Inside Chemist Careers

Things you need to know, but nobody tells you

Biggest Surprises

"Many Different Job Opportunities...
What has surprised me the most is the wide variety of careers available with a chemistry degree. There is more than just pharmaceuticals. You can work for the oil and gas industry, polymers, the government, and many others." (NMR Instrument Coordinator; 2014)

Career: 3 years of experience, currently based in Oklahoma, male
School: Studied Organic Chemistry at The Ohio State University in Ohio; completed Doctorate degree in 2010

"Interesting, But Routine...
My career is very interesting, but day to day activities are often routine and repetitive. Moreover, an advanced degree is really required if a person ever wants to run a R&D lab. Obviously there are people with thirty years experience that do so, but acquiring an advanced degree really will help your career in science." (Chemist; 2014)

Career: 2 years of experience, currently based in New York, female
School: Studied Chemistry at Hunter College CUNY in New York; completed Bachelor degree in 2010

"Opportunity For Growth...
My hard work paid off. this is a profession that has enabled me to grow as a person and allowed to make a good living." (Quality Control Manager; 2013)

Career: 14 years of experience, currently based in California
School: Studied Biology at University Of Arizona in Arizona; completed Bachelor degree in 1981

"Research Jobs Not In Industry...
Most people think of research chemists working for big chemical companies. There are a lot of other jobs for chemists. In addition to working for industry, there are research jobs in academia, and not just professorships." (Research Scientist; 2014)

Career: 30 years of experience, currently based in New Mexico, female
School: Studied Physical Chemistry at University Of Illinois in Illinois; completed Doctorate degree in 1984

"Working In A School Lab Is Easy...
Working as a Lab Technician at a College is very enjoyable, since I am around many students whom I can socialize with. The job can be fairly simple since, at times, I am required to teach a student about an instrument or simply run the instrument; the difficult parts are when instrument maintenance requires more effort (an intricate problem)." (Laboratory Technician; 2014)

Career: 1 years of experience, currently based in Virginia, male
School: Studied Chemistry at James Madison University in Virginia; completed Bachelor degree in 2012

"Chemistry Work Can Be Routine...
I was surprised at how much downtime I have on the job. The work can be surprisingly routine." (Chemist; 2014)

Career: 3 years of experience, currently based in New Hampshire, male
School: Studied Chemistry at University Of New Hampshire in New Hampshire; completed Bachelor degree in 2010

"Plenty Of Jobs And Compensation...
I am surprised that jobs were so readily available and high paying. I can basically work in any field I please and earn a respectable amount of money to provide for my family." (Scientist; 2013)

Career: 2 years of experience, currently based in South Carolina, male
School: Studied Healthcare at Usc in South Carolina; completed Bachelor degree in 2010

"Skills And Unpredictability In The Job...
I am surprised at how interesting this job it. Because it is research things are always changing. Nothing is predictable. There are so many unknowns. Lots of trial and error. You always need to be on your toes and it may not be a 9 to 5 job." (Research Scientist; 2014)

Career: 12 years of experience, currently based in New Jersey, female
School: Studied Chemistry at Seton Hall University in New Jersey; completed Master degree in 2007

"Many Different Job Opportunities...
I was surprised at the range of jobs available to a person with a background in chemistry and biology. In larger cities it is possible to find jobs at different types of plants and refineries. This was a career path I had never thought of while I was in school or while I was searching for a job." (Laboratory Technician In Biodiesel Plant; 2014)

Career: 1 years of experience, currently based in Louisiana, female
School: Studied Biology And History at Louisiana College in Louisiana; completed Bachelor degree in 2012

"Private Vs. Public Sector Chemist Opportunities...
I was surprised by the huge salary difference between private and public chemist positions, although government offers a better pension plan. I was also surprised that in order to advance in the field in the government sector, you need at least a master's degree." (Chemist; 2014)

Career: 17 years of experience, currently based in South Dakota, female
School: Studied Chemistry at Univ Of South Dakota in South Dakota; completed Bachelor degree in 1997

"Using Knowledge From College...
I am surprised at how much of my knowledge in class for chemistry is needed in my current field. I utilize many chemistry concepts that at the time of class I thought I wouldn't need or that I would forget. I am also surprised at how much strategic planning is needed. I wish that I had taken a course in planning projects. I would have saved myself a lot of grief." (Senior Chemist In Product Development; 2013)

Career: 5 years of experience, currently based in California, male
School: Studied Chemistry at SUNY Oswego in New York; completed Master degree in 2004

"I was surprised that the job involved creativity and experiment design on my own. I also was surprised at the amount of interpersonal skills needed to communicate and collaborate with the other chemists." (Associate Chemist; 2013)

Career: 2 years of experience, currently based in Illinois, female
School: Studied Chemistry at DePaul University in Illinois; completed Bachelor degree in 2009

Best & Worst Things About This Career

Development Chemist: "The best part of my job is the satisfaction that comes from finding a formulation that works and meets the specification that marketing has provided. It is a very cool feeling to see a new product announcement come out and see a paint you created. The worst part of my job can be the frustration that comes from the not being able to get the properties of your product to meet the specification and perform to a certain criteria. Products can take 1 - 2 years to develop and a lot can change in that time period, you may work on something for a year and then find out that there is not a need in the market for the product anymore and the project gets stopped." (2011)

Formulator: "Overall, working in the research and development department is great. We are always trying to create new ideas for products and also improve existing projects. This career line allows for you to explore the possibilities and presents workers with a challenge. Before entering the field, I thought of paint as just that, paint. But now I realize the complexity of paint and how it differs from each other. Sometimes I literally sit and wait for paint to dry, but in waiting I keep busy reading personal material as the company does not mind too much." (2011)

