Organic Chemist

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Organic Chemist


Besides DNA, peptides, proteins, and other enzymes in our bodies, organic compounds are everywhere. Organic compounds are central to the economic growth of countries in industries such as the rubber, fuel, pharmaceuticals, cosmetics, detergent and agrichemicals industries. The very foundations of biochemistry, biotechnology, and medicine are built on organic compounds and their role in life processes. Almost all of the modern, high tech materials are composed, at least in part, of organic compounds in the field of organic chemistry.

Organic chemistry is the branch of science that deals with the structure, properties and reactions of compounds that contain carbon. Chemists create and study organic compounds and their chemical and physical properties. Organic chemists that synthesize simple elements or compounds to create new substances have developed many commercial products, such as drugs, plastics, fertilizers and elastomers. Organic chemists create new molecules never before proposed which, if carefully designed, may have important properties for the betterment of the human experience.

Most organic chemists work in the pharmaceutical industry. For example, a form of nature may provide a carbon containing molecule such as a complex antibiotic, an anti-tumor agent, or a replacement for a hormone such as insulin. Accordingly, organic chemists then determine the structure of this newly discovered molecule and modify it to enhance the desired activity and specificity of action, while decreasing undesired side effects. Organic chemists have produced a number of highly successful products to fight human diseases.

Organic chemists use sophisticated instruments such as nuclear magnetic resonance, gas and liquid chromatography, and infrared, ultraviolet, and visible spectroscopy. Most of the instruments are computer driven and controlled, therefore modern computer literacy is required. Complex molecules may require three-dimensional computer modeling capability to aid in visualizing the domains of complex molecules that require synthetic modification.

Many organic chemists focus their time on research and the development of naturally occurring compounds. Some also work in the quality control area often working for the government in food and health agencies or for disease control. They create policies and regulate the use of organic chemicals in food and drugs. Organic chemists often work in teams with other scientists and engineers. They may be found in offices, writing reports on the experiments they conduct or doing research about other related scientific studies. Organic chemistry is a wonderful blend of what is known, what is not yet known, and how to apply this information to discover new knowledge. There is enough not yet known to keep it interesting and full of opportunities.
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  Interests and Skills  
What does it take to become an organic chemist? Organic chemists need good communication skills including reading and writing, and an affinity for mathematics, science and problem solving. They should be able to work independently as well as with a team, have incredible patience, creativity and meticulousness. Organic chemists should also enjoy synthesizing information and finding innovative solutions to problems, working with instruments at tasks requiring precision, and directing the work of others. They should also be persistent because experiments will not always yield the desired results.

  Typical Tasks  
  • Use chemistry to understand why chemical carbon compounds behave the way they do
  • Study the chemistry of living things and synthetic organic materials
  • Devise ways to make new organic chemical compounds and develop equipment
  • Study carbon-based elements as opposed to inorganic chemistry
  • Study the physical characteristics of matter to better understand the fundamental principles of chemical structure and behavior
  • Guide research by eliminating non-feasible options and highlighting those with the best chance of success
  • Develop analytical instrumentation and related analytical methods
  • Write reports on experiments and publish articles in scientific journals
  • May lecture and supervise students
  • Organic chemists spend time conducting experiments in laboratories but also work outside the lab studying scientific literature, doing library research, collaborating with colleagues, writing reports, preparing publications, and peer-reviewing research manuscripts. Computers are playing an ever-increasing role in simplifying these tasks. Depending on education, skills, employer, specific projects, and career track, organic chemists may be involved in a variety of tasks including designing and directing the research efforts of a group of scientists, and managing research facilities. In general, organic chemists work standard workweeks with occasional longer hours.

  Workplaces, Employers and Industries  
  • Organic chemists work for pharmaceutical companies, biotech firms, chemical companies, consumer product developers, petroleum and oil refinery plants, private consulting firms and other related industries. Research universities that grant PhDs have excellent teaching and research opportunities for PhD organic chemists. Government laboratories also employ organic chemists.

  Long Term Career Potential  
With further education, organic chemists can move into related professional disciplines such as medicine, law and engineering or study a new field of chemistry. Some go on to become scientific writers and even journalists. With experience, they can move into more managerial and supervisory roles, training junior level scientists and guiding the work of research assistants.

  Educational Paths  
Most organic chemists begin their postsecondary education by taking a four-year Bachelor of Science degree in organic chemistry. Those who wish to specialize usually continue their education to the master's or doctoral level. In general, the entrance requirement for master's degree programs in organic chemistry is an acceptable average in a four-year bachelor's program in organic chemistry (or equivalent). A PhD is often required for research and teaching positions.

Students planning careers as organic chemists should take courses in science and mathematics, and should like working with their hands building scientific apparatus and performing laboratory experiments and computer modeling.

Bureau of Labor Statistics, U.S. Department of Labor, Occupational Outlook Handbook, 2014-15 Edition,
Bureau of Labor Statistics, U.S. Department of Labor, Occupational Employment Statistics, 2002,

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