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Become A Research Chemist

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Working As A Research Chemist

  • Documenting/Recording Information
  • Interacting With Computers
  • Communicating with Supervisors, Peers, or Subordinates
  • Analyzing Data or Information
  • Processing Information
  • Unpleasant/Hazardous Environment

  • $76,066

    Average Salary

What Does A Research Chemist Do

Chemists and materials scientists study substances at the atomic and molecular levels and the ways in which the substances interact with one another. They use their knowledge to develop new and improved products and to test the quality of manufactured goods.

Duties

Chemists and materials scientists typically do the following:

  • Plan and carry out complex research projects, such as the development of new products and testing methods
  • Direct technicians and other workers in testing and analyzing components and the physical properties of materials
  • Instruct scientists and technicians on proper chemical processing and testing procedures, including ingredients, mixing times, and operating temperatures
  • Prepare solutions, compounds, and reagents used in laboratory procedures
  • Analyze substances to determine their composition and concentration of elements 
  • Conduct tests on materials and other substances to ensure that safety and quality standards are met
  • Write technical reports that detail methods and findings
  • Present research findings to scientists, engineers, and other colleagues

Some chemists and materials scientists work in basic research. Others work in applied research. In basic research, chemists investigate the properties, composition, and structure of matter. They also experiment with combinations of elements and the ways in which they interact. In applied research, chemists investigate possible new products and ways to improve existing ones. Chemistry research has led to the discovery and development of new and improved drugs, plastics, and cleaners, as well as thousands of other products.

Materials scientists study the structures and chemical properties of various materials in order to develop new products or enhance existing ones. They determine ways to strengthen or combine materials, or develop new materials, for use in a variety of products. Applications of materials science include inventing or improving ceramics, metallic alloys, and superconducting materials.

Chemists and materials scientists use computers and a wide variety of sophisticated laboratory instrumentation for modeling, simulation, and experimental analysis. For example, some chemists use three-dimensional computer modeling software to study the structure and properties of complex molecules. 

Most chemists and materials scientists work as part of a team. The number of scientific research projects that involve multiple disciplines is increasing, and it is common for chemists and materials scientists to work on teams with other scientists, such as biologists, physicists, computer specialists, and engineers. For example, in pharmaceutical research, chemists may work with biologists to develop new drugs and with engineers to design ways to mass-produce the new drugs. For more information, see the profiles on biochemists and biophysicists, microbiologists, zoologists and wildlife biologists, physicists and astronomers, computer and information technology occupations, and engineering occupations.

Chemists often specialize in a particular branch of the field. The following are examples of types of chemists:

Analytical chemists determine the structure, composition, and nature of substances by examining and identifying their various elements or compounds. They also study the relationships and interactions among the parts of compounds. Some analytical chemists specialize in developing new methods of analysis and new techniques for carrying out their work. Their research has a wide range of applications, including food safety, pharmaceuticals, and pollution control.

Inorganic chemists study the structure, properties, and reactions of molecules that do not contain carbon, such as metals. They work to understand the behavior and the characteristics of inorganic substances. Inorganic chemists figure out how these materials, such as ceramics and superconductors, can be modified, separated, or used in products.  

Medicinal chemists research and develop chemical compounds that can be used as pharmaceutical drugs. They work on teams with other scientists and engineers to create and test new drug products. They also help develop new and improved manufacturing processes to produce new drugs on a large scale effectively.

Organic chemists study the structure, properties, and reactions of molecules that contain carbon. They also design and make new organic substances that have unique properties and applications. These compounds in turn, have been used to develop many commercial products, such as pharmaceutical drugs and plastics.

Physical chemists study the fundamental characteristics of how matter behaves on a molecular and atomic level and how chemical reactions occur. On the basis of their analyses, physical chemists may develop new theories, such as how complex structures are formed. Physical chemists often work closely with materials scientists, to research and develop potential uses for new materials.

