Careers in Chemistry
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The average value of the Bachelor degree needed to become a Chemists is $1,476,529.00.
Points of interest
Typically, the minimum educational requirement for a career in chemistry is a bachelor's degree. However, to obtain employment in many research jobs, you will need to have a master's degree or a doctoral degree such as a Ph.D.
There will continue to be growth in job positions in scientific, professional, and technical service firms in chemistry. This will occur as manufacturing and development companies keep on outsourcing their development, testing, and research operations to firms that are smaller and specialized.
New chemistry professionals at all levels of experience are likely to experience competition for employment, particularly in industries in chemical manufacturing that are in decline. However, chemistry graduates who obtain master's degrees, and graduates who obtain doctoral level degrees are likely to have better job opportunities at larger biotechnology and pharmaceutical firms.
Nature of the Work
Everything found in the environment, whether it occurs naturally or is designed by human beings, is made up of chemicals. Chemicals and material scientists are involved with searching for novel discoveries about chemicals and how to use chemicals to improve the lives of human beings. Research in chemicals has fostered the development and discovery of numerous stronger, lighter, and more durable synthetic fibers, adhesives, drugs, paints, electronic components, cosmetics, lubricants, plastics, and thousands of additional products. Chemicals and materials scientists are also involved in developing processes related to petrochemical processing and improved refining techniques for crude oil. These improved processes help reduce pollution and save energy. Chemistry in materials science can include research into superconducting materials, integrated circuit chips, graphite materials, and fuel cells. Research involving the chemistry of living things is related to advances in food processing, agriculture, medicine, and related fields.
Numerous chemists and materials scientists are employed in development and research, or R&D. When working in basic research, they investigate the compositions, properties, and structures of various matter. They also research the laws that govern how various elements may be combined and how different substances are likely to react with one another. When research and design is applied, scientists may create novel processes and products or improve the functioning of existing products. This is often done using knowledge acquired from basic research processes. For example, synthetic rubbers and plastics were developed after research was conducted on the unison of small molecules in forming large ones. This process is known as polymerization. Chemists and materials scientists involved in research and design will use computers and various kinds of sophisticated instrumentation in laboratories to help them simulate reactions, model substrates, and conduct experimental analyses.
Advances in electronics, technology, and how computers can be used have led to chemists and materials scientists being able to practice techniques that are either new or more efficient. Such new and improved techniques include combinatorial chemistry. Through combinatorial chemistry, chemists can create and test large amounts of chemical compounds at the same time in order to find the compounds that have particular properties they are looking for (e.g., being fire repellent or being waterproof). Through combinatorial chemistry, chemists can make thousands of different kinds of compounds in less time and for less money than was possible in the past. In some cases, chemists can even use digital libraries of millions of different chemicals to create or discover compounds that have certain characteristics. This allows chemists to then synthesize the most promising candidates instead of spending time, effort, and money on numerous compounds that may not work well together.
In recent years, scientific research and design has become more interdisciplinary in nature. Today, most chemists are unlikely to work completely by themselves. Rather, they are typically part of research teams that include additional scientists from different fields, such as physicists, biologists, engineers, and computer specialists. Biochemists are also commonly found in such research teams, as their job descriptions blend aspects of chemistry and aspects of biology.
Chemists are also likely to work in chemical manufacturing plants where they may supervise production and quality control. They might be responsible for preparing job instructions for plant workers that delineate the different mixing times, temperatures, and ingredients necessary for manufacture and development in various stages. Chemists may also monitor processes that are under computer control to make sure the proper amounts of products are produced. They may also test raw material or finished product samples to make sure the produced samples are in compliance with standards outlined by the industry and the government. Such standards and regulations may include those that govern pollution. Chemists are involved with documenting and reporting the results of tests, as well as analyzing them to increase their chances of improving theories that already exist in the field or developing new methods of testing products.
Chemists are likely to specialize in particular disciplines within the field. Analytical chemists are responsible for determining the nature, composition, and structure of various substances through identifying and examining the numerous elements or compounds that compose them. Analytical chemists are considered very important in the pharmaceutical industry because it is necessary for such companies to know what various compounds are composed of so they can turn them into profitable drugs. Additionally, analytical chemists work to develop techniques for compound manipulation. They also study the interactions and relationships between different parts of compounds. Finally, they may additionally work to identify which chemical pollutants are present and how heavily they are concentrated in the air, in soil, and in water.
Organic chemists work to discover the chemistry of carbon compounds, which are responsible for the composition of all living things. There are a vast number of carbon compounds in the world, and organic chemists work with many of them. They may synthesize simple compounds or individual elements so they can create novel substances and compounds that may have different applications and properties. These compounds can then be used to develop familiar products used by consumers, including plastics, drugs, and elastomers, which are elastic substances that resemble rubber in their consistency. Inorganic chemists typically work with compounds that do not involve the element of carbon, such as elements commonly found in electronic components, including silicon and silver.
