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hankdavis
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[*] posted on 2-7-2008 at 08:40
Using my education


Problem: I've got that affinity towards danger and Pyrex, and it looks like I'm sticking with it through to becoming a chemist/chemical engineer. As it stands, I'm working towards chemical/biomedical engineering (its essentially pharmaceuticals) here at NCSU and then going after a masters in chem. I really plan to use the hell out of my education to achieve a potent yet legit personal inventory. I'm pretty much in the dark on this issue and I'd like to know if I should change directions professionally to give me the most versatility as a Joe Schmoe chemist.


1. Generally speaking, whats open to undergrads outside of normal classes, so I can get my hands wet?

2. Realistically, how much will a degree help with the pain in the ass issues of reagent ownership and lab operation I deal with now, if it's not related to my job?

3. How boring and shenanigans free is the engineering route as opposed to getting four years of just chem?


Whatever experience you have to share would be great, so I know exactly what I'm getting into while its still early.

[Edited on 2-7-2008 by hankdavis]




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[*] posted on 2-7-2008 at 09:11


I am a 3rd year ChemE student. Outside of class, I do research with a professor and a PhD student. One thing I like about being an engineer opposed to pure sciences is that I don't have to take all those other lrequired iberal studies classes such as foreign language and history/cultural studies because I absolutely fail at those subjects :D



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[*] posted on 2-7-2008 at 09:37


I'm not sure I understand your question. But I don't think you should use your desire to support a home chemistry hobby as the basis for choosing what university degree to pursue.

Instead, I recommend takings some chemistry courses and reading the posts on this forum.
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[*] posted on 2-7-2008 at 09:56


I am a qualified chemist and I did a lot of experiments before I went to university.
While I was at university and working as a chemist I did very little in the way of home experiments, I think I had enough chemistry at work!
Now I work with computers I have bought some chemicals and equipment and I do the odd experiment to amuse friends and family.
You are quite restricted with respect to the chemicals and facilities that you can afford or safely have at home.
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hankdavis
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[*] posted on 2-7-2008 at 11:31


Well that's a bummer, it's kind of disappointing that any serious lab work I do will be somewhat confined by my occupation. I don't mean a lab in my home per say, just something privately owned that allow me to stay eclectic, perhaps doing metallurgy Monday and taking a look at plant alkaloids on Thursday, just for the pleasure of finding things out. I suppose chemists don't like impulsive workers hah..



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[*] posted on 2-7-2008 at 12:19


Almost without exception, if you intend to get paid for your lab work, or any kind of work for that matter, your employer is going to insist that you work on the task you have been assigned. If you work for a large company this will likely be in a narrowed field of inquiry.

Hopping from one interesting problem to another of wide variety is most likely to be found in a very small company where you would necessarily have broad responsibilities. Still everything must support the botom line. You will still have to justify each project to your superiors in advance.

Only when you have reached an honored status due to years of accomplishment, or outstanding accomplishment, would you be able to just dabble in whatever you feel like, and still get paid for it. The only person that comes to mind doing that is Albert Einstein in his last years at Princeton.

The home chemist, however, can dabble in whatever suits his fancy, within the limitations of his budget, of course. ;)
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[*] posted on 2-7-2008 at 12:56


1. Screw the masters...go for the PhD. It's only 2 years more and the average anual income difference between a chemist with his/her masters and Ph.D is >20K! (Cite C&E news)

2. If you are in the chemistry department, talk to the profs. Most would LOVE to have more undergraduates do research in their lab.

3. Check out REU programs. Most big universities have them. It's a summer program where you go work in a lab, get free housing and a decent pay check (usually over 3K for 8-10 weeks).


Chemical engineers make more money, but know less chemistry than chemists. It all depends on what you want in life...a better pay check or more knowledge.
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hankdavis
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[*] posted on 2-7-2008 at 15:55


Thanks, that actually helps a lot. I must sound like a little kid asking how much can I play as a professional, but its more about being immersed in the field and the fresh material. Why get stale after all that work right? So while that points me toward general chemistry, my last question is how are the grad schools going to look at general chemistry vs chemical engineering when I go to apply? I'm guessing they'll prefer the former, so by how much?



