How is the course structured?
The practical work in the lab plays a central role from the offset: students spend around half of their credit hours here. The first semester primarily involves familiarising oneself with the work processes and equipment. Students learn how to accurately measure masses and volumes, for example. Later on, they conduct extensive analyses in the lab. "We are given a mixture of substances and must work out what is in it," reports Robert Giessmann, who is in the fourth semester at the University of Rostock. "We then hold a sample of the mixture in the Bunsen burner flame. The colour of the flame provides an indication of the contents: sodium salts burn with a yellow flame, lithium salts with a red one." Students write up their experiments and results, which are then marked. The theoretical side of the discipline is imparted to Chemistry students in lectures: they learn about Organic, Inorganic, Physical, Analytical and Biological Chemistry. Related disciplines such as Mathematics and Physics also form part of the training. "In the first few semesters, a great deal of the content is the same for all students," says Peter Klüfers, a Chemistry professor at the LMU Munich. Only in the third year do Bachelor's students decide on specialisations within their course. Some universities offer mixed disciplines, which are more specialised from the offset, in addition to the classic degree in Chemistry. In Industrial Chemistry, for example, students also take courses in Business Administration, Economics and Law. There are also courses such as Food Chemistry, Biochemistry and Applied Chemistry, most of which are offered at universities of applied sciences. A practical semester is often required here. Moreover, many of the professors at universities of applied sciences come from industry and therefore offer industry-relevant projects. More than 90 per cent of students go on to obtain a Master's degree, estimates Klüfers. For in many companies, one can only work as a lab assistant with a Bachelor's degree in Chemistry. During the general Master's course in Chemistry, most students chose to specialise in one of the three key areas of Inorganic, Organic or Physical Chemistry. There are also a growing number of specialised Master's courses, such as the one in Building Chemistry at the TU Munich, and in Medical Chemistry at the University of Regensburg. For many, a Master's degree also isn't the final step: "Nine out of ten chemistry obtain a PhD," says Stephan Gilow, Managing Director of the Association of Employed Academics and Executives in the Chemical Industry (VAA). As in the past, chemists wishing to research in industry or at a scientific institute are expected to hold a doctorate. More graduates with a degree in Industrial Chemistry or Applied Chemistry embark on a career directly, though they tend not to go into research. Food chemists are a special case: the state exam still dominates among these. With this degree, they often work in food control or industry.
Chemists increasingly concern themselves with medical topics, which take place on the level of atoms and molecules. "We meanwhile consider common illnesses such as depression to be a metabolic disorder," explains Munich professor, Peter Klüfers. This opens up new fields of research to chemists. The focus is also increasingly on biochemical aspects, and the networking of medical practitioners, biologists and chemists is ever more important. This is also reflected in the new courses being offered, such as the Life Science course at the University of Hanover. Another trend: Computer Chemistry. Today students learn how to take 3D shots of chemical compounds, thus rendering their results more comprehensible. Green chemistry is also increasingly important, attempting to prevent pollution and wastage and to develop chemical products from sustainable materials. "There are still a great many open questions," says Klüfers. Thus science must develop batteries for electric vehicles, which are lighter and last more than just a few kilometres.
Aptitude, obstacles, misconceptions
An advanced course in Chemistry certainly helps prepare students for the degree, however this is not essential. "The material covered in school is repeated at the start, though this is done at high speed," reports Chemistry student, Anne Sehl. "Unfamiliar terrain is soon reached in the Maths and Physics courses." Many beginners consider the Maths and Physics tests to be major hurdles. The link courses offered before the start of the semester help students bring their knowledge up to scratch. Students often form learning groups to prepare together. "Some university are starting to offer lectures that are held not by pure mathematicians but by specialist chemists," says Peter Klüfers. This makes them more comprehensible for the Chemistry students. Those wishing to study Chemistry should enjoy lab work, for the hours spent in the lab form a major component of the course ? and mostly also the subsequent career. At most universities, there is meanwhile even a pre-study work placement, which allows beginners to establish whether the subject is for them before the start of the semester. Precision is ultimately called for in the lab; one must work cleanly, exactly and safely. Test tubes and pipettes are often broken, particularly at the start. The working language among chemists is English. In the first few semesters, students are not particularly aware of this, however latest when researching for their Bachelor's dissertation, they should be familiar with technical terms in the foreign language. Chemistry in English ? it sounds worse than it actually is: there's talk of "Bunsen burners" instead of "Bunsenbrenner". In general, no admission restrictions apply for most classic Chemistry courses ? both for Bachelor's and Master's courses, though a numerus clausus often exists in the specialist subjects such as Industrial Chemistry and Food Chemistry (in the realms of 1.0 to 2.9 in past semesters).
As in the past, the vast majority of graduates embark on a career in the chemical-pharmaceutical industry: around one third of chemists work in this field. They conduct research with the aim of developing new drugs, for example. Chemists are also sought after in the food industry, building sector and paper manufacturing. A small group opt for a university career. Some research the oxygen production of forests, or which types of steel are best for car manufacturers' bodywork at Max Planck institutes, for example. However, for a long time, chemists have not only worked in the lab: in the documentation departments of major companies, they follow research results and determine which studies are of relevance to their employer. A growing number of chemists are also being employed in the sales and marketing departments of companies. The more complex chemical products become, the more important it is to have specialists to take care of the marketing and calculation of costs. Those wishing to work as a Chemistry teacher at a school later on must inform themselves before beginning their studies, as the training is different in each federal state. Studies show that one quarter of chemists working in industry are over the age of 50. "There will therefore be a high demand for young talent in the coming years," expects Stephan Gilow of the Association of Employed Academics and Executives in the Chemical Industry (VAA). According to a survey conducted in 2010 by the Hochschul-Informations-System GmbH, four out of five graduates had found work within one year of graduating. With an average salary of 24,200 EUR, their starting salary was rather low. On reason for this is the high proportion of doctorates, for the pay is lower at the universities than it is in industry.
REPORT BY: TINA ROHOWSKI
gdch.de: Homepage of the Society of German Chemists (Gesellschaft Deutscher Chemiker ? GDCh) with detailed information and tips on events for schoolchildren and students.
chemie-im-fokus.de: The page introduces the classic degree in Chemistry and related disciplines. With profiles for careers ranging from water inspectors to patent examiners.
The subject in the CHE ExcellenceRanking.