Chemistry Careers: 2021 Guide to Career Paths, Options & Salary

Chemistry Careers: 2021 Guide to Career Paths, Options & Salary
Imed Bouchrika by Imed Bouchrika
Chief Data Scientist & Head of Content

Chemistry is the study of the chemical composition, structural organization, and characteristics of elements and compounds. Chemists study different types of materials and their interactions to better understand existing compounds, produce new ones, and discover novel chemical processes that are helpful. With 96% of most manufactured goods directly involving chemical processes and other relevant operations, chemistry careers are some of the most rewarding ones.

Through didactic and laboratory courses in natural science and mathematics, a chemistry degree educates students on the profession’s theoretical and practical parts. Chemistry provides possibilities to study and work in a range of intriguing disciplines through its branches of study, such as environmental science and chemical engineering.

Entry to a career in the industry can be through an associate degree in chemistry, which provides a core foundation on the subject, including related topics, such as physics, biology, and more. For full academic training, a bachelor’s degree in chemistry is a more appropriate academic track. This chemistry careers guide will walk you through chemistry careers that highlight your options after graduation.

Chemistry Careers Table of Contents

  1. Why pursue a career in Chemistry?
  2. Chemistry Career Outlook
  3. Required Skills for Chemistry
  4. How to Start Your Career in Chemistry
  5. How can I advance my career in Chemistry?
  6. Alternative Career Options for Chemistry

Why pursue a career in Chemistry?

Chemists study the characteristics of materials at the atomic and molecular levels. They measure proportions and reaction rates to better understand novel substances and how they behave or to build new compounds for use in a wide range of practical applications. They use a variety of analytical techniques and apparatus to accomplish these.

The industry attracts people who are passionate about science. Chemists are primarily investigative individuals, which implies that they are naturally inquisitive and curious people who enjoy spending time alone with their ideas on a regular basis. They also have a tendency to be realistic, which means that they frequently enjoy working outside or putting their hands to work on projects.

Between 2019 and 2029, the job outlook for chemists is expected to increase by about 5%, which is faster compared to other fields (U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, 2021). Due to research on the human genome, which has led to the development of new medications, biotechnology organizations are driving some of the demand for chemists and chemical engineers. Chemists can also find employment in environmental research as a result of attempts to comply with government rules and clean up waste sites. Outsourcing to R&D corporations is likely to cause a decline in the manufacturing sector, but it also creates growth opportunities within those organizations.

Interestingly, choosing chemistry as a viable career has decreased between high school and college, according to the study “Trends and perceptions of choosing chemistry as a major and a career,” which was published in the Chemistry Education Research and Practice journal. Based on the study, “task-oriented self-efficacy was the factor which contributed the most to chemistry career choice…”

“Women tend to choose chemistry more than men at high school and university levels, and minorities tend to choose it more in high school but less in higher education compared to non-minorities,” the research added (Avargil et al., 2020).

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Chemistry Career Outlook

Chemical and materials scientists will have an increase in employment of 5% from 2019 to 2029, which is faster than the average growth rate for all occupations during this period. Individuals with advanced degrees, notably doctorates in chemistry or materials science, are projected to have the best opportunities in their fields.

On average, chemists earned about $80,680 per year in 2020. Similarly, those working as materials scientists earn an average of $99.460 in the same year (U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, 2020). As the career development plan in chemistry progresses, those in the field can expect higher salaries. Additionally, chemists have numerous opportunities to take on various roles such as:

Chemistry Careers Salaries and Demand

RoleSalaryDemand
Chemist$80,6805%
Material Scientist$99,4605%
Pharmacist$81,2504.98%
Researcher in Chemistry$99,7201.58%
Chemists in Engineering, Architecture, and Related Services$67,0500.66%
Chemists in Manufacturing$91,4802.32%
Chemists in Government and Federal Institutes$120,5100.27%
Source: U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics

Required Skills for Chemists

A chemist is someone who seeks out a new understanding of chemistry and applies it to better our way of life. He or she may be involved in the development of items, such as synthetic fibers, pharmaceuticals, and cosmetics. Oil refining and petrochemical processing are only a couple of the technologies that chemists are developing to reduce energy consumption and pollution. As such, they should possess the following technical and soft skills:

Essential Skills for Chemists

  • Chemistry. The scientific understanding of the makeup, structure, and properties of substances, as well as of the chemical processes and transformations that they undergo. It covers many uses of chemicals, the risks associated with them, methods of manufacture, and disposal options.
  • Mathematics. Advanced understanding of aspects of mathematics such as algebra, arithmetic, calculus, geometry, statistics, and their applications.
  • Production and processing. Knowledge of production processes, quality control, costs, raw materials, and other techniques in production and processing.
  • Physics. Familiarity with concepts in physics, theories, laws, and their applications, especially in chemistry.
  • Biology. Knowledge of the physical and chemical makeup of organisms from the molecular level to the environment.