Theoretical chemists investigate theoretical methods that can predict the outcomes of chemical experiments. Theoretical chemistry encompasses a variety of specializations itself, although most specializations incorporate advanced computation and programming. Some examples of theoretical chemists are computational chemists, mathematical chemists, and chemical informaticians.

Materials scientists tend to specialize by the material they work with most often. A few examples of materials in which these scientists specialize are ceramics, glasses, metals, nanomaterials (extremely small substances), polymers, and semiconductors.

A growing numbers of chemists work in interdisciplinary fields, such as biochemistry and geochemistry. For more information, see the profiles on biochemists and biophysicists and geoscientists.

Many people with a chemistry background become professors or teachers. For more information, see the profiles on high school teachers and postsecondary teachers.

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How To Become A Research Chemist

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.

Education

A bachelor’s degree in chemistry or in a related field is needed for entry-level chemist or materials scientist jobs. Although some materials scientists hold a degree in materials science, most have a degree in chemistry, physics, or engineering. Many 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.

Many colleges and universities offer degree programs in chemistry that are approved by the American Chemical Society. There are few programs specifically in materials science, but the number of programs is gradually increasing. 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 to chemistry coursework, they 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 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.

Important 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.

Interpersonal skills. Chemists and materials scientists typically work on interdisciplinary research teams and need to work well with others toward a common goal. Many serve as team leaders and must be able to motivate and direct other team members.

Math 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 document processes carefully in order to conform to regulations and industry procedures. Disorganization in the workplace can lead to legal problems, damage to equipment, and chemical spills.

Perseverance. Scientific research involves substantial trial and error, and chemists and materials scientists must not become discouraged in their work.

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.

Time-management skills. Chemists and materials scientists usually need to meet deadlines when conducting research. They must be able to manage time and prioritize tasks efficiently while maintaining their quality of work.

Advancement

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.

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Research Chemist jobs

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Research Chemist Career Paths

Research Chemist
Laboratory Manager Clinical Research Coordinator
Clinical Study Manager
8 Yearsyrs
Senior Research Chemist Senior Scientist Project Manager
Engineering Manager
10 Yearsyrs
Laboratory Manager Operations Manager Plant Manager
Manufacturing Director
14 Yearsyrs
Senior Chemist Research Scientist Process Engineer
Manufacturing Manager
10 Yearsyrs
Senior Scientist Project Manager Program Manager
Operations Director
9 Yearsyrs
Research Scientist Senior Scientist Group Leader
Operations Manager
7 Yearsyrs
Senior Scientist Associate Director Operations Director
President Of Operations
11 Yearsyrs
Scientist Research Scientist Project Manager
Product Manager
7 Yearsyrs
Analytical Chemist Laboratory Manager Operations Manager
Purchasing Manager
9 Yearsyrs
Analytical Chemist Quality Control Quality Assurance Manager
Quality Assurance Director
11 Yearsyrs
Associate Scientist Quality Assurance Specialist Quality Control Manager
Quality Control Director
9 Yearsyrs
Senior Chemist Laboratory Manager Quality Assurance Manager
Quality Systems Manager
12 Yearsyrs
Quality Control Engineering Technician Research And Development Engineer
Research And Development Project Manager
7 Yearsyrs
Quality Control Chemist Research Associate Product Manager
Research And Development Technician
6 Yearsyrs
Associate Scientist Quality Assurance Operations Director
Senior Director, Operations
14 Yearsyrs
Scientist Project Manager Senior Project Manager
Senior Product Manager
9 Yearsyrs
Quality Control Chemist Quality Control Supervisor Quality Assurance Manager
Senior Quality Assurance Manager
11 Yearsyrs
Research Scientist Assistant Professor
Senior Scientist
9 Yearsyrs
Senior Research Chemist Scientist Quality Assurance
Vice-President Of Quality
15 Yearsyrs
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Average Length of Employment
Chief Chemist 5.2 years
Senior Chemist 4.8 years
Staff Chemist 4.6 years
Chemist Scientist 4.4 years
Project Chemist 4.2 years
Control Chemist 4.2 years
Research Chemist 4.0 years
Research Scientist 3.8 years
Principal Chemist 3.4 years
Process Chemist 3.3 years
Chemist 3.3 years
Associate Chemist 3.1 years
Analytical Chemist 3.1 years
Chemist Lead 2.9 years
Production Chemist 2.8 years
Organic Chemist 2.8 years
Research Associate 2.6 years
Head Chemist 2.5 years
Laboratory Chemist 2.5 years
Chemist Assistant 2.5 years
Junior Chemist 2.2 years
Research Assistant 1.7 years
Contract Chemist 1.4 years
Top Employers Before
Chemist 12.9%
Internship 4.6%
Scientist 3.5%
Researcher 3.0%
Fellow 2.6%
Top Employers After
Chemist 9.6%
Scientist 9.1%
Consultant 3.7%
Manager 2.6%

