So here is what I have observed in the past 6 or 7 years interviewing BS chemists. Precious few of them had any demonstrable interest in organic chemistry or synthesis. It is not because they were lacking ability- they had not had the opportunity to practice the art. They might have been involved in some kind of research in their senior year, but very often it is involved in some highly specialized work with a very narrow scope. OK. That is the nature of research. It’s specialized. I believe the college chemistry curriculum and the shifting interests of faculty to ultra specialized research are failing students.Well, let's think about this from a practical perspective: how much time could an enthusiastic undergraduate devote to the study of chemical synthesis? Let's say that our undergraduate decides that she wants to do an REU right away, after taking sophomore organic. So that's one summer, maybe two during her college career; it's safe to say that's about 16 weeks of hard-core research. Let's say that she wants to do research during the school year, too. That's probably a reaction or two per week (average) for 2 academic years; maybe 80 weeks overall, probably 100+ reactions. Total, 96 weeks of research, ~150 reactions.
[snip] This graduate that I interviewed had experience in some kind of nanoscience, but couldn’t say much at all about basic synthesis. When asked about Grignard reagents, he could not recall having heard of it. What the hell good did the professor do for this kid?? The kid burned up his senior year doing deep-niche chemistry with skills of questionable transferability. He should have been doing distillations and crystallizations until he could coax pure subtsances out of a mixture that he/she made. That is what an undergrad should be doing. An undergrad should be refining basic manipulation skills and accumulation experience in running diverse reactions. Experience is proportional to the number of experiments run.
I have no reason to believe other than undergraduate chemistry education is failing to prepare bachelors students for the practice of the synthetic arts. It has been my experience- perhaps yours is different- that students with an interest in synthesis go to grad school. The problem with that is that it immediately doubles the cost of doing synthetic chemistry per unit chemist in society at large.
That would produce a pretty darn good B.S. organic chemist. It'd also produce someone who would be primed to totally kick butt in graduate school, which is probably where most of the people who have that enthusiasm would end up.
I've just described the right end of the bell curve for organic-oriented undergraduates; at the same time, the left end exists as well. When I did a campus interview for a B.S. position, they asked me to describe my research and I drew them my little organic molecule that I was working on. They looked at it, they looked at me and they said, "You're the first student we've met today that could describe the research that they've been working on." Sigh.
I think undergraduates can do the cost/benefit math as well as anyone. If you wish to get a bench-level job, it's probably a lot better for you to get a M.S. degree. It won't cost you any money, just a little time (2 years, right? right?) and the salary bump is fairly significant. (63k for an associate scientist at PFE versus 70k for a senior associate scientist.)
Readers, what do you think? (And welcome back, I hope! There's a new poll over there on your left.)