Chemists and material scientists held about 96,200 jobs in 2012. The industries that employed the most chemists in 2012 were as follows:
|Research and development in the physical, engineering, and life sciences||20%|
|Pharmaceutical and medicine manufacturing||17|
|Federal government, excluding postal service||7|
|State and local government, excluding education and hospitals||6|
Most materials scientists work in manufacturing and scientific research and development. The industries that employed the most materials scientists in 2012 were as follows:
|Research and development in the physical, engineering, and life sciences||34%|
|Colleges, universities, and professional schools; state, local, and private||11|
|Pharmaceutical and medicine manufacturing||6|
|Computer and electronic product manufacturing||6|
|Basic chemical manufacturing||5|
Chemists and materials scientists typically work in laboratories and offices, where they conduct experiments and analyze their results. In addition to laboratories, materials scientists work with engineers and processing specialists in industrial manufacturing facilities. Some chemists also work in these facilities and usually are responsible for monitoring the environmental conditions at the plant. Chemists and materials scientists, who work for manufacturing companies, may have to travel occasionally, especially if their company has multiple facilities.
Chemists and materials scientists typically work on research teams. They need to be able to work well with others towards a common goal. Many serve in a leadership capacity and need to be able to motivate and direct other team members.
Injuries and Illnesses
Chemists and materials scientists can be exposed to health or safety hazards when handling certain chemicals, but there is little risk if proper procedures are followed.
Chemists and materials scientists typically work full time and keep regular hours.
Chemists and materials scientists need at least a bachelor’s degree in chemistry or a related field. However, a master’s degree or Ph.D. is needed for many research jobs.
A bachelor's degree in chemistry or in a related field is needed for entry-level chemist jobs. Although some materials scientists hold a degree in materials science, these scientists commonly have a degree in chemistry, physics, or engineering. Many jobs require master’s degrees or Ph.D.s and may also require significant levels of work experience. Chemists and materials scientists with Ph.D.s and postdoctoral experience typically lead basic and applied research teams.
Many colleges and universities offer degree programs in chemistry. There are few programs specifically in materials science, but the number of programs is gradually increasing. Some engineering schools offer degrees in the joint field of materials science and engineering.
Undergraduate chemistry majors typically are required to take courses in analytical, organic, inorganic, and physical chemistry. In addition to chemistry coursework, they also take classes in mathematics, biological sciences, and physics. Computer science courses are essential, because chemists and materials scientists need computer skills to perform modeling and simulation tasks, manage and manipulate databases, and to operate computerized laboratory equipment.
Laboratory experience, either at a college or university, or through internships, fellowships, or work-study programs in industry, is also useful.
Graduate students studying chemistry commonly specialize in a subfield, such as analytical chemistry or inorganic chemistry. For example, those interested in doing research in the pharmaceutical industry usually develop a strong background in medicinal or organic chemistry.
Chemists typically receive greater responsibility and independence in their work as they gain experience. Greater responsibility also is gained through further education. Ph.D. chemists usually lead research teams and have control over the direction and content of projects, but even Ph.D. holders have room to advance as they gain experience. They may take on larger, more complicated, and more expensive projects as they become more proficient in managing research projects.
Some chemists and materials scientists become natural sciences managers.
Chemists and materials scientists typically have an interest in the Building, Thinking and Organizing interest areas, according to the Holland Code framework. The Building interest area indicates a focus on working with tools and machines, and making or fixing practical things. The Thinking interest area indicates a focus on researching, investigating, and increasing the understanding of natural laws. The Organizing interest area indicates a focus on working with information and processes to keep things arranged in orderly systems.
If you are not sure whether you have a Building or Thinking or Organizing interest which might fit with a career as a chemist and materials scientist, you can take a career test to measure your interests.
Chemists and materials scientists should also possess the following specific qualities:
Analytical skills. Chemists and materials scientists carry out scientific experiments and studies. They must be precise and accurate in their analyses, because errors could invalidate their research.
Communication skills. Chemists and materials scientists need to communicate with team members and other scientists. They must be able to read and write technical reports and give presentations.
Critical-thinking skills. Chemists and materials scientists carefully evaluate their own work and the work of others. They must determine if results and conclusions are based on sound science.
Mathematical skills. Chemists and materials scientists regularly use complex mathematical equations and formulas, and they need a broad understanding of mathematics, including calculus, algebra, and statistics.
Organizational skills. Chemists and materials scientists need to carefully document processes to conform to regulations and industry procedures. Disorganization in the workplace can lead to legal problems, damage to equipment, and chemical spills.
Problem-solving skills. Chemists and materials scientists research and develop new and improved chemical products, processes, and materials. This work requires a great deal of trial and error on the part of chemists and materials scientists before a unique solution is found.
The median annual wage for chemists was $71,770 in May 2012. The median wage is the wage at which half the workers in an occupation earned more than that amount and half earned less. The lowest 10 percent earned less than $41,080, and the top 10 percent earned more than $120,600.
In May 2012, the median annual wages for chemists in the top five industries employing these scientists were as follows:
|Federal government, excluding postal service||$100,920|
|Research and development in the physical, engineering,
and life sciences
|Pharmaceutical and medicine manufacturing||70,480|
|State and local government, excluding education and
The median annual wage for materials scientists was $88,990 in May 2012. The lowest 10 percent earned less than $46,960, and the top 10 percent earned more than $134,130.
In May 2012, the median annual wages for materials scientists in the top five industries employing these scientists were as follows:
|Basic chemical manufacturing||$106,770|
|Research and development in the physical, engineering, and life sciences||96,630|
|Computer and electronic product manufacturing||96,620|
|Colleges, universities, and professional schools; state, local, and private||66,720|
|Pharmaceutical and medicine manufacturing||66,230|
Chemists and materials scientists typically work full time and keep regular hours.
Employment of chemists and materials scientists is projected to grow 6 percent from 2012 to 2022, slower than the average for all occupations.
Employment of chemists is projected to grow 6 percent, as they will continue to be needed in scientific research and development and to monitor the quality of products and processes.
Employment of materials scientists is projected to grow 5 percent, owing to demand for cheaper, safer, and better quality materials for a variety of purposes, such as electronics, energy, and transportation.
Chemists research and solve a wide range of problems and are employed in a similarly wide range of industries. About a quarter of all chemists are employed in chemical manufacturing industries; but the remainder work at colleges and universities, in government, and for independent testing and research laboratories. Some chemical manufacturing industries, such as pharmaceutical manufacturing, increasingly may be outsourcing their research and development activities, rather than doing the research in-house. This is likely to cause faster growth in the employment of chemists in small, independent research and development firms than in the more traditional large manufacturers. However, as the economy improves and the expansion in domestic natural gas production lowers the cost of energy and raw inputs, manufacturers may have less of an incentive than they have in the past to outsource their research and development (R&D) activities.
Environmental research will offer many new opportunities for chemists and materials scientists. For example, chemical manufacturing industries will continue to develop technologies and processes that reduce pollution and improve energy efficiency at manufacturing facilities. Chemists also will continue to be needed to monitor pollution levels at manufacturing facilities and to ensure compliance with local, state, and federal environmental regulations.
In addition to job openings resulting from employment growth, some job openings will result from the need to replace chemists and materials scientists who retire or otherwise leave the occupations.
Chemists and materials scientists with advanced degrees, particularly those with a Ph.D. and work experience, are expected to experience better opportunities. Large pharmaceutical and biotechnology firms provide openings for these workers at research laboratories, and many others work in colleges and universities. Furthermore, chemists with advanced degrees will continue to fill most senior research and upper-management positions.