Today I have to introduce another guest writer to this site. She is Mrs Surangi Jayawardena who is an expert in Chemistry and brings much fame to Sri Lanka. She completed her bachelor's degree in Science at University of Colombo while specialising in Chemistry. She won a scolarship to the Portland State University- USA to do a PhD. Currently she is involved in an important chemistry research.
Author - Surangi Jayawardena
What is it to become a Scientist in Chemistry?
Is your idea of a chemist is to be working underpaid in a white lab coat mixing things in a back room of a pharmaceutical company? Maybe you are right. But the trick is to move all the way from a Chemist to become the “Scientist”. A Chemist mixes things according to a recipe the scientist makes the recipe. Are scientist underpaid? Oh no.... they are very well paid mostly in six figures and that is one of the major advantages of being one.
Is there a Scientist in you?
If you are an advanced level student who is sitting for AL s in the biological stream and is fascinated by the thought of biological systems and their molecular infrastructure or just how biological systems work what makes them “tick” maybe you would fit right into Chemistry.
There is much more to chemistry than what is taught at Advance Level syllabus. And it is way more fascinating.
What makes you a research scientist in chemistry?
First you have to obtain good results from your Advanced level exam in science stream and get in to a university in order to follow the basic studies in science and specialise in chemistry. Then you can obtain your BSc. To be a research scientist, you need to do adanced studies. The only qualification that validates is to have a Ph.D (which puts a Dr. in front of your name).
How to obtain a PhD in chemistry?
The Ph.D is a 5 year or 3 year program dedicated to put you through a research program. Where you will be making an attempt to find the answers to the world's demanding problems such as vaccine for Malaria, maybe an early detection system for cancer, or how to make molecular logic gates. The list goes on.
The best of the Ph.D program is that you are actually paid to do the program so the Ph.D does not cost you a thing.
Does a chemistry scientist have jobs in Sri Lanka?
Not as many as you would expect, at least not as many as in other countries. Only companies which has the capacity to spend billions on research and development on science has the capacity to recruit scientists.
The multinational pharmaceutical companies that sit in our country get their science from their mother company sitting at another corner of the world. Where they employ the scientists but their branches in our country only employ chemists Science graduates with a sound knowledge of chemistry.
But homegrown industries like rubber require the professional knowledge polymer scientists and are paid well for their time and input.
Also academia is always an option where scientists are employed at the local universities as university lecturers.
The handful of biotechnological companies like Genetech Inc also employees professionals depending on their field of expertise.
What is the route to be taken in order to become to chemistry scientist?
What happens to the hundreds of students who sit in for Advanced level in the biological stream and does not gain entrance to the medical college? Depending on their marks they go to dental or veterinary school. And lower down in the ranking lies another opportunity, “ Science”.
The route to become a scientist lies within the gates of the Faculty of Sciences. Of course one does not necessarily have to gain entrance to Science (which I would discuss later) but government education is the most recognized and also the cheapest source.
After the first 2 years of the university, students are selected for the special degree program in chemistry the selection is based on the academic performance in the field. Which is usually based on the marks or grades of the chemistry subjects taken in the first 2 years. After selection into the special degree program the course takes 2 years to complete which includes research experience as well. After the completion of the special degree in chemistry you will be called B.Sc (Hons) Chemistry.
What can be done if not selected to special degree program
The other option is to do a Masters in Chemistry which is conducted by the university but which is a costly option sinced it does not come under the scope of free education.
Other options enroute to become a chemistry scientist
Other institues like the Institue of Chemistry (I.Chem) at Rajagiriya also recruits students after Advance Level and gives a university like training in both practical and therotical chemistry. This institution tutored by professors well qualified to do both. It is alos becoming to be recognized by other foreign universities and some take it to account as an equivalent of an University Degree majoring in Chemistry.
What can be done after completion of the special degree in chemistry
After completeion of the special degree in either Chemistry/ Pharmaceutical/ BioChemistry/ Computaional Chemistry or etc one can apply for foreign universities. Mostly USA as USA recurits many Chemistry graduates for Ph.D degrees. Many universities in America has plenty of space to recruit Chemistry graduates but it might not be the same for other special degrees such as Bio Chemistry and Pharmaceutical where recruitment is only a speical little.
List of all available universities which have chemistry graduate programs are listed in C2K. (Search for C2K in Google Sri Lanka, this lists all available universities providing chemistry programs this database is run and controlled by University of Oxford).
Identify potential universities and apply based on your interests and credentials ( Z score). Write to professors of whose work you find interesting and and get in contact this would greatly facillitate your admission.
GRE and TOEFL
GRE and TOEFL are two other examinations which is a must for application. There is always a criteria of admission where the university states the minimum of GRE and TOEFL necessary for admission. Usually this score is above 1000 for GRE and above 80 for computer based TOEFL.
Your application is among hundreds of other international students so make sure you get good scores. You can also do the GRE subject examination for Chemistry this would be an additional qualification.
After compltetion of GRE and TOEFL send the required transcripts and Statement of Purpose to Graduate Colleges. Many will accept. And as a Sri Lankan I am proud to say that all Sri Lankans are doing excellently well as Chemistry graduates therefore most likely your application will have good reviews.
If you need any more details on this, please drop an email to this site. I will answer as and when I get a time. Wishing you all the best.