Chemists conduct research and analysis in support of industrial operations, product and process development, quality control, environmental control, medical diagnosis and treatment, biotechnology, nanotechnology, and other applications. They also conduct theoretical, experimental, and applied research into basic chemical and biochemical processes to create or synthesize new products and processes. Chemists are employed in research, development, and quality control laboratories; chemical, petrochemical and pharmaceutical industries; mineral, metal, and pulp and paper industries; and a wide variety of manufacturing, utility, health, educational, and government establishments.
Many Chemists work in basic and applied research. In basic research, Chemists investigate the properties, composition, and structure of matter. They also experiment with combinations of elements and the ways in which they interact. In applied research, Chemists investigate possible new products and ways to improve existing ones. Chemistry research has led to the discovery and development of new and improved drugs, plastics, cleaners, and thousands of other products; it is a highly technical job that requires long hours of research and experimentation.
Chemists often specialize in a particular branch of the field. The most common specializations are Inorganic, Organic, Medicinal, Physical, and Theoretical Chemists. However, a growing number of Chemists work in interdisciplinary fields, such as biochemistry and geochemistry.
Here’s a non-exhaustive list of common tasks Chemists are required to complete.
- Analyzing, synthesizing, purifying, modifying, and characterizing chemical or biochemical compounds:
- Conducting research to develop new chemical formulations and processes and devising new technical applications of industrial chemicals and compounds;
- conducting fundamental and applied research into the synthesis and properties of chemical compounds and the mechanisms of chemical reactions; and
- preparing test samples and setting up and operating various laboratory instrumentation and equipment.
- Developing and conducting programs of analysis to ensure quality control of raw materials, chemical intermediates, or final products:
- Performing analytical chemical analyses to ensure products meet required standards using instrumental and wet chemical techniques according to various specifications;
- ensuring that production lines make products within specification limits by analyzing in-process samples using a variety of tests and procedures, taking appropriate action if the results are out of specified limits;
- ensuring accurate results that conform to current specifications, according to Good Manufacturing Practices (GMP), Good Laboratory Practices (GLP), in-house, compendial, and regulatory requirements; and
- verifying all calculations for mathematical and analytical accuracy.
- Conducting research to discover, develop, refine, and evaluate new products:
- Participating in the commercialization of new products, if necessary.
- Investigating chemical aspects of the mechanisms of drug action, the diagnosis and treatment of diseases, organ function, and the assessment of health.
- Participating in interdisciplinary research and development projects working with chemical engineers, biologists, microbiologists, agronomists, geologists, and other professionals in the area:
- Acting as technical consultants in a particular field of expertise;
- instructing scientists and technicians on proper chemical processing and testing procedures, such as ingredients, mixing times, and operating temperatures; and
- supervising other chemists and chemical technicians and technologists.
- Maintaining documentation, including lab notebooks, equipment logbooks, and instruments raw data in accordance with applicable Standard Operating Procedures (SOPs):
- Reviewing, evaluating, and interpreting analytical data ensuring that all work is done in accordance with applicable SOPs, protocols, methods, and specifications.
- Maintaining all work areas in a clean and orderly state, disposing of waste, cleaning glassware, and removing expired chemicals/reagents.
- Ordering any chemicals or laboratory supplies as required.
- Performing required preventative maintenance and calibration of the laboratory equipment to ensure proper functioning and delivery of consistent and reliable results:
- Contacting manufacturers and arranging for service in event of malfunction of equipment.
- Complying with all established regulatory safety and health standards.
- Performing routine chemical and physical analyses on the full range of analytical samples in accordance with in-house methods, customer’s method, or compendial methods.
- Preparing solutions, compounds, and reagents used in laboratory procedures.
- Troubleshooting, maintaining, and qualifying analytical instrumentations.
- Planning and carrying out complex research projects, such as the development of new products and testing methods.
- Directing technicians and other workers in testing and analyzing components and the physical properties of materials.
- Analyzing substances to determine their composition and concentration of elements.
- Conducting tests on materials and other substances, to ensure that safety and quality standards are always met.
- Writing technical reports that detail methods and findings.
- Presenting research findings to scientists, engineers, and other colleagues.
The average Chemist salary is $57,289 per year or $29 per hour. This is around 1.7 times more than the Median wage of the country. Entry level positions start at $40,000 while most experienced workers make up to $80,000. These results are based on 137 salaries extracted from job descriptions.
- Outstanding leadership abilities.
- Knowledge of Good Manufacturing Practices (GMP), Good Laboratory Practices (GLP), and Standard Operating Procedures (SOPs).
- Excellent interpersonal and communication skills:
- Communicating clearly, both verbally and in writing, in order to create a clear and communicative environment with coworkers in the laboratory;
- being able to read and write technical reports and give presentations; and
- being able to work cohesively as part of a team.
- Analytical, problem-solving, and critical-thinking skills:
- Identifying issues and resolving problems in a timely manner using critical thinking and good judgment;
- being precise and accurate in their analyses, since errors could invalidate their research; and
- determining if results and conclusions are based on sound science.
- Organizational and time management skills and great attention to detail:
- Avoiding disorganization in the workplace that can lead to legal problems, damage to equipment, and chemical spills;
- being able to work independently in a fast-paced environment;
- handling various projects with aggressive deadlines; and
- being able to prioritize tasks and responsibilities accordingly.
A bachelor’s degree in Chemistry or in a related field, including Chemical Engineering, Process Engineering, and other specialist science areas is needed for entry-level Chemist jobs. Many jobs in the field require a master’s degree or Ph.D., and may also require significant levels of work experience, usually from 2 to 5 years. Chemists with Ph.D.’s and postdoctoral experience typically lead basic and applied research teams. Computer science courses are essential for Chemists, since computer skills are crucial to perform modelling and simulation tasks, to manage and manipulate databases, and to operate computerized laboratory equipment. Furthermore, successful Chemists will regularly employ their exemplary maths and I.T. skills, all while keeping up-to-date with all the new trends in their relevant fields.
Chemists use computers and a wide variety of sophisticated laboratory instrumentation for modelling, simulation, and experimental analysis. For example, some Chemists use three-dimensional (3D) computer modeling software to study the structure and other properties of complex molecules. They also need to be able to operate basic analytical instruments to generate data, including gas chromatography-mass spectrometry (GC-MS), ultraviolet-visible spectroscopy (UV-Vis), high-performance liquid chromatography (HPLC), dissolution, Fourier transform infrared spectroscopy (FTIR), osmometer, pH meter, viscometer, densitometer, and total organic carbon (TOC) analyzer.
Chemists typically work in laboratories and offices, where they conduct experiments and analyze their results. In addition to laboratories, they also work with engineers and processing specialists in industrial manufacturing facilities and are usually responsible for monitoring the environmental conditions at the plant. Chemists who work for manufacturing companies, may have to travel occasionally, especially if their company has multiple facilities in different locations.