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Chemist Job Description, Career as a Chemist, Salary, Employment

Definition and Nature of the Work, Education and Training Requirements, Getting the Job

Education and Training: Master's or doctoral degree

Salary: Median—$56,060 per year

Employment Outlook: Fair

Definition and Nature of the Work

Chemists are scientists who study the makeup of substances and the changes that they undergo. They often work in teams with other chemists, chemical engineers, and chemical technicians. Chemists work for private companies in a variety of industries. They are employed in plants that make plastics, textiles, cosmetics, and chemicals. They work in fields such as petroleum refining, mining, food processing, and water and sewage treatment. Government agencies also employ chemists in such areas as agriculture and pollution control. In addition, many chemists work for colleges and universities, hospitals, and independent research institutes. A few have jobs in such fields as printing, medicine, legal chemistry, patent law, and information science. Some chemists spend all or part of their time teaching. Others are involved in sales or marketing. Some serve as consultants to private industry or government agencies.

More than half of all chemists work in research and development. Some chemists are involved in basic research and try to gain knowledge about substances. They also study the ways these substances combine and react with each other. Basic research often leads to the development of new products. For example, research into the formation of larger molecules from the union of smaller ones led to the development of synthetic plastics. Other research chemists work on more practical or domestic problems. For instance, they may work to develop a fabric that will not burn, soil, or wrinkle easily. They must often perform many laboratory tests before they are able to create the desired product.

Many chemists work in production and quality control. They may work with chemical engineers to develop exact instructions for mixing the ingredients needed to produce huge vats of paint in a paint factory. Chemists involved in quality control may supervise the testing of samples of this paint to make sure that it satisfies certain standards.

There are several special fields of chemistry. Organic chemists specialize in compounds that contain the element carbon. These compounds include animal Most chemists work in research and development, trying to uncover new knowledge about substances or to develop new products. (© M. Taghi/zefa/Corbis.) and vegetable matter, plastics, and other substances. Inorganic chemists work with compounds that do not contain carbon, such as metals, minerals, and other substances. Their work may involve materials to be used in solid-state circuits for electronic equipment. Physical chemists work with the basic theories of chemistry. For example, they study how energy levels are altered when substances undergo chemical changes. The work of physical chemists sometimes leads to the development of new energy sources. Analytical chemists study the composition of substances. They use special laboratory equipment and techniques to determine the exact makeup of a sample, such as a piece of moon rock. These chemists also calculate the amount of a given chemical that is present in each gallon of a city's or town's water supply. Biochemists study the chemistry of living things. There are many other kinds of chemists, including those who specialize in food chemistry or clinical chemistry.

Education and Training Requirements

You can qualify for some entry-level chemist jobs with a bachelor's degree in chemistry or a related subject. It usually takes four years of study to earn a bachelor's degree. You can start in technical sales or service, as an assistant to an experienced chemist, or in product testing. In many states, a bachelor's degree will give you the qualifications necessary to teach chemistry and other science courses in a high school. You must also meet your state's requirements for certification before you can get most teaching jobs. Those with a bachelor's degree who have completed internships or have had other chemistry-related work experience while in school can usually negotiate higher starting salaries than individuals without those experiences.

Most chemistry jobs require a master's degree or a doctoral degree in a branch of chemistry. You can earn a master's degree in one or two years of study beyond the bachelor's degree. It takes about four years of study after you receive a bachelor's degree to earn a doctoral degree. You usually need a doctoral degree to do basic research, teach in a university, or become an administrator. Some chemists pursue an advanced degree part time while they are working. Many employers encourage chemists to take courses that will improve their job performance. Some employers have their own special training programs for graduates with degrees in chemistry. Many chemists continue to study throughout their careers in order to keep up with new developments.

Getting the Job

Your college placement office and professors can often provide you with job information. You can apply directly to private companies, institutions, and government agencies that hire chemists. State and private employment agencies may also be able to help you find a job. You should contact your civil service office for information about examinations that may be required for some government jobs. Other openings are often listed in chemical trade and professional journals as well as in newspaper classifieds and Internet job banks.

Advancement Possibilities and Employment Outlook

Advancement generally depends on education and experience. Many chemists advance by becoming project directors or supervisors. A few gain recognition in their profession for their scholarly research findings and publications. Others move into positions such as sales representative, manager, or even executive for a chemical company. A few receive training in other fields and become scientific librarians or patent attorneys. Since chemistry is such a broad and basic science, it provides many different opportunities for advancement.

The job outlook for chemists is fair through the year 2014. Employment of chemists is expected to grow more slowly than the average rate for all occupations through 2014. Job growth will be concentrated in drug manufacturing, research, development, and testing. Employment in non-drug-related segments of the chemical industry is expected to decline from 2004 through 2014. However, chemists will be needed to develop technologies and processes used to produce chemicals for all purposes and to monitor air and water pollutants to ensure compliance with local, state, and federal regulations. Companies that provide research services for other firms are expected to provide numerous job opportunities.

Working Conditions

Chemists usually work in pleasant, well-equipped laboratories, plants, offices, or classrooms. They sometimes work with materials that are poisonous or explosive. Because chemical workers must follow strict safety regulations, accidents and injuries are rare. Chemists generally work forty hours per week, although extra time is often needed to complete a project. Chemists working in production must sometimes work night or weekend shifts.

Chemists should have good mathematical aptitude. They must give close attention to details. They must have the patience to carry out long series of tests to develop new products or hypotheses. Since most chemists work as part of a team, they must be able to cooperate and communicate well with others.

Where to Go for More Information

American Chemical Society
1155 Sixteenth St. NW
Washington, DC 20036
(800) 227-5558

Synthetic Organic Chemical Manufacturers Association
1850 M St. NW, Ste. 700
Washington, DC 20036-5810
(202) 721-4100

Earnings and Benefits

Salaries vary depending on education, experience, location, and the type of work done. Median annual earnings of chemists in 2004 were $56,060. The American Chemical Society reported that in 2004 the median salary of its members with a bachelor's degree was $62,000, with a master's degree was $72,300, and with a Ph.D. was $91,600. The median salary was highest for those working in private industry and lowest for those in academia. In 2004 inexperienced chemistry graduates with a bachelor's degree earned a median starting salary of $32,500, with a master's degree earned $43,600, and with a Ph.D. earned $65,000. Chemists usually receive benefits that include paid holidays and vacations, health insurance, and retirement plans.

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