Santa Clara University

Department of Chemistry & Biochemistry

Why Study Chemistry and Biochemistry

Career Options
Skills and Competencies

Chemistry and biochemistry, its close relative, are often referred to as the central sciences because they unite physics and mathematics, biology and medicine, and the earth and environmental sciences. These two sciences are fundamental to our existence, playing a role in nearly every aspect of our lives. They are essential for meeting our basic needs of food, clothing, shelter, health, energy, and clean air, water, and soil. Technologies based on chemistry and biochemistry enrich our quality of life in numerous ways by providing novel solutions to issues in health, materials, and the generation and use of energy.

By studying chemistry and biochemistry, you open the door for understanding the nature of chemicals and chemical processes, thereby providing insights into a variety of physical and biological phenomena. It also puts you in an excellent position to choose from a wide variety of useful, interesting, and rewarding careers. A person with a bachelor's level education in chemistry or biochemistry is well prepared to assume professional positions in the private sector, education, or public service. The list of career possibilities for people with training in chemistry and biochemistry is long and varied. Even in times when unemployment rates are high, the chemist remains one of the most highly sought-after and employed scientists.

The behavior of atoms, molecules, and ions determines the sort of world we live in, our shapes and sizes, and even how we feel on a given day. Chemists and biochemists that understand these phenomena are very well equipped to tackle problems faced by our modern society. On any given day, they may be measuring the amount of insecticide in drinking water, comparing the protein content of meats, developing a new antibiotic, or analyzing a moon rock. To design a synthetic fiber or even the skin of a space capsule requires a knowledge of chemistry. To understand why an autumn leaf turns red, or why a diamond is hard, or why soap gets us clean, requires, first, a basic understanding of chemistry. And knowledge of biochemistry is a prerequisite for studying such vital topics as the mechanism of the recombination of DNA molecules, the mode of action of a life-saving drug, and metabolic processes of all sorts.

Career Options

It may be obvious to you that a chemistry/biochemistry background is important if you plan to teach chemistry or to work in the private sector developing chemical commodities such as polymeric materials, pharmaceuticals, flavorings, preservatives, dyestuffs, or fragrances. You may also be aware that chemists and biochemists are frequently employed as environmental scientists, chemical oceanographers, chemical information specialists, chemical engineers, and pharmaceutical salespersons. However, it may be less obvious to you that an in-depth knowledge of chemistry and biochemistry is often required in a number of related professions including medicine, pharmacy, medical technology, nuclear medicine, molecular biology, biotechnology, pharmacology, toxicology, paper science, pharmaceutical science, hazardous waste management, art conservation, forensic science and patent law. Thus, a chemistry or biochemistry degree can be effectively combined with advanced work in other fields that may lead, for example, to employment in higher management (sometimes with an M.B.A.), medicine (with a medical degree), or in the patent field (possibly with a law degree).

It is often noted that today's graduate, unlike the graduate of a generation ago, should anticipate not a single position with one employer or in one industry, but rather many careers. You will be well prepared for this future if, in your college years, you take advantage of the opportunity to become broadly educated, to learn to be flexible and to be a creative problem solver. Thus, knowledge and skills gained in your college courses may be directly applicable in your first job, but science and technology change at a rapid pace. You will keep up and stay ahead of others if you graduate with the skills and self-discipline to pursue a lifetime of learning. Because understanding chemistry and biochemistry provide many of these skills and are a fundamental driver in the business and commerce sector of our society, chemists and biochemists are likely to remain in continual demand. A bachelor's degree in these fields is also an ideal pre-medical degree. Medical schools do not require a particular college major, but a chemistry/biochemistry background will be helpful in the advanced study of biochemistry, endocrinology, physiology, microbiology, and pharmacology.  Chemistry is also an excellent major for students planning careers in other health professions such as pharmacy, dentistry, optometry and veterinary medicine. All of these professional programs require chemistry for admission. Most require at least one year of general chemistry and one year of organic chemistry, both with laboratory, and more and more of them expect applicants to have had biochemistry as well. Many students have found that having the background provided by majoring in chemistry or biochemistry gives them a distinct advantage in these professional programs.

Whether your goal is to become a surgeon, a research scientist, a teacher, or an information specialist, you should examine chemistry or biochemistry as a college major. These majors aren’t for everyone, but those students who do opt for one of these majors find it as interesting as it is challenging, and they always take great pride in the degree they earn as undergraduates.

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500 El Camino Real, Santa Clara, California 95053-0270 | 408-554-4799  | Fax: 408-554-7811
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