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[*] posted on 2-7-2008 at 16:08


I know a bunch of chemical engineers (and attend one of the top 5 chem engineering schools in the US) and some of them couldn't tell a ketone from a carboxylic acid (granted, only some of them are that bad) but the school teaches no actual chemistry to them after sophmore year...most of them just scrape through organic. I dropped out of the engineering program in favor of a BS in chemistry where I have the schedule space for things like advanced organic synthesis and molecular biology (recomended to me since the use of enzymatic tools and biosyntheses are likely to go up).

F2Chemist is definetly right about undergrad research. My I-chem prof was breathing down my neck to do research this summer (already had other plans) since I seemed to know more than him sometimes and the profs would much prefer students with some interest beyond the stipend.




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[*] posted on 2-7-2008 at 16:09


F2Chemist has it right (I defend in Sept. or Oct.).

Whilst an undergraduate, I worked in a private environmental lab. The pay sucks, the hours are rediculous, and holding time violations can get you fired. BUT---You will get into a bit of everything, extractions, derivitization (think diazomethane), instrumental analysis. You will also learn to work with deadlines (a concept poorly understood, much less taught, in the academic theatre).

If you were meant to be a Chemist, you will *enjoy this*. You will also have a resume to die-for *and* a graduate school may overlook an otherwise questionable transcript.

It is one of the only ways to have a full-time job in Chemistry whilst working on your BS (Ha!) and it worked for me.

Cheers,

O3




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F2Chemist
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[*] posted on 3-7-2008 at 07:23


Quote:
Originally posted by hankdavis
my last question is how are the grad schools going to look at general chemistry vs chemical engineering when I go to apply? I'm guessing they'll prefer the former, so by how much?


Unfortunately as pointed out earlier, chem e's don't need to take much chemistry at all for their degree. Thus, I don't know a single chemistry Ph.D. program that would take a chem e. They just don't have the nessesary background.

You could still do undergrad research while working on a chem e. BS. I know some BIOLOGY undergrads who have done undergrad research in a chem lab. If you're good at chem e. and you like it, I suggest that you think about going to grad school for a Ph.D. in chem e.


Here are the latest average salary numbers from C&E news (June 2008, in thousands of dollars):

BS Chem:37.5
BS Chem e: 59.5
MS Chem: 50
MS Chem E: 62.5
Ph.D. Chem: 70
Ph. D Chem E: 84

Is that extra 4-6 years in school worth it? You do the math!
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hankdavis
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[*] posted on 9-7-2008 at 00:32


Well, thanks to the internet I'm switching majors. There goes a year of school down the drain... I don't particularly mind, I think using college just to get a "good" job is a death sentence.

Hopefully, the chem route is the ideal path for me to take. In high school, I was able to score a 5 on the AP, though I hardly showed up to class (read the textbook!). Ultimately I'm really looking to do two things with my education: A) have the most sophisticated private workshop possible to entertain my interests in chemistry, electronics, and physics. B) Make more scientific resources available to "amateurs"

Hopelessly ambitious, right? I could pursue the latter two of my interests, but the restrictions and stigmas attached to chemistry make the other fields relatively accessible to anyone. College has become a scam, and I've heard that professional research is riddled with politics, so I'm sure you can see where I'm coming from.




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[*] posted on 11-7-2008 at 08:28


Quote:
Originally posted by F2Chemist
Is that extra 4-6 years in school worth it? You do the math!


I gotta believe that if "doing the math" is what drives your decision whether or not to pursue a PhD, you really shouldn't pursue it.

If you just "do the math" on salaries vs. the opportunity cost of 4-6 years NOT earning meaningful income in grad school, you'll probably find that you never make up the monetary difference by pursuing the PhD. Remember, by the time you come out with your PhD, you could've had 4-6 years worth of raises and/or promotions.

