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Lab Chemist: Salary, Duties and Outlook

Lab chemists require some formal education. Learn about the education, job duties and employment outlook to see if a career in chemistry is right for you.

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While a bachelor's degree in chemistry is required to work as a chemist, in order to advance in the field a master's or doctoral degree is often needed. Popular industries that employ chemists include the federal government, research and development, and pharmaceutical manufacturing.

Essential Information

Lab chemists analyze chemicals and create new compounds that are useful in many aspects of human life. Research and testing are crucial job duties. A bachelor's degree in chemistry is the minimum education required for this job, though some research positions require a graduate degree. Job opportunities in the coming years may also be better for those with advanced degrees, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.

Required Education Bachelor's degree at minimum; master's degree or Ph.D. for advancement
Projected Job Growth (2014-2024)* 3% for all chemists
Average Salary (2015)* $77,860 for all chemists

Source: *U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics

Lab Chemist Salary

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), chemists in general earned a mean annual wage of $77,860 as of May 2015 (www.bls.gov). The highest paying industries for chemists at that time were petroleum product wholesalers, oil and gas extraction and the Federal Executive Branch, all of which paid more than $100,000. Scientific research and development services, pharmaceutical and medicine manufacturing, and architectural and engineering services employed the most chemists by a wide margin. If utilizing median salary statistics, the highest-paid ten percent of chemists earned $125,450 or more in 2015, while the lowest brought home less than $41,110.

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Lab Chemist Duties

Lab chemists analyze chemical compounds and use the information they discover to find new applications for those chemicals, with the ultimate goal of improving our quality of life. They work in a number of industries, such as pharmaceuticals or petrochemicals. However, their general task remains constant: to closely study and test all sorts of compounds to figure out their composition, as well as to discover potential uses for those compounds. They set up tests, direct other employees on how to carry those tests out, and then compile the results. Lab chemists write reports on their findings and share them with other scientists in their team in order to push their research forward.

In their jobs, chemists work with a lot of complex equipment. Besides operating said equipment, they must maintain it as well, making technological troubleshooting part of a chemist's job. In addition, much scientific lab work is carried out with computers, making the understanding and able operation of modern technology essential for chemists.

Lab Chemist Outlook

The BLS reports that jobs for chemists are projected to grow 3% between 2014 and 2024, a slower-than-average rate of growth for all occupations. This is due mostly to declining employment at chemical manufacturing companies as they outsource their research and development to specialized firms or other countries. Job opportunities are better for chemists with advanced degrees, who tend to take positions as senior researchers or in upper management. Chemists with bachelor's degrees, on the other hand, can become teachers or technicians, or they might find assistant research jobs at smaller companies.

Chemists can find job prospects in developing industries. For instance, they'll be in demand with employers in the field of biotechnology, which studies, among other things, human genetics. Research into alternative energy sources and cleaner manufacturing processes also provides fertile job grounds. Similarly, quality control in chemical manufacturing will continue to be an important source of employment for those in the chemical profession.

In addition to spending much of their time in a laboratory, chemists are tasked with handling and maintaining complex equipment. Depending on the industry and the type of work being performed, a chemist's salary varies significantly and an advanced degree can greatly increase employability.

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