What Do Chemists Do?

"I just finished up high school chemistry and I thought it was really cool. There’s so much more to learn, and I think it’d be awesome to major in chemistry in college. What would I do with that kind of degree for a living? What do chemists do all day? Are there a lot of different types of chemistry jobs?"

asked by Angela from Providence, RI

Chemistry is such a fundamental form of science that knowledge of chemistry is useful in all different industries. There are so many jobs for chemists with very diverse job descriptions. Chemists may specialize in engineering, pharmaceutical research, agriculture, food, geochemistry, waste management, textiles, sales, or one of any number of other applications.

Using their knowledge of matter on the atomic level, chemists are able to research existing materials and even create new materials from scratch. The more we know about the natural world, the more empowered we are to create useful solutions for human life. Some chemists concentrate more on the theoretical aspects of science, working with models and developing new theories. Others work on applying those theories and models in the lab, conducting experiments to put chemistry into action. Very few chemists do “pure chemistry,” however—there is typically very little funding for pursuing knowledge for the sake of having it. Almost all professional chemists work in an applied field, and that’s where most “pure chemistry” discoveries take place as well.

Here are some examples of jobs in chemistry:

Quality control chemist

Chemists in this field analyze products and the materials they contain to ensure that they are safe and functional.

Forensic chemist

If you are interested in crime scene investigation, you may find that a scientific degree is the best route into the field. A chemist who works in forensics analyzes a crime scene or drugs to make a determination about what took place, and may testify about the discovery in court.

Pharmaceutical chemist

This type of chemist helps to develop new medical drugs to treat health conditions.

Sales chemist

Some chemists are sales representatives. Their detailed knowledge helps them to effectively promote their company’s solutions to customers and assists them with customer onboarding.

Industrial chemist

You might be involved with research or testing of materials used in industrial products, or you might even be developing new materials from the ground up.

Environmental chemist

This type of chemist goes out into the field to collect and analyze samples which provide information on the health of the environment. Typically these chemists are employed by water purification plants or by government agencies.

Those are just a few examples. There are dozens and dozens of different careers you can enter into with a degree in chemistry. Chemistry, like physics, deals with very fundamental concepts in science, which is why it can easily be applied to numerous aspects of human life. Whether you’re interested in medicine, the environment, criminal justice, industry, or something else altogether, you are bound to find some exciting and well paid opportunities in the field of chemistry.

Career Spotlight: Chemist



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