Job Description and Educational Requirements

Germany, Young scientist examining bacteria in petri desh
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A chemist searches for new knowledge about chemicals and uses it to improve the way we live. He or she may develop products such as synthetic fibers, drugs, and cosmetics. Chemists create processes, including oil refining and petrochemical processing, that reduce energy use and pollution. They specialize in areas such as analytical, organic, inorganic, physical and theoretical, macromolecular, medical, and materials chemistry.

Quick Facts

  • Chemists earn a median annual salary of $74,740 (2017).
  • 88,300 people work in this occupation (2016).
  • They primarily have jobs in research and development in the physical, engineering, and life sciences. Pharmaceutical manufacturers and testing laboratories also employ chemists. Some work for the federal government, as well as state and local governments.
  • Their workplaces are labs and offices, where they are often part of research teams.
  • Chemists work regular, full-time hours.
  • The job outlook for this occupation is good according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. The government agency predicts employment will grow as fast as the average for all occupations between 2016 and 2026 resulting in 5,700 additional jobs. Chemists who have earned a doctorate have a better chance of getting a job.

A Day in a Chemist's Life

Here are some typical job duties that appear in job announcements on

  • "Perform routine laboratory testing tasks using equipment such as balances, pipettes, pH meters, UV/Visible spectrophotometer, Total Organic Carbon analyzer"

  • "Define problems and objectives, develop approach, analyze results, and provide recommendations"

  • "Evaluate the chemical and physical properties of various organic and inorganic substances such as active and in-active raw materials in order to verify the compliance with the established specifications"

  • "Proactively develop and maintain technical knowledge in specialized area(s), remaining up-to-date on current trends and best practices"

  • "Explore and pursue innovation/technologies and integrate them into state of the art products"

  • "Prepare paperwork, supplies, and equipment for use in the manufacturing environment and analytical laboratory"

How to Become a Chemist

If you want to be a chemist, you will need to earn, at least, a bachelor's degree in chemistry. However, most research jobs require a master's degree or, more likely, a Ph.D.

With experience and advanced education in the form of a doctorate, chemists can become lead researchers. Additional experience can mean assignments that include working on bigger and more complex projects.

What Soft Skills Should Chemists Have?

In addition to formal education, certain soft skills, or personal qualities with which you were either born or acquired through life experience, will contribute to your success in this occupation. They are:

  • Problem Solving and Critical Thinking Skills: Your work as a chemist will identify problems and come up with possible solutions to them. Before implementing those fixes, you will have to evaluate each one and then predict which one will be the most effective.
  • Speaking, Listening, and Interpersonal Skills: Since your job is likely to involve working on a team, the ability to communicate with others is essential.
  • Time Management Skills: Excellent time management skills will allow you to meet deadlines.
  • Analytical Skills: Chemists, like other scientists, must analyze a lot of data
  • Organizational Skills: Strong organizational skills will be needed to keep track of your data, and carefully document all processes and results.

What Will Employers Expect From You?

Here are requirements employers listed in job announcements on

  • "Displays confidence in ability to apply technical knowledge and experience to solve client problems"
  • "Highly collaborative, driven, and self-motivated with a positive attitude"
  • "Strong ethics related to confidentiality and non-disclosure of intellectual property"
  • "Able to adapt effectively to changes in the work environment; able to deal with frequent change, delays, or unexpected events"
  • "Able to handle multiple priorities"
  • "Working knowledge of various software applications including spreadsheet, word processing, graphics, and analytical programs"

Is This Occupation a Good Fit for You?

An occupation that fits well with your interestspersonality typework-related values, and aptitude, is more likely to be satisfying. Conduct a self-assessment to learn about your traits. If you have the following ones, think about becoming a chemist.

Related Occupations

 DescriptionMedian Annual Wage (2017)Minimum Required Education/Training
Food Science TechnicianAnalyzes the quality of food, food additives, and containers.$39,910Associate Degree in Chemistry, Biology, or Animal Science
BiochemistStudies the chemical composition of living organisms.$91,190Ph.D. in Biochemistry
Materials ScientistStudies the structure and chemical properties of materials in order to develop new ones.$99,530Bachelor's, Master's, or Ph.D. in Chemistry, Physics, or Engineering
Chemical TechnicianHelps chemists and chemical engineers with research and development, production, and testing.$47,280Associate Degree in Applied Science or Chemical Technology
Chemical EngineerApplies principles of engineering and chemistry to solve problems.$102,160Bachelor's Degree in Chemical Engineering

Sources: Bureau of Labor Statistics, U.S. Department of Labor, Occupational Outlook Handbook; Employment and Training Administration, U.S. Department of Labor, O*NET Online (visited January 22, 2018).