How to Become a Petroleum Chemist

Those who become petroleum chemists are strong in academics and are emotionally stable, as this is required to complete short and long-term tasks. They typically have a natural aptitude for chemistry, science and mathematics.


Not only do petroleum chemists posses technical skills in chemistry, they also posses skills in areas such as management, communication and teamwork.


Those who become petroleum chemists enjoy the idea of conducting research that will be used in real word applications, as this industry is highly focused on profit, and the work of petroleum chemists helps energy companies in the improvement of their processes and products.


The petroleum industry is a great place for chemists to work who have big ideas and want them to become a reality. However, with strict environmental regulations, it is important that petroleum chemists are individuals that are mindful of how certain processes and products will affect the environment, and they must be able to adhere to such regulations.


Below we've outlined what you'll need to begin a career as a petroleum 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!



Education You'll Need

You'll likely need to begin by completing a Bachelor of Science (B.Sc.) degree in chemistry, or a related science such as biochemistry. Developing a solid foundation in the areas of organic and physical chemistry is critical, regardless of the level of education you wish to pursue.


A bachelor’s degree in an area related to chemistry not only serves as an excellent way to prepare for an advanced degree in chemistry; it also opens the door to entry-level careers in petroleum chemistry, such as laboratory assistant.


If you want work as a consulting petroleum chemist, you will need a Master’s degree in Chemistry. If your plan is to work in research for a large petroleum company, or get a university teaching position, a PhD in chemistry is typically needed.


If you aspire to eventually to move into a management position later in your career, you may find that courses in economics and management can be beneficial to take.





Petroleum Chemist Job Description

Petroleum chemists are responsible for developing and improving oil based products, including fuel and polymers. They may be responsible for such tasks as developing catalysts for use in refining, and creating new polymers for fibers and resins.



Petroleum Chemist Job Duties

• Collect field samples

• Confer with chemical engineers, product managers, customers and the media

• Work to increase the efficiency of research

• Use computer modeling to target the most promising areas for crude oil exploration

• Perform process control duties at refineries

• Track oil leaked in a spill

• Develop catalysts for use in the refining process



Who Creates Jobs?

Petroleum chemists are hired by a variety of organizations that operate for the purpose of researching, producing, improving or regulating petroleum products. They may be hired by these organizations for a variety of purposes, such as corporate government relations, public outreach and risk communications, the improvement of refinery processes, the development or improvement of petroleum products, or for other functions.


Organizations that hire petroleum chemists typically include:


• Petroleum and petrochemical companies

• Companies that develop processes for the oil industry, such as fluid-cracking catalysis

• Companies that supply chemicals for petroleum companies

• Research, development and quality control laboratories

• Provincial/state and federal government organizations

• Environmental organizations

• Colleges and universities



Average Salary

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


Alberta: According to the 2011 Alberta Wage and Salary Survey, Albertans working in the Chemists occupational group earn an average of between $28.03 and $45.00 per hour. The mean wage for this occupational group is $35.36 an hour.


Canada: According to Service Canada, the average salary level of workers in the Chemists occupational group is $63,190 per year.


United States: According to the United States Bureau of Labor Statistics, the median salary level for workers in the Chemists and Materials Scientists occupational group is $69,790 per year. The lowest 10% of salaries in this group are less than $39,250, and the top 10% are above $116,130 per year.





Personal Characteristics Needed to Be Successful

In order to become effective in this field, you'll need to posses certain personality traits. These traits will not only allow you to conduct your job duties with competence, they will also allow you to endure the ups and downs of this career.


• An interest in solving problems

• An interest in developing products and processes

• An interest in business and a flare for sales

• The ability to communicate effectively with other professionals such as chemical engineers, product managers and others

• The ability to work on a team

• Enjoy working in a lab

• Patience, persistence and the ability to pay attention to detail



Getting Work Experience as a Student

As many chemist jobs in the petroleum industry are highly competitive, it is extremely important to acquire practical experience during your undergraduate and graduate years.


Most university departments offer a number of summer job opportunities for research assistants. There may also be similar openings for summer students in private industry and government departments. Be sure to ask your school’s career resources counselor to give you information about any such opportunities.


These opportunities not only provide you with valuable work experience, they allow you to network and get your foot in the door with an employer. This will be extremely useful when you apply for graduate school or a permanent job.



Similar Occupations in Our Database

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


Chemical Analyst


Clinical Chemist

Materials Scientist

Pharmaceutical Chemist



Job Postings

Check our job board below to find Petroleum Chemist postings in your area.




Scholarships listed for majors that apply to becoming a Petroleum Chemist can be found on our Chemistry Scholarships and Biochemistry Scholarships pages.


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!




Please use the references below to find more information on what it might be like to work in this field.


Occupations in Alberta:Chemist.” (March 5, 2018). ALIS website - Alberta Learning Information Service. Retrieved November 11, 2019.

Life, Physical, and Social Science:Chemists and Materials Scientists.” (September 4, 2019). Occupational Outlook Handbook - United States Bureau of Labor Statistics website. Retrieved November 11, 2019.

College to Career:Oil and Petroleum.” (n.d.). American Chemical Society website. Retrieved November 11, 2019.



Relevant Fields of Study

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


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