Chemists and Materials Scientists
- A bachelorís degree in chemistry or a related discipline is
the minimum educational requirement; however, many research
jobs require a masterís degree, or more often a Ph.D.
- Slower-than-average growth in employment is projected.
- Job growth will be concentrated in pharmaceutical and medicine
manufacturing companies and in professional, scientific, and
technical services firms.
- Graduates with a bachelorís degree will have opportunities
at smaller research organizations; those with a masterís degree,
and particularly those with a Ph.D., will enjoy better opportunities
at larger pharmaceutical and biotechnology firms.
Everything in the environment, whether naturally occurring or
of human design, is composed of chemicals. Chemists and materials
scientists search for and use new knowledge about chemicals. Chemical
research has led to the discovery and development of new and improved
synthetic fibers, paints, adhesives, drugs, cosmetics, electronic
components, lubricants, and thousands of other products. Chemists
and materials scientists also develop processes such as improved
oil refining and petrochemical processing that save energy and
reduce pollution. Research on the chemistry of living things spurs
advances in medicine, agriculture, food processing, and other
Materials scientists study the structures and chemical properties
of various materials to develop new products or enhance existing
ones. They also determine ways to strengthen or combine materials
or develop new materials for use in a variety of products. Materials
science encompasses the natural and synthetic materials used in
a wide range of products and structures, from airplanes, cars,
and bridges to clothing and household goods. Companies whose products
are made of metals, ceramics, and rubber employ most materials
scientists. Other applications of materials science include studies
of superconducting materials, graphite materials, integrated-circuit
chips, and fuel cells. Materials scientists, applying chemistry
and physics, study all aspects of these materials. Chemistry plays
an increasingly dominant role in materials science because it
provides information about the structure and composition of materials.
Materials scientists often specialize in specific areas such as
ceramics or metals.
Many chemists and materials scientists work in research and development
(R&D). In basic research, they investigate properties, composition,
and structure of matter and the laws that govern the combination
of elements and reactions of substances. In applied R&D, they
create new products and processes or improve existing ones, often
using knowledge gained from basic research. For example, synthetic
rubber and plastics resulted from research on small molecules
uniting to form large ones, a process called polymerization. R&D
chemists and materials scientists use computers and a wide variety
of sophisticated laboratory instrumentation for modeling and simulation
in their work.
The use of computers to analyze complex data has allowed chemists
and materials scientists to practice combinatorial chemistry.
This technique makes and tests large quantities of chemical compounds
simultaneously to find those with certain desired properties.
Combinatorial chemistry has allowed chemists to produce thousands
of compounds more quickly and inexpensively than was formerly
possible and assisted in the completion of the sequencing of human
genes. Today, specialty chemists, such as medicinal and organic
chemists, are working with life scientists to translate this knowledge
into new drugs.
Chemists also work in production and quality control in
chemical manufacturing plants. They prepare instructions for plant
workers that specify ingredients, mixing times, and temperatures
for each stage in the process. They also monitor automated processes
to ensure proper product yield and test samples of raw materials
or finished products to ensure that they meet industry and government
standards, including regulations governing pollution. Chemists
report and document test results and analyze those results in
hopes of improving existing theories or developing new test methods.
Chemists often specialize. Analytical chemists determine
the structure, composition, and nature of substances by examining
and identifying their various elements or compounds. These chemists
are absolutely crucial to the pharmaceutical industry because
pharmaceutical companies need to know the identity of compounds
that they hope to turn into drugs. Furthermore, analytical chemists
study the relations and interactions of the parts of compounds
and develop analytical techniques. They also identify the presence
and concentration of chemical pollutants in air, water, and soil.
Organic chemists study the chemistry of the vast number
of carbon compounds that make up all living things. Organic chemists
who synthesize elements or simple compounds to create new compounds
or substances that have different properties and applications
have developed many commercial products, such as drugs, plastics,
and elastomers (elastic substances similar to rubber). Inorganic
chemists study compounds consisting mainly of elements other
than carbon, such as those in electronic components. Physical
and theoretical chemists study the physical characteristics
of atoms and molecules and the theoretical properties of matter
and investigate how chemical reactions work. Their research may
result in new and better energy sources. Macromolecular chemists
study the behavior of atoms and molecules. Medicinal chemists
study the structural properties of compounds intended for
applications to human medicine. Materials chemists study
and develop new materials to improve existing products or make
new ones. In fact, virtually all chemists are involved in this
quest in one way or another. Developments in the field of chemistry
that involve life sciences will expand, resulting in more interaction
among biologists, engineers, computer specialists, and chemists.
(Biochemists, whose work encompasses both biology and
chemistry, are discussed here in a statement on biological scientists.)
Chemists and materials scientists usually work regular hours
in offices and laboratories. R&D chemists and materials scientists
spend much time in laboratories but also work in offices when
they do theoretical research or plan, record, and report on their
lab research. Although some laboratories are small, others are
large enough to incorporate prototype chemical manufacturing facilities
as well as advanced equipment for chemists. In addition to working
in a laboratory, materials scientists also work with engineers
and processing specialists in industrial manufacturing facilities.
