Volume 84 Issue 32 | pp. 57-64
Issue Date: August 7, 2006

Class Of 2005 Salaries & Jobs

Chemists' starting salaries are up a notch from 2004, but employment scene remains below par
Department: Career & Employment | Collection: Economy
Credit: iStockphoto
Credit: iStockphoto

Starting salaries are up for new chemistry graduates. But not to what they once were. And the job situation is still rather weak. That's the main story from the American Chemical Society's latest annual survey of the salaries and employment status of new graduates.

Results indicate that chemists who graduated between July 2004 and June 2005 and had full-time jobs by early October had higher salaries than did those who graduated and found employment one year earlier.

In current dollars, the median salary of inexperienced bachelor's graduates increased from $32,500 for the 2004 class to $35,000 for 2005 graduates. The gain for master's graduates was from $43,600 to $45,000, and for new Ph.D.s, from $65,000 to $72,400.

Inexperienced graduates are those with fewer than 12 months of technical work experience prior to graduation.

When inflation is taken into account, however, the median starting salaries for 2005 graduates at all degree levels were still below what they had been for 2000 graduates. On the basis of the Bureau of Labor Statistics' (BLS) inflation calculator, the five-year decline for bachelor's graduates in constant 2005 dollars was from $38,000 in 2000 to $35,000 in 2005. For master's graduates, the dip was from $46,600 to $45,000. And for Ph.D.s, starting salaries dropped from $73,200 in 2000 and $76,600 in 2001 to $72,400 in 2005.

The 36% of 2005 bachelor's graduates with either permanent or temporary full-time jobs was nominally higher than the 35% of 2004 graduates. For both master's and Ph.D. graduates, the corresponding percentages were down. At all three degree levels, the percentage of 2005 graduates with full-time jobs remained sharply below what it had been for the class of 2000 and those of the late 1990s.

The new survey did not reveal a sudden or disastrous one-year collapse in 2005 for the welfare and employment of chemistry graduates. Rather, it indicated continuation of the job market softness of recent years. On the positive side, the survey, at least, revealed the 2004-05 current-dollar salary gains. These were very welcome after some year-to-year declines in recent times.

The latest data indicate no clear upturn by October of last year from the erosion of job opportunities for new chemists that has been going on since 2000—the last unambiguously strong year for the economy, employment in general, and the chemical profession in particular.

The percentage of new 2005 doctoral chemistry graduates with temporary or permanent full-time employment during the week starting Oct. 5, 2005, was 38%. This figure was down from 50% of the new graduates in 2000. The parallel 2000-05 declines were from 62% to 48% for master's graduates and from 44% to 36% for bachelor's graduates. Countercurrent to the decline in Ph.D. employment was the increase in postdocs from 41% to 51% over the same period.

The percentage of bachelor's chemistry graduates who were not employed increased from 7% of the 2000 class to 12% of the class of 2005. For master's graduates, the corresponding 2000-05 increase was also from 7% to 12%. For Ph.D. graduates, it was from 8% to 9%. For those unemployed but seeking employment, the rise was 4% of bachelor's in 2000 to 8% in 2005. For master's, the gain was from 5% to 9%, and it was from 3% to 5% for Ph.D. graduates.

Since 2003, the starting salary survey has been conducted by Senior Research Associate Janel Kasper-Wolfe of ACS's Department of Member Research & Technology under the general guidance of the ACS Committee on Economic & Professional Affairs. This committee also has oversight of ACS's annual review of the salary and employment status of ACS members in the domestic workforce (C&EN, Aug. 1, 2005, page 41).

For the survey of new graduates, questionnaires were sent to 10,500 graduates whose addresses were gathered and provided by ACS's Office of Professional Training. About 83% were chemistry graduates, and 17% were chemical engineers.

Usable responses totaled almost 3,100, for a 29% response rate. The chemistry graduates polled were from schools with ACS-approved chemistry undergraduate programs. The chemical engineering graduates polled were from the chemical engineering departments at the same schools that are accredited by the American Institute of Chemical Engineers and the Accreditation Board for Engineering & Technology.

About 2,600 of the respondents were chemists; about 500 were chemical engineers. These samples represented about 18% of total 2005 chemistry graduates, as measured by ACS, and about 8% of chemical engineers, as measured by chemical engineering departments. The data from chemical engineers are analyzed separately.

