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How to Become a Chemist

How to Become a Chemist
Bachelor's degree

The majority of materials scientists and chemists work in laboratory settings. These careers require a minimum of a bachelor's degree in chemistry or a related subject. Those wishing to pursue many research jobs require a Ph.D. or a master's degree.

Education & Training

Entry-level chemist jobs typically require a bachelor's degree in chemistry or a similar field. Materials scientists may hold a degree in materials science; however, it is common for these scientists to have a degree in engineering, physics, or chemistry. Significant levels of work experience are necessary for certain jobs. Having a master's degree or a Ph.D. is important. Typically, materials scientists with postdoctoral experience and or those with Ph.D.s often lead teams dedicated to applied and basic research.

Numerous universities and colleges offer chemistry degree programs. Certain programs have a focus in materials science; however, the number of programs is slowly increasing. Some engineering schools now offer joint degrees in engineering and materials science.

It is common for undergraduate chemistry majors to take courses in physical chemistry, organic chemistry, analytical and inorganic chemistry. Additional classes include: physics, biological sciences and mathematics. Computer courses are important since materials scientists and chemists rely on computer skills to perform simulation and modeling tasks. They have to be capable of operating computerized lab equipment and be confident manipulating and managing databases.

Any laboratory experience gained via internships, through university or college, work-study programs, and fellowships is helpful. It is common for graduate students studying chemistry to focus within a subfield such as inorganic chemistry or analytical chemistry. Individuals interested in conducting pharmaceutical research often develop a distinct background in organic or medicinal chemistry.

Skills and Qualities that will Help

Analytical Skills: Precise studies and scientific experiments are conducted by materials scientists and chemists on a regular basis. Since errors could devastate their research, they need to be precise in their analysis.

Communication Skills: Materials scientists and chemists need to communicate with other scientists and team members. They need to be able to give presentations and read and write technical reports.

Critical-thinking Skills: Constantly evaluating their own work as well as others is necessary to determine if their results are accurate and based on factual science.

Mathematical Skills: Materials scientists and chemists commonly rely on formulas and complex mathematical equations; therefore, a wide understanding of statistics, calculus, algebra and mathematics is vital.

Organizational Skills: Materials scientists and chemists must record processes in order to document that industry procedures and regulations are being followed. Workplace disorganization can lead to chemical spills, equipment damage, personal injury and legal problems.

Problem-Solving Skills: Materials scientists and chemists conduct research in order to create new and improved materials, chemical products and procedures. A great amount of time is spent dealing with trial and error until a feasible solution is discovered.

How To Advance

Chemists often receive more independence and responsibility within their work as experience is gained. Further education often leads to enhanced responsibility. It is common for Ph.D. chemists to have control over the content and direction of projects and lead research teams. Some materials scientists and chemists choose to become natural sciences managers.