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Undergraduate Overview

The faculty of the Department of Chemistry, through courses and research opportunities, provides a nurturing but challenging environment for students pursuing undergraduate degrees in chemistry. Undergraduate students in our department typically take a total of 45 credits in chemistry courses for a B.S. degree and 36 credits for a B.A. degree. The courses offered range from basic level General Chemistry, to the two semester sequence of Organic Chemistry and more advanced courses in Physical, Organic and Inorganic Chemistry. Many students also choose to do research, as hands-on laboratory experience is vital in the development of a chemist. When graduating from our department undergraduate students follow diverse paths, such as working for the chemical industry or going to graduate and medical school, among others. Chemistry or Biochemistry? Chemical Engineering? Biology? Physics?



The major that works best for you depends mostly on what careers you are thinking about. Obviously, if you have strong interests in the biological side of chemistry, then a biochemistry major might be best for you. Realize, however, that majoring in chemistry does not mean that you cannot go to graduate school in biochemistry or vice versa. You may have an easier time with course requirements and with beginning research if your undergraduate major is in the same subject, but this sort of crossover is very common.

The chemical engineering, biology, and physics majors have fewer courses in common with chemistry, but crossover to or from these fields is also possible at the graduate level. Crossover between biochemistry and biology is common.

As preparation for medical school, students often major in chemistry or biochemistry. There is lore, supported by statistics from the American Association of Medical Schools, that chemistry and biochemistry majors have high rates of getting into medical school. 
The big difference between these degrees is that the B.S. is accredited by the American Chemical Society. A potential employer or graduate school, presented with an accredited degree, can know without any further information that the degree is sound. If you are planning to go to graduate school or to do anything in chemistry, the B.S. is the better degree to get. The B.A. might be better for a double major or someone who has more limited time to complete the degree. For degree requirements, see the department's web site (chemistry.syr.edu). 

The tables below show the recommended science course schedules, in order to complete the required classes for each of the 5 possible chemistry majors by the end of the 3rd year.  These schedules require no more than 8-9 credits towards the major in each of the first 3 semesters, and no more than 12-13 in each of the next 3.  This generally leaves sufficient space in the schedule also to complete Arts & Sciences Core requirements by the end of the 6th semester.

For the BS degrees in particular, adhering to (or accelerating) these schedules from the very first semester is generally the only way--other than with AP credit or summer classes--to finish the required non-elective courses in 3 years. This leaves the 4th year open for required research (CHE 450) and for upper-division science electives, also needed for each degree.  These electives typically have the required courses listed below as prerequisites, and often also conflict in time with them.  Furthermore, except for CHE/BCM 477 (which can be interchanged with BIO 475), every one of the CHE, BCM, and BIO courses listed in the charts below is an invariant requirement of that degree, and is only offered in the spring or in the fall, as indicated. 

Falling behind these timelines in the first few years may therefore make it impossible to complete the desired degree in 4 years, due to complex scheduling conflicts with 4th-year chemistry electives.  Meeting with a chemistry advisor long before declaring a major can help students to foresee and avoid these conflicts.

Chemistry BS (ACS-certified)

Required CHE Courses

Required Non-Chemistry Courses

Fall 1st year

106,107  (or 109/129), 450*

MAT 295

Spring 1st year

116,117 (or 119/139), 450*

MAT 296

Fall 2nd year

275/276, 450*

PHY 211/221

Spring 2nd year

325/326,  450*

PHY 212/222

Fall 3rd year

346/347, 411,  450*

BCM 475

Spring 3rd year

356/357, 422,  450*

Fall 4th year

450* + electives

Spring 4th year

450* + electives

*CHE 450 should be started as early as possible;  3 credits are required.

Chemistry BS (Medicinal)

Required CHE Courses

Required Non-Chemistry Courses

Fall 1st year

106,107 (or 109/129), 450*

BIO 121

Spring 1st year

116,117  (or 119/139), 450*

BIO 326

Fall 2nd year

275/276, 450*

MAT 285 or 295

Spring 2nd year

325/326, 450*

MAT 286 or 296

PHY 211,221

Fall 3rd year

474, 335, 427, 450*

Spring 3rd year

412, 414, 450*

BIO 305

PHY 212/222 

Fall 4th year

450* + electives

Spring 4th year

450* + electives

*CHE 450 should be started as early as possible; 3 credits are required.

Biochemistry BS

Required CHE Courses

Required Non-Chemistry Courses

Fall 1st year

106,107  (or 109/129)

BIO 121

Spring 1st year

116,117  (or 119/139)

BIO 326

Fall 2nd year

275/276

BIO 327, MAT 285

Spring 2nd year

325/326

MAT 286,             PHY 211/221

Fall 3rd year

474

BCM 475,             PHY 212/222

Spring 3rd year

CHE/BCM 477§

BIO 305

Fall 4th year

electives

electives

Spring 4th year

electives

electives

§May be substituted by BIO 475, a fall course.

