chris Goldsmith
Faculty, Auburn University



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.

Professors at Research Institutions (R1s)

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.

Professors at Community Colleges (CCs)

Uniquely American institutions, CCs that grant associate degrees and certifications focus predominantly on teaching. Most CCs colleges offer introductory courses for students who will transfer to four-year schools and earn a bachelor’s degree. Many CCs also have technical programs, which offer career curriculum leading to an associate’s degree in an applied science, and a job in that field immediately upon graduation. They provide the education and technical skills required to work in places such as a lab or processing facility and courses tend to be more practical and less theoretical. Professors at CCs prepare and deliver lectures, create and grade exams and homework assignments, supervise students in laboratories, conduct review sessions and work individually with students. A very few conduct original scientific research, but that number is slowly increasing.



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.

  • Positions at two-year colleges
    Master's degree required for most full-time teaching positions
  • Positions at four-year colleges and universities
    Doctorate degree required for full-time, tenure-track positions



Community Colleges (CCs)

Full-time faculty at two-year colleges typically spend about half their time interacting with students, in class and outside of class. Another 30% of their time is spent on class preparation and assessment. The remaining time is divided between professional development and department or institutional committees.  An increasing number of CC faculty are engaging in scientific research with their students, who are sharing their results at professional conferences.

Predominantly Undergraduate Institutions (PUIs)

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 (RIs)

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.

Non-Tenured Staff

Non-tenured staff positions are available at community colleges, R1s, and PUIs.

Adjunct professors teach a small number of classes (can be as few as one per semester), usually part-time and non-permanent.

Visiting professors or lecturers teache lecture and laboratory classes and generally do not conduct research. These positions can be long-term or short-term.


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.

Labor Statistics


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.

Advice for New Professors


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.


  • 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.


  • Median annual wage: $75,060 (2015)