...Software better geared to those earning chemistry degrees or conducting research is readily available. Common examples include MATLAB, Python’s SciPy stack, and GNU Octave. The last two are free, open-source packages. So why haven’t these become standard tools taught to all undergraduate chemistry majors? A key barrier to their adoption is that each of these packages requires some level of programming ability ... and computer programming is not part of the standard training for chemists ... but it should be.
Learning computer programming is an invaluable skill for chemists, as it empowers them to do more with collected data and, ultimately, to be more efficient and effective scientists. A competitive edge today doesn’t necessarily go to the person who can collect the best data but to the person who can best process and analyze the data collected. This nuance involves automating repetitive and time-consuming tasks, mining large data sets that don’t fit well in spreadsheets, and extracting information and trends too subtle or complex for people to discern without computers.
I recently chatted with a fellow chemist who had interviewed for a job at a company. The interviewer asked whether this chemist knew how to program. The company maintains an extensive database of its research results obtained over the years, and research managers want their team members to have computer programming skills so that they can access this data and use it in their ongoing research. The interviewer also pointed out that computer programming is a skill that, unfortunately, most chemists joining the company do not have....As always, I view claims about employability at arm's length. Until Professor Weiss can show me data indicating that chemists with coding experience are hired more often or with higher salaries than those without, I will view his assertion with some skepticism. Still, it seems very likely to be true.
Still, I don't think anyone would strongly argue against Professor Weiss' suggestion that chemists learn how to code. I think the far more substantive debate would be: what in the 4-year chemistry curriculum should be dropped in favor of coding courses?* Readers, what say you?
*My suggestion: add a coding module to each of laboratories in traditional 4-year programs (i.e. general, organic, physical, analytical.) Note: I Am Not A Chemistry Professor.