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Chemist Duties and Responsibilities
Chemists are inquisitive problem solvers. They want to know more about the make-up of various substances in order to expand scientific knowledge, develop new products, and make the world a better place. To this end, chemists perform core duties such as:
Formulating Experiments Chemists come up with detailed, spelled out ways to approach problems. They look at the question they want to answer, such as how a drug might be altered to become more effective. Then, they develop plans for how they will manipulate variables in an orderly way.
Collecting Data From chemical evaluations of water quality to testing how a new type of paint holds up when exposed to sunlight, chemists perform hands-on experiments. They meticulously record the results to build a data set that can be used to look for patterns and draw conclusions.
Writing Reports Chemists doing basic research may summarize their findings in scientific and academic journals so that others in the field can benefit from their findings. Chemists working on applied research write up their discoveries for their employers so that further decisions can be made, such as whether or not a new product is feasible.
Attending Meetings Chemists gather routinely with employers, clients, and fellow workers to discuss projects and results.
Training Seasoned chemists may be responsible for getting new hires up to speed. They also can spend time giving instructions to lab assistants or students who are assisting with particular experiments.
Maintaining Equipment Lab instruments need to be calibrated, cleaned, and sometimes repaired in order to keep working and yield accurate results. Chemists take proper steps to maintain a fruitful, safe workplace.
Chemist SkillsWhen people think of chemists, they often envision scientists alone in a lab conducting experiments. However, working well with others can greatly help a chemist's career since research is often performed in teams. Other skills that are helpful for chemists to possess include:
- Attending to detail so that data is reliable and observations thorough
- Thinking critically to deduce the best way to conduct an experiment or deal with unexpected results
- Writing clearly to report findings to the scientific community as well as to employers and others who may not be as well-versed in chemistry
- Exhibiting curiosity to tackle problems in novel ways
Chemist Education and TrainingChemists need to earn a bachelor's degree in chemistry or a related field. About 20 percent of chemists hold master's degrees, which helps when trying to land a job in research. The roughly 20 percent of chemists who earn a Ph.D. set themselves up as attractive candidates for positions at universities and as leaders of applied-research teams. Post-secondary training usually involves coursework in analytical, organic, inorganic, and physical chemistry, as well as classes in math, physics, and computer science.
Chemist SalaryThe median annual salary for chemists is $73,740. Chemists in the 10th percentile earn about $42,180 a year, and the highest paid make in excess of $129,600 a year. Chemists in the District of Columbia, Maryland, and Virginia make the highest median salaries in the U.S. - $119,800, $108,070 and $95,080, respectively.
Want to learn more about a career as a chemist? These organizations and books offer practical, first-hand insight to assist in your career decisions:
American Chemical Society - ASC's mission is "to advance the broader chemistry enterprise and its practitioners for the benefit of Earth and its people." Its website is filled with a plethora of information, from chemical safety to the molecule of the week. Check out "Explore Chemistry Careers," which features an extensive video section in which chemists answer the question, "What do chemists do?"
ACS Career Navigator - While following the
American Chemical Society on LinkedIn is a great way to stay on top of the discipline, this fast-growing branch group is a go-to place for those looking for information on chemistry careers.
Great Jobs for Chemistry Majors - For those who love chemistry but are unsure how to translate that passion into a career, this book explores a variety of workplace possibilities.
STEM Careers: Chemist - For young readers wondering what chemists do, this full-color book provides plenty of answers through informational interviews with people who actually hold the job.
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