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What does a chemist do?  

Chemists and materials scientists find ways to make chemicals useful to us. They also try to improve things that people use daily, such as paint, medicine, and cosmetics, as well as cars and airplanes. Chemists also search for new chemicals in nature. They search for ways to save energy and reduce pollution. Their research on living things helps doctors, farmers, and food preparers do their jobs better.

Chemicals are a part of all physical world around us. Some chemists watch what happens when they mix two or more chemicals together. They explain what they might see, smell, or feel. From their research, they can create new products. Chemists can also improve products we already have and show us new ways to use them.

Some chemists and materials scientists work in factories. They tell plant workers which ingredients to use to make a chemical. They also tell the workers how long to mix chemicals, and how hot or cold the mixture should be. They watch the whole process to make sure that they get the right product at the end. They test samples to make sure they meet industry and government rules, and record and report on test results.

Chemists and materials scientists usually work regular hours in offices and laboratories. Labs have all sorts of equipment to do experiments. Research chemists spend most of their time in labs. Sometimes they work in offices when they have to write reports on their lab work. Some of the large labs have factories or places where workers make examples of the real products. For example, materials scientists may work closely with engineers and other workers in manufacturing facilities. Chemists may also do some of their research in a factory or outdoors. For example, when they go outside, they can get samples of the air to test for pollution. Some chemists work around dangerous chemicals. They have to wear protective clothing and follow rules to keep them safe on their jobs.

How do you get ready to be a chemist?  

To become a chemist, a person needs to have a bachelor's degree in chemistry or a related subject. Materials scientists need a college degree in materials science, or chemistry, physics, or electrical engineering. However, chemists and materials scientists usually need a Ph.D. for research jobs.

Students who want to become chemists or materials scientists tend to enjoy science and math in school. They also like to build things with their hands and experiment with different objects. Students must be willing to work hard and independently, ask a lot of questions, and focus on details. They must be willing to work by themselves. Students should learn how to work on the computer.

Some employers need chemists and materials scientists who know about other subjects in the business field. They also need persons who can be leaders. Reading, writing, and speaking skills are also important.

How much does a chemist get paid?  

Earnings of chemists depend in part on the amount of schooling a person has. According to a survey by the American Chemical Society, chemists who graduated with a bachelor's degree earned $32,800 a year in 2002. Chemists who graduated with a master's degree earned $50,000, and those with a Ph.D. earned $68,000.

How many jobs are there?  

Chemists and materials scientists held about 91,000 jobs in 2002. Nearly half of the jobs were in manufacturing firms. A lot of the firms were in the chemical manufacturing industry. This industry produces plastics and synthetic materials, drugs, soaps and cleaners, paints, industrial organic chemicals, and other chemical products. Others work for scientific research and development firms. Some find jobs in Federal, State, and local governments. In addition, thousands of chemists teach in high schools and colleges and universities.

Chemists and materials scientists are employed in all parts of the United States. Most of them work in cities that have a lot of different industries.

What about the future?  

Employment of chemists and materials scientists is expected to grow about as fast as the average for all occupations through 2012. There will be job openings in industries that sell things that a lot of people want to buy.

Employers are especially looking for chemists and materials scientists who have a master's or Ph.D. degree.

Are there other jobs like this?  

  • Agricultural and food scientists
  • Astronomers
  • Biological scientists
  • Chemical engineers
  • Medical scientists
  • Physicists
  • Science technicians (chemical technicians)

Source: Occupational Outlook Handbook -- U.S. Department of Labor Bureau of Labor Statistics

Where can you find more information?
More information about chemists and materials scientists can be found in the Careers Database.

Questions or Comments?
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