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Undergraduate Education

What instrumentation skills does industry want new chemists to have?

Knowledge of mass spectrometry ranks highly for industry professionals

by Krystal Vasquez
May 3, 2024


A scientist injecting a sample with a syringe into a mass spectrometer
Credit: Shutterstock
Undergraduate chemists should learn how to use five key instruments to prepare for industry careers, a new study concludes.

A survey conducted in 2015 by the American Chemical Society found that 76% of new graduates in chemistry ended up in industry careers. Even so, David Hamilton felt unprepared in 2020 when he was finishing college and getting ready to make that career jump.

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“There wasn’t a lot of information available out there about what that process looks like,” says Hamilton, who left his job as an analytical chemist and is now a PhD student at the University of North Texas. Most important, what skills did industry professionals want chemists with bachelor’s degrees to have?

To answer this question, Hamilton and his colleagues surveyed chemists from 80 chemical-related companies. The researchers found that professionals want chemists with bachelor’s degrees to have some expertise in mass spectrometry, liquid chromatography, gas chromatography, ultraviolet-visible spectroscopy, and infrared spectroscopy (J. Chem. Educ. 2024, DOI: 10.1021/acs.jchemed.3c00990).

They also value chemists that have good communication, collaboration, problem-solving, and critical thinking skills.

The researchers then compared their survey results to existing literature about instrumentation and other skills being taught in undergraduate courses. Hamilton says that most undergrad lab courses do “a decent job” of giving students access to most of these top-five instruments. “But I think we could definitely be doing a better job.”

In particular, the researchers concluded that universities should focus on ensuring that students have access to mass spectrometers, which previous research found were used in less than 60% of analytical chemistry courses (J. Chem. Educ. 2022, DOI: 10.1021/acs.jchemed.2c00415).

Instructors should also try to have students “working hands on, running instruments when they can in the laboratories,” says Molly Atkinson, a chemistry education professor at the University of North Texas and an author of the study.



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