Everything around us is made up of chemicals, and people in science careers that work to understand chemicals are chemists. Chemists try to learn new things about chemicals and how they can be used to improve life. They have discovered and developed new fuels, medicines, fibers, adhesives, and many other products. They also improve processes for industries such as petroleum, pharmaceuticals, electronics manufacturing, and agriculture. Many chemists test products to insure quality control of manufacturing processes. Others find new ways to clean up the environment, produce cleaner fuels, and make faster computer chips.
Chemistry is divided into separate disciplines, although most also work together. Organic chemists study molecules that contain carbon, along with other elements; inorganic chemists work with materials that don’t contain carbon, especially molecules important for the computer industry. Analytical chemists investigate the structure and composition of materials, while biochemists work with substances from living organisms. Physical chemists study the theoretical foundations of chemistry, drawing strongly on the field of physics.
A person with a bachelor’s degree can find a job in chemistry, often as a lab technician. Other positions, such as those in research or lab management, require advanced degrees, both master’s and doctoral. The American Chemical Society has certified that degree programs at certain colleges and universities meet their standards, giving those programs more credibility to employers
Most chemists work a regular schedule, but researchers may have irregular hours. An experiment may need to be monitored into evening hours, or sample collections at a factory may need to be taken and analyzed over a twenty-four-hour period.
About 94,000 people had jobs as chemists in 2008, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS). Another 25,000 had positions as chemistry teachers.
The types of jobs were broken into:
- 42% in manufacturing, including making plastics, medicines, soaps, pesticides and other agricultural products, paints, and other chemical products.
- 18% in research and development.
- 9% in testing labs.
The BLS estimates that growth for chemist jobs will be slower than for the average profession—about 3 percent between 2008 and 2018. Many of the jobs will be connected to the fields of biotechnology or nanotechnology. Manufacturing companies will tend to eliminate research and development positions and depend on specialized companies for the services they need in that area.
Salaries for chemists have a median average of $66,230. Those in basic chemical manufacturing average $63,630, and those in research and development show an average of $76,450. Federal chemists earn an average of $101,687.
Last Updated: 06/04/2014