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Chemist

Overview  

We make it, you use it

Nowadays, if you eat it, clean with it, put it in your car, or feed it to your plants, it probably came from a chemist's lab. Chemists are in the business of researching the properties, composition, and principles of elements and compounds--and they apply basic chemical principles (like polymerization) to developing new products and processes. Chemists work in every sector, including academia, the private sector, and the government.

In the private sector, it is the chemist who instructs plant workers on manufacturing techniques, monitors automated processes to ensure proper product yield, and tests samples for quality. Chemists with business savvy and a taste for schmoozing apply their expertise to sales and information distribution at manufacturing companies. Many chemists work in Research and Design--where many new products are made everyday.

Specialization

Since chemistry is a broad discipline, most chemists specialize in a subfield; analytical chemists are theorists who identify the structure and composition of substances and can break down the concentration of certain compounds in air, water, and soil. Organic chemists focus on carbon-based compounds used in prescription drugs and fertilizers. Physical chemists work on what one might call "big reactions," studying atomic and molecular reactions. More than half of all chemists spend their time analyzing data and constructing models; the remainder are in the field, collecting samples of pollutants or working in chemical plants. Regardless of a chemist's chosen specialization, it is desirable to have skills in other areas, including economics and marketing, as chemists are increasingly more involved in the full development of a new product.

Career Path  

People with B.S. degrees in chemistry are particularly marketable if they have a strong liberal arts background. Most undergraduates do not focus on a specific field of chemistry to avoid limiting their job prospects. In government and industry positions, entry-level chemists with bachelor's degrees assist senior chemists in research and development laboratories. Sometimes they undertake product testing and analysis in research positions, but these are technical niches with limited advancement possibilities.

Research chemists, particularly in the pharmaceutical industry, require a Ph.D. and several years of postdoctoral experience. A Ph.D. is preferred not only for research positions but for administrative ones as well. Chemists who work in sales, marketing, or professional research positions often move into management after a few years. And for academic teaching positions, that Ph.D. is a must.

Uppers  

Wide variety of career options;Good pay

Downers  

Exposure to potentially harmful chemicals

Personality Match  

Analytical;Inquisitive

Personality Miss  

Unfocused;Disorganized

Hours  

Average about 40 per week

Salary  

Average entry-level salary with a B.S.: $49,400;Average beginning salary with a master's: $56,200;Average beginning salary with a PhD: $71,000;Highest salaries in private industryLowest salaries in academia

Skills  

B.S., M.S., Ph.D. in Chemistry

Our Survey Says  

Chemists are among the few professionals who "apply almost all [they] learned in school." Lab work, particularly in the environmental industry, is "pressure-inducing and stressful." Starting out with a strong idea of what field most interests you "imperative," as many chemists report that their first few years were spent "floundering, trying to find a niche." One chemist advises that a beginning chemist work in the area that stimulates him or her, "even if the money is not that great to begin with." Mentors "are instrumental" in learning the ropes and offering career guidance.

The workplace for chemists is "perpetually evolving," and the knowledge to "function successfully" changes every few years, which makes it necessary for chemists to keep up by taking continuing education courses and reading the latest trade journals.

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