Chemist: Career Summary, Occupational Outlook, and Education Requirements

Research what it takes to become a chemist. Learn about job duties, degree requirements, job outlook and salary to find out if this is the career for you. Schools offering Science, Technology, and International Security degrees can also be found in these popular choices.

What Is a Chemist?

Chemists manipulate the composition of matter to develop new products and processes. While an undergraduate degree is acceptable for jobs in this field, some employers may want applicants who are interested in conducting research to have a graduate degree. Chemists will conduct complicated experiments to develop or test products, which may include preparing solutions or reagents and analyzing substances for their composition. These professionals will report their findings in technical reports and present them to fellow colleagues.

Chemists may also be responsible for monitoring and training other scientists and technicians on proper laboratory techniques. Most often, chemists will specialize in a particular area, like inorganic or medicinal chemistry. The information provided in the following chart can help you decide if this is the right career for you.

Degree Required Bachelor's; master's preferred
Education Field of Study Chemistry
Key Responsibilities Research and develop new products; document research findings; test items for safety and quality standards
Job Growth (2014-2024) 3%*
Average Salary (2015) $77,860*

Source: *U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics

What Does a Chemist Do?

Chemists are scientists trained to analyze, experiment with and create chemical compounds. As a chemist, you'll examine and research a variety of chemical compounds and properties by testing their density and acidity. You'll measure molecules and create new molecular structures from the atomic level. Most of your time will be spent developing, researching and manipulating the components of substances and using that information to create new and useful substances and formulas.

This job includes handling a variety of hazardous chemicals, so you'll need to practice safety procedures, such as wearing protective masks, gloves, goggles and lab coats in order to avoid accidents. You'll also use computer equipment to collect, store and analyze data. Along with writing reports of your findings, you may also need to run diagnostic tests on your equipment to guarantee maximum efficiency. You'll typically be able to find work in the offices and laboratories of government agencies, chemical manufacturers, testing laboratories or pharmaceutical companies.

What Is the Occupational Outlook for This Career?

About 84,720 people held jobs as chemists in the United States in 2015, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (www.bls.gov). Chemists may expect to see a three percent growth in employment between 2014 and 2024. Job opportunities are expected to be small as many companies outsource their chemist needs to other countries. Entry-level chemists can expect stiff competition, while advanced degrees in chemistry can lead to greater job opportunities as senior researchers or managers.

In 2015, the industries with the highest concentration of chemists were pharmaceutical companies, scientific research labs and engineering services. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, chemists made an average annual salary of $77,860 as of May 2015. Chemists who worked for oil companies and waste collection earned the highest salaries. The highest-paying states for chemists in 2015 were the District of Columbia, Maryland and Virginia, per the BLS.

What Should I Study?

In order to work as a chemist, you must graduate from an accredited 4-year university that offers bachelor's degree programs in chemistry. Some employers may prefer education programs that have been approved by the American Chemical Society (ACS). You'll take courses in math and science and must be comfortable working in a laboratory setting. In an undergraduate program, you'll typically study organic and inorganic compounds, biochemistry, physics and reactivity.

Many employers prefer chemists with a Master of Science in Chemistry or a Ph.D. in Chemistry for research or management positions, so you may want to consider advancing your education. In most graduate programs, you'll be encouraged to specialize in a chemistry sub-field, such as organic chemistry, analytical chemistry or polymer chemistry.

What Are Some Related Alternative Careers?

Alternative careers that require at least a bachelor's degree include, but are not limited to, chemical engineers, natural sciences managers and geoscientists. Chemical engineers are very similar in that they use chemistry, but also biology, physics and math, to improve production processes for various products. These products may include things like fuel, food or drugs. Natural sciences managers oversee the work of scientists, like chemists, and coordinate research activities. Geoscientists look at the physical characteristics and properties of Earth to learn about its history.

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