Physical Chemists

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Physical Chemists

Postby harrypotter101z » Sat Dec 04, 2010 11:25 am

What is your salary per year, what do you do specifically, do you like your job, what exact highschool courses did you take or what highschool courses are required, how many hours do you work per week?
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Re: Physical Chemists

Postby barretttomlinson » Sun Dec 05, 2010 8:23 am


You asked what physical chemists earn? The American Chemical Society conducts an annual salary survey of chemists which is the most authoritative data on the subject that I know. Here is weblink with the most current data:

What do I do specifically? I am currently retired and tutoring students of all ages in reading literacy and math skills. When I was a working professional my job duties were initially research(investigation of the absorption and Raman spectra of nucleotide bases at low temperature, later new ways to excite and measure NMR spectra, then I shifted to developing software for microprocessor based instrumentation to quantitate liquid, gas, and GC/MS chromatographic separations. I managed engineering groups which developed a number of products, and coordinated all company activities to develop several products.

I loved every aspect of the job in all its stages of evolution, and only left it when economic circumstances forced the company to terminate it.

I attended a public high school, and participated in a three year experimental AP program that was heavily oriented toward college prep. It included three years of language arts (reading and writing), 1.5 years of chemistry and a year each of physics, geometry, algebra, trigonometry, calculus, and two years of foreign language, and courses on world history, state history, and US and state government. There were about 27 high aptitude students out of about 400students in the school graduating class who took all the core classes together. I believe all 27 of us graduated from 4 year colleges, and more than half of us went on to earn advanced college degrees(PhD, MD, or LLB). About a quarter of us became college professors, most of the others became lawyers, physicians, economists, scientists or engineers. The program was similar to STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics) specialized schools being tried today, but the experiment in the school I attended was done only for the one class group I got into.

If you are asking what courses are required today for someone entering the field, I would suggest you research what college or university you wish to attend, then pay extremely close attention to their admission requirements. Sadly most high schools do not proactively advise you on this due to limited budgets for counseling, so you must be extremely proactive on this on your own behalf - I cannot emphasize this strongly enough. I strongly encourage you to visit the schools you are interested in no later than early in your junior year and interview their admissions staff and possibly professors and current students in the area of your major interest. Investigate where their graduates go on to study for higher degrees or where they find jobs, and whether current students are happy with their college experience, and what preparation they recommend while in high school. Understand that you must be ready to apply with well developed admission credentials by about October of the start of your senior year, and you will fail to win admission to selective schools if you miss any deadlines(a fact of life your high school may not emphasize to you).

You should also realize that if you wish to control your own work objectives as a research professional you will most likely have to earn a PhD. BS/BA degrees usually qualify you mostly for sales, marketing, and manufacturing, and engineering positions oftern require at least a masters degree. A PhD degree usually takes at least 4 years beyond a BA or BS degree (I.e. 8 years after high school completion).

I strongly encourage you to check out many kinds of colleges and universities and think hard about what kind of college experience will be best for you. Look at large and small schools, universities and colleges, public and private schools, and think about the advantages and disadvantages of each. In my own case my parents strongly recommended I attend a small liberal arts school for at least two years, then transfer to a large university if I wanted to. They were afraid I could get “lost” socially and/or academically in a larger university and no professors would notice my plight if I were in a class with hundreds of other students. I chose a small liberal arts school (Reed College, Portland, OR) intending to transfet to MIT in my junior year to gain access to the phenomenal research facilities MIT offers. I ended up staying at Reed all four years because I treasured the close personal relationships that developed with the chemistry professors there. Reed offered me the ability to do my own research studies beginning in my Freshman year, including paid summer research opportunities each year I was there. Classes were quite small (10-30 students after the first year “Survey of Western Civilization” lecture series that all freshman take there, which incidentally is probably the most useful class I have ever taken (I am still drawing on what I learned there almost weekly forty plus years later). What I got from the Reed education was a strong foundation in how to think analytically about problems, how to learn what I need to know on my own, and generalized skills in how to solve problems. Most of the technical facts learned in the science classes were and still are useful but the rapidly evolving “state of the art” of chemistry quickly made them largely obsolete or irrelevant within a few years. The enduring value of the education was learning how to approach and solve problems. (I think this has been true for most of my classmates as well - many of us entered fields that did not exist while we were in school - examples include Peter Norton (anti virus software - Norton Utilities) and Steve Jobs(Apple Computer, Pixar). For this reason I encourage you to consider the value of a liberal arts education rather than a “technical” education.

As to how many hours a week I worked. Initially I worked about 40-45 hours a week and read relevant books and literature in my “non work” hours. When I shifted to a development focus the work week rapidly expanded. Initially several of our projects fell seriously behind schedule and 50 to 60 hour weeks were required for several months to a few years to dig ourselves out of our holes. This meant vacations and time off were heavily constrained by the company objectives for fairly long periods of time - this is a not uncommon experience in high tech companies (see the Tracy Kidder’s book “Soul of a New Machine” for a story like this). Heavy overtime is not an infrequent price to be paid in order to play in high technology. Also be aware that as a professional you are usually paid an annual salary, not an hourly wage. This means required overtime may not be paid time, though often you get some paid time off (comp time) when the project is complete.

I hope this answers your questions.

Best regards,

Barrett L Tomlinson
Former Expert
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Joined: Wed Oct 03, 2007 12:24 am

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