What It's Like Being a Chemist

Chemists Talk About Their Job

What is it like being a chemist? Most chemists enjoy the work, but many feel the pay is low and it's hard to find a good position.
What is it like being a chemist? Most chemists enjoy the work, but many feel the pay is low and it's hard to find a good position. Glow Images, Inc, Getty Images

Have you ever wondered what it's like being a chemist? Here, real chemists share their job experience, including the pros and cons of working in chemistry. I asked chemists to address the following questions about the career so that someone thinking about becoming a chemist could make an informed decision.

  1. What type of chemist are you?
  2. What do you do as a chemist?
  3. What is the best/worst part of your job?
  1. What training did you need? Was it easy/difficult to find a job as a chemist?
  2. Are you happy being a chemist? Why?
  3. What advice would you give someone interested in chemist?

Keep in mind, some respondents come from non-English-speaking countries. The poll was taken in 2014. Here are their answers:

thinking about change major

I am coming from top 5 Chinese univ. and I did internship at senior year. I am a synthesis intern. From what I learned, there are a lot of jobs in the market, many new pharm companies. But the problem is the payment is very low (3k RMB in Nanjing. too low to survive in the city, but the company is in the poor area of the city, living standards are low) and the working condition is really bad, and working hours are long. One group member left the company because of health reasons, the doc warned him. I applied to US school then. It is nice to study aboard with stipend, but it is not enough to live in the city.

It seems like chem job in US is impossible, and I certainly don't wanna go back china to work in chem job. So I am thinking about changing majors to biostatistics, CS or business. really struggling now.

—chineseStudent

2014 and the job market is still bad.

So many of the chemistry jobs are low paid contract positions with no job security.

Most chemistry majors are not working in a lab or even in science. They are managers, sales people, regulatory, etc. In many companies at some point you are deemed "Too old" to be working in a lab and no one will hire you, and the branding of "Too old" is now about 35 years old. Sometimes even younger. Or you have low paid new grads as lab techs to do all the actual lab work while you sit in meetings all day and work 60 hour weeks. And businesses are all about profit and market share, not actual R&D or science. It's sad sad sad....

—Unemployed/Underemployed

Found a Job

I have graduated from a university with a Bsc in Chemistry in 2013. After four months, I was able to find a job although not a good pay but I still want to continue with chemistry related job because am working as a Petroleum Officer. I am looking forward to develop my career in chemistry as I aspire to be a Chemical Engineer.

—Sulayman Camara

Life ruined

I studied hard for 8 years straight only to find that there are absolutely no jobs anywhere. Ive been applying for jobs as a chemist for the last 3 years and haven't found anything, im still in debt from school loans and wonder why I ever went into this field. I now work 2 jobs, one at burger king and another shoveling dog sh** at a kennel.

I cry myself to sleep most nights.

—My life is over

Poor choice of career

My suggestion to anyone want to get into this field is that - STAY AWAY from chemistry. I graduated with a MS in chemistry back in 2007 and worked in several chem and pharma companies. I can tell you that 90% of people I worked with, including me regretted going into this field and I have yet met a person likes working with chemicals. Chemistry is over-saturated and underpaid. As an analytical chemist you will get around 30k to 45k. if you have a PhD and don't mind risk you life to work with explosive chemical reactions then you can get 45K to 70K. The reality is that there are just too many candidates available in the job market and many of them are PhD. There are no job security in this field. Many big company already moved their RD and manufacturing facility to Asia and they rarely offer perm position to technical positions.

I've seen too many people ordered to leave the company without a minute notice because they are on contract.

—Peter L

Tough but worked out so far

I recently received my Ph.D. in organic chemistry (top 35 school). I had to work very hard for a long time including a 1 year industrial post doc. Now I work at the same company as a process chemist synthesizing active pharmaceutical ingredients. The pay is >80,000.00 and I love my job. It was very hard to find a job after my Ph.D. and I sent resumes all over the country. I love my job now and have even received calls from recruiters for other job opportunities. I think the job market is competitive and the supply is greater than the demand at the BS/MS level. I had a low paying temp job with my BS in chemistry before I decided to go to grad school. I think if your going to work as a chemist get your Ph.D. The work is more interesting and the pay is better. Also there are so many BS/MS chemists one of the best ways to beat the competition is to get your PhD. BS/MS chemists use to have more opportunity for advancement but now the job market seems saturated with them.

