Ahad, 10 Jun 2012

The Chemistry Graduates Guide 101


After a few months of hiatus from rigorous blogging activity, I am thinking of starting it all over again. Being a working women is pretty hard for your info. You may be thinking that after graduating from college/university, your are freed from those crazy, head-cracking exams, but working life is no better. There is more to it. It is more challenging yet stressful sometimes. However, it depends on your work environment for sure.

Graduating and entering the job field

It is good to hear that you have completed all of the university courses and subjects - when receiving your confirmation letter from the registrar saying that you are qualified to have your graduation/convocation day very soon, in few months ahead. In the mean time, you are already fired-up looking out for jobs - as a chemist or researcher, or anything related to chemistry.

In some cases, some chemistry graduates might opt to deviate from the field. It is your own decision. Your life is in your hands, you have the right to choose your own path. But don't you think it is such a waste when you are in 3 or 4-years of your tertiary education - taking chemistry - graduated and doing something else?

Chemist as a career

Stereotype of a chemist in the society's point of view:
  • Mingles with chemicals every single day. Bad for health.
  • Environmental polluter
  • Not a popular career (?)
  • Etc...

FYI, there are two large categories of chemistry; 'wet' and 'dry'. Being a chemist, sometimes you are needed in the lab, sometimes you need to head down to the processing plant or sampling site. But most of the time, you are just sitting on the chair and stare at the computer screen.

Every career have it's own risk, and the risk of being a chemist depends on how the safety on the work place is conducted - either by the company's safety policy or by a right practice of handling hazardous materials. As a chemist yourself, you know better about chemicals and its' hazards more than anyone else. Try to educate yourself first, before conveying the message to other colleagues.

'Wet' chemistry means - you will be directly involve with a lot of chemicals, either preparing standard solutions or sample preparation. Usually, those who is entitled as a R&D chemist knows this at it's best since doing formulation or metal recovery for them is just like a child's play.

While 'dry' chemistry plays with a lot of instrumentation, data logging and getting the report done. For further reference of careers in chemistry, I strictly recommend you to visit this website. They listed numerous career chosen by chemists in various industries such as oil and petroleum, catalysis, textiles, environmental chemistry, water chemistry and etc.

Be prepared in mind, however not all chemistry graduates get their job as a chemist. They can be process engineer, chemical engineer, R&D executive, quality assurance (QA) or quality control (QC) executive and so on.

Why chemistry?

To be frank, I don't really know why did I chose chemistry in the first place rather than that of biology or physics or even maths. But once I have graduated, I realized a few stuff.

  1. You will be recognized as a registered chemist after a 2-years of working period (only if you get yourself registered to Malaysian Institute of Chemistry). To be told the truth, there is no such thing as Malaysian Board of Biologist or Malaysian Board of Physicist in Malaysia to acknowledge our fellow biologist or physicist in Malaysia. So, be proud guys. (I have a few friends who is working as biologist, but I never heard anyone working as 'plain' physicist - except geophysicist.)
  2. You will have a wider career choice. Of course you do! Chemistry is a mixture of biology, mathematics and physics anyway.
  3. Great advantage when pursuing a higher degree - masters or Ph.D. A wider choice of field to be chosen. You can apply to any science field as long as it involves chemistry.
  4. What else...? I think I will discover more and more as my career grows.
On the side note, chemistry is a part of our life. Everything around us have it's own chemistry. Even our body is built by double, triple trillions or maybe infinite of atoms!

Of final year project, industrial practical and 'extra' project

I strongly suggest that, please opt for both final year project and industrial practical. These two things will strengthen your resume when applying job as a chemist.

Final year project is simply the best way to measure your analytical skill level as well as to 'season' yourself with heavy lab works. Besides, you will be teamed up with a postgraduate student (optional though, some student do not) that will act as your appointed 'deputy' supervisor by your real supervisor. This is a good opportunity to learn how to write a proper scientific writing along with a presentation.

'Extra' project means - help yourself by joining non-compulsory activity or courses organized by either the faculty, university or even your lecturers. This can equip yourself better for your future working life. For example:

  1. Join any courses on how to read Material Safety Data Sheet (MSDS) properly.
  2. Attend any interesting talks on any chemistry topics.
  3. During my final year, my supervisor asked me to involve in a consultancy project requested from a petrochemical plant in Kerteh, Terengganu. I hesitated at first and asked myself, why me? I was responsible to get the analysis report ready for the client, while the analysis itself was get done by a Ph.D candidate. It was no easy task, I tell you. But eventually I realized that, it opened my eyes so wide about how the real working life going on. It was a golden opportunity and a precious experience - which you cannot buy it anywhere.
  4. If you have opportunity of attending conference such as International Conference for Young Chemist (ICYC) or any conference, just go. Attending any conference, talks or projects can add merits to your resume.

Best research team in School of Chemical Sciences USM - Lignin Explorer. However, some teammates were missing in the photo though. This photo was taken during the visit of Prof. Kobayashi (fourth from right) from Nagaoka University, Japan to our school to exchange knowledge and technology advancement as well as latest research development on molecular-imprinted polymer (MIP) in May 2011.

What to do during unemployment period?

Some people are just lucky, while some people are not. Some of my friends got their job before our graduation day but most of us gradually got the job a few months after that. Unemployed status is worrisome, and there is nothing to do except struggle, struggle and just struggle to get into the work pool. It was ain't easy though.

Below are the things that I have done during my 'waiting' period. You may want to try also. Please help yourself! :)

  1. Woke up in the morning, open all job-advertising websites. You also can surf into their companies' websites since some of them do not favour the third-party job agency (usually a big, well-established company). Find any related job as many as possible.
  2. Learn how to make an effective and outstanding CV and resume. Just google it, folks. (Few people ever said to me, "Use resume template like the one that UTP students usually do." Yes I did. And I get the job. Thank God. Thanks UTPian.)
  3. Try to read a relax and light (I chose the funny ones) science articles on the net. Or books. This will help nurturing your way of thinking.
  4. If you have specific tendency towards a certain interest - e.g. medicinal chemistry or petroleum industry; do find some good reading materials. Knowing the latest technology advancement and news  can be an advantage during job interview.
  5. Re-polish your analytical skills. Since we do not own labs in our homes (do you?), so it is better to re-read about all of instruments that we ever learnt in the college. Starting from GC, GC-MS, AAS, FT-IR, NMR, UV spectrophotometer etc. until to the extent of handling basic laboratory apparatus such as titrator or pH meter. (Enjoy reading them as if you are reading manga or comics. :P)

Last but not least: Choose your specialty!

Well, if you're thinking of settling down being a chemist for the rest of your life, you better ask yourself on which industry suits you best. Choosing your specialty here basically means - your favorite chemistry branch or disciplines to work with.

A good kick-start (your first job after graduating) when entering working field is essential and crucial for your future career growth. There are numerous of branches that can fit to your liking. Learn more about chemistry disciplines by clicking here.

Finally, I hope this can be some help for your guide. Thank you for reading such a long entry. Good luck for your future undertaking!

P/s: being a doctor or engineer or teacher is too mainstream. :P

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