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Facts About Seven Interesting Organic Chemistry Careers

Linda Crampton has an honors degree in biology. She has taught high school biology, chemistry, and physics as well as middle school science.

Common chemistry lab equipment and some interesting reactions

Common chemistry lab equipment and some interesting reactions

The Nature of Organic Chemistry

Organic chemistry is the study of carbon compounds, which are also known as organic compounds. These chemicals are found in our bodies and in the bodies of other living things, where they have a myriad of functions. In addition, they are made by chemists in the laboratory.

Millions of organic compounds exist, and more are being created every day. They’re present in foods, food additives, medicines, cosmetics, fuels, plastics, agricultural chemicals, paper, fabrics, rubber, and many other substances.

Organic chemistry is the largest subdivision of chemistry and offers an exciting range of careers. These careers enable people to make a valuable contribution to society and can be very satisfying. Organic chemists work both inside and outside the laboratory. Many are involved in research. Others work in an interdisciplinary career, combining organic chemistry with another science or with technology. Some people with a chemistry degree become administrators or choose to work as educators. Others use their degree to help them in a career that is only distantly related to chemistry.

Urea (shown above) was the first organic compound synthesized in the laboratory.

Urea (shown above) was the first organic compound synthesized in the laboratory.

What Are Organic Compounds?

Originally, the term “organic compounds” referred to carbon-containing chemicals that could only be obtained from organisms, or living things. This definition is inadequate now that we can make the chemicals in the lab. Today the definition of “organic compound” is a little fuzzy. It refers to both natural and synthetic carbon compounds. Not every compound that contains carbon is considered to be organic, however. For example, carbon dioxide (CO2) and carbon monoxide (CO) are classified as inorganic.

Sometimes organic compounds are said to be those that contain carbon atoms joined to other carbon atoms, or that have carbon atoms joined to hydrogen atoms. Unfortunately, these definitions eliminate urea. Urea is famous for being the first organic compound synthesized in the laboratory. Our bodies produce the chemical from the breakdown of amino acids, which are the building blocks of protein. The urea is excreted in our urine. In practice, a chemical is considered to be organic by the general consensus of chemists.

The Life of a Chemist

Research chemists discover new carbon compounds in nature, create new ones in the lab, and study the properties and behavior of the chemicals. They often modify natural chemicals to improve their characteristics or to make them safer.

Research Scientists

Organic chemists frequently work in the area of research and development. They discover new information about chemicals and their behavior and sometimes use this information to develop a new product. Discovering an unknown fact about the natural world or creating a chemical that improves human lives is often very satisfying for scientists. Their work can be creative, challenging, and highly rewarding.

Research chemists do laboratory work, but they also do library or Internet research, discuss their work with other scientists, and write reports. They often use sophisticated lab equipment and computer software in their work. Computers are used to store and analyze data. In addition, computer-aided design software (CAD software) is used to help chemists create molecular models of organic compounds and modify the structure of the molecules.

Many chemists collaborate with other researchers, so the ability to work with others is essential for an organic chemistry graduate. Research chemists often work in teams under a project leader. They may be employed by government agencies, pharmaceutical, agricultural, or petrochemical companies, environmental organizations, processed food manufacturers, or industries that manufacture other useful products. Industrial chemists may be involved in creating, analyzing, and testing products. Research chemists are also employed by universities, where they both perform research and teach.

Organic Chemistry Lab Equipment

Medicinal and Pharmaceutical Chemists

Most medicinal chemists are involved in finding, producing, and analyzing new pharmaceutical drugs in the laboratory. Sometimes a medicinal chemist performs a desk job such as reviewing drug applications and doesn't actually work in a laboratory.

Medicinal chemistry is sometimes known as pharmaceutical chemistry. Some organizations consider the subjects to be the same discipline while others consider them to be different, although the stated differences vary. They are at least very closely related. A student interested in training for one—or both—of these careers should check the description of a relevant university or college program carefully to help them plan for the future.

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An organic chemistry degree is excellent preparation for becoming a medicinal chemist, since most medicines are organic compounds. A knowledge of biology is helpful, too. A medicinal chemist will probably be working with biologists or with people trained in pharmaceutical science.

A Career in Medicinal Chemistry


Biochemistry is a distinct subject today but began as an interdisciplinary area involving both biology and chemistry. A biochemist needs a background in both subjects. A career as a biochemist could be a fascinating choice for someone who is interested in the chemical reactions that take place in living things.

