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At a Glance

  • Work to improve everything from makeup to medicine
  • Often specialize in a subfield
  • Work in labs or offices
  • Often wear protective gloves, masks, or glasses
  • Have at least a bachelor's degree in chemistry
  • Work for research firms, manufacturing companies, or the government

Career summary

Chemists study the structures and other properties of substances.

There are many specialties within the field of chemistry. Common job titles include organic chemist, inorganic chemist, food chemist, physical chemist, medicinal chemist, and analytical chemist.

#From 2625

#3/25/19 lh

The studies of chemists result in the development of new products, materials, and processes such as:

Chemists use complex lab instruments and computers to compile and analyze the results of their research. They often consult with other scientists about research and test results. They also direct and advise other staff in test procedures. In addition, chemists write technical reports or papers.

There are several types of chemists:


Analytical chemists study various elements or compounds to learn about their structure and what they are made of. They study how compounds interact with each other.


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.


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.


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.


Physical chemists study the fundamental characteristics of how matter behaves on a molecular and atomic level and how chemical reactions occur. They may develop new theories, such as how complex structures are formed.

Related careers

This career is part of the Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics cluster of careers.

Related careers include:

Military careers

Job duties

Task list

The following list of tasks is specific to chemists.

Common work activities

Chemists perform the following tasks. These tasks are common to many careers.

Work requirements

Working conditions

In a typical work setting, chemists:

Interpersonal relationships

Physical work conditions

Work performance


Physical demands

Chemists frequently:

It is important for chemists to be able to:

It is not as important, but still necessary, for chemists to be able to:

Skills and abilities

Chemists need to:


Reason and problem solve

Use math and science

Manage oneself, people, time, and things

Work with people

Work with things

Perceive and visualize

Education and training

Educational programs

The programs of study listed below will help you prepare for the occupation or career cluster you are exploring.

Programs of study directly related to this occupation

Other programs of study to consider


To work as a chemist, you typically need to:

Education after high school

You need at least a bachelor's degree in chemistry for a job in research or as a laboratory technician. Some have a master's degree. If you get an advanced degree, your bachelor's degree can be in any area of science. For graduate study, however, you must enroll in a chemistry program. In these programs you study inorganic and organic chemistry, math, and computer science. You also learn to work in a lab and use computerized equipment.

You need a doctoral degree (PhD) to lead research projects or teach at a college or university. When working on a doctoral degree you focus on an area such as polymer or analytical chemistry.

Many colleges and universities offer bachelor's degree programs in chemistry. Fewer offer master's and doctoral programs.

Work experience

After completing a doctoral degree, some chemists work as postdoctoral fellows (postdocs). These university positions last for several years. Postdocs get experience working with other chemists. This research can lead to a teaching or research job at a university.

Military training

The military does not provide initial training in this field. However, the military may provide work experience to chemists who have a master's degree or higher.

Helpful high school courses

In high school, take classes that prepare you for college. A college preparatory curriculum (external link) may be different from your state's graduation requirements (external link). You should take as much math and science as you can. Chemists use advanced math. Try to take math through Trigonometry.

You should also consider taking some advanced courses in high school. This includes Advanced Placement (AP) and International Baccalaureate (IB) courses if they are available in your school. If you do well in these courses, you may receive college credit for them. Advanced courses can also strengthen your college application.

Helpful electives to take in high school that prepare you for this career include:

The courses listed above are meant to help you create your high school plan. If you have not already done so, talk to a school counselor or parent about the courses you are considering taking.

You should also check with a teacher or counselor to see if work-based learning opportunities are available in your school and community. These might include field trips, job shadowing, internships, and actual work experience. The goal of these activities is to help you connect your school experiences with real-life work.

Join some groups, try some hobbies, or volunteer with an organization that interests you. By participating in activities you can have fun, make new friends, and learn about yourself. Maybe one of them will help direct you to a future career. Here are examples of activities and groups (PDF file) that may be available in your high school or community.

Things to know

Many employers look for applicants who have computer experience. They prefer to hire chemists who can apply computer skills to research tasks and operation of lab equipment. Employers in research and development often look for applicants who can work well as part of a team. They look for applicants with leadership skills and good oral and written skills. Knowledge of other fields, such as business or marketing, can also be useful.

