Chemist Job Description and Career Information

Career Information

Germany, Young scientist examining bacteria in petri desh
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A chemist searches for new knowledge about chemicals and uses it to improve the way we live. He or she may develop products such as synthetic fibers, drugs, and cosmetics. A chemist also creates processes, including oil refining and petrochemical processing, that reduce energy use and pollution. Chemists specialize in areas such as analytical, organic, inorganic, physical and theoretical, macromolecular, medical, and materials chemistry.

Quick Facts

  • Chemists earned a median annual salary of $73,740.
  • In 2014, 91,000 people worked in this occupation in the United States.
  • They primarily had jobs in research and development in the physical, engineering, and life sciences. Pharmaceutical manufacturers and testing laboratories also employ chemists. Some work for the federal government, as well as state and local governments.
  • Their workplaces are labs and offices, where they are often part of research teams.
  • Chemists work regular, full-time hours.
  • The job outlook for this occupation is poor according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. Employment is expected to grow more slowly than the average for all occupations through 2024. You can increase your chances of finding a job by earning a doctorate.

A Day in a Chemist's Life

Here are some typical job duties that appeared in job announcements on Indeed.com:

  • "Perform routine laboratory testing tasks using equipment such as balances, pipettes, pH meters, UV/Visible spectrophotometer, Total Organic Carbon analyzer"

  • "Define problems and objectives, develop approach, analyze results, and provide recommendations"

  • "Evaluate the chemical and physical properties of various organic and inorganic substances such as active and in-active raw materials in order to verify the compliance with the established specifications"

  • "Proactively develop and maintain technical knowledge in specialized area(s), remaining up-to-date on current trends and best practices"

  • "Explore and pursue innovation/technologies and integrate them into state of the art products"

  • "Prepare paperwork, supplies, and equipment for use in the manufacturing environment and analytical laboratory"

How to Become a Chemist

If you want to be a chemist, you will need to earn, at least, a bachelor's degree in chemistry. However, most research jobs require a master's degree or, more likely, a Ph.D.

With experience and advanced education in the form of a doctorate, chemists can become lead researchers. Additional experience can mean assignments that include working on bigger and more complex projects.

What Soft Skills Should Chemists Have?

In addition to formal education, certain soft skills, or personal qualities, will help you succeed in this occupation. They are:

  • Problem Solving and Critical Thinking Skills: As a chemist, you will have to identify problems and come up with possible solutions to them. Before you can implement those fixes, you will have to evaluate each one and then predict which one will be the most effective.
  • Speaking, Listening, and Interpersonal Skills: Since you are likely to be working on a team, these skills are essential.
  • Time Management Skills: Excellent time management skills will allow you to meet deadlines.
  • Analytical Skills: Chemists, like other scientists, must analyze a lot of data
  • Organizational Skills: Strong organizational skills will enable you to keep track of all your data, and carefully document all processes and results.

What Will Employers Expect From You?

Here are requirements employers listed in job announcements on Indeed.com:

  • "Displays confidence in ability to apply technical knowledge and experience to solve client problems"
  • "Highly collaborative, driven, and self-motivated with a positive attitude"
  • "Strong ethics related to confidentiality and non-disclosure of intellectual property"
  • "Able to adapt effectively to changes in the work environment; able to deal with frequent change, delays, or unexpected events"
  • "Able to handle multiple priorities"
  • "Working knowledge of various software applications including spreadsheet, word processing, graphics, and analytical programs"

Is This Occupation a Good Fit for You?

Related Occupations

 DescriptionMedian Annual Wage (2016)Minimum Required Education/Training
Food Science TechnicianAnalyzes the quality of food, food additives, and containers.$37,550Associate Degree in Chemistry, Biology, or Animal Science
BiochemistStudies the chemical composition of living organisms.$82,180Ph.D. in Biochemistry
Materials ScientistStudies the structure and chemical properties of materials in order to develop new ones.$99,430Bachelor's, Master's, or Ph.D. in Chemistry, Physics, or Engineering
Chemical TechnicianHelps chemists and chemical engineers with research and development, production, and testing.$45,840Associate Degree in Applied Science or Chemical Technology
Chemical EngineerApplies principles of engineering and chemistry to solve problems.$98,340Bachelor's Degree in Chemical Engineering

Sources:
Bureau of Labor Statistics, US Department of Labor, Occupational Outlook Handbook, 2016-17 (visited September 19, 2017).
Employment and Training Administration, US Department of Labor, O*NET Online (visited September 19, 2017).

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