How to Be a Chemist

Three Parts:Choosing a FocusPursuing an Education in ChemistryFinding a Job

Chemists are scientists who study chemical compounds and work to create new products or improve existing products. Chemists are often employed by manufacturing companies such as chemical, bio-technical, and pharmaceutical firms; by research and development firms; and by government agencies, like the Federal Executive Branch.[1] Your career options in the field of chemistry will depend on both your specific interests and your level of education.

Part 1
Choosing a Focus

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    Learn more about the different types of chemists. There are many different fields of chemistry, and while they are all related to studying and performing experiments with chemical compounds, they are all unique. Some of the more common fields include the following:[2]
    • Materials chemists are responsible for researching and developing materials to create new products or improve existing ones.
    • Analytical chemists examine and classify various chemical compounds that can be used in new drugs. Also, they study the ways different chemicals react to each other.
    • Inorganic chemists investigate non-carbon compounds, such as electronic components, to develop new products.
    • Theoretical and physical chemists study things such as molecules, atoms and chemical reactions to develop different energy sources.
    • Medicinal chemists research chemicals and compounds used to create medications for people.
    • Organic chemists investigate the makeup of different carbon compounds. They then combine those different compounds to create new ones.
    • Macromolecular chemists study how molecules and atoms behave. Unlike physical and theoretical chemists, macromolecular chemists' work doesn't lead to new or improved energy sources.
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    Think about your strengths and interests. With so many diverse career opportunities available in the field of chemistry, it is important to choose a specialty that appeals to your interests. The American Chemical Society provides lots of helpful information on the wide variety of careers that are available in chemistry.[3]
    • For all careers in chemistry, you should be highly organized and analytical, and you should love performing research and experiments.
    • You might be surprised by how many different fields of chemistry exist. If, for example, you have an interest in environmental conservation, you may consider looking into the field of green chemistry.[4]. If you have an interest in helping to ensure that the world has clean drinking water, you may look into the field of water chemistry.[5].
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    Decide what kind of environment you want to work in. Chemists work in many different kinds of environments, depending on the specifics of their jobs. Think about whether you would like to work in a laboratory, in an office, in a factory, in a classroom, or in the field.[6] This may help you narrow your choices.
    • If possible, talk to people who currently hold a position that you think you might be interested in to learn more about the working conditions.
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    Consider salary. Salaries also vary greatly for different careers within the field of chemistry. Once you have identified careers that might interest you, do some research into the average salaries and projected job growth for those specific fields. Comparing this information may help you decide between a few different career interests.[7]
    • The United States Department of Labor's Bureau of Labor Statistics provides salary information for a variety of different industries and geographic locations.
    • Checking job listings in your area might also give you some good insight into the types of chemist jobs available and how much they pay.

Part 2
Pursuing an Education in Chemistry

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    Start in high school. Take as many science and math classes as you can in high school, including AP classes. This will help prepare you for more advanced studies in chemistry.
    • Maintain high grades in all your classes to gain a competitive edge for admissions to undergraduate and graduate programs.
    • Look for elective science classes that interest you, such as forensic science.
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    Earn an undergraduate degree. The degree takes four years to complete and includes core courses such as organic chemistry and physical chemistry, as well as elective classes related to your interests and general education classes. You should be prepared to spend a lot of time in the laboratory learning about how to handle chemicals, conduct experiments, and interpret data.[8]
    • The American Chemical Society maintains a list of approved undergraduate programs that adhere to their strict educational requirements.
    • For most future chemists, a bachelor's degree in chemistry is the best first step. However, there are some career paths that require a slightly different degree. If, for example, you wish to teach chemistry to elementary, middle school, or high school students, you will need to obtain the proper credentials required by your state for a teaching license. If you wish to Become a Chemical Engineer, you may need a degree specifically in chemical engineering.
    • Some universities also offer undergraduate degrees in specific fields of chemistry, such as environmental chemistry.[9] These more specialized degrees might not be necessary for your career, but they can certainly be helpful if you know what kind of chemist you want to be.
    • An undergraduate degree in chemistry will prepare you for an entry-level position in chemistry, as a research assistant or technician, for example. It can also prepare you for many other careers. Many chemistry students choose to attend medical, dental, veterinary, or law school after completing their undergraduate degrees. Careers in business are also popular.[10]
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    Attend graduate school. There is a lot of competition for well-paying chemist jobs, so a graduate degree will be very important if you want to advance in your field.[11] The specific type of degree you need will depend on your precise career aspirations.
    • A master's degree in chemistry typically takes two or three years to complete, and may or may not require a thesis.
    • A doctorate degree in chemistry requires five or more years of study, and will require you to write a dissertation.
    • Graduate degrees typically give you the opportunity to focus on a sub-specialty, such as analytical chemistry or biochemistry.

Part 3
Finding a Job

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    Gain work experience. Make yourself more marketable to potential employers by getting as much experience as you can in your field of interest.
    • Complete a fellowship, work-study or internship during college.[12]
    • Look for volunteer opportunities that will give you unique experiences in your field of interest or a closely related field.
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    Network. Find ways to meet people who work in your field. This may include attending conferences or job fairs, or simply networking online. Make connections with as many people as you can, and let them know that you would greatly appreciate any advice or guidance they could provide you with during your job search.
    • Join chemical societies and other organizations related to your specific interests in order to meet people who might be able to help you find a job.[13]
    • Your university may be able to offer you some assistance with finding a job, so be sure to find out what career placement services they offer.
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    Write your resume or curriculum vitae (CV). To get the job of your dreams, you'll need to spend some time highlighting your skills, experience, and knowledge in a well written and nicely formatted resume or CV.
    • If you are applying for a job in academia, you will want to write a CV that covers all of your experience and education. For most other positions, a shorter resume, which should be tailored to the position for which you are applying, is more appropriate.[14]
    • Choose a format that fits your experience. If you have a great deal of professional experience, a traditional chronological resume might work best for you. If you lack experience, you may wish to create different sections on your resume that each focus on a specific skill you possess that will be valuable to the job.
    • Highlight specific skills you have learned in school. If you took special courses to pursue a specific type of chemistry, be sure to mention them. If you have done a tremendous amount of research on a specific topic for your thesis, let future employers know about the knowledge you possess.[15]
    • Focus on accomplishments, either at work or at school, instead of just listing responsibilities. Try to be as specific as possible about your strengths.
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    Look for job listings. Looking through employment classified advertisements or online employment websites for job opportunities. You may have to be flexible, especially if you have little or no work experience, but keep working towards the career of your dreams.


  • Chemist jobs are highly competitive. Thus, employers prefer hiring chemists with at least a master's degree or higher in chemistry or a related subject.
  • Advancement opportunities for chemists consist of receiving larger researching budgets, gaining greater independence regarding research projects, becoming a chemistry professor, and obtaining a management position. If you advance to a management position, you will spend time with administrative tasks like creating budgets instead of conducting research.

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