Girlhack STEM Jobs: Organic Chemistry

by Meg on January 24, 2012

Welcome to the first Girlhack STEM Jobs!  Girlhack STEM Jobs will bring you the same set of basic questions for Women engaged in various STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, & Math) careers, so that you can learn about what it takes to be in their particular field.  If you want to submit about your own job or have someone to recommend, please send an email to

Our first Girlhack to share is Erin (@eforunner), a 4th year Organic Materials PhD!


Hey there, my name is Erin! Science is a huge part of my life, but it’s not the only thing that fills my time. I love distance running, hiking, photography, and writing.  I come from a family of scientists and parents who encouraged us to challenge ourselves in every way possible, whether it was pursing a science degree to racing XC in college.

– I’m on twitter @eforunner

– I write an athletic, healthy living blog called Just Run With It (


What is your current job and career field?

I’m a 4th year (of 5) graduate student at the University of Colorado at Boulder, pursing a PhD in organic materials chemistry.

What sorts of jobs did you have leading up to this? (aka What is one example of a path to get where you are today).

I applied to chemistry graduate school directly following college, so I didn’t work between college and graduate school. I just jumped right in! But while I was in college, I was an undergraduate research lab assistant for two summers (and loved it!).

Everyday is probably different, but what general tasks are you responsible for? What sort of technology do you use?

Like a chef creates new meals with varying ingredients, as an organic chemist, I mix different chemicals together to synthesize new molecules. I use various technologies including nuclear magnetic resonance spectroscopy, X-ray scattering, and light microscopy to identify my materials (molecules, polymers).

What schooling do you need for a job similar to yours?

To get into chemistry graduate school, you need an undergraduate science degree and to take the GRE (Graduate Record Exam). A summer or two of undergraduate research experience is also great resume builder as well.

In your industry, what are typical entry level jobs and pay?

With a chemistry PhD, the two most conventional options are: academia (teaching) or industry. Entry-level industry jobs for PhDs can begin around 70-80,000/year.

What is cool about what you do?  What do you enjoy the most?

I love being a part of new, fresh, cutting edge science. I love knowing where we’re trying to go with a particular application, and working hard to achieve the goals. With materials chemistry, we create materials that have direct applications (for example: synthesizing the new monomers that are polymerized into membranes that are used to filter dirty water). It’s cool to see your hard work being applied to something right away after creating it.

What are common assumptions or mistakes people make in regards to your field?

That organic chemistry is “impossible”. It gets a rough rep in undergrad because it’s a hard class, but organic chemistry is all around us! From the clothing we wear, to the packaging we eat food from, to the medicine we take, organic chemists create a lot of that!

Do you have any organizations, websites, or internships you can recommend for ladies who want to learn more or get connected?

If you’re in college and want to get your feet wet with research experience (which is an awesome way to see if you’d like research science), just go talk to a science professor! Ask them if they have any graduate research opportunities and see what they’re all about. Or you can apply for a REU (Research Experience for Undergraduates) scholarship, in which they pay for you to do research at varying Universities across the USA and world!

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