Volume 86 Issue 22 | pp. 52-56
Issue Date: June 2, 2008

Starting Salaries

2007 chemistry graduates entered a still relatively strong U.S. job market and did quite well
Department: ACS News, Career & Employment | Collection: Economy

IT COULD BE SAID that college graduates, including those in chemistry and chemical engineering, who received their degrees between July 2006 and June 2007 were lucky with their timing. Those who chose to seek employment entered the healthiest U.S. job market since 2000. And they entered it before the sudden economic slowdown and employment slippage of the past few months.

According to the latest annual American Chemical Society starting salary survey, the percentage of the 2007 chemistry graduates with full-time jobs as of early October last year was relatively high. That finding extended the upturn in employment rates of the past several years.

The 39% of 2007 bachelor's graduates with full-time jobs was up from the recent low of 33% for the 2003 class. The parallel gain for master's graduates was from 43% in 2002 to 52% in 2007 and for Ph.D. graduates, from below 40% for the 2004, 2005, and 2006 classes to 43% for the 2007 class.

Salary performance was more mixed. The median base starting salary of $37,500 for all 2007 chemistry bachelor's graduates was 4% higher than the $36,000 for the 2006 class. The median salary for all Ph.D. graduates of $70,000 was the same as it had been for the 2005 class. And the median salary for master's graduates essentially held even, $50,400 in 2006, $50,000 in 2007.

Overall, 2007 chemistry graduates did about as well or better in terms of jobs and pay than did their predecessors in the four or five previous classes. But they did not do as well as those who graduated in 2000 and 2001, when the prolonged 1990s economic and employment upsurge finally peaked.

The survey of 2007 graduates was conducted by Gareth S. Edwards and Jeffrey R. Allum of the ACS Department of Member Research & Technology under the guidance of the Committee on Economic & Professional Affairs. It involved sending questionnaires to just over 13,000 new graduates at addresses gathered by the ACS Office of Professional Training.

Total responses numbered just over 3,000—about 2,550 from chemists and about 450 from chemical engineers—for an overall response rate, after allowing for more than 500 bad addresses, of 24%. Those responding represented about 18% of all 2007 chemistry graduates and about 8% of all chemical engineering graduates.

Response to this survey has been declining. The 1997 survey generated responses from 5,400 chemists and 2,000 chemical engineers. The dwindling response from chemists makes their data increasingly vulnerable to idiosyncratic behavior among population subsets—such as those defined by gender, amount of experience, or degree level—from year-to-year. And the low response from chemical engineers this year limits analysis of their data to some broad comparisons with chemists.

The data from the 2007 survey confirm the importance of both women and noncitizens to chemistry in this country. In 2007, women earned 55% of the chemistry bachelor's degrees, 54% of the master's degrees, and 38% of the Ph.D.s. Ten years ago, they earned only 48% of the bachelor's degrees, 46% of the master's, and 32% of the Ph.D.s. In 2007, noncitizens accounted for 42% of the chemistry Ph.D.s—up from 31% in 1997.

By race, there has been almost no change over 10 years in the composition of the chemistry bachelor's class. In both 1997 and 2007 the breakdown was close to 76% white, 13% Asian, 5% both black and "other," and 1% American Indian. At the Ph.D. level, whites have fallen from 65% of the 1997 class to 58% of the 2007 class. Asians have moved up from 27% to 32% and blacks, from 2% to 5%.

CHEMISTRY DEPARTMENTS award degrees in a wide range of disciplines. In 2007, 39% of the bachelor's degrees reported were in disciplines not identified as chemistry by the National Science Foundation, a major source of data on chemistry graduates. Of these, about two-thirds were in biochemistry, which is defined by NSF as a biological science. The percentage of nonchemistry degrees is lower for master's graduates, at 22%, and for Ph.D.s, at 25%.

Chemical engineering departments are less complicated in this regard, with 96% or more of the 2007 degrees they awarded being in chemical engineering.

Salaries are reported in a variety of ways. The most common method is to report median base salaries of inexperienced graduates by degree. These are graduates with full-time permanent employment and less than 12 months of technical work experience prior to graduation. This method avoids potential distortions both from new graduates who have taken lower paying temporary employment and from those with considerable work experience at the time of their graduation.

Although this approach has the disadvantage of reducing the population of respondents, it has generally provided results over the years that indicate essential starting salary equality by gender and reasonably consistent year-to-year changes. But the declining survey response rate is today making these data more vulnerable to anomalous results.

In 2006, the median salary of inexperienced Ph.D. graduates of both genders was $60,000. This is sharply lower than the $72,400 median salary for 2005 graduates. For the 2007 survey, this median salary was back on track at $75,000. However, the median for women was still depressed at $60,000. This is far lower than both the $78,500 for male 2007 graduates and what would be predicted for women by long-term trends. No obvious explanation exists, but perhaps this salary median will return to normal in the survey of 2008 graduates.

The 2007 data on the salaries of inexperienced bachelor's and master's graduates do indicate equality by gender. The median salaries for bachelor's graduates were $37,000 for men and $36,300 for women. And with a salary of $49,000, women who earned master's degrees were slightly better paid than men with similar degrees at $46,000.

When expressed in terms of constant 2007 dollars, the salaries of inexperienced bachelor's and master's chemistry graduates did not change between 1997 and 2007; they were close to $36,000 for both years for bachelor's graduates and close to $48,000 for master's graduates. The median salaries for Ph.D. graduates increased from $69,800 to $75,000 over the 10-year period, for an average annual gain of less than 1%. In all cases, the constant-dollar highs came between 1999 and 2001.