According to data from the departments supplying the addresses, 47% of the questionnaires were sent to women. As is usual in ACS surveys, women were more responsive. In this case, they provided 52% of the responses. To avoid any distortions in overall findings that this anomaly could cause, the survey results are weighted to a level of 47% women.

Bachelor's degree chemistry programs remain very much a domestic affair. Among the 2005 graduates, 90% were native-born, 6% were naturalized citizens, 3% were permanent residents, and 1% were on temporary visas. Among graduates at the master's level, 75% of graduates were native-born or naturalized, 6% were permanent residents, and 19% were on temporary visas. Of Ph.D. graduates, a lower 62% were native-born or naturalized, 6% were permanent residents, and 32% were on temporary visas.

By race, 79% of 2005 bachelor's, 67% of master's, and 66% of Ph.D. graduates were white. These levels are roughly in line with the about 71% of the U.S. population that is white. Blacks, making up just over 12% of the population, remained heavily underrepresented, accounting for only 6% of chemistry bachelor's graduates, 5% of master's, and 3% of Ph.D.s. Hispanics, also making up just over 12% of the population, did only slightly better than blacks, accounting for 6% of bachelor's graduates, 7% of master's, and 3% of Ph.D.s.

Asians are an established major presence in chemistry. They earned 9% of the 2005 bachelor's degrees and 23% of the master's. They also earned 28% of the Ph.D.s. This high level of Ph.D. degrees was due to the large number of Asians on temporary visas who earned Ph.D.s; Asians accounted for two-thirds of Ph.D. degrees awarded to students with temporary visas. Asians also earned 5% of the Ph.D. degrees earned by native-born and naturalized citizens. This is in line with their 4% share of the U.S. population.

The breakdown of the disciplines and subdisciplines in which chemist respondents to the 2005 survey earned their degrees shows that 75% of the Ph.D.s were in the classic subdisciplines of analytical, inorganic, organic, physical, and polymer chemistry, and 7% were in general chemistry. The other 18% were in related—but, strictly speaking, nonchemistry—disciplines. This includes 10% in biochemistry, which is classified by the National Science Foundation and the National Center for Education Statistics as a biological, not a chemical, science.

Of the bachelor's graduates, 62% were in general chemistry and 4% were in the classic subdisciplines. This leaves 34% in the other areas, including 23% in biochemistry. Of the master's degrees, 23% were in other areas, including 12% in biochemistry.

The 2005 degrees awarded by the chemical engineering departments covered by the survey were much more tightly focused, with 98% of the bachelor's, 96% of the master's, and 97% of the Ph.D.s being in chemical engineering.

The median age of chemistry graduates varies little from year to year. For 2005, the median age at graduation was 23 years for bachelor's graduates, 28 for master's, and 30 for Ph.D.s.

The job market for chemistry graduates followed quite closely the general pattern of national employment between October 1995 and October 2005, marked by a robust job situation through early 2001 followed by a period of persistent weakness. There has been some improvement since October 2005.

Job opportunities for chemists were slow to open up in response to the record economic and employment boom that started in 1992 and lasted for more than eight years. It was not until 1996 that chemists started to join in the boom, and from 1997 through 2000, an average of 45% of bachelor's graduates, 58% of master's, and 47% of Ph.D.s were employed full-time in the October following their graduation. For 2001-05, these average levels of full employment fell to 36%, 49%, and 44%, respectively.

However it is measured, growth in the U.S. labor market for 2000-05 was markedly slower than it had been for the previous five years. According to BLS, the national employment level, as estimated from a monthly poll of about 40,000 households, grew by 11.7 million between October 1995 and October 2000 and by a lower 5.5 million between October 2000 and October 2005.

Nonfarm payrolls, measured by a monthly poll of employers and considered a more accurate gauge of the job situation, rose by more than 14 million between 1995 and 2005 and by a more modest 1.8 million between 2000 and 2005. The starkest contrast is in private payrolls, which grew by 12.9 million between 1995 and 2000 and only by 658,000 between 2000 and 2005.

Showing the same profile, if somewhat muted, is growth in employed workers 25 years and older, up by 9.9 million for 1995-2000 and only by 6.3 million for the next five years. For those 25 and over and with at least a bachelor's degree, the growth increments have been 5.2 million and 4.3 million, respectively, for 1995-2000 and 2000-05. These smaller differentials between the periods partially reflect the growing median age of the domestic workforce, which rose by about three years over the 10 years.