Research Program Manager: "The best part of my job is talking with scientists about what they do, and attending conferences. I love to learn about new scientific accomplishments! The worst part of my job is having to do administrative work delegated to me. Sometimes it feels as though I provide the same information over and over again." (2011)

Senior Scientist: "The most gratifying part of my job is knowing that I'm ensuring that sick patients will have safe and effective medicine. I take pride in knowing that my company and its patients depend on my skills to understand the molecules in our medicine. As a scientist in industry, I must balance my scientific curiosity and provide quick answers. While we want safe and effective medicine, our patients need it as soon as possible." (2010)

Wastewater Chemist: "The best parts of the job are working outdoors, doing analytical work, giving tours and presentations to the public, belonging to wastewater and environmental associations for education and camaraderie. I particularly enjoy working in a field that has very few women (I'm a woman). It's fun being unique. The worst parts of the job are inclement weather, the risk of injury if you do not work safely around the machinery, pumps, etc., and sometimes, though rarely, the hours. Operators are called in at all hours if there is a malfunction in the system." (2010)

Career Background


  Job Tasks
  Work Environment
  How to Prepare for the Job
  Job Outlook

Career Video

Career Tips

"Education Equals Opportunity...
If you want to be a successful chemist, you should try to complete your master's degree. It will greatly increase your advancement options." (Chemist; 2014)

"Research Jobs Are Obtained By Networking...
Research jobs in academia are often not- well advertised. Good networking is essential. Ask professors about jobs, both at their institution, and at others. Consider attending a scientific conference in the field. Contact people at other schools with questions about specific job opportunities, not just "Do you have any openings?"" (Research Scientist; 2014)

"Networking Is Key To Finding Work...
If you want to find work as a chemist it helps to know people in the field through networking who can point you in the direction to find interesting work. This is also helpful if you want to find a different company to work for." (Chemist; 2014)

"How To Be A Great Scientist...
Work hard. Realize that this field is very unpredictable and that you may not have all the answers. Each experiment is different it's own way and you will always have to think outside the box. You also always need to be precise and keep well documents notes." (Research Scientist; 2014)

"Work In A Field You Love...
Work in an area of chemistry that you love. The more you love it the more you will want to work in it. Sometime you have to put in really longs hours (upwards of 16 a day) and if you don't love what you are doing it you will burn out very quickly." (NMR Instrument Coordinator; 2014)

"The Importance Of Work Experience...
Make sure you graduate with some sort of work experience. Ideally it should be in science, whether an internship or working as a lab tech for a professor or company; however, any experience in a professional setting will be beneficial." (Chemist; 2014)

"Following Safety Protocols A Must For Laboratory Work...
I would advice someone who wants to work in a laboratory to get a strong chemistry background, including general and organic chemistry, and analytical chemistry if possible. You should strive to use good laboratory technique and to follow safety measures at all times. Following safety protocols are of the utmost importance when working in a lab at a plant or refinery. There is no place for someone who does not strive to keep himself and those around him safe in the workplace." (Laboratory Technician In Biodiesel Plant; 2014)

"Patience And Experience Is Virtue...
I believe one of the most important part of being able to work with instruments is learning to be patient--this is best practiced by starting early, that is, during your college years when you have to sit in lab for hours. Use this time to familiarize yourself as much as you can with the instruments and other lab equipments." (Laboratory Technician; 2014)

"Its Totally Worth It...
stay on top of everything before it all piles up, you will be rewarded in the end for your dedication and hard work" (Scientist; 2013)

"Success Is Yours...
Always be open to learning as much as you can. Learn what you can in school and apply it to the real world. This is the key to success in my field." (Quality Control Manager; 2013)

"Math Used Heavily...
Consider doing an internship in this specific field if you are interested, there is a lot of repetition as the testing is always the same the products just change. Consider taking elective classes in polymer science if you are in a general chemistry major. As with a lot of science careers math is important and is used daily." (Development Chemist; 2011)

"Researchers Need Patience...
To pursue in this line of work, one would first need to obtain a degree in the field of chemistry or something along those lines, as I received a biochemistry degree. Be sure to keep your math skills sharp, as conversion and calculations become a huge part of your job. Patience is a virtue, which is also something you'll need to become any sort of researcher or scientist. Nothing occurs within an instance; it takes time so try not to get too far ahead of yourself. Lastly, remember that as a scientist, keeping good records and documenting everything you do is vital for succeeding in the field." (Formulator; 2011)

"Writing And Speaking Required...
1) Become comfortable with speaking in front of audiences, from a few people to a few hundred 2) Take scientific writing courses - learn how to write persuasively about why certain areas of research are important and will have an impact. 3) Be familiar with computer applications like Word, Power Point, Excel, Adobe Acrobat as these are used a lot. 4) In my field, its better to be trained more broadly across several sub-areas within a scientific discipline than to be a narrowly-focused expert in one sub-area." (Research Program Manager; 2011)

"The Hobby Test...
If you find a job that you would want as a hobby, you will be happier than most. Determine the education that you will need to acquire the job that interests you. Once you land that job, observe the successful employees in that job, ask their advice and follow their examples" (Senior Scientist; 2010)

"Three "Be's For This Career...
1. Be concerned about the future of our planet's environment and natural resources. 2. Be as flexible as you can with course work. Combine natural and environmental sciences with liberal arts to be well-rounded. 3. Be different and creative in your career." (Wastewater Chemist; 2010)