Chemists held about 87,700 jobs in 2018. The largest employers of chemists were as follows:
|Research and development in the physical, engineering, and life sciences||14|
|Federal government, excluding postal service||7|
|Administrative and support and waste management and remediation services||4|
Materials scientists held about 8,100 jobs in 2018. The largest employers of materials scientists were as follows:
|Research and development in the physical, engineering, and life sciences||23%|
|Management of companies and enterprises||11|
|Computer and electronic product manufacturing||9|
|Architectural, engineering, and related services||8|
Chemists and materials scientists typically work in laboratories and offices, where they conduct experiments and analyze their results. In addition to working in 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. Others may work outdoors to collect samples and conduct onsite analysis of air, soil, or water.
Injuries and Illnesses
Chemists and materials scientists may be exposed to health or safety hazards when handling certain chemicals, but there is little risk if they follow proper procedures, such as wearing protective clothing when handling hazardous chemicals.
Chemists and materials scientists typically work full time and keep regular hours. Occasionally, they may have to work additional hours to meet project deadlines or perform time-sensitive laboratory experiments during off-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 required for many research jobs.
A bachelor’s degree in chemistry or a related field is needed for entry-level chemist or materials scientist jobs. Research jobs require a master’s degree or a Ph.D. and also may require significant levels of work experience. Chemists and materials scientists with a Ph.D. and postdoctoral experience typically lead basic- or applied-research teams. Combined programs, which offer an accelerated bachelor’s and master’s degree in chemistry, also are available.
Many colleges and universities offer degree programs in chemistry that are approved by the American Chemical Society. Some colleges offer materials science as a specialization within their chemistry programs, and some engineering schools offer degrees in the joint field of materials science and engineering. High school students can prepare for college coursework by taking chemistry, math, and computer science classes.
Undergraduate chemistry majors typically are required to take courses in analytical, organic, inorganic, and physical chemistry. In addition, they take classes in math, 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 operate computerized laboratory equipment.
Laboratory experience through internships, fellowships, or work–study programs in industry is also useful. Some universities offer cooperative programs in which students gain work experience while pursuing a degree.
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. As chemists become more proficient in managing research projects, they may take on larger, more complicated, and more expensive 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 $77,630 in May 2019. 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 $44,460, and the highest 10 percent earned more than $133,690.
The median annual wage for materials scientists was $96,810 in May 2019. The lowest 10 percent earned less than $51,950, and the highest 10 percent earned more than $157,780.
In May 2019, the median annual wages for chemists in the top industries in which they worked were as follows:
|Federal government, excluding postal service||$111,840|
|Research and development in the physical, engineering, and life sciences||90,290|
|Administrative and support and waste management and remediation services||67,280|
In May 2019, the median annual wages for materials scientists in the top industries in which they worked were as follows:
|Management of companies and enterprises||$121,890|
|Computer and electronic product manufacturing||117,410|
|Research and development in the physical, engineering, and life sciences||101,310|
|Architectural, engineering, and related services||80,150|
Chemists and materials scientists typically work full time and keep regular hours.
Overall employment of chemists and materials scientists is projected to grow 4 percent from 2018 to 2028, about as fast as the average for all occupations.
Employment of chemists is projected to grow 4 percent. In pharmaceutical and medicine manufacturing, chemists will be needed to develop nanotechnology for medicinal uses. And in chemical manufacturing, employers will call upon chemists’ knowledge of green chemistry to improve environmental safety in the workplace and community.
Employment of materials scientists is projected to grow 3 percent. Materials scientists will be needed to develop cheaper, safer, and better quality materials for a variety of purposes, such as electronics, energy, and transportation.
Environmental research will offer new opportunities for chemists and materials scientists. For example, chemical manufacturing industries will continue to develop technologies and processes that reduce pollution. Materials scientists may be tasked with finding ways to remanufacture recycled materials, especially plastics. 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 who have laboratory experience outside of a classroom environment, such as through a cooperative program or internship, are likely to meet with better employment prospects after graduation.
Chemists and materials scientists with advanced degrees, particularly those with a Ph.D. and work experience, are expected to have better opportunities. Chemists who can practice green chemistry may experience favorable job prospects because this knowledge can be valuable in reducing employers’ liabilities regarding chemical safety, by minimizing the creation of toxins and waste.
Chemists with advanced degrees will continue to fill most senior research and upper-management positions. For more information, see the profile on natural sciences managers.
For information on career opportunities, earnings, and education for chemists and materials scientists, visit
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For information about academic programs in green chemistry, visit
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