What does a chemist do?
Chemists seek and use new information about all types of chemicals. They conduct chemical research to discover and develop a variety of materials such as drugs, paint, synthetic fibers, adhesives, cosmetics, lubricants, electronic components, and many other products and materials. They also create processes including petrochemical processing and improved oil refining to help reduce pollution and conserve energy.
Many chemists work in research and development. In basic research, they examine the structure, composition, and properties of matter and the reactions between substances and the rules that govern the mixture of elements. In applied research, chemists develop new processes or products or make improvements to current ones. They usually use the information obtained from basic research. Chemists use computers and many different complex laboratory instruments for experimental analysis, simulation, and modeling.
Chemists often choose a specialty such as analytical, macromolecular, materials, medicinal, organic, and physical and theoretical chemistry.
What kind of training does a chemist need?
Chemists typically need a bachelor degree in chemistry or other related area. Many research positions require a master or doctoral degree. Aspiring chemists should also have supporting courses in mathematics, computer science, and science. Computer courses are necessary because many employers prefer applicants who can apply computer skills to simulation tasks and modeling. Many chemists pursuing graduate degrees specialize in a specific area such as polymer chemistry or analytical chemistry. Chemists pursuing undergraduate degrees typically do not choose a specialty and actually have more job flexibility with a broad chemistry education. Many colleges and universities around the U.S. offer chemistry degree programs. Most employers provide new employers with additional education and training.
What are the prospects for a career as a chemist?
Employment of chemists is projected to grow about as fast as average for all professions, increasing 9% from 2006 to 2016 (1).
Job prospects are expected to be good especially for chemists with advanced degrees and extensive experience. Some job opportunities will arise from the need to replace chemists who retire or leave the field for other reasons.
How much does a chemist make?
As of July 2009, the middle 50% of chemists earned annual salaries between $41,053 and $51,288. The top 10% earned annual salaries of more than $56,657 (2).
A career as a chemist is a great choice for individuals who have a genuine interest in chemistry. Curiosity, perseverance, and the ability to focus on detail are necessary skills. Chemists must also have good communication skills and leadership ability. Being able to work effectively as part of a team is essential because chemists often rely on information from other chemists.