General Skills

  • Critical thinking. Using logic and reasoning, you can determine the advantages and disadvantages of various solutions, conclusions, or methods to issue resolution.
  • Communication. Chemists often collaborate with colleagues, team leaders, and other stakeholders. As such, expressing complex ideas in an understandable manner is necessary.
  • Writing. Among the core parts of a chemist’s professional life is writing research methodologies, reports, findings, and other documents.
  • Active learning. Chemistry is one of the most dynamic fields of science, so professionals in the field should actively learn new concepts, methods, and technology.
  • Systems thinking. A big part of work in chemistry is processes and workflows, which means chemists should be able to follow, evaluate, and analyze them accordingly.

Furthermore, researchers are continuously evaluating and improving the way chemistry is taught in higher education. For example, the study “Teaching through Research: Alignment of Core Chemistry Competencies and Skills within a Multidisciplinary Research Framework” published in the Journal of Chemical Education highlights the benefits of adopting open-ended experiments in instructing college freshmen as it “allows full integration of training that is mandatory and accredited general chemistry skill sets with open-ended research experiences with unexpected outcomes in undergraduate science curricula.”

“This model enables undergraduates to be productive contributors to new knowledge and scientific discovery at the earliest levels of the undergraduate experience,” the researchers reported (Ghanem et al., 2017).

Source: Prospects UK, 2020

How to Start Your Career in Chemistry

A bachelor’s degree is often the minimum educational qualification for an entry-level job as a chemist. However, if you choose to work as a researcher, you will almost certainly require a Ph.D., although a master’s degree may suffice in some cases.

You can pursue a career as a chemist by majoring in chemistry or a closely related field such as physical science, biological science, or engineering. Inorganic and organic chemistry, biology, physics, mathematics, and computer science are often the required STEM subjects. If you are considering a career in the environmental field, you may wish to consider taking courses in environmental studies, soil chemistry, and similar fields.

What can I do with an Associate’s Degree in Chemistry?

Laboratory Assistant

Researchers and scientists rely on the assistance of lab assistants to conduct numerous tests and research. It’s important to note that their key responsibilities include preparing test samples, maintaining research data, and documentation of processes and results.

Median Salary: $32,375

Research Associate

Assists scientists in conducting quantitative and qualitative analyses of various materials, chemicals, or products. Responsibilities include quality control, compliance, and maintenance.

Median Salary: $54,959

Laboratory Technician

Chemical laboratory technicians work alongside chemists and chemical engineers to conduct research, perform experiments, and create new products and chemical processes. They assist with the design, execution, and monitoring of experiments as well as recording and reporting outcomes.

Median Salary: $51,670

What can I do with a Bachelor’s Degree in Chemistry?

Chemist

Chemists perform laboratory experiments to evaluate chemicals, produce new products, and enhance current ones. They may specialize in one or more fields of chemistry, for example, biochemistry, organic chemistry, and inorganic chemistry.

Median Salary: $80,680

Materials Scientist

Materials scientists conduct research and analysis on both natural and man-made objects in order to understand them better. Their results may be utilized to create new materials, modify existing materials, or make decisions on how to use materials differently.

Median Salary: $86,315

Pharmacologist

Pharmacologists conduct investigations on the effects of new and current medicines and other pharmaceuticals on people and animals. They do research on the origins and chemical composition of medicines. They may be accountable for ensuring that medications are safe and compliant with applicable laws and regulations.

Median Salary: $94,193

Can you get a Chemistry job with just a certificate?

Certificate programs in chemistry below associate’s degree are typically not offered as students need at least two years of academic training in order to qualify for entry-level positions. However, graduate certificate programs in chemistry are available to those with at least a bachelor’s degree in the same field or adjacent sectors. These are designed to expand the student’s academic training in order to further one’s career, gain technical skills in chemistry, or supplement research experience in a specific field in chemistry.

How can I advance my career in Chemistry?

After going through a bachelor’s degree, most chemist career paths continue to masters degree programs, which lead to a doctorate. While there are various opportunities for bachelor’s in chemistry graduates, if your career goal in chemistry involves landing managerial positions, you need advanced career and professional experience.

What can I do with a Master’s in Chemistry?

Production Chemist

Industrial production facilities, such as chemical factories and refineries employ production chemists. These chemists apply their expertise to enhance existing industrial processes or develop new ones. They may oversee production, assist in the design of plant equipment and procedures, or supervise quality control. They frequently collaborate with chemical engineers.

Median Salary: $69,551

Research Chemist

Chemists who do research on chemical compounds utilize their findings to develop and enhance processes and products, ranging from novel medications and medical treatments to manufactured items such as cosmetics, electrical appliances, and food and beverage. The majority of research chemists work in laboratories.

Median Salary: $66,631

Chemistry Instructor

Chemistry instructors organize lessons, prepare and present lectures, and oversee students’ laboratory activities. Instructors assess students’ performance and keep classroom records. They offer courses on the physical and chemical characteristics of substances, as well as their compositional variations.

Median Salary: $58,000

What can I do with a Ph.D. in Chemistry?

Chemistry Professor

Chemistry teachers continue to do research in chemistry to stay current on new discoveries and adapt their teaching materials accordingly. They continue to do independent research for the universities where they work and attend frequent meetings on a variety of chemistry-related issues.

