Become a Field Chemist: Education and Career Roadmap

Mar 05, 2020

Research the requirements to become a field chemist. Learn about the job description and duties, and explore the step-by-step process to start a career as a field chemist.

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Should I Become a Field Chemist?

Field chemists are scientists who observe and analyze the physical structure of substances and the reactions that occur when substances come in contact with each other. The data they gather might be used to develop new processes and products for use in medicine, manufacturing, engineering, hazardous waste management, and other industries. Field chemists differ from laboratory chemists in that much of the work they do takes place outside or on work sites. In their daily work, they could encounter some hazardous substances.

Field chemists need analytical, critical-thinking, mathematical, problem-solving, speaking, and writing skills, along with the ability to work with a team. They must also proficient with specialized tools and technology. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, chemists in general earned an annual average salary of $83,850 as of May 2018.

Degree Level Bachelor's for entry-level positions; graduate degree typically required for research work
Degree Field(s) Chemistry or closely related field
Experience 1-5 years
Key Skills Analytical, critical-thinking, mathematical, problem-solving, speaking, and writing skills; teamwork abilities; proficiency with specialized tools and technology
Mean Salary (2018)* $83,850 (for all chemists)

Sources: *U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, O*Net Online

Let's examine the steps required to become a field chemist…

Step 1: Earn a Bachelor's Degree

Like all chemists, field chemists usually need a bachelor's degree in chemistry or a related field for entry-level positions. In addition to taking courses in various areas of chemistry, such as inorganic chemistry and biochemistry, students typically take classes in physics, calculus, computer science, and technical writing.

Success Tip:

  • Choose a specialty. Chemistry is a broad science that encompasses many specialty areas. Field chemists conduct most of their work in such specialty areas as agricultural chemistry, environmental chemistry, hazardous waste management, and water chemistry. Choosing a specialty area can help a student determine which particular courses to take.

Step 2: Gain Experience

Most positions for field chemists require 1-5 years of experience in a field or laboratory setting. Those seeking experience might take part in summer internships, co-ops, and laboratory research projects. Individuals who take advantage of these student employment opportunities might have an advantage when seeking employment after graduation.

Step 3: Earn a Graduate Degree

Although some entry-level positions for field chemists require only an undergraduate degree, research positions might require a master's or doctoral degree. Individuals who continue their studies typically receive more in-depth instruction on a particular specialty concentration. In addition to their classroom work, graduate students in chemistry generally are expected to conduct laboratory research and write a thesis.

Success Tip:

  • Take part in a graduate research program. Graduate students can earn money to pay for tuition and gain experience by working as research assistants at their university. Such positions typically include grading papers and supervising research in undergraduate laboratories. Prospective employers might also count a graduate research assistant's training as work experience.

Step 4: Gain Experience & Education to Advance Your Career

Chemists with several years' experience are often given more complex and challenging responsibilities. For example, senior chemists lead research teams and manage projects; gaining more skills and further specializing through additional education also can open opportunities to advance. With advanced education and managerial experience, chemists might become natural sciences managers.

To recap, field chemists usually need a minimum of a bachelor's degree in chemistry along with experience in a field or laboratory setting.

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