Chemists, more than half of whom still work in manufacturing, have been affected by what has happened to manufacturing in this country. Total manufacturing employment was at the same level in 2000 as it had been in 1995. By October 2005, it was down by 3 million. It is still going down.

Employment in the manufacture of chemicals other than pharmaceuticals has dipped from 759,000 in 1995 to 702,000 in 2000 and 591,000 in 2005. Pharmaceutical employment has been stronger, growing from 227,000 in 1995 to 275,000 in 2000 and 287,000 in 2005. But it peaked at 294,000 in 2003 and has been slowly drifting downward since.

The employment status of 2005 chemistry graduates did not vary greatly by gender, apart from a slightly lower percentage of women in graduate school or on postdocs. There were some differences by employer. Women were more likely to be in academia, which includes high school teaching: 34% of women Ph.D.s versus 25% of male Ph.D.s, for instance. Women were correspondingly less likely to have found jobs in industry: 55% of women Ph.D.s compared with 69% of men.

Work experience prior to graduation, not surprisingly, has an impact on immediate postgraduation salaries. For 2003-05, bachelor's graduates with three years of technical work experience under their belt earned on average $6,500 more than did graduates with less than one year of experience. For master's, the average differential was $9,600. For Ph.D.s, the sample sizes were too small to give reliable data.

Annual survey data over the years indicate that starting salaries of bachelor's chemistry graduates do not vary significantly by what the degree is called, bachelor of arts or bachelor of science. There is little difference between the salaries of those with ACS-certified and those with noncertified degrees, although, over the years, certified graduates may have a slight edge. And there is no consistent difference by grade-point average. In the 2005 survey, the median salary of chemistry graduates with a C average was $36,000—higher than the $35,700 for those with an A average.

One factor that is clearly important is the size of the employer. Inexperienced 2005 bachelor's graduates working for an employer with fewer than 50 employees had a median salary of $28,700. This was well below the median of $42,800 for those working for employers with 25,000 or more employees.

The 2005 data on salaries by gender and by job function are rather jumbled, showing some quite large differences between men and women. This may reflect the small sample size for some of the sectors. However, the overall median salaries of $36,000 for men and $35,000 for women were not significantly different.

Most chemistry graduates believe their job is related to their field of study. In 2005, 79% of bachelor's, 88% of master's, and 92% of Ph.D.s agreed it was. In addition, 71% of bachelor's, 78% of master's, and 88% of Ph.D.s found their work challenging. And similar percentages—72%, 74%, and 85%, respectively—deemed their work commensurate with their training. And as usual, a fairly high percentage of Ph.D.s, 32%, indicated that their job was not what they expected when they began their studies.

Of 2005 chemistry respondents to the survey, 47% of bachelor's graduates and 29% of master's were continuing their studies full-time. In both cases, another 4% were doing so part-time.

Being further down the chemistry road already, 71% of master's graduates who were continuing their studies were still in chemistry. Another 9% were in other sciences, and 8% were pursuing medicine or dentistry. A lower 43% of bachelor's graduates still in school were still in chemistry, 17% were in other sciences, and 26% were moving into medicine or dentistry.



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Chemical Engineering Graduates

Chemical Engineers Still Make More Than Chemists

The relatively small number of chemical engineering graduates responding to the ACS survey, about 500, limits the amount of meaningful analysis that is possible. But the data do confirm what has long been the case: that new chemical engineering graduates earn considerably more than new chemistry graduates do.

The median salary of the 2005 bachelor's chemical engineering graduates responding to the ACS survey was $54,000. This was 54% higher than the $35,000 for chemistry graduates. For master's graduates, the advantage was 38%, $62,200 versus $45,000. For new Ph.D.s, it was 15%, $83,000 versus $72,400.

Another difference between chemistry and chemical engineering graduates is the percentage who are women-47% of all chemists versus 34% of all chemical engineers. Of chemistry graduates, women make up 52% of the bachelor's, 51% of the master's, and 32% of the Ph.D.s. For chemical engineering graduates, the corresponding percentages are 38%, 32%, and 19%, respectively.

By employment, 78% of the 2005 chemical engineering graduates with full-time employment were in industry. This compares with 70% of the employed chemistry graduates. And 16% of chemical engineering graduates, compared with 22% of chemists, found academic jobs. This tilt for chemical engineering graduates toward high-paying industry jobs, and away from lower paying academia, accounts for at least some of their salary advantage.

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