Become a Chemistry Informatics Specialist: Career Guide

Learn about the education and preparation needed to become a chemistry informatics specialist. Get a quick view of the requirements as well as details about schooling, job duties and the steps necessary to build a career.

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Becoming a chemistry informatics specialist requires significant devotion to postsecondary education and typically involves earning a bachelor's degree with primary coursework in chemistry and computer science subjects. Gaining research experience and completing a 3-6 year doctoral degree program in chemistry or informatics are important steps in preparing for this career. Many chemistry informatics specialists eventually find work in areas such as academic or governmental research or within a pharmaceutical company.

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Essential Information

Chemistry informatics, also called cheminformatics, is a cross-disciplinary field that involves using computer modeling and data accumulation of the chemical and reactive properties of molecules to develop and understand new biological mechanisms and drug interactions. Chemistry informatics is a cutting edge area of research; a career in the field generally requires a Ph.D.

Required Education A Ph.D. in Chemistry or Informatics is typically required
Projected Job Growth (2014-2024)* 3% (for chemists)
Median Annual Salary (May 2015)* $71,260 (for chemists)

Source: *U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics

Step 1: Earn a Bachelor's Degree

Chemistry informatics is a blend of computer science and chemistry; taking coursework in both areas can provide a strong foundation for students interested in this career field. A bachelor's degree program in chemistry, computer science or a closely related field, such as chemical physics, can include courses integral to the discipline, including organic and physical chemistry, physics and computer programming.

Step 2: Obtain Research Experience

Students interested in research careers should work on building their research portfolio early in their educational program, both to make their graduate school application more competitive and to see if research is the right career choice. Most 4-year research universities offer undergraduate research opportunities both in the summer and during the school year; whether the student gets paid for his or her time or earns research credits, he or she will have documented research experience.

Step 3: Enroll in a Doctoral Degree Program

Ph.D. programs in chemistry or informatics are 3-6 years in length. The programs consist of several years of coursework, several years of original research in the subject and a dissertation on that research. Coursework can include advanced computer modeling, information systems and computational chemistry. Students in Ph.D. programs often teach undergraduate lecture or laboratory classes, in addition to their other duties. Doctoral degrees are generally awarded after candidates defend their dissertations in front of a panel of faculty who specialize in the subject matter.

Step 4: Find a Position as a Chemistry Informatics Specialist

Chemistry informatics specialists can find work at universities as research faculty, at government research institutions and at commercial companies, such as pharmaceutical companies. University faculty have administrative, teaching and management duties in addition to their research, but they have the most autonomy in choosing the focus of their lab. Researchers working at commercial companies generally have less choice in what they are researching, but they are able to spend more time on research and less on other duties, such as teaching.

In May 2015, the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) reported that the median annual salary for chemists, including cheminformatics professionals, was $71,260. The BLS expects that jobs for chemists will grow at a slower-than-average pace of 3% over the 2014-2024 decade.

Gaining research experience and building a portfolio before applying for a Ph.D. program might help to increase one's chances of acceptance, and research opportunities are often available in both summer and during the school year. Ph.D. programs involve years of research and writing a related dissertation, with studies often involving subjects like computational chemistry and advanced computer modeling. Chemistry informatics specialists generally have more freedom to choose what they will research when they find employment within an academic institution, as opposed to those who work for a commercial enterprise.

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