Studying for a Chemistry Degree in the UK

Studying for a chemistry degree here in the UK is a great opportunity. Our university degrees are internationally recognised, and anyone with the right academic qualifications can pursue one. A degree in chemistry will open the door to a huge range of career opportunities and allow you to make valuable contributions to the development of humanity. 

Key takeaways

  • Chemistry is a foundational science that originated from alchemy
  • You can specialise in a particular area in chemistry
  • The main difference between an undergraduate and a postgraduate course is the amount of research
Education and science concept - group of colorful books and microscope on the wooden table in the classroom, blackboard background

Why Study Chemistry?

Studying chemistry will help you understand reality and how seemingly ‘magical’ occurrences (more on that below) actually work. It does this by providing you with the knowledge and skills to investigate chemical reactions and properties of matter, allowing you to apply scientific knowledge and theories to a wide variety of things, from food processing to sending rockets into space. 

A degree in chemistry will also open the door to many opportunities, allowing you to build a rewarding career in a range of fields. You could become a:

With a chemistry degree, you’ll not only be able to pursue a high paying career in chemistry, you’ll also have the chance to make your mark on the world by contributing to an industry that’s focussed on improving humanity. 

Alchemy Roots of Chemistry

Chemistry is scientific and empirical but, like many modern scientific disciplines, it has its roots in magical thinking.

The science of chemistry can trace its origins back to ancient times, particularly the study of alchemy, which originated in Ancient Egypt. The latter is considered a protoscience (a discipline that can’t really be scientifically proved or disproved), and the immediate ancestor of chemistry.

As a protoscience, alchemy combines superstitious beliefs in magic with the practical investigation of nature. In fact, many of the elements and compounds that we know today were discovered by ancient alchemists.

Although ancient alchemists wrongly believed in only five elements (fire, water, air, earth, and ether), they made some contributions in discovering real elements. They also helped categorise some basic groups of substances and chemical reactions, such as acid-base reactions. Some of the well-known natural elements in ancient times are:

  • Copper
  • Lead
  • Gold
  • Antimony
  • Silver
  • Gold
  • Iron
  • Tin
  • Sulphur
  • Mercury
  • Zinc

A few of the formerly magical beliefs in alchemy, like the transmutation of metals and the elixir of life, are now scientifically possible to some extent. This shows how chemistry allows humanity to achieve goals that were once considered improbable, if not totally impossible. For instance, the transmutation of metals can now be done with the help of particle accelerators.

Perhaps it’s accurate to say that, to some extent, chemistry does create real magic. However, it’s a type of magic that’s based on revealing the mysteries of nature, rather than concealing them.

Forensic scientist examining murder weapon
Studying chemistry paves the way to exciting careers, like forensic science

What is the Importance of Chemistry?

As a scientific pursuit, chemistry is driven by the quest for knowledge. However, it inevitably produces practical applications, even when not originally intended. In fact, chemistry is central to many industries, like the pharmaceutical industry and the petroleum processing industry.

Chemistry is one of the foundational sciences that has a critical role in our global civilization. Many of the things we take for granted, like the mass production of consumer goods, transportation, and energy generation, wouldn’t be possible on a large scale without the application of chemistry.

We all benefit from chemistry in our daily lives. From the hygiene products that we use, like soaps and toothpastes, and the medicines we take, to the food we eat and the petrol we fill our cars with, the applications of chemistry are almost omnipresent.

Chemistry has an important role to play in everything we do. All of the conveniences and essentials in our daily lives are made possible by those with expertise in chemistry, and especially by those with advanced degrees in chemistry.

Types of Chemistry Degrees

Chemistry has various specialisations, such as biochemistry, pharmaceutical chemistry, chemical engineering, and many, many more. Each of these specific fields can be pursued at an academic level, whether it’s a technical and vocational training programme, an undergraduate degree, or a postgraduate degree. 

You can earn a chemistry degree by either becoming a full-time university student, or by undertaking a chemistry apprenticeship where you earn while you learn. 