Theoretical and physical chemists work to discover the physical components and characteristics of molecules and atoms, and may also study the theoretical properties of various types of matter. They additionally study the process of chemical reactions. Research from physical and theoretical chemists often leads to energy sources that are either new or improvements upon current sources. Macromolecular chemists research how atoms and molecules behave, while medicinal chemists study the components and properties of compounds that are used in human medicine and for the human body.
Materials chemists develop and study novel materials that can improve products that already exist or make products that do not yet exist. Nearly all chemists, in fact, are involved in working to improve existing products or develop novel ones. Material chemists do similar work as material scientists, but there are differences between the occupations. Materials scientists are likely to have backgrounds that encompass more fields, as they work to apply principles of engineering and physics as well as chemistry when studying different aspects of materials. The primary focus in materials science, however, is chemistry, as this is where information is obtained about the composition and structure of various materials.
Materials scientists work to study how various materials are structured as well as which chemical properties they have. This knowledge can be used to enhance products that already exist or to develop novel products. Materials scientists also work to strengthen materials or combine them so new materials can be developed for a variety of fields and products. Materials science bridges the gap between natural and synthetic materials that may be used to support a wide range of structures and products, from cars and bridges to airplanes and clothing and goods used in homes. Materials scientists are likely to focus their work on particular kinds of materials, such as metals, plastics, or ceramics.
Training, Other Qualifications, and Advancement
In most cases, the minimum educational requirement to work as a chemist is a bachelor's degree in chemistry or in a field closely related to chemistry. However, in order to obtain many jobs in research, applicants will need to possess either a master's degree or, in most cases, a doctoral level degree.
For entry level chemist jobs, hiring staff will typically require a bachelor's degree in chemistry, as described above. Barring a bachelor's degree in chemistry, it is often possible to enter such jobs if you have a bachelor's degree in a field related to chemistry along with a significant background in chemistry. There are some materials scientists with degree background in materials science, but such scientists will typically have a degree in physics, electrical engineering, or chemistry. If you are looking for a research job in materials science or in chemistry, you will need a master's degree at a minimum level, while the optimal degree is a doctorate.
There are numerous colleges and universities in the United States that offer degrees in chemistry. The American Chemical Society, or ACS, reported in 2009 that approximately 200 doctoral, 310 masters, and 650 bachelors degree programs had their approval. Besides these programs, there were still more advanced degree programs in chemistry that students could pursue in hundreds of other colleges and universities. More and more colleges are offering degree programs in materials science as the years pass, while numerous schools of engineering offer joint degrees in materials science and engineering.
Students who would like to pursue careers in chemistry are well advised to take courses in mathematics and science. They should also enjoy working with their hands in the construction of scientific apparatus. They should enjoy performing experiments in lab settings, and should enjoy modeling with computers.
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Beyond taking the required courses in physical, analytical, organic, and inorganic chemistry, undergraduate students majoring in chemistry are likely to study biological sciences, physics, mathematics, and computer science. Computer science courses have become more essential in recent years because employers are more likely to hire job applicants who can apply skills with computers to tasks involving modeling and simulation. Employers are also more likely to hire applicants who can operate lab equipment under computer control without additional training. Such abilities have become more important in recent years as advanced screening techniques and combinatorial chemistry techniques have begun to be applied more widely in industry settings. It is also useful to take courses in statistics and statistical analysis because materials scientists and chemists are likely to have to apply basic techniques of statistics while on the job.
Students interested in specializing in environmental aspects of chemistry should also take courses involving environmental studies and work to become familiar with recent rules, laws, and regulations. Specific courses that may prove useful for such students include water chemistry, atmospheric chemistry, and soil chemistry, as well as courses in environmental energy sources.
Graduate students who study chemistry usually find a subfield to specialize in, such as polymer, organic, or analytical chemistry, depending on what they are interested in and the kinds of work they hope to do when employed. As an example, students interested in researching different kinds of drugs when employed by the pharmaceutical industry will tend to develop solid backgrounds in synthetic or medicinal organic chemistry. However, students typically do not need to specialize in particular fields while they complete their undergraduate degrees. In fact, when undergraduates are broadly trained, they will usually have a greater flexibility when they search for jobs than if they prematurely defined their job interests in a narrow fashion. Additionally, most employers are willing to provide new graduates from chemistry programs with additional education and training.
When working in the chemical industry or for the government, novel chemists who hold bachelor's degrees are likely to work in quality control, in analytical testing, or in helping more advanced chemists in labs focused on research and development. Many employers are more likely to hire materials scientists and chemists who hold doctoral degrees, or at least master's degrees, when it comes to leading both basic and applied research. When it comes to materials science, it is preferable to have a background that is broad and encompassing of various sciences. Although most companies will prefer to hire applicants with doctoral degrees, some are willing to employ materials scientists who hold either master's or bachelor's degrees.
