Volume 95 Issue 36 | p. 40 | Newscripts
Issue Date: September 11, 2017

What does a chemist do? Not modeling, apparently

Department: Newscripts
Keywords: Newscripts, careers, scicomm, education

What does a chemist do?

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Teaching moment: Early interactions can plant the seeds of a lifelong love of science.
Credit: asiseeit/iStockphoto
Three young girls do a chemistry lab and make blue foam come out of an Erlenmeyer flask.
 
Teaching moment: Early interactions can plant the seeds of a lifelong love of science.
Credit: asiseeit/iStockphoto

Fish navigation, functionalized pasta, corpse flowers, and mouse tattoos: Newscripts covers a wide variety of things that a person can get up to with a chemistry degree. So it was ironic that this humble Newscripts writer was stumped by the simple question, “What does a chemist do?”

The question came from a group of elementary school kids attending a summer reading camp in Baltimore. What answer wouldn’t assume any prior knowledge of chemistry and would be short and pithy enough to stick in their busy minds? The response they got was that a chemist can do any number of things. But honestly, that’s vague and unhelpful. So we turned to C&EN’s erudite Twitter following in search of a better answer. Here are some of our favorites.


The opposite of chemistry

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Chemical modeling: To complete the look, she should really have goggles and black nitrile gloves.
Credit: Shutterstock
A woman models a labcoat.
 
Chemical modeling: To complete the look, she should really have goggles and black nitrile gloves.
Credit: Shutterstock

If none of the descriptions sounded good to the kids, they should probably go into modeling. At least that’s one way to read the results from a recent career tool published by the New York Times.

The U.S. Department of Labor publishes extensive data on what skills and tasks are most in demand for hundreds of jobs. For each job in the data set, the Times team found the job with the least overlap. And according to its analysis, a model is as close as you can get to the opposite of a chemist.

Most chemists would agree with DOL that “chemistry” and “mathematics” are important to their jobs. But lab work would be tough without “stamina,” the supposedly least-used skill for a chemist, and without the also-low-ranking “ability to reach with arms, hands, and legs.”

Any chemists now perversely tempted to trade the bench for the runway should be aware that chemists share their foil with physicists, materials engineers, and microbiologists. In fact, “model” is the opposite job that comes up most frequently on the Times’ tool. So it may be less cosmic complementarity and more that being a model is a really weird job.

The second most common opposite job is “physicist.” In a worrying sign for Newscripts writers given the close alignment of chemistry and physics, one job with “physicist” as its opposite is “reporter.”

Craig Bettenhausen wrote this week’s column. Please send comments and suggestions to newscripts@acs.org.

 
Chemical & Engineering News
ISSN 0009-2347
Copyright © American Chemical Society
Comments
Madame Curious (Sun Sep 17 18:36:06 EDT 2017)
I beg to differ. My chemistry students and friends often model for pictures I take in our labs. I think that most chemists could be models (quality unknown), but not many models could be able to be good chemists.
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