How much do theoretical chemists make?
I usually read the whole info on the Statistics page that WordPress provides to this blog in order to know how many visitors drop by during the week; what other sites are sending me some traffic, if any, or what searches are readers performing which leads them to my blog. Last week I found this post title as one of the Google searches that ultimately made someone find my blog. Of course the combination of the words “theoretical” and “chemists” is what made this blog appear in the results since that is the main topic of it. I found it very curious and funny so I decided to write about it.
I found it funny because this means there is someone worried about making a career choice that might not be the most beneficial in economical terms. I understand the searcher was probably playing and didn’t really mean to find some information about how much do we make but maybe he or her also thought it was worth the shot. Now for the answer to this day’s topic: We don’t do bad at all! It’s true! A chemist, a researcher, any scientist, has a strong motivation towards doing academic research in which it is widely known that not too much money is available if you compare it with the earnings of an MBA working at a big corporation. However a more than decent lifestyle is quite achievable. Of course it varies from one country to another and from one institution to the next, but in more or less developed countries a comfortable lifestyle is the norm. If you are attracted to theoretical chemistry and you have strong computational skills as well as an inclination towards solving problems and not only just posing them, then you can make a lot of money; and I do mean a LOT! Chemical companies are becoming aware of the benefits of having simulations run over their processes at various levels. They realize this is a cost effective as well as an environmentally friendly approach. Software companies which develop all the programs I use on a daily basis need not only people who can program but who also understand the underlying physicochemical and mathematical principles behind each calculation. Pharmaceutical companies have exploited computational chemistry to the point where it has become a standard tool in their research and product development (QSAR for instance). Having worked on both sides now (private and academic research) I can tell you there are as many opportunities of making money in computational chemistry as in any other branch of science but sometimes you have to convince people that what you do is important and valuable. This is called “selling”; only that you are not selling a product, you are selling your ideas for posing new thought schemes or your skills to solve ongoing problems.
As any other job being a computational or theoretical chemist has its caveats; for instance in academics salaries are lower than they are in the industry and finding sources of funding can be a rather time consuming task, not to mention all the bureaucracy you have to endure the entire time. Doing research for a private company has no problems finding funds, resources are available in short time, there is less bureaucracy but in exchange for all that you have to sell your projects to the company, making them attractive for them to fund or you wont have a green light; your creativity has to be oriented towards the company needs, which is not bad at all! There are many challenges in industry as well as in academics.
And as in any other job, through effort comes excellence and through excellence come success and rewards; whether economical or otherwise. If you want to be a computational chemist and drive a Porsche, you can do it! you just have to push yourself to be the best so you can have an opportunity at the best academic or industrial facilities in which at some point your skills will become appreciated and rewarded.
Now, for the closing thought. To young students out there: I cannot stress enough how important it is to work on something that captivates your passion and imagination -whether you get paid a little or a lot- because you have to wake up every single day of the next fifty years of your life to do it for most of the duration of each day! No salary can compensate the opposite, trust me.