Many employers prefer applicants who have experience in the field of chemistry. Students can gain experience in college laboratories or through internships in industry. Many employers, especially in research, prefer to hire applicants with a PhD or at least a master's degree. Universities choose candidates based on their area of research and the quality of their published articles.

Some companies have different career tracks for bachelor's, master's, and doctoral applicants. Chemists with bachelor's and master's degrees may find it very hard to move to higher positions, such as a research chemist, within these companies without having a PhD. Non-PhD chemists are more likely to find jobs in regulatory affairs for business. Employers look for workers with initiative, excellent communication skills, and general experience in such areas as safety standards and research techniques.

#much of this is from '03 CPST Comments, I still think it valid so left it in. lh 3/23/07.


A person with a bachelor's degree in chemistry should be flexible regarding the area of specialization to pursue. Summer or part-time work in a laboratory is good experience. Internships or work study while in college are also good ways to gain experience in the field. Computer experience and courses in computer science will improve employment opportunities. A solid educational background in math and physics is very important. New college graduates should seek employment as soon as possible due to a tighter job market in chemistry. Those who know how to make themselves stand out amongst their peers will fare best when looking for their first job.

#CPST Comments, Jan/Feb 2004, p.1. CJ 3/30/04.

#Comments on initiative, teamwork, and standing out from ones peers (tips) from Chemical & Engineering News article, Jan. 2, 2006.

Costs to workers

Workers may want to join a professional association and pay annual membership dues. Also, many chemists take additional college classes and attend conferences and seminars for professional development and to keep up with changes in the field.

Job listings

Listed below are links to job categories from the National Labor Exchange that relate to this career. Once you get a list of jobs, you can view information about individual jobs and find out how to apply. If your job search finds too many openings, or if you wish to search for jobs outside of Washington, you will need to refine your search.

To get a listing of current jobs from the WorkSource system, go to the WorkSource website (external link).


Chemists (SOC 19-2031)

Pay Period
Washington Hourly $20.38 $27.75 $38.73 $52.07 $61.83
Monthly $3,532 $4,809 $6,712 $9,024 $10,715
Yearly $42,390 $57,720 $80,550 $108,300 $128,610
    Bellingham Hourly $13.18 $19.48 $26.29 $41.73 $47.13
Monthly $2,284 $3,376 $4,556 $7,232 $8,168
Yearly $27,401 $40,531 $54,682 $86,816 $98,013
    Bremerton-Silverdale Hourly $26.84 $34.63 $41.87 $48.01 $55.53
Monthly $4,651 $6,001 $7,256 $8,320 $9,623
Yearly $55,823 $72,042 $87,090 $99,857 $115,512
    Kennewick-Richland Hourly $32.04 $39.76 $50.77 $62.19 $76.06
Monthly $5,553 $6,890 $8,798 $10,778 $13,181
Yearly $66,631 $82,700 $105,605 $129,369 $158,201
    Longview Hourly $19.16 $23.70 $28.29 $35.27 $44.62
Monthly $3,320 $4,107 $4,903 $6,112 $7,733
Yearly $39,839 $49,276 $58,854 $73,369 $92,819
    Mount Vernon-Anacortes Hourly $28.75 $35.74 $43.10 $50.31 $61.98
Monthly $4,982 $6,194 $7,469 $8,719 $10,741
Yearly $59,807 $74,335 $89,638 $104,647 $128,915
    Olympia-Tumwater Hourly $18.51 $26.26 $31.92 $37.01 $50.70
Monthly $3,208 $4,551 $5,532 $6,414 $8,786
Yearly $38,499 $54,612 $66,385 $76,990 $105,457
    Seattle-Tacoma-Bellevue Hourly $19.10 $24.57 $34.62 $48.15 $58.37
Monthly $3,310 $4,258 $6,000 $8,344 $10,116
Yearly $39,713 $51,112 $72,013 $100,167 $121,406
    Spokane-Spokane Valley Hourly $16.86 $25.44 $30.61 $43.74 $51.27
Monthly $2,922 $4,409 $5,305 $7,580 $8,885
Yearly $35,075 $52,912 $63,687 $90,967 $106,629
    Vancouver Hourly $19.80 $26.08 $32.55 $40.37 $54.46
Monthly $3,431 $4,520 $5,641 $6,996 $9,438
Yearly $41,181 $54,239 $67,702 $83,981 $113,277
    Yakima Hourly $24.95 $26.19 $28.24 $31.17 $36.11
Monthly $4,324 $4,539 $4,894 $5,402 $6,258
Yearly $51,890 $54,478 $58,746 $64,832 $75,100
United States Hourly $21.12 $27.06 $36.97 $49.91 $64.03
Monthly $3,660 $4,689 $6,407 $8,649 $11,096
Yearly $43,920 $56,290 $76,890 $103,820 $133,180

