Process Chemist Job Description
In the pharmaceutical industry, medicinal chemists synthesize chemical compounds on the milligram scale to develop active pharmaceutical ingredients that can be safely administered to patients. Process chemists take their work and scale it up so that it can be tested and produced in large quantities for commercial production.
The primary role of a process chemist is to identify impurities and troubleshoot problems that might not have been visible when small quantities were produced in the lab. They are also charged with determining the cost-effectiveness and safety of synthetic routes. Most process chemists work primarily in laboratory settings, but many also spend time in manufacturing plants where their work is implemented.
Process Chemist Duties and Responsibilities
While a process chemist's day-to-day duties and responsibilities are determined by where they work, there are many core tasks associated with the role. Based on our analysis of job listings, these include:
Develop Synthetic Routes
Process chemists scale up reactions to develop synthetic routes for large-scale commercial use. The synthetic plans must be cost-effective and comply with regulations established by government organizations, such as the Food and Drug Administration, the Environmental Protection Agency, and the Occupational Safety and Health Administration.
Improve Existing Processes
Process chemists analyze existing processes and look for indicators of problems with system performance. They recommend various actions to improve environmental safety, lower costs, and maximize production based on company goals.
Conduct Environmental Research
Environmental research is a critical component of process chemistry. Most process chemists conduct their own environmental research and audits to determine how pollutants are distributed and the ways in which industrial effluents can be reduced and controlled. This often involves conducting ambient air tests, stack emission tests, and other forms of assessment.
Process chemists design experiments, use modeling software, and create simulations to determine how process changes and variable manipulation will impact final products. They monitor reaction processes and then identify ranges for operational parameters.
Collaborate with Other Professionals
It takes many people to move synthesis from a milligram scale to the manufacturing scale. Process chemists collaborate with other chemists, including medicinal chemists, factory chemists, and cross-functional teams, to research, develop, and test processes, controls, and projects.
Process Chemist Skills and Qualifications
Process chemists need theoretical and practical knowledge to scale up reactions and make recommendations related to process improvement and synthetic routes. Many employers prefer candidates with a chemistry degree and the following skills:
- Chemistry knowledge – process chemists have a thorough understanding of organic and inorganic substances; they are familiar with chemical composition, structure, and properties, and can predict how chemicals interact with each other
- Mathematic ability – knowledge of algebra, geometry, calculus, and statistics is required to perform the chemical, cost, and scalability calculations associated with process chemistry
- Process improvement – process chemists use knowledge of safety standards, quality control, and green chemistry to analyze data sets and troubleshoot existing processes for the purposes of improvement
- Research experience – familiarity with the scientific method is required to formulate research questions, hypotheses, and experiments. Process chemists use research skills to locate, collect, and validate data related to processing cost, safety, and practicality
- Technical communication skills – process chemists use their exceptional written and verbal communication skills to present complex technical information to internal and external audiences with diverse backgrounds
Tools of the Trade
Process chemists often use the following tools in the course of their work:
- Basic laboratory equipment and glassware (Bunsen burners, beakers, test tubes)
- Gas chromatography and liquid chromatography systems
- Spectroscopy systems (MS, atomic absorption, atomic emission)
- Process analyzers
- Modeling software
Process Chemist Education and Training
Process chemists typically have at least a bachelor's degree in chemistry, chemical engineering, or a related field. Senior positions commonly require a master's degree or PhD in a chemistry-related field as well as several years of work experience in process chemistry. Licensure and certification are not required, but hands-on experience is crucial in this occupation. Many process chemists complete an internship or on-the-job training before taking on major responsibilities.
Process Chemist Salary and Outlook
According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), process chemists earn a median annual wage of $75,000. The highest-paid chemists (in the top 10 percent) earn more than $153,000, while the lowest-paid chemists (in the bottom 10 percent) earn less than $56,000. Process chemists often receive additional compensation in the form of benefits, such as insurance, paid vacation, retirement options, and performance bonuses.
The BLS is projecting 7 percent growth in this occupation through 2026 due to the increasing demand for pharmaceutical manufacturing. Opportunities are expected to be best for process chemists with advanced degrees, work experience, and knowledge of green chemistry.
Want to learn more about working as a process chemist? This list of resources will help you master key chemistry skills and learn more about the occupation:
American Chemical Society – the world's largest scientific society, the ACS is a global organization that facilitates connections between professional chemists. It also offers education and career resources, peer-reviewed scientific journals, and industry news
Practical Process Research and Development: A Guide for Organic Chemists – written by Neal G. Anderson, PhD, a process chemist with two decades of experience in chemical process research and development in the pharmaceutical industry, this textbook explains how chemical compounds go from the research stage to market. Readers learn how to solve process development problems and get insight into the role of green chemistry in the development of synthetic routes
Green Chemistry Metrics: A Guide to Determining and Evaluating Process Greenness – this green chemistry guide was written by Dr. Andrew Dicks and Andrei Hent, two organic chemists with an interest in the practical applications of green chemistry. The book covers green chemistry metrics, including process mass intensity, atom economy, reaction mass efficiency, and E factor, and explains how green chemistry principles can be applied to industrial chemistry