—Organic chemist

lab chemist

water and chemical testing lab jobs i am over all 5.5 years experience in this field

—kalaiselvi.c

lab chemist

im palanivel working as a lab chemist for testing of water samples from all over india, around 4 years of exp and graduate in chemistry

—palanivel

Graduate in 2004

I love chemistry...Its really fun and challenging...but only in terms of theories...working in lab sucks!!!

long hours sometimes until midnight depends on experiment...underpaid...but that's not the main concern...i realize my health deteriorate significantly...lab work makes me dizzy...

—K

No jobs

As a synthetic organic chemist with a PhD, 4 patents and a bunch of papers, 15 years of research, I am now a self-employed cleaner in Melbourne, Australia. If I had completed pharmacy, instead of doing my PhD, and wasting my time in medicinal chemistry I would be having a job now with at least some chemistry.

—Ada

Just got laid off, again!

I got a job working in a chemistry lab, entry level Research Associate, early this year. Just got a pink slip and was told my last day is May 28th. I graduated in 2008 and I have gone through a series of odd jobs, low paying gigs, just to get by. Chemistry is the worst Degree you can get, so much time and effort spent in class for nothing. If I knew I was gonna be jobless pursuing science, I would have taken a lighter route and studied Business instead. All these undergraduate students running around blogging about the "marvelous potential" of chemistry career, parroting corporate propaganda is very annoying. I hope younger chemists can learn from older chemists' mistakes and take a different approach to choosing careers.

—Jobless Chemist

If you haven't finished, you don't know.

Anyone who is still an undergrad is not qualified to speak on the state of the industry. You don't know what it's like, so stop acting like you do. We all liked chemistry in our undergrad years, but the reality of chemistry very different.

You all think it's "fun" and "challenging" when your experiments aren't working because you're "learning". If someone is paying for your research and you're under pressure to perform, it's not "fun" to fail. You spend most of your time writing grants, reading papers and getting walked over. When you're not doing that, you're dealing with idealistic students telling you "Chemistry is for smart intelligent people- there are no limits to what you can do! Education, skill, and ambition- Use it.". You don't know, so shut up. I can't wait until you get into the real world and are back head posting the same stuff as everyone else.

—Be quiet students

chemistry is leaving the states

I graduated with a BS in chemistry with a 3.89 gpa in 2010. I struggled to find a job. Everyone said I didn't have enough experience. I only had one interview and I got lucky they offered it to me as I was leaving the interview. I made 51K last year. My company just bought a lab overseas in India. They are opening a lab that does the exact same thing that we do but the cost will be a 1/3 of ours. I applied to a MBA program in the fall. Even though I love science and chemistry I just don't think there is a future in the USA for it.

—wvchemist

It's not a place for a career

I am a recent graduate with an undergraduate degree in chemistry. Unlike most i was fortunate that during my summers I worked in a commercial analytical laboratory. It was miserable, no one seemed to enjoy themselves and many were looking for other avenues of employment. I personally struggled with it myself. It had approximately 20 employees 10 of whom I'm still great friends with of those ten five remained and five returned to school for something unrelated or medical professions. I myself saw the job prospects early and balked, after discussing with my family I decided to go back and do my MBA I start in about a month and a half and my job prospects look infinitesimally larger, I've already had a family friend offer me a well paid position upon graduation. To all those suggesting it's easy to find a job it's not. Chemistry Is merely a stepping stone and Id never advocate doing a Chemistry degree and stopping there many of my friends who are also graduating are following my route.

—Donewithchem

Still can't find a job

I am a fairly recent graduate (2010) with a BSc in Chemistry. I cannot get a job in Chemistry to save my life, despite having been trying continually for the last two years. I do have a job as a Radiological Controls Technician at a Naval shipyard, which pays decently and is a stable job, but I would much rather be working as a chemist. I love science and don't care about money, and chemistry is a great field. It breaks my heart to read all these posts from people working as lab techs whining about low pay and poor job security- I would do anything to be in their shoes! Anyways, I guess what I am trying to say advice-wise is this: don't go into chemistry if you're out to make money, because there isn't any to be made.

—Aspiring Chemist

Working as a Research Chemist

I finished a PhD recently, and am now in a post-doctoral position. Furthermore, I am in Australia, and I notice that in this place we tend to get paid substantially more as Postdocs than in many other countries, such as the US. I have thoroughly enjoyed the whole research process, and the process of putting together journal articles for publication. I can understand that for those in industrial settings, the job market can be particularly volatile. The situation in academia is of course not much better if you are not able to come up with novel research and dedicate the time necessary to put out high-impact articles. However, personally, I enjoy the intellectual stimulation and I will try to do as much as I can for as long as I can.