Wages vary by level of education. Chemists who have a master's degree earn an average of $10,000 more per year than those who have a bachelor's degree. Those who have a PhD earn an average of $15,000 more per year than those who have a master's degree. In general, salaries are highest for those working in private industry, and lowest for those working for colleges or universities.

Full-time chemists usually receive benefits that include sick leave, health insurance, and a retirement plan.

Employment and outlook

Washington outlook


The table below provides information about the number of workers in this career in various regions. It also provides information about the expected growth rate and future job openings.

Chemists (SOC 19-2031)

Location Current employment Growth over 10 years Annual openings
Washington 1,792 12.1% 16.1% 211
    Adams, Chelan, Douglas, Grant, and Okanogan Counties 57 7.0% 13.4% 5
    Asotin, Columbia, Ferry, Garfield, Lincoln, Pend Oreille, Stevens, Walla Walla, and Whitman Counties 12 8.3% 8.6% 1
    Clallam, Jefferson, and Kitsap Counties 73 1.4% 11.9% 6
    Clark, Cowlitz, and Wahkiakum Counties 125 24.8% 15.2% 18
    Grays Harbor, Lewis, Mason, Pacific, and Thurston Counties 45 4.4% 14.1% 5
    Island, San Juan, Skagit, and Whatcom Counties 84 -3.6% 14.6% 6
    King County 575 12.5% 19.6% 68
    Kittitas, Klickitat, Skamania, and Yakima Counties 29 0.0% 13.8% 2
    Pierce County 74 1.4% 15.2% 7
    Snohomish County 67 20.9% 12.4% 9
    Spokane County 56 3.6% 13.9% 5
United States 87,700 3.6% 5.2% 8,400

National employment

Major employers:

National outlook

Demand for chemists is expected to grow about as fast as average. Job opportunities are expected to be best in drug and biotechnology firms. Many companies are partnering with small research and testing companies to help cut costs. Demand should be strong in small research and development companies. Chemists will be needed to find ways to reduce pollution and clean up existing waste sites. Research into alternative energy sources should also increase demand.

Job prospects are best for chemists with advanced degrees.

Other resources

Alpha Chi Sigma (external link)
6296 Rucker Road, Suite B
Indianapolis, IN 46220
American Association of Cereal Chemists International (external link)
3340 Pilot Knob Road
St. Paul, MN 55121
American Association of Pharmaceutical Scientists (external link)
2107 Wilson Boulevard, Suite 700
Arlington, VA 22201
American Chemical Society (external link)
1155 Sixteenth Street NW
Washington, DC 20036
American Chemistry Council (external link)
700 Second Street NE
Washington, DC 20002
American Coatings Association (external link)
1500 Rhode Island Avenue NW
Washington, DC 20005
American Oil Chemists Society (external link)
PO Box 17190
Urbana, IL 61803-7190
American Society for Biochemistry and Molecular Biology (external link)
11200 Rockville Pike
Ste 302
Rockville, MD 20852-3110
Chemistry Careers (external link)
Council for Agricultural Science and Technology (external link)
4420 West Lincoln Way
Ames, IA 50014
Nanooze (external link)
National Academy of Sciences Interviews (external link)
National Nanotechnology Initiative (external link)
National Science Foundation (external link)
2415 Eisenhower Avenue
Alexandria, Virginia 2231
Parenteral Drug Association (external link)
Bethesda Towers
4350 East West Highway, Suite 600
Bethesda, MD 20814
Science Careers (external link)
Society of Plastics Engineers (external link)
100 Reserve Rd, Suite B310
Danbury, CT 06810
Technology Student Association (external link)
1904 Association Drive
Reston, VA 20191-1540
Washington State Science & Engineering Fair (external link)


Career cluster

Career path

O*Net (external link) occupation

O*Net job zone (external link)

DOT occupations

Strong Interest Inventory

Holland occupational cluster