After a material is sold, materials scientists often help customers
tailor the material to suit their needs. Chemists do some of their
work in a chemical plant or outdoorsówhile gathering water samples
to test for pollutants, for example. Some chemists are exposed
to health or safety hazards when handling certain chemicals, but
there is little risk if proper procedures are followed.
|Training, Other Qualifications, and Advancement
A bachelorís degree in chemistry or a related discipline usually
is the minimum educational requirement for entry-level chemist
jobs. However, many research jobs require a masterís degree, or
more often a Ph.D. While some materials scientists hold a degree
in materials science, a bachelorís degree in chemistry, physics,
or electrical engineering also is accepted. Many R&D jobs
require a Ph.D. in materials science or a related science.
Many colleges and universities offer degree programs in chemistry.
In 2005, the American Chemical Society (ACS) approved 631 bachelorís,
308 masterís, and 192 doctoral degree programs. In addition to
these schools, several hundred colleges and universities also
offer advanced degree programs in chemistry. The number of colleges
that offer a degree program in materials science is small but
Students planning careers as chemists and materials scientists
should take courses in science and mathematics, should like working
with their hands building scientific apparatus and performing
laboratory experiments, and should like computer modeling. Perseverance,
curiosity, and the ability to concentrate on detail and to work
independently are essential. Interaction among specialists in
this field is increasing, especially for specialty chemists in
drug development. One type of chemist often relies on the findings
of another type of chemist. For example, an organic chemist must
understand findings on the identity of compounds prepared by an
In addition to required courses in analytical, inorganic, organic,
and physical chemistry, undergraduate chemistry majors usually
study biological sciences; mathematics; physics; and increasingly,
computer science. Computer courses are essential because employers
prefer job applicants who are able to apply computer skills to
modeling and simulation tasks and operate computerized laboratory
equipment. This is increasingly important as combinatorial chemistry
and high-throughput screening (HTS)óthe ability to enhance processing
capacityótechniques are more widely applied. Those interested
in the environmental field also should take courses in environmental
studies and become familiar with current legislation and regulations.
Specific courses should include atmospheric chemistry, water chemistry,
soil chemistry, and energy. Courses in statistics are useful because
both chemists and materials scientists need the ability to apply
basic statistical techniques.
Because R&D chemists and materials scientists are increasingly
expected to work on interdisciplinary teams, some understanding
of other disciplines, including business and marketing or economics,
is desirable, along with leadership ability and good oral and
written communication skills. Experience, either in academic laboratories
or through internships, fellowships, or work-study programs in
industry, also is useful. Some employers of research chemists,
particularly in the pharmaceutical industry, prefer to hire individuals
with several years of postdoctoral experience.
Graduate students typically specialize in a subfield of chemistry,
such as analytical chemistry or polymer chemistry, depending on
their interests and the kind of work they wish to do. For example,
those interested in doing drug research in the pharmaceutical
industry usually develop a strong background in medicinal or synthetic
organic chemistry. However, students normally need not specialize
at the undergraduate level. In fact, undergraduates who are broadly
trained have more flexibility when job hunting or changing jobs
than if they have narrowly defined their interests. Most employers
provide new graduates additional training or education.
In government or industry, beginning chemists with a bachelorís
degree work in quality control, perform analytical testing, or
assist senior chemists in R&D laboratories. Many employers
prefer chemists and materials scientists with a Ph.D., or at least
a masterís degree, to lead basic and applied research. Chemists
who hold a Ph.D. and have previous industrial experience may be
particularly attractive to employers because such people are more
likely to understand the complex regulations that apply to the
pharmaceutical industry. Within materials science, a broad background
in various sciences is preferred. This broad base may be obtained
through degrees in physics, engineering, or chemistry. While many
companies prefer hiring Ph.D.s, some may employ materials scientists
with bachelorís and masterís degrees.
Chemists and materials scientists held about 90,000 jobs in 2004.
About 43 percent of all chemists and material scientists are employed
in manufacturing firmsómostly in the chemical manufacturing industry,
which includes firms that produce plastics and synthetic materials,
drugs, soaps and cleaners, pesticides and fertilizers, paint,
industrial organic chemicals, and other chemical products. About
15 percent of chemists and material scientists work in scientific
research and development services; 12 percent work in architectural,
engineering, and related services. In addition, thousands of people
with a background in chemistry and materials science hold teaching
positions in high schools and in colleges and universities. (See
the statements on teachersópostsecondary, and teachersópreschool,
kindergarten, elementary, middle, and secondary elsewhere in the Handbook.)