Bachelor of Science (BSc)

A Bachelor of Science (BSc) is an undergraduate degree that typically lasts between three to five years. This is the type of degree you’ll earn if you study for a chemistry degree

In order to be accepted onto a BSc chemistry degree course, you first need to have the right academic qualifications, in addition to a passion for and practical skills in chemistry. In the UK, you must have:

  • A Levels: The grades you’ll need here will change from university to university. The subjects you take should include chemistry, one or two other sciences, and ideally maths. 
  • GCSEs: You must be able to demonstrate a broad range of and success in general education, which is exactly what GCSEs help you accomplish. Ideally, you need to earn a grade C or above in English, Maths, and Science. 

While GCSEs are mandatory, A levels are not, but an NVQ at Level 3 can act as an A level equivalent when applying for university. If you’re from outside the UK, the completion of an IB (International Baccalaureate) is also accepted. 

If you’re a full-time student or a full-time apprentice, you can finish a BSc chemistry degree in three years, depending on the specific course. Some courses require four years of study, while part-time courses can take up to five or six.

The standardised core subjects on a BSc chemistry course are basically the same for most universities and colleges. While the exact course content will vary depending on the university you attend, the specific course you choose, and the electives you take, you can generally expect to cover the following topics:

Year 1

  • Molecular orbital approaches to chemical bonding
  • Chemical reaction mechanisms
  • Molecular spectroscopy; coordination chemistry
  • Thermodynamics
  • Kinetics
  • Quantum mechanics

Year 2

  • Bonding and reactivity
  • Chromatography
  • Organometallic chemistry
  • Molecular symmetry
  • Metal-ligand bonding
  • Polymer chemistry
  • Advanced spectroscopy
  • Biological and heterocyclic chemistry

Year 3

  • Computational chemistry
  • Organic and inorganic synthetic methods
  • Surface chemistry and catalysis
  • Molecular structure determination and photochemistry
  • Nuclear chemistry 
  • Environmental and biological chemistry

These are only the general topics covered in an undergraduate chemistry course. If you want to know the exact topics you’ll study at your chosen university, check out their course guide on their website. 

Business concept meaning Bachelor of Science B.S. with phrase on the page.

Master’s Degree (MChem/MSci)

A master’s degree in chemistry is similar to a bachelor’s degree in terms of the topics covered. However, the specific subjects are more advanced and involve more research projects. Depending on the university, it may take you about four to five years to finish a master’s degree, mainly because of the thesis or dissertation you’ll be required to complete.

Typically, you need an undergraduate degree in chemistry or another relevant subject in order to qualify for a master’s degree. You’ll also need to have passed your undergraduate degree with a decent grade. Depending on your research topic, a master’s degree in chemistry may also involve a year in industry or a year abroad.

What Can a Chemistry Degree Lead To?

After successfully completing a chemistry degree, a variety of opportunities will be opened up for you. You work in academia as a teacher or a university lecturer, or you can work in private companies as a laboratory scientist. 

You could also be employed by government agencies, such as environmental regulation agencies. Here are more of the career options that you’ll have:

  • Civil servant
  • Environmental consultant
  • Management consultant
  • Nuclear engineer
  • Patent attorney or officer
  • Radiation protection practitioner
  • Science writer

If you really want to become an expert in a particular field of chemistry, you can pursue higher academic degrees such as doctoral and post-doctoral degrees. You can also focus on research as a scientist and work on large international projects funded by governments or international organisations.

Disclaimer

The blog on chemicals.co.uk and everything published on it is provided as an information resource only. The blog, its authors and affiliates accept no responsibility for any accident, injury or damage caused in part or directly from following the information provided on this website. We do not recommend using any chemical without first consulting the Material Safety Data Sheet which can be obtained from the manufacturer and following the safety advice and precautions on the product label. If you are in any doubt about health and safety issues please consult the Health & Safety Executive (HSE).