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Special Feature: Careers in the Chemical Industry

People have been brewing, distilling, purifying, cooking, and alloying for a very long time. Early attempts to turn lead into gold and water into wine may not have worked, but prehistoric protoscientists did manage to turn metals into tools and grape juice into wine, which was a big deal, as it turned out, and many of them traded their products for services, food, and whatever served as money back then. People have been doing chemistry for profit for millennia--what could possibly be new in such an old industry?

The answer, of course, is not much ... and plenty. The chemical industry is mature and stable. The fundamentals required for chemical-industry employment--curiosity, an analytical mindset, an intuitive knowledge of the fundamentals, the ability to work in teams and communicate your work--haven't changed much. Yet all science-based industries change as science progresses, technology advances, and economies evolve--and chemistry is no exception. Some fields, such as petrochemicals and polymers, fade in importance as others--medicinal chemistry, for example--command a larger share of the chemistry employment market. Specialties employers fought over a generation ago become obsolete as new specializations take their place.

One thing that hasn't changed much is compensation; industrial chemists have always made a good living, and they still do. The job market has been slow in recent years. But salaries have continued to rise, and there is evidence that the trend is reversing. It may not be a hot new industry in which even mediocre scientists can write their own tickets, but the chemical industry is big, solid, diverse, and offers great opportunities for scientists who prepare themselves well in a marketable field and take the job search seriously.

In Chemical Connections , Robin Arnette writes about several young chemists and their American industrial employers and concludes that chemists who can offer employers the right combination of skills have good prospects in today's chemical industry--especially if they can make and maintain the right connections.

In On the Road to Recovery , Elisabeth Pain discusses the state of the industry in Europe, profiles several European chemical-industry employers, and maps out industrial opportunities by chemical subdiscipline.

Petrochemicals may not be the sexiest sector, but that doesn't mean you can't get a job there. Freelancer Nina Morgan describes the petrochemical employment situation in the United Kingdom, and Andrew Fazekas profiles Dow Chemical's John Ma, a Canadian chemical engineer who works to reduce his plant's emissions and increase its efficiency.

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