Organic Chemist Jobs: Salary and Career Facts

Research how to become an organic chemist. Find out about job duties, education requirements, salary and employment outlook 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 an Organic Chemist?

Organic chemists use their knowledge of carbon-based molecules to develop life-saving medicines, alternative fuels and biodegradable products. They carry out complex research experiments, analyze substances and test products for various safety standards. Organic chemists may oversee the work of lab technicians and be responsible for training them on different laboratory techniques to complete a project. Like all chemists, organic chemists must take detailed notes throughout their projects, analyze results and report their findings in technical reports and/or presentations. Often these reports are available to clients, the government, the public and other scientists. Take a look at the following chart for an overview of two possible professions in organic chemistry.

Organic Chemistry Researcher Organic Chemistry Professor
Degree Required Master's or PhD degree PhD degree; master's degree in some cases
Education Field of Study Organic chemistry Organic chemistry
Key Skills Analysis of carbon-based chemistry, design/creation of new organic substances, math, critical thinking, communication Organic chemical analysis, laboratory skills, teaching and lecturing expertise
Job Growth (2014-2024)* 3% (for all chemists) 15%
Average Salary (2015)* $77,860 (for all chemists) $86,070

Source: *U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.

What Jobs Are Available for Organic Chemists?

According to the American Chemical Society, organic chemists typically work in research and development in labs at universities, pharmaceutical, industrial and biotechnology companies and government agencies (www.acs.org). The jobs you could get depend on the specific research area in which you're trained. In the pharmaceutical industry, you could synthesize organic compounds to develop or improve medications. If you worked in the industrial industry, you could work to develop new plastics or rubber materials valuable to the economy. As a food chemist, your organic compounds could aid in the development of nutrient-rich foods.

You could start your career as an organic lab chemist which usually has no supervisory duties, yet allows you to become familiar with laboratory instruments and computer software used to conduct experiments. As your career progresses, you could become a research scientist that designs compounds, conducts experiments, analyzes data and publishes scientific reports.

From a non-scientific perspective, you could work for pharmaceutical or industrial companies marketing and selling products designed by organic researchers and chemists. With sufficient experience and management skills, you could become a research and development director, overseeing all aspects of a research project and supervising scientific teams. You might write grant proposals, develop budgets, order materials, give lectures or manage a staff of researchers. To embrace both scientific and non-scientific roles, you could also enter academia as an elementary, high school or college teacher.

What Kind of Degree Would I Need?

A bachelor's degree in chemistry is generally the minimum qualification for jobs in organic chemistry. You would spend about four years in school and a considerable amount of time in chemistry labs studying carbon atoms, organic synthesis, alkenes and stereochemistry by conducting organic analysis. If you want to be a high school teacher, you'd need to complete a bachelor's or post-bachelor's teacher education program.

For advanced or independent research positions, you'll usually need to earn a master's or doctoral degree. Master's degree programs could qualify you for advanced lab assistant jobs, secondary school teaching positions or management roles within a company. To perform your own research in either the private or public sector or through an academic research institution, you'll usually need to obtain a Doctor of Philosophy (Ph.D.) degree.

What Salary Could I Earn?

The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) reports that in 2015, chemists, including organic chemists, earned an average annual salary of $77,860 (www.bls.gov). The petroleum and petroleum products merchant wholesalers industry was among the highest-paying employer, at $126,710 per year. However, the majority of chemists worked in pharmaceuticals ($76,610) and scientific research ($90,130). The BLS also reports that during the same year, chemistry professors, including those teaching organic chemistry, earned an average of $86,070.

What Are Some Related Alternative Careers?

Biochemists and biophysicists, as well as physicists and astronomers are some related positions that require a doctoral or professional degree. Biochemists and biophysicists examine the physical and chemical properties of different living things. They may use this to study diseases, biological processes in the body and more. Physicists and astronomers study how different types of energy and matter interact. They often use high-tech equipment to apply and test these principles to theories concerning the origin of the universe.

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