Research Chemist Demographics

Gender

Male

62.6%

Female

29.7%

Unknown

7.7%
Ethnicity

White

67.0%

Asian

20.9%

Hispanic or Latino

7.8%

Unknown

3.4%

Black or African American

0.9%
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Languages Spoken

Spanish

24.0%

Chinese

14.7%

Japanese

9.3%

Russian

8.0%

Mandarin

8.0%

German

6.7%

French

6.7%

Cantonese

4.0%

Vietnamese

2.7%

Italian

2.7%

Swahili

1.3%

Indonesian

1.3%

Czech

1.3%

Dakota

1.3%

Malay

1.3%

Marathi

1.3%

Hindi

1.3%

Polish

1.3%

Korean

1.3%

Arabic

1.3%
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Research Chemist Education

Schools

Purdue University

7.3%

Pennsylvania State University

6.8%

University of Florida

6.8%

University of Houston

6.3%

University of Illinois University Administration

5.9%

University of Cincinnati

5.4%

Ohio State University

5.4%

Wayne State University

4.9%

Michigan State University

4.9%

University of Utah

4.9%

University of Wisconsin - Milwaukee

4.9%

Georgia Institute of Technology -

4.9%

Wright State University

4.4%

Lehigh University

4.4%

Illinois Institute of Technology

3.9%

Eastern Michigan University

3.9%

Cleveland State University

3.9%

University of Illinois at Chicago

3.9%

Iowa State University

3.9%

University of California - Irvine

3.4%
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Majors

Chemistry

67.6%

Biochemistry, Biophysics, Molecular Biology

5.1%

Biology

4.8%

Pharmacy

3.9%

Chemical Engineering

3.7%

Business

3.2%

Plastics Engineering

1.6%

Materials Sciences

1.5%

Management

1.0%

Finance

0.9%

Project Management

0.8%

Materials Science And Engineering

0.8%

Medicine

0.7%

Mathematics

0.7%

Education

0.6%

Environmental Science

0.6%

General Education, Specific Areas

0.6%

Pharmacology

0.6%

Marketing

0.6%

Computer Science

0.5%
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Degrees

Masters

30.6%

Doctorate

29.7%

Bachelors

28.7%

Other

7.6%

Certificate

2.0%

Associate

1.1%

Diploma

0.3%

License

0.1%
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Job type you want
Full Time
Part Time
Internship
Temporary