Organisms are made of chemicals, so understanding the behavior of these chemicals inside their body is a vital activity. Research performed by biochemists may not only help us to understand life better but may also have practical importance in areas such as medicine, veterinary medicine, agriculture, and toxicology.

The Importance of Biochemistry

Forensic Chemists

Forensic chemistry requires a knowledge of organic compounds. In this career, scientists identify substances found in material collected at a crime scene to help solve the crime. Many of these substances are organic, including chemicals from body fluids or tissues and chemicals from clothing, but inorganic compounds are present as well. A forensic investigator therefore needs a good knowledge of both organic and inorganic chemistry.

Some universities offer special courses or programs in forensic chemistry. These should be investigated if you want to work as a forensic chemist, since you will need to learn specialized techniques as well as chemistry.

A Forensic Chemist Describes a Typical Work Day

Chemical Informatics or Cheminformatics

Chemical informatics, also known as cheminformatics, could be an interesting career for someone who is interested in computers as well as chemistry. It involves the storage, retrieval, manipulation, and application of data about chemicals. Since organic compounds are so important to humans, a knowledge of organic chemistry is important in informatics. A student aiming for this career needs to learn about all types of chemicals, however.

Cheminformatics deals with both real molecules and hypothetical ones. A particular database may include the predicted properties of a virtual compound that is related to a real one. It may also help researchers to discover how to synthesize the virtual molecule.

Chemists of all kinds will almost certainly have to use a computer as well as lab equipment.

Chemists of all kinds will almost certainly have to use a computer as well as lab equipment.


Some organic chemists work in the field of biotechnology, which is the use of microorganisms or of chemicals made by living things to perform a manufacturing or an industrial process. The microorganisms may be genetically altered to make them more useful. The goal is to make a product that is useful for humans. Although microbes are most often used for genetic manipulation, other organisms are sometimes used instead. The methods used to change the genes of an organism are part of biotechnology.

Biotechnology is an interdisciplinary science involving both biology and chemistry. Many of the useful chemicals made by microorganisms, such as DNA and enzymes, are organic. An organic chemist can be a valuable member of a team that is working on a biotechnology project. It's helpful if the chemist knows some biology as well.

DNA and Biotechnology

Chemistry and Science Teachers

Some organic chemists combine teaching and research at a university. Others teach at the college level or in a high school. A high school teacher usually teaches several related subjects instead of just one subject, unless they're teaching in a large school with a high student enrollment. If you plan on a career as a high school chemistry teacher, make sure that you study other science subjects as well. You will also need a knowledge of both organic and inorganic chemistry.

Chemistry graduates who plan on becoming high school teachers need more than an interest in their subject. They should also be interested in educational techniques. They should enjoy working with young people and helping them succeed in various areas.

Teaching Chemistry

A Chemistry Career Poll

Other Possible Careers

Chemistry graduates have skills that are valuable in any career. They are trained to think logically, solve problems, perform experiments in an organized fashion, record data clearly, analyze data, do math calculations, and use computers.

Organic chemists may get further training and work as lawyers, specializing in cases involving chemicals and chemistry. They may also work in marketing and sales departments for chemical companies. Excellent oral and written communication skills are necessary in a sales career. The chemist may be required to promote chemicals or the equipment used in chemistry laboratories. Another less traditional career for organic chemists is scientific or technical publishing (provided the student has taken English courses and has studied other sciences in addition to taking organic chemistry courses).

The study of chemicals is an interesting and potentially very useful activity.

The study of chemicals is an interesting and potentially very useful activity.

If you are still in high school or secondary school, a guidance or career counselor could be a good person to consult in relation to chemistry careers in your part of the world. If you are already attending college or university, a counselor in the institution or a chemistry professor could be a good person to advise you about career opportunities, requirements, and responsibilities.

How Can I Become an Organic Chemist?

Organic chemists need a university degree in chemistry and must make sure that they take lots of organic chemistry courses in their studies. Computer science courses are important too, since the computer is often an important tool for chemists.

People with all types of chemistry degrees may be able to find a job in a research lab, but generally those with a PhD lead a project and direct people with other degrees. Someone with a bachelor's degree may be able to advance in their career as they gain experience, but the advancement will almost certainly go much further if the person has a higher degree.

University teachers require a PhD. College teachers need a PhD or a master's degree. High school teachers require a bachelor's degree followed by extra training to qualify for a teacher's certificate. Some other careers, such as forensic chemistry, also require specialized training in addition to a knowledge of chemistry.

A career in organic chemistry is a very worthwhile goal. Chemists have the opportunity to make a useful contribution to humanity, since organic compounds are so important in our lives. Chemistry can also be very rewarding for someone who is curious about the physical or biological world and how it operates.