Additional qualifications may apply for chemists and should be considered. Because chemists involved in research and development are increasingly expected to work on teams that include scientists from a variety of disciplines, it is beneficial to have some understanding of different fields, including knowledge in economics, business, and marketing. It is also beneficial to have the ability to lead and good communication skills in speaking and writing. There is a growing amount of interaction among people of various specialties in the field, particularly for chemists who specialize in the pharmaceutical industry and in drug development. As a result, one kind of chemist will often need to use the findings of a different kind of chemist. As an example, an analytical chemist may identify compounds in his or her work, and these identified compounds may then be put to use by an organic chemist.
It is also useful to have experience, whether that comes through work in academic labs, through fellowships, internships, or even work and study programs in the industry. There are some research chemist employers, particularly those involved in the pharmaceutical industry, who will preferentially hire people who have numerous years of experience beyond their doctorates. It is also essential to have curiosity, perseverance, the ability to concentrate and notice small details, and the ability to work without constant supervision.
Regarding advancement, in chemistry, it usually comes in the form of having greater independence in work and research projects, or in the provision of larger budgets and grants. There are other chemists who may move into positions of management and become managers in the natural sciences. Chemists who elect to work in management careers are likely to spend more of their time working with budgets and schedules and planning strategies for research. Chemists who develop new products and processes may elect to work for themselves by forming their own businesses or companies. Some may also switch jobs or fields to work in new firms where they can further develop their ideas.
In 2008, about 94,100 jobs were held by chemists and materials scientists. About 84,300 of these jobs were held by pure chemists, while materials scientists held about 9,700 jobs. Beyond these statistics, approximately 24,800 chemists worked in academia under faculty positions.
Approximately 42 percent of all employed materials scientists and chemists worked in firms related to manufacturing; the most common of these was the chemical manufacturing industry. Firms in the chemical manufacturing industry are responsible for the production of synthetic materials, plastics, soaps, cleaners, drugs, pesticides, paint, fertilizers, industrial organic chemicals, toys, and additional chemical products. Slightly less than 20 percent of materials scientists and chemists worked in services related to scientific research or development. Approximately 9 percent worked in labs related to testing. Most materials scientists are employed by companies who produce products made of rubber, plastics, ceramics, and metals.
Chemists and materials scientists are likely to find employment in every part of the United States, but they are most often found in areas involving large industry, such as in large cities.
The growth of jobs in chemistry in coming years is expected to be slightly less than the average rate of growth for all jobs in the United States. Chemists who have recently graduated from training programs may face increased competition for employment, especially in chemical manufacturing industries that may be in decline. Graduates of training programs who possess master's or doctoral level degrees will have more opportunities to take advantage of, in particular when applying for work at larger biotechnology and pharmaceutical corporations.
The rate of employment of both chemists and material scientists will grow by approximately 3 percent between 2008 and 2018, according to job projections from the Bureau of Labor Statistics; these projections are lower than the average rate of growth for all jobs. The growth in employment will be found in technical, professional, and scientific service firms because manufacturing corporations will continue their practice of outsourcing research, design, and testing procedures to firms that are smaller and more specialized. There will be a 2 percent growth in job opportunities for chemists due to increases in fields related to biotechnology; however, these growths will be countered by decreases in chemical manufacturing opportunities. The rate of employment of materials scientists may grow by up to 12 percent due to increased demand for newer and higher quality products from manufacturers.
The primary demand for chemists in the United States is expected to be led by firms and corporations in the biotechnological industries. Biotechnological research encompasses a range of study of the integration of technological processes and biological mechanisms, and it includes the study of human genes. This field offers numerous possibilities for development in drug research and products that can fight diseases and illnesses that, until now, have not been responsive to treatments that originate from the traditional chemical and physiological processes.
Fewer chemists are expected to be employed in coming years by the chemical manufacturing industry as corporations are likely to divest their operations in research and development. As a way to control costs, the majority of chemical companies, which includes many large corporations in the pharmaceutical and biotechnological fields, will turn in greater numbers to service firms in scientific research and development to perform research in particular fields and conduct other work that in previous times was performed by chemists directly employed by the corporations. As a result, smaller specialized firms will have substantial job growth. Additionally, many companies are predicted to conduct more of their manufacturing and research processes in countries where workers are paid lower wages, which means employment growth in the United States is likely to continue to be limited. An important issue in the manufacturing of chemicals will continue to be quality control; this is likely to remain important in other industries that require chemicals for various processes in product manufacturing.