Chemists and materials scientists are employed in all parts of
the country, but they are mainly concentrated in large industrial
Employment of chemists is expected to grow more slowly than the average
rate for all occupations through 2014. Job growth will be concentrated
in pharmaceutical and medicine manufacturing and in professional,
scientific, and technical services firms. Employment in the nonpharmaceutical
segments of the chemical industry, a major employer of chemists,
is expected to decline over the projection period. Consequently,
new chemists at all levels may experience competition for jobs
in these segments, including basic chemical manufacturing and
synthetic materials. Graduates with a bachelorís degree may find
science-related jobs in sales, marketing, and middle management.
Some become chemical technicians or technologists or high school
chemistry teachers. In addition, bachelorís degree holders are
increasingly finding assistant research positions at smaller research
organizations. Graduates with a masterís degree, and particularly
those with a Ph.D., will enjoy better opportunities at larger
pharmaceutical and biotechnology firms. Furthermore, those with
an advanced degree will continue to fill most senior research
and upper management positions, although applicants are likely
to experience competition for these jobs.
Within the chemical industry, job opportunities are expected
to be most plentiful in pharmaceutical and biotechnology firms.
Biotechnological research, including studies of human genes, continues
to offer possibilities for the development of new drugs and products
to combat illnesses and diseases that have previously been unresponsive
to treatments derived by traditional chemical processes. Stronger
competition among drug companies and an aging population are contributing
to the need for new drugs.
Employment in the remaining segments of the chemical industry
is expected to decline as companies downsize. To control costs,
most chemical companies, including many large pharmaceutical and
biotechnology companies, will increasingly turn to scientific
R&D services firms to perform specialized research and other
work formerly done by in-house chemists. As a result, these firms
will experience healthy growth. Despite downsizing, some job openings
will result from the need to replace chemists who retire or otherwise
leave the labor force, although not all positions will be filled.
Quality control will continue to be an important issue in chemical
manufacturing and other industries that use chemicals in their
Chemists also will be needed to develop and improve the technologies
and processes used to produce chemicals for all purposes, and
to monitor and measure air and water pollutants to ensure compliance
with local, State, and Federal environmental regulations. Environmental
research will offer many new opportunities for chemists and materials
scientists. To satisfy public concerns and to comply with government
regulations, the chemical industry will continue to invest billions
of dollars each year in technology that reduces pollution and
cleans up existing wastesites. Chemists also are needed to find
ways to use less energy and to discover alternative sources of
During periods of economic recession, layoffs of chemists may
occuróespecially in the industrial chemicals industry. Layoffs
are less likely in the pharmaceutical industry, where long development
cycles generally overshadow short-term economic effects. The traditional
chemical industry, however, provides many raw materials to the
auto manufacturing and construction industries, both of which
are vulnerable to temporary slowdowns during recessions.
Median annual earnings of chemists in May 2004 were $56,060.
The middle 50 percent earned between $41,900 and $76,080. The
lowest 10 percent earned less than $33,170, and the highest 10
percent earned more than $98,010. Median annual earnings of materials
scientists in May 2004 were $72,390. The middle 50 percent earned
between $53,350 and $92,340. The lowest 10 percent earned less
than $40,030, and the highest 10 percent earned more than $113,460.
Median annual earnings in the industries employing the largest
numbers of chemists in May 2004 are shown below:
|Scientific research and development services
|Pharmaceutical and medicine manufacturing
|Architectural, engineering, and related
The ACS reports that in 2004 the median salary of all of its
members with a bachelorís degree was $62,000; for those with a
masterís degree, it was $72,300; and for those with a Ph.D., it
was $91,600. The median salary was highest for those working in
private industry and lowest for those in academia. According to
an ACS survey of recent graduates, inexperienced chemistry graduates
with a bachelorís degree earned a median starting salary of $32,500
in October 2004; those with a masterís degree earned a median
salary of $43,600; and those with a Ph.D. had median earnings
of $65,000. Among bachelorís degree graduates, those who had completed
internships or had other work experience while in school commanded
the highest starting salaries.
In 2005, chemists in nonsupervisory, supervisory, and managerial
positions in the Federal Government averaged $83,777 a year.
The research and analysis conducted by chemists and materials
scientists is closely related to work done by agricultural and
food scientists, biological scientists, medical scientists, chemical
engineers, materials engineers, physicists, and science technicians.
See the career database for
information on these careers.
|Sources of Additional Information
General information on career opportunities and earnings for
chemists is available from:
- American Chemical Society, Education Division, 1155 16th St.
NW., Washington, DC 20036. Internet: http://www.acs.org/
Information on obtaining a position as a chemist with the Federal
Government is available from the Office of Personnel Management
through USAJOBS, the Federal Governmentís official employment
information system. This resource for locating and applying for
job opportunities can be accessed through the Internet at http://www.usajobs.opm.gov/ or through an interactive
voice response telephone system at (703) 724-1850 or TDD (978)
461-8404. These numbers are not tollfree, and charges may result.
Source: Bureau of
Labor Statistics, U.S. Department of Labor, Occupational
Outlook Handbook, 2006-07 Edition,