On the other hand, a PhD can open doors that are almost always closed to those not "in the club". You have to decide whether you need what's behind those doors.
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F2Chemist
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[*] posted on 11-7-2008 at 12:42


Quote:
Originally posted by -jeffB
If you just "do the math" on salaries vs. the opportunity cost of 4-6 years NOT earning meaningful income in grad school, you'll probably find that you never make up the monetary difference by pursuing the PhD. Remember, by the time you come out with your PhD, you could've had 4-6 years worth of raises and/or promotions.


Never make up the monetary difference by pursuing the PhD?! Are you crazy or just bad at math?

Example:

Person A:
Gets a job right out of College (BS)
Gets a job paying $40K per year with a 4% raise each year (to keep up with inflation).

Person B:
Goes to grad school, gets a PhD.
During grad school makes a stipend of $25K per year (pretty average).

After 5 years Person A has earned $216,654 and has 5 years of experience under his/her belt and is making $46.8K per year.

After 5 years Person B has earned $125K and has a PhD.

Since the average starting salary in the industry for someone with a PhD is around $75K (with the same 4% per year raises) it will take only ~3-4 years for person B to catch up to Person A in total amount earned. Added to this the earning potential for person A is only around $50-60K per year while Person B's is around $100-125K.


By age 60, person A will have made ~$1.9 million in his/her life.

Assuming person B capped out at $100K, by age 60, he/she would have made ~$3.3 million!

To say that by going to grad school you will never make up the monetary difference is just not true. It's not even CLOSE to being true.
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[*] posted on 11-7-2008 at 17:13


Aside from teaching with a PhD, I would be hard pressed to find someone in industry with a PhD that is not making over $100K a year. I know several people with their PhDs, one at Corning who makes $250,000 per annum and another who does consulting (granted he's not strictly chemistry) that makes at least as much. I have a friend who is a biochemist and does consulting and custom synthesis and she does exceptionally well. These may not be the norms for what a PhD may make, but by no means should one with a PhD feel doomed to a <$100,000 salary. It's my opinion that if you're not making good money with your advanced degree, then you're not trying hard enough.

Honestly, I think the median salary is that low only because of all of the professors that are in education.




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[*] posted on 11-7-2008 at 17:37


Quote:
Originally posted by F2Chemist
Never make up the monetary difference by pursuing the PhD?! Are you crazy or just bad at math?


Not especially -- mostly just bad at resetting my assumptions. :)

Quote:
Example:

Person A:
Gets a job right out of College (BS)
Gets a job paying $40K per year with a 4% raise each year (to keep up with inflation).


If person A is not sitting on his/her hands, he/she should be able to do better than "keeping up with inflation". I don't know what starting salaries and promotions are like in chemistry or ChemE, but I'd expect at least one advancement in the first five years or so with a significant raise above and beyond the range you mention.

Quote:
Person B:
Goes to grad school, gets a PhD.
During grad school makes a stipend of $25K per year (pretty average).


...which is just about enough to live on, but not enough to accumulate significant savings and investments. See, that's what you have to compare: not how much you can earn, but how much you get to keep.

The money that you make during grad school basically covers your expenses, with maybe a little bit left over. You aren't going to be saving heavily on a graduate stipend, and that means you miss out on the first four to six years of compounding.

Quote:
After 5 years Person A has earned $216,654 and has 5 years of experience under his/her belt and is making $46.8K per year.

After 5 years Person B has earned $125K and has a PhD.


After five years, Person A (assuming some wisdom, planning and thrift) has accumulated $50K or so in investments, and Person B has essentially zilch.

Quote:
Since the average starting salary in the industry for someone with a PhD is around $75K (with the same 4% per year raises) it will take only ~3-4 years for person B to catch up to Person A in total amount earned. Added to this the earning potential for person A is only around $50-60K per year while Person B's is around $100-125K.


By age 60, person A will have made ~$1.9 million in his/her life.

Assuming person B capped out at $100K, by age 60, he/she would have made ~$3.3 million!