Employers will continue to seek out chemists for developing and improving the processes and technologies currently involved in the production of chemicals. They will also be needed for measuring and monitoring the levels of pollution in the soil, air, and water, as it will continue to be necessary to comply with environmental regulations posted by local, state, and federal authorities. Research into the environment will provide further job opportunities for materials scientists and chemists. In order to comply with concerns from the public and regulations from the government, industries involved in the manufacture of chemicals will continue to spend billions of dollars annually in the development and use of technology that helps reduce pollution. Billions of dollars will also be spent in efforts to clean up existing and future waste sites. There will also be more research into both traditional and alternative or futuristic sources of energy, which should allow for growth in job opportunities for chemists around the country.
New chemists working in all fields may find greater competition for employment, particularly in industries that are in decline, such as the chemical manufacturing industry. Firms involved in both biotechnology and pharmaceuticals will continue to provide many employment opportunities for chemists. However, graduates of chemistry training programs who hold bachelor's degrees in chemistry are also likely to find jobs related to science in marketing, management, and sales. Some chemists who hold bachelor's degrees may become technologists or chemical technicians or teachers of chemistry at the high school level. They are also likely to qualify for positions where they assist in research procedures at various developing and small scale research organizations.
The opportunities are predicted to be somewhat better for graduates who hold advanced degrees, particularly if those advanced degrees are at the doctoral level. It is common for larger biotechnology and pharmaceutical corporations to make employment openings for such candidates at research labs, while still more will find employment in colleges and universities. Additionally, the majority of upper management and senior research positions will continue to be filled by chemists who hold advanced degrees in their field. However, in a similar condition to applicants seeking jobs in other occupations, there will be stiff competition for chemist applicants looking for upper management jobs, as they are severely limited.
Besides job openings that come from growth in employment, some openings in jobs will come from the need to find new chemists and materials scientists to replace those who are retiring or leaving the labor force
According to projections data collected from the National Employment Matrix, there were 94,100 people employed as chemists or as materials scientists in 2008. In 2018, the projected employment figure is 97,300, which is a positive change of 3,300 people and a growth of 3 percent. In 2008, 84,300 people were employed as chemists. The projected employment figure in 2018 is 86,400, which represents a positive change of 2,100 people and a growth of 2 percent. In 2008, 9,070 people were employed as materials scientists. The projected employment figure in 2018 is 10,900, which represents a positive change of 1,200 people and a growth of 12 percent.
Earnings and Wages
In May 2008, the median annual wage of a chemist in the United States was $66,230. The middle 50 percent of chemists took home a yearly salary between $48,630 and $89,660. The bottom 10 percent of chemists took home less than $37,840 a year, while the top 10 percent had an annual salary in excess of $113,080. The industries that employed the largest numbers of chemists in the United States in 2008 were the federal executive branch, services in scientific research and development, manufacturing of pharmaceuticals and medicine, manufacturing of basic chemicals, and services related to architecture and engineering. The federal executive branch paid a median annual wage of $95,690. The scientific research and development services paid a median annual wage of $76,450. The pharmaceutical and medicine manufacturing industry paid a median annual wage of $66,520. The basic chemical manufacturing industry paid a median annual wage of $63,630. Architectural, engineering, and related services paid chemists a median annual wage of $51,180.
The median annual wage of a professional employed as a materials scientist in May 2008 was $80,230. The middle 50 percent of materials scientists took home a yearly salary between $59,180 and $102,180. The bottom 10 percent took home a salary below $43,670, while the top 10 percent had an annual salary in excess of $124,010.
The National Association of Colleges and Employers indicates that in July 2009, the beginning salary offers for graduates of chemistry training programs who held bachelor's degrees in chemistry was, on average, $39,897 each year.
Regarding employees of the federal government, chemists who were employed in managerial, supervisory, and non supervisory positions took home an average of $101,687 according to a report based on March 2009.
The work done by chemists and materials scientists bears a close resemblance to the research and analysis conducted by the following professionals:
- Agricultural and food scientists
- Engineering and natural sciences managers
- Biological scientists
- Engineers Geoscientists and hydrologists
- Environmental scientists and specialists
- Physicists and astronomers
- Medical scientists Science technicians
Sources of Additional Information
You can obtain general information on expected earnings for chemists and career opportunities within the field from the American Chemical Society (www.acs.org)
You can obtain information about how to secure a position as a chemist under employment of the federal government through the Office of Personnel Management. This is located at USAJOBS, which is the official employment information system of the federal government. You can locate and apply for employment positions through this resource, which is located at (www.usajobs.opm.gov). You can also access these resources by telephone through an interactive system that will respond to your voice at the following numbers: 703) 724-1850 or a telecommunications device for the deaf at (978) 461-8404. Keep in mind that neither number is toll free, and you will have to pay charges for calling them.
People with the educational background, skills, and desire to become a Chemists might be well suited to work as Chemical technicians as well.