chemist working in a lab

What does a Chemist do?

A chemist tests ways to make existing products better and develops new products. For example, household cleaners, pharmaceutical drugs, plastics, and several other products may be improved by a chemist. Chemists analyze and test substances to find out their composition and concentration of elements. They may also write technical reports that would detail methods and results of their research.

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How to Become a Chemist

A bachelor’s degree in chemistry or a related field is required to become a chemist or materials scientist. Some employers may prefer experience and a master’s degree in a similar field. Other positions may require a Ph.D., especially for research positions.

According to O*NET OnLine, over 85% of the chemists surveyed held a bachelor’s degree. In college, you will take high level chemistry courses and other courses in science, technology, and math. If you are in high school, consider taking higher level math and science courses to prepare you for your college coursework.

Job Description of a Chemist

A chemist works in applied research, as well as basic research. In the applied research, a chemist helps lead to a development and discovery of improved or new plastics, drugs, or cleaners (to name a few). Chemists also determining the structure, properties and composition of matter. They conduct experiments and tests with the ways that combinations of elements might react to each other.

A chemist directs technicians to analyze components and a material’s physical properties. They oversee the techniques and proper chemical processing of technicians and scientists. They also test operating temperatures, ingredients, and mixing times. They are required to prepare solutions, reagents, and compounds that would be used in the procedures of the labs. They ensure quality and safety requirements are kept by conducting tests on the materials. They would be required to write technical reports of their research findings and present them to engineers, scientists and others.

A chemist needs to computer savvy and knowledge of sophisticated laboratory instruments that are used for experimental analysis, modeling, or simulation. They would need to be able to use three-dimensional computer modeling software for their research and studies. He or she would most likely work on a team with other scientists, engineers, physicists, biologists and others in their research. Many chemists work in the field of geochemistry, biochemistry, or with their experience in chemistry may choose to go on to become a teacher or professor.

Lauren Curtis works as an analytical chemist for the Center for Veterinary Medicine. The following video highlights her career as a chemist.

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Lauren Curtis interview transcript: Basically, what I do is I analyze animal feeds, animal products, things like meats, tissues, things like that and I analyze drug residues in them by using chemical instrumentation.

My favorite part of this job is you’re not just sitting behind a desk. I like getting up, using my hands and working and getting result and that’s what I really like about being an analytical chemist, is I get to work with numbers. What I’m doing is I’m extracting the drug or the chemical from the feed or the tissue and then I use the samples I get and I put them in the instrument, and the instrument analyzes how much of that chemical is in the sample.

The career video is in the Public Domain and originally hosted on which is now, an interagency product administered by USAGov, a division of the U.S. General Services Administration’s Technology Transformation Service.

The Environmental Protection Agency posted a Job Announcement in need of a Chemist on The listing lists the following responsibilities of the position.

  • Assist in the analysis of environmental samples for the determination of contaminants and chemical parameters.
  • Assist in the interpretation and evaluation of data to determine its significance.
  • Assist in implementing and adhering to Laboratory Quality Control system requirements.
  • Provide information based on the analysis of environmental samples.

Related Careers to Research:

Chemist Career Video Transcript

This transcript is for the video at the top of this article: Chemicals make up our world. Some are natural, others are synthetic made by people. But every chemical is unique, and behaves differently under changing conditions, such as when heated, exposed to light, or combined with other substances. Chemists study how chemicals affect each other, and how they interact with the environment. They conduct experiments in laboratories, and analyze results and data. Most chemists use databases, scientific software, graphics, and design and photo imaging tools in their work.

Chemists work with many different materials in different fields, from energy development to medicine and food processing. They have invented and improved products like medicines, fibers, paints, adhesives, cosmetics, and electronic components, to name just a few. Chemical manufacturing plants employ many chemists in production and quality control, where safety is critical. Interdisciplinary fields, like biochemistry and geochemistry, are also growing. Besides manufacturing, chemists work in colleges and universities, government, and independent testing and research laboratories.

A bachelor’s degree in chemistry or a related science is required to enter the field. Many working chemists have a master’s degree or a PhD in chemistry. They usually specialize in a particular field. For any chemistry position, curiosity, the ability to focus on details, and painstaking follow-through are essential “elements” of success.

Article Citations

  • Bureau of Labor Statistics, U.S. Department of Labor, Occupational Outlook Handbook, Chemists and Materials Scientists.
  • National Center for O*NET Development. 19-2031.00. O*NET OnLine.
  • The career video is Public Domain from the U. S. Department of Labor, Employment and Training Administration.
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