Chemistry BA

(Biol. Chem.)

Required CHE Courses

Required Non-Chemistry Courses

Fall 1st year

106,107 (or 109/129)

MAT 285 or 295

Spring 1st year

116,117 (or 119/139)

MAT 286 or 296

Fall 2nd year

275/276

PHY 211/221

Spring 2nd year

325/326

PHY 212,222

Fall 3rd year

474

BCM 475

Spring 3rd year

477§

Fall 4th year

electives

Spring 4th year

electives

§May be substituted by BIO 475, a fall course.

Chemistry BA (chemistry track)

Required CHE Courses

Required Non-Chemistry Courses

Fall 1st year

106,107 (or 109/129)

MAT 285 or 295

Spring 1st year

116,117 (or 119/139)

MAT 286 or 296

Fall 2nd year

275/276

PHY 211/221

Spring 2nd year

325/326

PHY 212/222

Fall 3rd year

346/347

Spring 3rd year

356/357

Fall 4th year

electives

Spring 4th year

electives

For some people, the experience of doing research can be as important to their education as their classes. Undergraduate research allows you to see how much of chemistry is really done - and the view can be quite different from what you see in textbooks! This experience can be pivotal, preparing you for later opportunities, making you more attractive to employers and graduate schools, and helping you to know whether a research-based career is what you want. Starting early - as a sophomore or junior (or even as a first-year student) is great if you can arrange it in your schedule! What you can learn in a single semester of research is expanded tremendously in a longer experience.

How do you go about doing research? It doesn't happen on its own - it depends on your initiative. You should first have a look at the faculty pages on the departmental web site (chemistry.syr.edu). Don't worry if you don't understand what you read there. What you're looking for are the types of projects that sound interesting to you. Make a list of faculty whom you might like to work with, and start contacting them by phone, email, or knocking on doors. You will likely find some who are unable to take another student. Working with someone new in the lab takes time! If you cannot set something up right away, you probably will be able to make arrangements for the next semester. You will get credit for the research that you do, usually as CHE 450.

A new development is the Degree in Chemistry with Distinction. To receive this degree, a student must graduate with a 3.4 GPA (both overall and in chemistry) and complete a thesis describing a significant research project. 

Other research opportunities exist in the summer, and you will generally get paid with money rather than credit in the summer. Our department has an REU program, in which about 21 students, including a few SU students, do research for ten weeks for a $4,500 stipend. Many such REU programs exist, supported by the National Science Foundation and listed on their web site (www.nsf.gov), and these offer great research experiences. Deadlines are typically February or March. They are highly competitive but certainly worth pursuing. For our program, see the department web site (chemistry.syr.edu). 
Let's first clear up two common misconceptions about graduate school in chemistry. First, you will not go into debt going to graduate school - rather you will get paid! You won't make as much as someone working for a company, but graduate students typically earn in the neighborhood of $24,000 per year. Second, you will not be taking tough classes for four or five years. You will most likely finish your classes in one year, and the rest of your time will be spent doing research. So if you get some research experience as an undergraduate, you will have a pretty good idea of what it's like to be a graduate student.

Now, are you better off going to graduate school or directly to work for a company? Two primary considerations are level of responsibility and salary. As a B.S. chemist, you will likely be a bench chemist or technician, answering to a Ph.D. chemist, and it will likely be difficult to move up in the company from this position. You might like this just fine, and you will be making good money, with average starting salaries running $38,000 (manufacturing sector, 2004). If you go to graduate school, you will make half as much for about five years, but when you then go to work for a company, you will have much more responsibility and make, on average, $75,000. Ph.D. chemists may supervise anywhere from a handful to hundreds of other chemists, and moves into upper management are common. 
When you think of where a chemist might work, you probably think of chemical companies, drug companies and oil companies. Lots of chemists do work there, but there are many, many other possibilities. Any company that manufactures anything will generally employ chemists, whether the product is fragrances, steel, dyes, computers and other electronics, cosmetics, environmental remediation products, etc. Any service company that does testing, cleaning, analysis, or communications will likely employ chemists. Many chemists teach - and there is a big shortage of these! Many chemists work for the government, either at national laboratories, various agencies, or in the military. Many chemists are entrepreneurs, working for - or running - start-up companies. Some chemists are employed by think tanks. Chemists sometimes become lawyers - and become highly sought after for their unusual expertise. Actually, this is a pattern. Many chemists actually work at jobs that do not involve chemistry on the surface, yet their technical background allows them to do a job that others cannot. Such people are highly valued by their employers.