General Background About Chemical Careers

Chemistry is a basic science which applies an understanding of molecular structure and reactivity to the study of substances, whether they are biological, geological, cosmic, or synthetic in origin. Chemists are thus concerned with fundamental causes of transformation in matter and with synthesis and characterization of new substances.

Persons with a knowledge of chemistry have careers in a great variety of industries, research laboratories, and state agencies. A chemistry major with a Bachelor of Science degree may find employment doing routine laboratory work, assisting on a research team, working in product development, or she/he may work in the business-related areas of plant management, marketing or sales.

Typical jobs include:

  • Pharmaceutical chemist
  • Industry, academic, or government chemist
  • Environmental chemist
  • Chemist in food, textile, petroleum, or pesticide product and process development
  • Production chemist
  • Pulp and paper chemist
  • Paint formulation chemist
  • Technical/industrial sales representative

Careers & Employment

Employment Outlook

A very useful piece of information is the annual report by Chemical and Engineering News called the "Employment Outlook." It has information for chemists and chemical engineers on the status and salary levels of relevant fields of occupation. Visit the Chemical & Engineering News Homepage. Chemical and Engineering News is a publication of the American Chemical Society.

ACS Career Information

The American Chemical Society provides various services to its members regarding careers. You can get a feel for the kind of services available to members at the ACS Careers Page. Some of this information is limited to members but you can still browse areas of the web site.

Professional Organizations

The ACS has student affiliate memberships (ACS ) that allow you to take advantage of some of their services. For instance, student affiliates of the ACS receive a subscription to Chemical end Engineering News.

The American Chemical Society (ACS ) was founded in 1876 and is a not-for-profit organization. It is the world's largest scientific society and has a membership of over 155,000 chemists and chemical engineers. The American Chemical Society was chartered by a 1937 Act of the U.S. Congress. The Society is recognized as a world leader in fostering scientific education and research, and promoting public understanding of science

Chemistry Career Fields

There are hundreds of different options for a chemistry graduate. Below are just a small sampling of what is possible with a degree in chemistry. (Information was collected from the American Chemical Society's "Chemical Careers in Brief" brochures.)

  • Agricultural Chemistry
    Agricultural chemistry focuses on chemical compositions and changes involved in the production, protection, and use of crops and livestock. Agricultural chemists perform research projects that cover many fields, including the development of molecules that control weeds or other pests, modifications to molecules so that it works for longer periods of time or at lower dosages, and testing the impact certain chemicals that are used to protect foods have on humans.
  • Analytical Chemistry
    Analytical chemistry is the science of obtaining, processing, and communicating information about the composition and structure of matter. Analytical chemists are generally involved with making measurements using sophisticated state of the art computer controlled instrumentation in many different laboratory settings. Analytical chemists also can play in integral role in quality control.
  • Biochemistry
    Biochemistry is the study of the structure, composition, and chemical reactions of substances in living systems. Biochemists study the chemical components and processes of living systems (plants, insects, viruses, etc.) to explain how and why chemical reactions occur.
  • Biotechnology
    Biotechnology is the application of biological organisms, systems, or processes by various industries to learning about the science of life, and the improvement of the value of organisms and materials such as pharmaceuticals, crops, and livestock. Biotechnologists can work on such projects as cloning, selective breeding techniques, and other specialties.
  • Chemical Information
    Chemical information specialists manage technical information as an occupation. Careers in chemical information can include being a scientific librarian, a technical information specialist, a market researcher, technical publisher, software developer, and more.
  • Chemical Sales and Marketing
    Sales and marketing managers meet with customers and suppliers and work with the scientists in their own firms. They often link the technical staff with its markets.
  • Environmental Chemistry
    Environmental chemists' duties are very diverse. They can work on such projects as colleting and analyzing samples, developing remediation programs, changing production processes to ones that yield a more environmentally friendly product, advising on safety and emergency response, or dealing with government regulation and compliance.
  • Food & Flavor Chemistry
    Food chemistry is the study of the chemistry of foods, their deterioration, and the principles underlying the improvement of foods for the consuming public. Chemists in these fields often look at the properties of proteins, starches, fat, and carbohydrates. Flavor chemists develop flavors which contribute to the overall food system.
  • Forensic Chemistry
    Forensic chemists apply knowledge from diverse disciplines such as chemistry, biology, materials science, and genetics to the analysis of evidence found at crime scenes or on/in the body of a crime suspect. They use a wide range of techniques and instruments such as UV, infrared, x-ray, gas chromatography, HPLC, and thin layer chromatography. The results of their work are often used in police investigations and court trials.
  • Inorganic Chemistry
    Inorganic chemistry is the study of the synthesis and behavior of inorganic (metals, minerals, superconductors, ceramics, and other composites) and organometallic compounds. Their work includes basic research but is more often oriented toward production applications.
  • Medicinal Chemistry
    Medicinal chemistry is the application of chemical research techniques to the synthesis of pharmaceuticals. Medicinal chemists often synthesize new drugs, try to improve the drug making processes, and make drugs safer and more effective.
  • Organic Chemistry
    Organic chemistry is the branch of chemistry that deals with the structure, properties, and reactions of compounds that contain carbon. Organic chemists may design, synthesize, characterize, and develop applications for molecules that contain carbon. Organic chemists often use sophisticated computer-controlled equipment to perform synthesis and characterization, making computer literacy a must!