—OxathiazoleChemist

MD

BS BIOCHEMISTRY 1968, NO JOB OFFERS SO WENT TO GRAD SCHOOL, THEN NO JOB SO WENT TO MED SCHOOL...MANY PHYSICIANS WERE CHEMISTS, OR BIOCHEMISTS , NO JOBS SO MEDICINE IS A GOOD ENDPOINT FOR A CHEMIST....TRY TO ALSO GET PRE MED COURSES DONE AS PREREQUIRED..MY DAD WAS ALSO A CHEMIST BS BERKELEY, ENDED UP WORKING FOR THE STATE OF CALIFORNIA IN WATER POLLUTION REGULATION... SO CHEMISTRY IS JUST THE FIRST STEP, YOUR FINAL CAREER IS SOMEWHAT DIFFERENT, BUT THE CHEMISTRY BACKGROUND PERMITS YOUR ABILITY TO ENTER ANOTHER FIELD. BEST OF LUCK, ROBIN TRUMBULL,MD

—DRTRUMBULL

Other Options

I have a BSc honours in physical chemistry. After struggling to get a job in the field, I eventually found a job writing and developing high school science resources. I am loving my job and get paid well. Yes, the job market sucks and it is a harsh environment but if you love it, stick with it. So my advice would be to consider other things that use your knowledge. And I would strongly urge all prospective chemists to learn about technology and learn to program or major in both computer science and chemistry. That really widens your field of possible jobs. Chemistry is not dead, we just need to get with the program and adapt to the brave new world of technology. There is so much more we can still do with this incredible and fascinating field but we need to accept that technology is part of it now.

—Heather

Forget about It!

Just another voice to add to the choir from a mid-career PhD. If you are interested in chemistry and it is your passion, by all means pursue it as a hobby. But don't expect to make a career out of it, gain respect, and/or provide adequately and steadily for a family.

—Forget about it!

chemistry sucks

I have a Bsc in Chemistry and still can not find a decent job, if I had known better I would never have majored in chemistry.

—annoyed chemist

Senior Chemist

Quality and Quality assurance chemist last 20 years i am working in petrochemical companies as a technical consult as well as QC & QA and R & D departments in sophisticated laboratory

—Mohammed Iqbal

Job Market is Terrible

I graduated last year with a BS in Chemistry with a 3.8 GPA, and so far for a year straight I've been looking for a decent paying job that pays more than my current job. So far it's a no go....beginning to get frustrated, and may just go back and get my PhD in Chemical Engineering. With student loan companies wanting their money, and no jobs to be found, that's about my only choice.

—Aphyd

Don't bother at all. Chemistry is dead

I am a chemist, I have a B.S. and an M.S. with thesis from one of the top schools in this country (consistently ranked #1 for its masters program). I have worked at a multinational and I can tell you that chemistry is dead. If you are in school, study engineering or computer science. Do not waste your time. People do not appreciate chemistry. The value is on engineering or computer programming. The era of materials and chemistry-driven research on a scale to support newly graduates or mid-career individuals is over. I have been laid off two to three times and that's with awards, patents, publications, etc... from these companies. The bottom line is that it's all about applied science (engineering) or computers (programming). I have over 5 years of experience and I would tell you, not do it. It's wasteful.

—wish I knew better

Not a good career at all.

Well as of 2012 I can say that I have actually been offered jobs however they paid around 35-40k a year. On the other hand my part-time job that I had as an undergraduate is paying me now as full time 50-65k at a manufacturing plant (last year I made 50k and only worked 9 months). I have been looking for a job that will pay 50k and have steady day hours, so far its being a fail. I don't know if I will ever find such job. When I talk to my undergraduate friends who are working in chem it is clear that I am doing much better than they are. Don't go into chemistry, from what i hear grad school is a waste of time for most people too.

—2010 Graduate

working as a chemist

Hi, Chemistry is a very interesting subject to study. All branches of Chemistry are more or less related to one another, so the more you know, the better you understand. As for jobs, it all depends on what one likes best. Personally, I was lucky to work in the marketing of Chemicals to industry. Here the sky is the limit because Chemicals find use in so many industries. See how many Chemicals are used in the paint industry as an example. Blending scientific background with modern management practices is a formula for success.

—a.haddad

Student vs Working Perspective

I'll remind the student that there is a big difference between sitting in a classroom, being amazed by the possibilities of chemistry and actually attempting to make a living from it. The negativity comes from those who ARE in the field APPLYING chemistry. Notice the title of this thread "Working as a Chemist"? We all loved our undergrad years, but the simple fact is that the industrial chemistry profession in the U.S. actually decreased by 2% according to the ACS. When you get a job, work for years, survive waves of layoffs and the get told you're overqualified for much of anything out there, come back to the thread and let us know how you coped with it all. Most of us were as optimistic about this profession as any undergrad. Then we graduated into reality.