Career Resources

  • Chemistry career information from the American Chemical Society
  • Career options from the Royal Society of Chemistry
  • Ideas for chemistry careers from the University of Toronto

This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.

© 2012 Linda Crampton


Yogesh Oza from Ahmedabad, Gujarat, INDIA. on March 23, 2015:

O.K., AliciaC.

Linda Crampton (author) from British Columbia, Canada on March 22, 2015:

That's a lovely thought, yograj yog.

Yogesh Oza from Ahmedabad, Gujarat, INDIA. on March 22, 2015:

Let us all serve our people with the knowledge of chemistry we have gained so far. There is no better way to salute the subject.

Linda Crampton (author) from British Columbia, Canada on March 20, 2015:

That's an interesting idea, yograj yog! I will definitely think about it.

Yogesh Oza from Ahmedabad, Gujarat, INDIA. on March 20, 2015:

Thanks for reciprocating, AliciaC. There are numerous organic compounds, we come across in our day to day life. Is it possible to write an individual hub on each of them? Like on: toothpaste, shaving cream, deodorant, shampoo, soap, detergent, etc., so as to inspire people to build their career with them?

Linda Crampton (author) from British Columbia, Canada on March 19, 2015:

Thank you very much, yograj yog. Organic chemistry is a fascinating and important subject.

Yogesh Oza from Ahmedabad, Gujarat, INDIA. on March 19, 2015:

This is very inspiring hub. Organic chemistry is vast and it's knowledge through such hub makes it interesting. It is a great service to society.

Linda Crampton (author) from British Columbia, Canada on May 25, 2012:

Thank you very much for the comment, drbj! I appreciate all your visits to my hubs.

drbj and sherry from south Florida on May 25, 2012:

You are making it much easier, Alicia, for prospective students with interests in Chemistry to make a choice about their future career. Brava, m'dear.

Linda Crampton (author) from British Columbia, Canada on May 24, 2012:

Thank you, Aditi. I think that organic chemistry is an interesting subject to explore.

Aditi Karmarkar from India on May 24, 2012:

I love organic chemistry and after finding out about the opportunities available, i like it even more. This hub was very useful. Thanks.

Linda Crampton (author) from British Columbia, Canada on May 24, 2012:

Hi, b. Malin. Thanks for the visit and the kind comment. I hope you enjoyed your trip and are now settled into your summer home!

b. Malin on May 24, 2012:

As usual a very through and Informative Hub on Careers in Organic Chemistry, Alicia. Lots of Career opportunities which are so valued in this Economy. Wonderful research which we could all understand, and gain useful Information, as well as knowledge from. Thanks for sharing.

Linda Crampton (author) from British Columbia, Canada on May 23, 2012:

Thank you so much for the visit, mwilliams66. I appreciate your comments very much!

mwilliams66 from Left Coast, USA on May 23, 2012:

Great hub Alicia. I found it to be both comprehensive and easily understood. I thoroughly enjoy your hubs!

Linda Crampton (author) from British Columbia, Canada on May 23, 2012:

Thank you for the comment, Supriya. I'm glad you found the hub useful.

Supriya on May 23, 2012:

Its grt! Really helpful...

Linda Crampton (author) from British Columbia, Canada on May 23, 2012:

Thank you for the comments, GERALD-710. Bonding with carbon atoms sounds like an interesting idea!

GERALD-710 from United States on May 23, 2012:

Nice hub.I loved Organic chemistry and I used to ace it(both organic chem 1 and 2).It gives you a basic foundation when you do the Medicinal Chemistry units.

@Mellisa.You have to bond with the carbon atoms and learn to love them :)

GERALD-710 from United States on May 23, 2012:

I am an Industrial Chemist.I did not find organic chemistry that hard(Got As in both Organic Chem 1 and 2) compared to say Structural Chemistry.

However,it provides a good foundation for medicinal chemistry for sure!

Linda Crampton (author) from British Columbia, Canada on May 22, 2012:

Thank you for the comment, Ahmed.

Linda Crampton (author) from British Columbia, Canada on May 22, 2012:

Hi, Melissa. I'm sorry you're having such a hard time with your chemistry course! Organic chemistry can be a challenging subject. Good luck for next semester!!

Ahmed Foyez from sylhet on May 22, 2012:


Melissa A Smith from New York on May 22, 2012:

This stuff is plain evil. I'm re-taking organic chemistry for the THIRD time next semester. Errr. Nice hub.

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