Median Salary: $79,550

Chemical Engineers

Chemical engineers spend their time developing and constructing systems and machinery utilized in biological, environmental, industrial, and chemical processes, as well as optimizing them. These same professionals collaborate directly with the food and pharmaceutical industries to produce safer and more efficient goods for the public.

Median Salary: $108,770

Environment Scientists and Specialists

Environment scientists and professionals apply their scientific expertise to identify dangers within a specific environment and develop strategies for mitigating or eliminating their impact. They collect data on food, soil, water, and air in order to identify strategies to conserve and maintain the ecosystem.

Median Salary: $71,360

Which certification is best for Chemistry?

The certification program’s objective is to recognize chemists and chemical engineers who possess a minimum level of education and/or experience and have engaged in professional career development and continuing education activities during the last one to three years. The program promotes a variety of strategies for practitioners to maintain and enhance their abilities. Additionally, it acts as a vehicle for formally recognizing educational programs and other professional activities aimed at enhancing the chemical scientist’s or engineer’s present competency in his or her specialty.

  • Specialist in Chemistry, SC (ASCP). The American Society for Clinical Pathology’s (ASCP) Specialist in Chemistry (S.C. (ASCP)) accreditation attests to a professional’s comprehension and knowledge of advanced scientific concepts, including research, procedural, and technical aspects of laboratory chemistry.
  • Certified Chemical Engineer (CCE). The certification program’s objective is to recognize chemical engineers and other professionals in the industry who possess a minimum level of education and/or experience and have engaged in professional career development and continuing education during the last one to three years.
  • Pharmaceutical Sales. The Pharmaceutical Sales exam assesses familiarity with the pharmaceutical sales process. It was created for seasoned pharmacists and pharmaceutical salespeople and includes the following topics: territory analysis, pre-call planning, post-call analysis, core message, and product information.

Source: Chemical & Engineering News, 2019

Alternative Career Options for Chemists

While traditional job options for chemistry majors may include working in a laboratory, doing research, or working in the medical field, there are various other career options that chemistry majors may be interested in exploring.

What else can a Chemist Do?

  • Agricultural and Food Scientists. Agricultural and food scientists are responsible for doing research on a variety of agricultural goods, such as food, as well as agricultural locations, like farms and land regions. Among their responsibilities are analyzing soil samples to evaluate whether the land is suited for high crop yields, creating innovative methods of preserving and packing food, and interacting with farm animals to ensure they are cared for correctly and remain healthy.
  • Wholesale and Manufacturing Sales Representatives. Wholesale and manufacturing sales agents offer products and services to businesses and other types of organizations on behalf of various wholesalers and manufacturing enterprises. Some of these items are technical or scientific in nature, necessitating the hiring of a sales representative with a scientific background, such as chemistry.
  • Natural Sciences Managers. A natural sciences manager is generally responsible for supervising the work of other scientific experts, such as chemists and biologists. They may be in charge of ensuring that a laboratory operates smoothly and is adequately supplied, or they may be more focused on administrative duties such as staffing, hiring, and budgeting.
  • Technical Writers. Another alternative for chemistry students is to work as a technical writer, which typically entails producing a variety of technical papers, such as instruction manuals, journals, and how-to manuals. These writers frequently work with sophisticated data and then attempt to write about it in a plain and straightforward manner that customers can comprehend without prior expertise.

Chemistry Careers Image 2

Diverse Career Options in Chemistry

Chemistry itself is a diverse industry with various subfields where professionals can specialize in. After finishing their bachelor’s degree, most graduates begin planning their next step, which typically involves taking advanced degree types, testing for certifications, or focusing on a specific sector in chemistry. Because the demand for chemists and similar professionals increases, those in the field get to enjoy numerous chemistry careers. As professionals gain more experience and training in chemistry, salary increases and promotions are inevitable.

Furthermore, career goals in chemistry may evolve into much higher positions such as managers, consultants, or even businesses owners. Indeed, chemistry careers are some of the most exciting and dynamic professions out there. A such, they are worth considering in your career exploration efforts.

 

References:

  1. Avargil, S., Kohen, Z., & Dori, Y. J. (2020). Trends and perceptions of choosing chemistry as a major and a career. Chemistry Education Research and Practice, 21(2), 668–684. https://doi.org/10.1039/c9rp00158a
  2. Ghanem, E., Long, S. R., Rodenbusch, S. E., Shear, R. I., Beckham, J. T., Procko, K., DePue, L., Stevenson, K. J., Robertus, J. D., Martin, S., Holliday, B., Jones, R. A., Anslyn, E. V., & Simmons, S. L. (2017). Teaching through research: Alignment of core chemistry competencies and skills within a multidisciplinary research framework. Journal of Chemical Education, 95(2), 248–258. https://doi.org/10.1021/acs.jchemed.7b00294
  3. U.S Bureau of Labor Statistics. (2020, May). Occupational employment and wages, may 2020. https://www.bls.gov/oes/current/oes192031.htm
  4. U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. (2021, June). Chemists and materials scientists. https://www.bls.gov/ooh/life-physical-and-social-science/chemists-and-materials-scientists.htm

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