—WorkingChemist

A lot of Negativity for "Intelligence"

FYI the job market sucks for everyone- Not just Chemists. Good luck comes to those who work hard. Maybe if you were more positive, you would have better job experience. Either love what you do or do something else. Quit Blaming everything else but your own ambition. Chemistry is for smart intelligent people- there are no limits to what you can do! Education, skill, and ambition- Use it.

—Chemistry Student

Chemistry

I graduated with my BS chemistry in 2007 started out as production chemist around $50,000. I chose to go back and get my MS Chemistry while working (employer payed most of it) and in 2011 I graduated and took a new job as a process chemist at $85,000. I love my job, it is fast paced and steady. I have seen very little turn around in chemists, but lab techs come and go pretty quick. Overall I would definitely recommend it as a profession. Only big downside is there are not many women chemists on the industrial side, and at any plant/ refinery safety is always a slight compromise.

—MS Chemist

very happy to say i am a chemist

really i am very happy to say i am a chemist, i have faced so many problems to stand as a chemist in a field of chemical. i think that chemistry is evergreen.

—swathi

Chemistry was a waste of money for me

I wanted to post here just so that people can read, understand, and hopefully not make the same mistakes I did. I graduated with a BS degree in 2005 and even STILL am battling constant layoffs and unemployment. It's really a horrible economy out there for us Chemists. I decided against Graduate school because I just didn't have the passion for it. I worked low paying job after job and gained a lot of industry experience. At the beginning I thought that I would just work my way up, but after about 7 years I'm unemployed yet again after being laid off. At every job I'm always thought of highly, 'wow you're the best temp we've ever had' It doesn't matter I still get laid off and not hired. Whatever you do do not major in chemistry, and if you are considering graduate school unless you can get into one of the best, say f*** it. I repeat it's a sh*tty career and job.

—ChemDude

contractor

Would you please add another loser chemist here? With PhD in polymer chemistry as well as 2 years of postdoc. What I can do is short contract as a technician. BTW, I have no way to renew my membership of chemistry.

—yoho

chemistry and good jobs?

It was a great punishment that God gave to me_BSc Chemistry. chemistry! chemistry!!

—oli

Has worked out for me

I have a BS in chemistry and started my first job as a process chemist in 2005 making $42,000/yr. From 2007-2010 I did QC work for the same company. I took a job with a different company in 2011 and have been doing primarily ingredient preparation. For me, this consists of formulation, production of different blends, syntheses, and some minor mechanical maintenance. Counting bonuses, I grossed over $70,000 in 2011. I have worked under PhD chemists who make 6 figures a year. My short term objective at this point is to obtain my MS in chemistry. I have applied for Fall 2012 semester and will find out my acceptance status in May 2012. Obviously, due to the job market, employment will be tight but that is true for most job types. Some people will find success and others will not. This should go without saying.

—Chemist81

Dead end career

I have 15 years of synthetic chemistry experience, including process development and medicinal chemistry, I am published and have numerous patents. Our chemistry department was cut and outsourced. I now work as an analytical chemist, treated like a slave for 2/3 of what I used to make, in a job that is not intellectually stimulating in any way. I was lucky to get a job of any sort, synthetic jobs are impossible to find unless you want to move to India or China. My former coworkers have struggled to get interviews and are still unemployed. I agree with the poster that stated chemistry is dead in the USA.

—formersyntheticchemist

Chemistry is powerless

Chemists are indeed smart but businesses treat them like very smart fools. The person just saying chemists can get a job anywhere clearly has no idea how the job market works. The only way a chemist can switch careers is to go back to school which is financially difficult or hide their degree and take a blue collar job. I took the police exam because at this point that would be a huge improvement. Many chemists like myself are trapped and unable to escape the never ending abuse and exploitation by companies who treat them worse than unskilled labor.

—MSChemist

*There was not space here for all the responses submitted by chemists, but I have posted additional replies on my personal blog, so you may read them all and post your own opinion.

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Helmenstine, Anne Marie, Ph.D. "What It's Like Being a Chemist." ThoughtCo, Jun. 26, 2015, thoughtco.com/what-its-like-being-a-chemist-606123. Helmenstine, Anne Marie, Ph.D. (2015, June 26). What It's Like Being a Chemist. Retrieved from https://www.thoughtco.com/what-its-like-being-a-chemist-606123 Helmenstine, Anne Marie, Ph.D. "What It's Like Being a Chemist." ThoughtCo. https://www.thoughtco.com/what-its-like-being-a-chemist-606123 (accessed November 22, 2017).