Chemistry is the study of chemical and element compositions and how each chemical interacts with its environment. Its study has led to an expansion of current, important capabilities in agricultural, industrial, medical and technological developments. If you're interested in chemistry, you may want to consider what careers require and use chemical expertise. In this article, we consider the qualifications you may need to have a successful career in chemistry and examine a list of 11 careers in chemistry.
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What do you need for a career in chemistry?
Here are some qualifications you need for a career in chemistry:
Because they rely on foundational scientific knowledge and lab skills, many careers in chemistry require a minimum bachelor's degree in chemistry or a related science. Undergraduate courses also provide an opportunity to learn more about specializations within chemistry. Use your abilities and interest level within each concentration to help you decide what type of chemical career you want to pursue. Most advanced specialized positions also require graduate degrees in chemistry, but it's helpful to use this graduate degree to gain expert, concentrated knowledge for your career.
While earning your bachelor's and master's degrees, you may want to gain work experience through positions in a university lab or a private lab. Apply for jobs in chemistry labs, either as an intern or a technician. You can learn a lot through hands-on experience, gain important lab skills and develop important relationships working with other chemists and chemical engineers. Outside of a lab, you can get an administrative position that helps you develop skills that apply to any job, like note-taking and scheduling.
These are essential skills to a career in chemistry:
- Analysis: Chemists use analysis to draw conclusions from their experiments and peer review other chemists' findings.
- Information technology: Jobs in a lab typically interact with a lot of machinery and computers, so knowing how to use them and troubleshoot problems can make the job easier.
- Research: Chemists rely on research as a basic tool and structure of projects in order to identify, evaluate and understand properties of substances.
- Presentation: Some academics present their work to grant foundations or potential employers. They use presentation skills to show their findings in a way that's engaging and easy to understand.
- Organization: When working with various chemicals and in an environment with other chemists, it's important to maintain the organization of your workspace.
- Teamwork: Because so many chemists work on team projects, like research and development teams or grant projects, it's vital that chemists be able to work together.
- Data collection: When studying experiments and drawing conclusions, you need to record the findings of your experiment correctly with solid record-keeping and data-entry skills.
11 careers in chemistry
Here is a list of careers you can pursue in chemistry:
Average salary: $38,910 per year
Primary duties: An agricultural scientist, or a food scientist, works with farmers and agricultural companies to observe crops and livestock production. Conducting basic research about the behavior of these elements on a farm or agricultural space, the scientist then shares their findings and makes recommendations about improving the efficiency and safety of the operations. They use their understanding of chemistry to analyze the makeup of the chemicals used in agriculture or with livestock and the soil where crops grow.
Average salary: $40,056 per year
Primary duties: A chemical technician works in a lab with chemists, assisting with research and helping conduct experiments. They set up equipment, clean the lab, prepare chemicals and compile charts and graphs for the final report. Their role is to assist in the activities of chemists and chemical engineers in the lab. Their entry-level responsibilities can complement and enhance the learning of a bachelor's or master's program in chemistry, branch of chemistry or chemical engineering.
Average salary: $61,517 per year
Primary duties: Forensic chemists work in law enforcement, analyzing evidence found at crime scenes. They typically examine nonbiological evidence to match it to known substances. For example, they would test dirt or found liquids to provide information about a crime scene. They typically work in labs and run tests on samples that other members of law enforcement who are at the crime scene collect. Forensic chemists follow strict policies to ensure that the samples are accurate. Their projects are often time-sensitive, so they require multitasking and prioritization skills.
Average salary: $62,872 per year
Primary duties: An environmental scientist monitors the health and elements of soil, water and other environmental features. They also work to prevent climate change and reduce the harmful effects of human activities on the environment. They can work onsite among an ecosystem, collecting samples and making observations. Environmental scientists also work in labs, using lab equipment to evaluate samples, set up research and make observations. Environmental scientists work for academic institutions, government organizations, consulting businesses, nonprofits, corporations and conservationist organizations.
Average salary: $63,524 per year
Primary duties: A chemistry teacher works in an elementary, middle or high school and teaches chemistry to their students. Many standardized tests include chemistry questions, so it's crucial that students have a basic understanding of chemistry principles. This early exposure to studying chemistry can affect students' desire to learn more and perhaps pursue chemistry as a career field of their own. These teachers develop lesson plans, teach lessons, grade papers and provide tutoring and personal instruction to their students.
Read more: Learn About Being a High School Teacher
Average salary: $73,619 per year
Primary duties: A materials scientist is a professional who studies the chemical composition of man-made materials like glass, rubber, ceramic, polymers and metals. Materials scientists study and evaluate how to strengthen these materials so that people can use them more broadly. They also create new materials, taking some of the same chemical structures from known materials to fit their purposes. They create and test these materials to make sure they're safe for use. Materials scientists then record their findings and publish them in scientific journals.
Average salary: $78,305 per year
Primary duties: A biochemist is a professional who studies the chemical processes of living things. Their research includes chemical and biological theories and focuses on cell development, growth, heredity and disease. Most biochemists are academics, meaning they work with or for universities and academic institutions that fund their research. Depending on the project, they develop research projects, apply for grants and conduct experiments in teams of other biochemists or additional scientific fields. They publish their findings and provide peer reviews of further research in their field.
Average salary: $80,973 per year
Primary duties: Chemical engineers evaluate methods of turning chemicals into marketable and usable products. They help create products for various industries, such as cleaning products, clothing dyes, fertilizers and petrochemicals. Using their understanding of chemistry and market needs, they analyze products to ensure efficient production methods. They typically work in the research and development or manufacturing department of a chemical production company, such as a pharmaceutical or plastic manufacturing company. Chemical engineers also ensure that all transportation and handling of chemicals are safe and within local and federal regulations.
Read more: Learn About Being a Chemical Engineer
Average salary: $89,511 per year
Primary duties: A medical scientist is a professional who studies diseases, including causes and treatments. They may work for universities, government organizations, nonprofits and pharmaceutical companies. They study disease, including how people contract diseases, how diseases grow and how they affect the human body, and search for treatments that minimizes damage. Medical scientists work in labs, write research papers, publish their research and present it to the medical community.
Average salary: $92,515 per year
Primary duties: A toxicologist is a professional who studies the effect of chemicals on humans and animals. They may work in various industries, testing water supplies, food or tissue samples to test for evidence of toxins. Toxicologists test environmental factors, such as the level of toxic material in specific products or water sources. They also provide recommendations for products safe from toxins or ways to minimize toxins in the environment. They can collect samples, analyze them in labs, draw conclusions and write reports about their findings.
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Average salary: $101,559 per year
Primary duties: A pharmacologist is responsible for developing new drugs for pharmaceutical companies. They research the effects of chemicals on body parts and systems, such as the circulatory, reproductive or lymphatic system. Pharmacologists can work in a clinical setting with patients and monitor the effects of new drugs in clinical trials. They can also work in an experimental lab environment and focus on the creation and testing of new medications.
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