To say that by going to grad school you will never make up the monetary difference is just not true. It's not even CLOSE to being true.


For the set of assumptions you describe, you're apparently correct.

The advice I was given, when contemplating a PhD in computer science, was that it's not a financial slam-dunk. CS salaries didn't reflect such a disparity between BS, MS and PhD, and finding employment with a CS PhD is actually tougher than if you have just an MS. Of course, that isn't especially relevant to the discussion immediately at hand.

More to the point, though, getting a PhD is not like working ambitiously at a job in industry. There are lots of people capable of one but not the other. There are lots of people capable of either, but likely to be miserably unhappy at one or the other.

If you're pursuing a PhD just to maximize your earning power, your path is not likely to bring you happiness. This is a weaker claim than my original one, but I think it's still significant. What's your take on it?
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[*] posted on 11-7-2008 at 20:58


Quote:

...which is just about enough to live on, but not enough to accumulate significant savings and investments. See, that's what you have to compare: not how much you can earn, but how much you get to keep.


Then you have never been poor. If I started making 25k a year about 4 years ago, I would've felt like a millionare. I would've had more money than I knew what to do with. And that's after bills!

You can live on +/- 10k/year. I did it. I mean, I had to eat balogna sandwiches and canned corn everyday, but I did it. 25k would have been fancy living for me. Even now.

[Edited on 7-11-2008 by MagicJigPipe]




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[*] posted on 12-7-2008 at 07:46


Quote:
Originally posted by MagicJigPipe
Then you have never been poor. If I started making 25k a year about 4 years ago, I would've felt like a millionare. I would've had more money than I knew what to do with. And that's after bills!


Were you paying $10K/yr for tuition, books, etc?

More power to you if you're living in a place where that's good money. Unfortunately, many of the better graduate programs are in places where 25k doesn't go very far.
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[*] posted on 13-7-2008 at 00:29


I've got the whole spectrum of education in my family. While it may not reflect the entire population, the BSs and MSs are making a good 25k more a year than either of the PhDs with only +-5 years difference in age. Knowing this firsthand, I'm well aware that it's not the path to money.

I'm surprised how little anyone has talked about the personal hell that I've heard those "few" extra years can be. At that point don't the economic benefits become sort of moot?




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[*] posted on 13-7-2008 at 04:52


Hello,

I live in Estonia and I take my first year of applied chemistry and biotechnology this fall.
It's undergraduate study and we have a good chance of being able to do research in freshly renovated organic synthesis labs after the first semester, depends on how well we master the basics in Organic chemistry I. After the first year, it's possible to do practical work under supervision in the nearby chemical apparatus and synthesis firm (If one has done good job in the lab). But it seems to me that in this field antything below PhD will not quite make me ready for the challenges I'd like to meet. As for the salarys, we have lowest science funding in the whole EU. (Basically, professors in the university earn about 15-20k a year). I have also participated in a preparative course which covered the fundamentals of higher level math, physics and chemistry. Fortunately, the education is free for us :)
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[*] posted on 16-7-2008 at 17:19


definitely go for the chem degree and not the chem eng degree if you like science.

I went with the chem and 3 of my cousins went with the chem eng deg.

to this day , they don't understand a word I'm saying when I start talking chemistry to them.

one wound up with a pharm, another doing roof work and the third in financials.

I'm doing applied / basic science research




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[*] posted on 17-7-2008 at 05:17


Quote:
Originally posted by hankdavis
I'm surprised how little anyone has talked about the personal hell that I've heard those "few" extra years can be. At that point don't the economic benefits become sort of moot?


That depends a lot on your personality, your program, and your advisor. I liked grad school a lot, I wasn't particularly ambitious, and my advisor was pretty laid-back. I managed to stretch out grad school for eleven years. It was only toward the end that it got really unpleasant -- when you hang around that long, it starts to reflect badly on the department, and they start applying pressure to both you and your advisor. Again, though, my PhD is in computer science, and pursuing a chemistry degree is probably quite different.
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