All about a career as a chemist

  • A career as a chemist allows you to improve existing processes and develop new ones.
    A career as a chemist allows you to improve existing processes and develop new ones.

    All about a career as a chemist

    If science has always been one of your strong subjects, you might have considered pursuing a role in this discipline. Although there are plenty of lucrative jobs in science – such as biologists, earth scientists, zoologists, physicists and medical researchers – one of the most fascinating careers is that of a chemist.

    Find out more about what the daily activities of a chemist entails and find out how you can join this career.

    The day-to-day of a chemist

    The day-to-day functions of a chemist aren’t simple; that’s why they entail years of study and practice. The primary role of a chemist is to plan and conduct research projects, perhaps involving the development of new products and testing procedures, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. They might also prepare compounds and solutions that get used in lab procedures, which often involves a highly specific, methodical approach to measuring and mixing substances. Just as high school chemistry students did at an amateur level, professional chemists analyze chemicals to determine both the concentration and composition of the elements within.

    Once they’ve achieved the results they were looking for, chemists can perform a number of tasks. First, they might instruct their colleagues and fellow scientists on proper testing procedures based on their findings. They might also write up technical reports that reveal methods and results, which they can present to scientists, engineers, colleagues and other professionals who might gain value from this insight.

    What’s important to note is the exact type of chemistry the professional is engaged in will cause their daily activity to change. If, for instance, one works in green chemistry, they might try to develop eco-friendly procedures in order to reduce the amount of toxins created. Some chemists work directly with pre-existing processes, trying to find ways to make them safer and more efficient, while others develop new procedures to yield new findings. Other common types of chemists include:

    • Analytical chemists: Examine and identify different elements and compounds
    • Forensic chemists: Analyze evidence, such as DNA, to help solve crimes
    • Inorganic chemists: Study the properties of molecules that do not contain carbon
    • Medicinal chemists: Research chemical compounds that are used to make pharmaceutical drugs
    • Organic chemists: Study the properties of molecules that contain carbon
    • Physical chemists: Research how matter behaves on an atomic and molecular level, with a particular focus on chemical reactions
    • Theoretical chemists: Investigate methods that can predict the outcomes of experiments


    According to the BLS, the median annual salary for chemists in May 2018 was $76,890. The highest 10% of employees in this field earned over $133,180. The exact amount of money you can expect to earn in this career depends on a few factors, such as experience, level of education and industry. The median salaries for chemists working in the following industries include:

    • Federal government: $110,260
    • Research and development: $85,820
    • Chemical manufacturing: $76,620
    • Administrative and support services: $64,800
    • Testing laboratories: $59,400

    How to become a chemist 

    Although you may only be required to earn a bachelor’s degree to pursue a career as a chemist, your chances of getting a job in this field increase substantially when you obtain a master’s degree in chemistry. Particularly if you are pursuing a career in research, you will likely be required to earn a master’s degree or doctorate. You might decide to pursue a broad degree in chemistry or you might find it beneficial to specialize in a certain field of chemistry; the latter might be a good option if you know for certain what subarea you’d like to pursue.

    There are plenty of graduate schools that offer master’s degrees and doctorates in chemistry. Based on what you’re looking for – specialization, location and such – you should have no trouble finding a program that meets your needs.

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