What Is a Chemist

What Is a Chemist?
A chemist is a scientist who studies the composition and properties of chemicals and the way chemicals interact
with each other. Chemists search for new information about matter and ways this information can be applied.
Chemists also design and develop instruments to study matter.
What Do Chemists Do?
There are a lot of different employment opportunities open to chemists. Some chemists work in a lab, in a research
environment, asking questions and testing hypotheses with experiments. Other chemists may work on a computer
developing theories or models or predicting reactions. Some chemists do field work. Others contribute advice on
chemistry for projects. Some chemists write. Some chemists teach. The career options are extensive.
Job Outlook for Chemists
In 2006 there were 84,000 chemists in the United States. Through 2016 the employment rate for chemists is
expected to grow at the same rate as the average for all occupations. The fastest growth is expected in
biotechnology and the pharmaceuticals industry, with good opportunities in food science, materials science, and
analytical chemistry.
Chemist Salaries
These are the median annual earnings for industries employing chemists in the US in 2006:
federal executive branch: $88,930
scientific research & development: $68,760
chemical manufacture: $62,340
pharmaceutical manufacture: $57,210
testing laboratories: $45,730
In general, salaries are higher in private industry than for government jobs. Compensation for teaching tends to be
lower than for research and development.
Chemist Working Conditions
Most chemists work regular hours in well-equipped labs, offices, or classrooms. Some chemists engage in field
work, which takes them outdoors. Although some of the chemicals and processes chemists deal with may be
inherently hazardous, the actual risk to a chemist is very low, both because of safety precautions and training.
Types of Chemists
Chemists ususally pick areas of specialization.
Organic Chemists - work with carbon and carbon-compounds, many of which come from plants or
animals. Organic chemists develop drug, petrochemicals, fertilizers, and plastics.
Inorganic Chemists - deal primarily with non-carbon chemistry involving metals, minerals, and
Analytical Chemists - examine substances. Analytical chemists identify materials, measure quantities, and
evaluate properties of elements and compounds.
Physical Chemists - work primarily in the field of energy research. Physical chemists look at chemical and
physical changes and examine the relationships between matter and energy.
There are many other types of chemists, such as biochemists, materials chemists, geochemists, and medical
Chemist Educational Requirements
You need a college education to become a chemist. High school students interested in a career in chemistry should
take science and math courses. Trigonometry and computer experience is helpful. A bachelor's degree is the
minimum requirement to get a job in chemistry, but realistically, you need a master's degree to obtain a good
position in research or teaching. A doctorate is required to teach college at most four-year colleges and universities
and is desirable for research.
Advancement as a Chemist
To some extent, chemists are promoted based on experience, training, and responsibility. However, the best
opportunities for advancement are associated with advanced degrees. A chemist with a master's degree qualifies for
research positions and teaching positions at two-year colleges. A chemist with a doctorate can conduct research,
teach at the college and graduate level, and is more likely to be selected for supervisory or management positions.
How to Get a Job as a Chemist
Students studying chemistry often accept co-op positions with companies so they can work in chemistry while
getting their education. These students often stay on with the company following graduation. Summer internships
are another excellent way to learn whether or not a chemist and a company are a good fit for each other. Many
companies recruit from campuses. Graduates can learn about jobs from college career placement offices. Chemistry
jobs may be advertised in journals, newspapers, and online, though one of the best ways to network and find a
position is through a chemical society or other professional organization.