A chemist searches for and uses new knowledge about chemicals 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.
In 2012, 96,200 people were employed as chemists and materials scientists* in the United States. Chemists primarily worked in research and development in the physical, engineering and life sciences. Many others worked for pharmaceutical manufacturers and testing laboratories. The federal government, as well as state and local governments, employed others.
Chemists work in labs and offices, often on research teams. They work regular, full-time hours.
One who wants to work as a chemist must have, at the minimum, a bachelor's degree in chemistry. However, most research jobs in chemistry require at least a master's degree, but more often a PhD.
In addition to formal education, certain soft skills, or personal qualities, contribute to an individual's success in this occupation. A chemist needs strong problem solving and critical thinking skills. These two skills will allow one to identify problems and evaluate and implement solutions. Good listening and speaking skills contribute to successful teamwork.
With experience and advanced education in the form of a PhD, chemists can become lead researchers. Additional experience can mean assignments that include working on bigger and more complex projects.
Employment of chemists is expected to grow more slowly than the average for all occupations through 2022. A doctorate degree can increase one's chances of finding a job.
Chemists earned a median annual salary of $71,770 in 2012.
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A Day in a Chemist's Life
These are some typical job duties taken from online ads for chemist positions found 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.
Sources: Bureau of Labor Statistics, US Department of Labor, Occupational Outlook Handbook, 2014-15 Edition, Chemists and Materials Scientists, on the Internet at http://www.bls.gov/ooh/Life-Physical-and-Social-Science/Chemists-and-materials-scientists.htm (visited January 27, 2014).
Employment and Training Administration, US Department of Labor, O*NET Online, Chemists, on the Internet at http://online.onetcenter.org/link/details/19-2031.00 (visited January 27, 2014).
*Note: The US Bureau of Labor Statistics combines some employment data for Chemists and Materials Scientists.