Undergraduate Admissions

Department of Chemistry University of Oxford

Planning your future career direction, you might well be concerned with some of the following questions. What is the point of training as a chemist in the 21st century? What are the prospects of fulfilling work after taking a Chemistry degree? How can I make a difference?  

The employment potential of an Oxford Chemistry graduate is very high, both in Chemistry-related areas and elsewhere. Chemistry is the basis of the most economically important industries in the UK, and these companies require a supply of high quality graduate chemists. Almost all our graduates gain immediate employment or continue to a higher degree.

Chemistry furnishes much of the material base of modern civilisation, and chemists are a constant source of innovation for its further benefit. It is hard to imagine any product introduced in recent times that did not require the creative efforts of a chemist at some stage in its development. From the formulation of petrol, through the materials and colouring of your clothes, to antibiotics and other pharmaceuticals, chemists have played a key role in shaping our modern world. The 20th century saw several industrial revolutions resulting from new materials created by chemists, for example plastics, the liquid crystal display on your computer, the etching process that made microchip technology possible, and many developments in medicine ­ antibiotics, DNA technology. The list is endless and we can expect many more civilisation changing discoveries in this century: molecular machines, molecular opto-electronics, new magnetic and superconducting materials, smart materials, molecular medicine, fuel cells, the hydrogen economy ­ many of these are the subjects of active research in the Department ­ and this is just what we have already imagined. Most really novel discoveries are made in University research labs where researchers have the freedom to follow their curiosity, and of course some are completely unexpected.

Not all chemical technology has been an unqualified success, of course. The commercial exploitation of some discoveries in Chemistry, poor containment and industrial accidents have had disturbing effects on the environment. Again, chemists play a key role in identifying and analyzing the problem and in proposing solutions ­ whether this be environmental impact assessment, cleaning up, new ecologically sustainable procedures or, as in the case of CFC’s, a complete ban. 

Research chemists perform many roles: some provide and evaluate new compounds and materials; some devise new and cleaner methods of synthesis and manufacture; some develop new investigative techniques and instrumentation; some participate in the design and marketing of new products; some are involved in analysis, forensic science, quality control and environmental protection; some build and operate models of large and complex systems, such as the atmosphere. None of this is possible without a strong university education in Chemistry.

Because of the great economic importance of Chemistry chemists have important roles high up in the decision-making processes, both in the UK and abroad: on the boards of chemical companies (they need to understand their processes and products); in parliament and the civil service; in the law (particularly patent law). One of our graduates became Prime Minister, and several of our staff are or have been government science advisers.

Moreover, there is a clear need for dedicated and qualified Chemistry teachers (currently in very short supply) at all levels. Society cannot manage without chemists.

Chemistry occupies a central position among the sciences. It has important interfaces with mathematics and physics, with engineering, and with biology and medicine. The study of Chemistry, with its uniquely wide span within the scientific spectrum, is an excellent way to develop your intellect. You acquire not only a powerful battery of analytical skills for problem solving, but also the ability to analyse critically and to ask the pertinent questions. These skills are transferable to almost any context, and are highly valued in the world of commerce and finance. The earnings premium on a Chemistry degree is 30%, similar to Physics (30%) and Engineering (31%). These are the top rated subjects in earning potential apart from Medicine and Law.