The cosmetics you put on your face, the yogurt you eat from a cup and the fuel you put in your car are all infused with chemicals. With a job in chemistry, you can examine, toy around with, and develop the substances that make up nearly everything you use in daily life.
If you’re into basic science and research, then a career as a chemist fits you. With this profession, you check out and test the properties of different substances to create and improve products and processes. You may work in teams with other scientists or tell technicians what to do. You also show off your findings to colleagues in conferences or announce scientific scoops in journals. You need at least a bachelor’s degree in chemistry or materials science to enter this profession. Many employers demand a doctorate if you want to go into pure research.
The American Chemical Society lists more than 30 specialties having to do with chemistry. For example, organic chemists focus on compounds containing carbons, such as petroleum, proteins and DNA. Their work finds its way into such industries as plastics, fuels, pharmaceuticals and cosmetics. Food chemists look for ways to keep food tasty by looking at processing, preservation, storage, packaging and distribution. Inorganic chemists concentrate on compounds that do not have carbon, such as metals. They focus on how inorganic elements can be isolated or used; they are employed in industries including mining, microchips and education.
As a chemical engineer, you turn science dreams into practical reality by creating equipment and methods that solve problems in chemistry. You find better ways of manufacturing such products as medicines, food, plastic and clothes. Your projects come about in meetings with factory managers and production staff. With their say-so, you can then estimate the cost of any changes, carry out plans, lay out and test machines, and monitor what happens to make sure everything works. You need at least a bachelor’s degree in chemical engineering, although a master’s degree turns on many employers, especially if you want to go into management. A professional engineer’s license can help with the job hunt. It mandates an accredited education, work experience and passing two exams.
If you want to get into chemistry but don’t have the time for a four-year undergraduate degree, then become a chemical technician. The job only needs two years of college training until you get an associate degree in chemical technology or applied science. Your employer then bulks up your skills on the job. As a chemical technician, you work under chemists or chemical engineers to set up equipment and tests, watch over chemical processes and experiments, and record test results. You report what you see by preparing technical reports, charts or presentations for your supervisors or company bigwigs.
- U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics: What Chemists and Materials Scientists Do
- American Chemical Society: Careers in Chemistry
- American Chemical Society: Organic Chemistry
- American Chemical Society: Food and Flavor Chemistry
- American Chemical Society: Inorganic Chemistry
- U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics: What Chemical Engineers Do
- U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics: What Chemical Technicians Do
- Ryan McVay/Photodisc/Getty Images