Real Research Chemist Salaries

Job Title Company Location Start Date Salary
Research Chemist Chevron Phillips Chemical Company LP Bartlesville, OK Sep 04, 2015 $114,500 -
$127,000
Research Chemist Chevron Phillips Chemical Company LP Bartlesville, OK Sep 03, 2015 $114,500 -
$124,500
Research Chemist SES Group & Associates, LLC McLean, VA Sep 14, 2016 $112,528
Research Chemist Stepan Company Houston, TX Jul 19, 2016 $110,000
Research Chemist Scientific Design Company, Inc. Little Ferry, NJ Aug 10, 2015 $109,000
Research Chemist Chevron Phillips Chemical Company, L.P. Bartlesville, OK Aug 25, 2016 $105,100 -
$157,700
Research Chemist BASF Corporation Wyandotte, MI May 17, 2016 $102,294 -
$130,400
Research Chemist Ultivue Inc. Cambridge, MA Sep 01, 2015 $100,000
Research Chemist Halocarbon Products Corporation North Augusta, SC Sep 24, 2015 $100,000
Research Chemist Cytec Industries Inc. Stamford, CT Aug 26, 2016 $99,227
Advanced Research Chemist Eastman Chemical Company Kingsport, TN Jul 08, 2016 $93,700 -
$113,700
Research Chemist I The Broad Institute Inc. Cambridge, MA Apr 05, 2016 $93,150
Advanced Research Chemist Eastman Chemical Company Kingsport, TN Aug 29, 2015 $89,200 -
$99,200
Head Research Chemist PTP Group Americas, Inc. CA Mar 18, 2016 $89,170
Research Chemist SES Group & Associates, LLC McLean, VA Dec 29, 2016 $77,147 -
$115,903
Research Chemist PPG Industries, Inc. Monroeville, PA Sep 15, 2016 $77,000 -
$82,000
Research Chemist PPG Industries, Inc. Monroeville, PA Sep 25, 2016 $77,000 -
$82,000
Research Chemist Microchem Corporation Westborough, MA Jan 25, 2015 $76,960
Research Chemist Energy Power Systems LLC Pontiac, MI May 09, 2016 $75,000
Research Chemist ICL-Ip America, Inc. Ardsley, NY Jul 09, 2016 $74,756
Research Chemist Johns Manville Littleton, CO Sep 13, 2015 $73,000 -
$93,000
Research Chemist Sabic Innovative Plastics Us LLC Vernon, IN Aug 14, 2016 $72,100
Research Chemist Natural Systems Utilities LLC Hillsborough, NJ Sep 17, 2015 $62,000
Research Chemist USDA, Agricultural Research Service Hilo, HI Jun 01, 2015 $61,760
Research Chemist 1 Research Triangle Institute (RTI) International Parkton, NC Jul 15, 2016 $61,500 -
$71,500
Research Chemists Anichem, Inc. North Brunswick, NJ May 14, 2015 $61,402
Research Chemist Athenex, Inc. Buffalo, NY Sep 19, 2016 $60,528
Research Chemist Liquid Ion Solutions LLC Pittsburgh, PA Jun 08, 2016 $60,000
Research Chemist Chemeor, Inc. Covina, CA Aug 30, 2016 $60,000

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Top Skills for A Research Chemist

MethodDevelopmentLaboratoryEquipmentNewProductDevelopmentOrganicSynthesisHplcAnalyticalChemistryProceduresSafetyGc-MsUv/VisNMRRColumnChromatographyRawMaterialsPolymerFDAFtirGLPFt-IrPilotPlant

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Top Research Chemist Skills

  1. Method Development
  2. Laboratory Equipment
  3. New Product Development
You can check out examples of real life uses of top skills on resumes here:
  • Collaborate with manager to understand and execute method development needs.
  • Adapt literature methodology to available laboratory equipment and establish validation documentation to support accurate performance.
  • Project manager, currently lead several new product development and cost saving projects.
  • Performed organic synthesis for the development of antimicrobial formulations.
  • Developed an HPLC assay that separated all the intermediates in the heme biosynthetic pathway.

Top Research Chemist Employers

Research Chemist Videos

Richard Feynman - Graduate Employment

Career Advice on becoming a Laboratory Technician by Katherine G (Full Version)

Why did you choose a career in pharmacy and research?

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