How to Become a Chemist - Career Guide & Jobs

Those who become chemists are typically individuals who are detail-oriented, have a high degree of mental focus and discipline, and they have a natural aptitude in chemistry, mathematics and statistics.


They are individuals that have a keen interest in the art and science of determining what matter is composed of, and how it interacts with its surroundings.


In order to become a chemist, you will also need the emotional and intellectual capacity to complete all of the necessary academic work. You will also need a high stress tolerance, as this is required for when you don’t achieve immediate results in your work.


To work in this field, you must be comfortable working in a laboratory setting, and you should be comfortable sharing your opinions and findings with others. You will also need a good amount of manual dexterity in order to accomplish many tasks in this career, such as performing tests and using specialized equipment.


Below we've outlined what you'll need to begin a career as a chemist. We've also included helpful information for this career, such as job description, job duties, salary expectations, a list of possible employers and much more!



Educational Foundation You'll Need

It's vital that you pursue coursework that will help you develop a core set of skills in organic chemistry, inorganic chemistry, chemical analysis, and other core areas of chemistry.


In addition to developing knowledge and skills in chemistry, it is also important to develop basic knowledge and skills in other sciences, such as biology and physics.


As a chemist, it is also very important to have communications and computer skills. For this reason, taking coursework in the liberal arts, communications and computer science may be extremely helpful. 


Earning a bachelor’s degree in chemistry, organic chemistry, medical chemistry, biochemistry or chemical engineering is typically the minimum requirement to get an entry-level job in chemistry, such as Research Assistant.


If you eventually want to complete your own research projects, or directs others in applied research, you will likely need a master’s degree in chemistry or a closely related field such as biochemistry or medical chemistry. Some employers may require you to have a Ph.D. in a specialized area of chemistry, depending on the nature of the work you'll be doing.


Many students will also complete post-doctorate work in an area in which they seek to specialize, such as medical chemistry, environmental chemistry, biological chemistry, materials chemistry, chemical analysis or other areas.





General Job Description

Chemists discover and apply knowledge of the properties, composition and principles of elements and compounds to a wide range of products and processes, such as the development of new fuels, pharmaceutical products or foods.



Typical Job Duties

Although the responsibilities of a chemist can vary widely from job to job, they are generally responsible for the following:


• Analyzing, synthesizing, purifying, modifying and characterizing various chemical compounds

• Developing quality control programs for raw materials, chemical intermediates and final products

• Writing and editing technical material for books, journals, reviews, reports and other publications

• Liaising with scientists from other disciplines for research and development projects

• Recording detailed notes during the research process

• Overseeing the purchase and sale of chemicals and chemical compounds

• Researching the synthesis and properties of chemical compounds and the mechanisms of chemical reactions

• Supervising the work of chemical technologists and technicians

• Studying the chemical aspects of various processes and functions, such as drug action and organ function



Where Do Chemists Work?

Chemists are employed in all aspects of chemical research, product development, teaching and regulation within industry, academia, and government. They are employed on a full-time or contractual basis for such organizations as:


• Universities and colleges, including medical schools

• Provincial/state and federal government departments

• Biotechnology companies

• Pharmaceutical companies

• Agrochemical companies

• Forensic labs

• Hospital or clinical laboratories

• Food and beverage producing and packaging companies

• Conservation and other non-profit organizations

• Vendors of chemical instrumentation

• Cosmetic companies

• Oil, natural gas and mining companies

• Quality control laboratories




Find Chemist Job Postings

Chemist Jobs - Canada


Chemist Jobs - United States




Crucial Skills and Traits to Have

In order to become effective in a career as a chemist, you need to posses certain skills and personality traits. These skills and traits will not only allow you to conduct your job duties with competence and skill, they will also allow you to keep a positive attitude towards your work, and ultimately, towards your career.


• Able to strictly follow procedures without taking shortcuts

• Able to effectively communicate with other team members

• Able to evaluate new technologies

• Manual dexterity and hand-eye coordination

• Excellent attention to detail

• Problem-solving abilities to detect human and machine error

• Able to take direction from others, and direct the work of others

• Able to organize, implement and evaluate projects

• Patience and persistence with regards to work activities

• Familiarity with research methods

• Adept at applied mathematics and the use of laboratory equipment

• Able to use statistical software and computer modeling tools





Chemist Salary Level

The salary level of chemists can vary based on many factors, such as their level of education, their area of specialty, where they work, their level of experience, the specific responsibilities of their job, and many others.


Chemist Salary Alberta: According to the 2017 Alberta Wage and Salary Survey, Albertans working in the Chemists occupational group earn an average salary of $79,450 per year.


Chemist Salary United States: According to the United States Bureau of Labor Statistics, the median annual wage of Chemists is $68,320 (2010 statistics). The lowest 10% of salaries in this group are less than $39,250, and the top 10% are more than $116,130 per year.



Work Conditions for Chemists

Office Setting: Chemists working in an office setting provide advice and counsel to businesses, environmental groups or government agencies. Chemists that work in office settings typically work during normal weekday hours, although they may work hours that extend into the evenings and weekends in order to complete work tasks.


Classroom Setting: Chemists working in a classroom setting typically conduct lectures, grade papers and advise students. They have working hours that can fluctuate from very few hours a week to a very heavy workload. They may work normal weekday working hours with extra hours put in for preparing lesson plans, grading papers and performing other duties during evenings and weekends. Some chemists teaching in universities and colleges may teach classes exclusively, or they may be involved in research as well.


Laboratory Setting: The majority of chemists work in a laboratory setting; they spend the majority of their time conducting, documenting and analyzing research. Working in a laboratory typically involves working with hazardous organic materials and inorganic chemicals. Chemists that work in a laboratory setting typically work during normal weekday hours, although their hours can fluctuate based on those of the laboratory the work in.



Job Postings

Our job board below has "Chemist" postings in Canada, the United States, the United Kingdom and Australia.

Similar Occupations in Our Database

Listed below are careers in our database that are similar in nature to Chemist, as they may involve many of the same skills, competencies and responsibilities.


Chemical Analyst

Clinical Chemist



University Professor




Please use the references below to find more information on the various aspects of a career as a Chemist.


Alberta Learning and Information Service website:

Ordre Des Chemists Du Québec:

United States Bureau of Labor Statistics website:



Scholarships for Relevant Fields of Study

The scholarships on our Chemistry Scholarships page are relevant to this career.


Success Tip: Be sure to apply for any scholarships that you even barely qualify for, as there are millions of dollars of scholarships that go unused every year due to a lack of applicants!



Becoming a Chemist: Applicable Majors

Studying one of the university majors listed below is an excellent starting point to becoming a Chemist. Click on the links to find out what else you can do with these majors!



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