Other salary data from the 2007 survey also confirm the normal equality for men and women. The median salary of male bachelor's graduates with full-time permanent jobs in industry of $37,500 is, to all intents and purposes, identical to the $37,400 median for women.

For those employed by industry, the survey has found that the size of the employer is closely correlated with the size of the paycheck. In 2007, median bachelor's salaries rose steadily from $30,000 for firms with fewer than 50 employees to $45,400 for firms with 25,000 or more employees.

For employed chemistry graduates, median starting salaries for inexperienced 2007 bachelor's chemistry graduates were clustered quite closely by major area of employment—$37,500 for those with full-time permanent jobs in industry, $36,000 for those in academia, and $32,500 for those with government jobs. The biggest difference comes at the Ph.D. level: $45,500 for those in academia, $79,300 for those who took jobs in industry.

THE SURVEY asks graduates to rank the methods they used for finding a job. About one-third of all 2007 survey respondents identified electronic sources as the most effective job search tool. This was up from 27% for the 2006 survey. Informal channels, 21%; placement services, 13%; and faculty advisers, 10%, round out the top four methods in 2007.

Chemistry remains an academic-oriented activity. Since the 2000 class, an average of almost half, 47%, of new chemistry bachelor's graduates have been in graduate school. The next largest group, about 38%, have had permanent or temporary full-time jobs by the October after their graduation. Another 5% have had part-time jobs. The remaining 10% have been unemployed, with 6% seeking employment and 4% not job hunting.

For Ph.D.s, 47% are postdocs, 44% have full-time jobs, 2% are employed part-time, and 7% are not employed. For master's graduates, it's a lower 35% that are in graduate school, a higher 52% that have full-time jobs, 5% that are working part-time, and 9% that are not employed.

A trend has emerged for all three degree levels since 2000: higher levels of employment in the early years of this period, falling levels in the aftermath of the 2001 recession, and a recent modest upturn. Not surprisingly, the percentage of graduates in graduate school or working as postdocs was higher during the low employment years of 2003 and 2004. The percentages of those unemployed but seeking employment—between 5 and 8%—were also highest during the lower employment years for all degrees. Over the years, a fairly consistent 3% of survey respondents at all degree levels have been unemployed and not seeking employment.

Today, men and women chemistry bachelor's and master's graduates are equally likely to pursue graduate studies. Graduates with certified bachelor's degrees from departments with chemistry programs approved by ACS are somewhat more likely to do so, 47%, than are those with degrees that are not ACS-certified, 41%.

In their advanced studies, only 35% of bachelor's graduates stay with chemistry; 25% move to another science; 26% take up medicine; and 5%, dentistry. Because they are farther down the "chemistry road," a higher 67% of master's graduates stay with chemistry, 8% move to another science, and only 2% take up medicine.

Industry, long the dominant employer of chemists, now employs less than half of chemistry graduates with full- or part-time jobs. For 2007, the chemical industry, the drug industry, and all other industries combined employed 47% of bachelor's chemistry graduates, 49% of master's, and 47% of Ph.D.s. Academia claimed about a quarter of bachelor's and master's graduates and a third of Ph.D.s. Government held at its recent level of about 7% for all degrees.

As has been the case for earlier surveys, 2007 Ph.D. chemistry graduates with jobs are apparently quite happy with them. Ninety percent of Ph.D. respondents agreed that their employment was related to their field, commensurate with their training, and challenging. Bachelor's and master's graduates were a little less enthusiastic, scoring an average 77% and 87%, respectively. In response to a question asked only of Ph.D.s, a lower 59% agreed their job was what they expected when they started their studies.

The salary and employment survey of 2006 graduates was delayed for a variety of reasons. The C&EN report on the results (Dec. 3, 2007, page 73) ended with speculation about overall employment trends in the U.S. Late last year, those trends were looking shaky, given data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics. Since then, they have gotten worse, with payroll declines in January, February, and March. According to the record since World War II, once payrolls get on such a downward path, they continue to slip for an average of about 12 months. The last decline, from 2001 to 2004, persisted for 30 months.

What this will mean for chemists graduating in 2008 remains to be seen. One positive indicator is that college graduates continue to do far better in the job market than do those without degrees—the number of employed graduates is still on the rise. Another is that employers have been hiring rather cautiously since 2004 so there should be less fat to cut than there has been during earlier economic slowdowns or downturns.



Brief Comparison Of Chemical Engineering And Chemistry Grads

Chemical engineering graduates are better paid than chemistry graduates. They are more likely to be employed full-time, more likely to work for industry, and less likely to pursue academic studies. This long-established pattern did not change for 2007 graduates.

A fundamental difference is that the bachelor's chemical engineering degree is more broadly accepted as a terminal professional degree than is the bachelor's degree in chemistry. In 2007, this is emphasized by the great salary advantage that bachelor's chemical engineering graduates have over bachelor's chemistry graduates: median full-time salaries of $59,500 and $37,500, respectively.

The difference between the two disciplines is also marked by the mere 20% of chemical engineering bachelor's graduates who go to graduate school compared with the far higher 43% of chemistry bachelor's graduates pursuing further study.

The salary advantage for chemical engineers persists at the master's level—a 2007 median of $62,500 compared with $50,000 for chemists—and the Ph.D. level—$84,000 compared with $70,000. These salary advantages for chemical engineers are partially due to the higher percentage of them with generally higher paying industry jobs.

Chemical engineering has traditionally been a male-dominated endeavor. But in 2007, a solid one-third of chemical engineering graduates were women—37% have bachelor's degrees, 30% have master's degrees, and 31% have Ph.D.s.

Chemical & Engineering News
ISSN 0009-2347
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