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What does a Chemistry Professor do?

By Ken Black
Updated Mar 02, 2024
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Though the main job of a chemistry professor is to teach chemistry, the actual job may involve a lot more than that. Many professors not only teach the subject, but also conduct research into their chosen fields. In addition, some chemistry professors will also help run the chemistry department, serve as a liaison to the rest of the university, and participate in other college activities.

The level at which a chemistry professor teaches may be determined by a number of different factors, including experience, type of college and interest. Those who are just starting out in their teaching careers may start at a junior college, or teaching basic chemistry classes at the freshman and sophomore levels. Often these professors are referred to as probationary or assistant professors. Those who gain experience and respect within the field may be offered tenure, where many jobs are awarded on the basis of interest and seniority.

In order to teach most effectively a chemistry professor often develops lesson plans, which not only include lectures and homework, but also labs and demonstrations. Based on the information presented in class, along with the information presented in the directed readings, the chemistry professor creates tests to make sure the students are properly learning the material. Any student not meeting a certain standard may be recommended for tutoring or other special services.

Typically, a chemistry professor spends 40 to 50 percent of their time in the classroom actually teaching. While this may make it seem like professors have a great deal of free time on their hands, other duties often keep them very busy. The rest of the time is spent in devising lesson plans, holding office hours, grading papers and other assigned duties.

Teaching, while a major portion of the job, may not the only duty a chemistry professor has at a college or university. Eventually, the professor may be asked to serve on a board governing the chemistry department, or college of science at a particular school. In this capacity, the professor is responsible for overseeing budgets, making projections, and ensuring that adequate supplies are kept on hand.

In addition to these duties, a chemistry professor may also be working to get published in any number of different ways. Some may be conducting research into chemical reactions and processes for scientific journals or other publications. Others write textbooks for chemistry classes at both the college and high school levels. This is often in addition to teaching their regular schedule of classes.

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Discussion Comments

By Alchemy — On Jun 26, 2011

@framemaker- What you should study really depends on the type of teaching you want to do. If you are looking to teach chemistry in a middle or secondary school, you should be able to find a job with a bachelor's degree in education and a minor or second bachelor's in chemistry. In many cases, seeking a master's for an elementary through secondary teaching position may make you too expensive for schools to hire. If you want to work in a teaching position at a higher income school (suburban), then a master's would be appropriate.

If you want to work at a community college, or two-year institution, you will need a master's degree. You will not necessarily need a Chemistry PhD because you are planning to teach in a high needs subject where there is less competition.

By FrameMaker — On Jun 24, 2011

If I want to be a professor of chemistry at a community college or high school, should I study chemistry or education? How far should I pursue my education? Should I plan on graduate school, and if so should I plan to pursue a master's or PhD?

By istria — On Jun 23, 2011

@fiorite- I can give you some advice from when I sought a recommendation from my college biology department. I received a better reception to asking for a recommendation from the professor who knew me the best. I received a glowing recommendation from one of my undergrad professors that taught second year biology. She was not the most well known biology professor in the school, but she knew me and my work ethic better than any of the others. We also shared research interests, so she was partial to my cause.

Most admission boards do not know specific professors by name. What they are looking for is someone who can speak to your passions and interest in learning. There is no need to name drop in your letters of recommendation. Besides, a professor who is not as well known will likely have more time to spend on your letter of recommendation.

By Fiorite — On Jun 22, 2011

I am finishing my last year of a chemistry undergrad degree and I need a little advice about letters of recommendation. I really want to go to graduate school and research battery technology. I have never sought a letter of recommendation, and honestly, the process is daunting. What chemistry faculty members should I seek a letter of recommendation? Should I seek a letter from the most esteemed chemistry faculty member, or should I seek a letter from the chemistry professor whom I have had the most contact? The professor who knows me the best is not a tenured professor (my recitation professor), but the professor who I had two lecture classes with may not remember me. Any advice would be helpful at this point.

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