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New-Grad Salaries & Employment

ACS survey of 2014 chemistry graduates shows slight improvement in both pay and employment

by Sophie L. Rovner , Linda Wang
June 29, 2015 | A version of this story appeared in Volume 93, Issue 26

Percentage of bachelor's degrees in various chemical disciplins.

For newly minted graduates in chemically related fields, the job market in 2014 was a bit more welcoming than in prior years, with unemployment down and salaries up, according to an American Chemical Society survey.

The unemployment rate for those looking for work dropped to 12.4%, down from a peak of 14.9% in 2013 and a rate of 12.6% in 2012. Nevertheless, the 2014 unemployment rate for new grads was still far worse than the rate for all ACS member chemists, which was just 2.9% in 2014 (C&EN, Sept. 1, 2014, page 68).

For those new grads who managed to get hired, the survey findings were mixed. The percentage of new grads who found full-time, permanent positions edged up from 29.0% in 2013 to 29.6% in 2014. However, more graduates took on part-time or temporary work; their ranks expanded from 17.7% in 2013 to 18.8% in 2014. The fraction that headed to grad school or a postdoctoral position was 35.1%, virtually unchanged from the prior year (C&EN, June 2, 2014, page 28).

Meanwhile, median salaries for full-time, permanent jobs for inexperienced grads increased 1.0% between 2013 and 2014, though the gain wasn’t spread evenly among the different degree levels.

These are some of the key findings of ACS’s survey of individuals who graduated during the 2013–14 academic year with degrees in chemistry and related fields.

The survey, which was sent to 12,771 recent graduates in October and November 2014, is conducted annually by Gareth S. Edwards of the ACS Department of Research & Market Insights under the guidance of the ACS Committee on Economic & Professional Affairs. A total of 2,089 usable responses were received, for an overall response rate of 16.4%.

Some respondents didn’t answer all of the survey questions, so data in different tables may not match.

The respondents can be divided into several categories—by degree or experience level, for instance, or field of study, gender, or type of employment. For some of these groups, the number of responses was small and not necessarily representative of the wider pool of chemistry graduates in a given group. As a result, most of this article concentrates on grads with a bachelor’s degree, who account for the vast majority of those surveyed. Those with a bachelor’s degree were responsible for 87.6% of responses, compared with 4.8% from those with a master’s and 7.6% from Ph.D.s.

When all degree levels are included, respondents are roughly equally divided along gender lines, with women accounting for 50.8% of responses. Some 73.0% of respondents are white, 14.2% are Asian, 4.7% are black, and 4.4% are multiracial. A question on ethnicity revealed that 7.6% of respondents are Hispanic.

Among the respondents, 85.7% are U.S. natives, 6.7% are naturalized U.S. citizens, 4.3% hold temporary visas, and 3.3% are permanent residents.

The most popular field of study for bachelor’s degree recipients was general chemistry, with just over half of B.A. and B.S. degrees awarded in this field, the survey showed. Nearly one-third of the degrees were in biochemistry, and nearly one-tenth were awarded in chemical engineering.

Of the responding bachelor’s degree recipients, the largest fraction, at 35.1%, reported that they were pursuing an advanced degree. That number was unchanged from the prior year. Some 28.0% found full-time, permanent employment in 2014, up from 26.9% in 2013. Yet 19.6% were working in temporary or part-time jobs, up from 18.3% in 2013. On the flip side, the fraction who were unemployed and looking for a job was 13.2% in 2014 compared with 15.8% a year earlier.

One-third of the graduates with a bachelor’s degree who planned to take up advanced studies intended to stick with chemistry as their subject of choice. Nearly one-quarter opted instead for medicine. Pharmacy and pharmacology drew 12.7%, and 6.5% planned to study biochemistry.

Of the graduates who landed a job in 2014, most headed to industry and nonmanufacturing roles, with 56.8% of bachelor’s degree graduates going into these sectors. Academia attracted another 34.2% of these grads. Just 6.9% went into government jobs, and 2.0% were self-employed.

For those working in industry and government, the median starting salary for inexperienced graduates with a bachelor’s degree stood at $40,000 in 2014, unchanged from 2013. This category of workers encompasses employees with less than 12 months of work experience prior to graduation. Inexperienced bachelor’s recipients working in academia fared less well than their peers: Their median starting salary was $36,100 in 2014, though that was an improvement over the 2013 median salary of $34,000.

Not surprisingly, degree level also has a significant impact on salary. Inexperienced graduates with a B.A. or B.S. had a median salary of $40,000 in 2014, up from $39,600 the previous year. Those with a Ph.D. had a median salary of $62,900. Although that figure is considerably lower than the $75,800 median salary for Ph.D.s in 2013, the low number of respondents in this category causes considerable volatility in the median from year to year.

Salaries varied even more widely when broken down by the size of a graduate’s employer. For those with a bachelor’s degree working at an employer with fewer than 499 staffers, the median salary ranged from $34,200 to $38,000 in 2014, depending on employer size. Median salaries ranged from $42,000 to $45,000 for those working at employers with 500 to 24,999 staffers. At organizations with 25,000 or more employees, the median salary for bachelor’s recipients was $50,000. These figures include respondents with all levels of experience.

So what’s the best way to land a job? Among inexperienced graduates with a B.A. or B.S., some 32.3% reported that they had success using electronic methods. The next most effective methods were informal channels (19.8%), placement services (17.6%), and employment agencies (8.9%).

Those numbers change considerably when the question is opened to graduates with all levels of experience. Those with a B.A. or B.S. still had the best results via electronic methods, though the category’s share dropped to 26.1%. Some 20.0% reported that faculty advisers were the most effective for helping them find a job, followed by informal channels (17.1%), placement services (8.9%), and former jobs (8.2%).

The ACS survey also asked graduates to evaluate their jobs. Among respondents with a bachelor’s degree, 46.4% strongly agreed with the statement that their jobs were related to their fields; that figure rose to 66.4% among those with a Ph.D.

Some 39.4% of bachelor’s and 60.0% of Ph.D. holders strongly agreed that their jobs were commensurate with their education and training. However, among those with a B.A. or B.S., only 37.9% strongly agreed that their job was professionally challenging. Ph.D.s were more content, with 60.7% strongly agreeing with that statement.  

To download a pdf of this article and tables, visit

Check out ACS’s full report on the starting salary survey results at


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