Polymer Scientist: Job Description, Duties and Requirements

Polymer scientists require significant formal education. Learn about the education and job responsibilities to determine if this is the right career for you.

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Polymer scientists are responsible for building unique materials such as Teflon, Kevlar, and fiberglass. A Ph.D. in polymer science is required for most positions, however some polymer scientists hold a Ph.D. in organic or materials chemistry instead.

Essential Information

Polymer scientists are chemists that manipulate polymers to create useful materials that have unique properties. Scientists generally need a graduate level degree and some work experience to operate in this high-tech industry. Undergraduate work in chemistry followed by graduate work in polymer science, organic or materials chemistry is good preparation.

Required Education Most positions require a Ph.D. in polymer science, organic or materials chemistry
Additional Requirements Research and laboratory experience
Projected Job Growth (2014-2024) 3% for materials scientists*
Average Annual Salary (2015) $94,940 for materials scientists*

Source: *U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics

Polymer Scientist Job Description and Duties

Polymer scientists use chemical polymers to build useful and unique materials such as Kevlar, Teflon, biodegradables, fiberglass, polyester and nylon among countless others. While some scientists work on designing and creating new polymer materials, many polymer scientists continue adjusting previous designs such as making Kevlar armor more lightweight and durable.

To perform these kinds of tasks, scientists use knowledge of organic chemistry, structural patterns and sometimes computer modeling programs to help plan the polymer synthesis. Commonly, scientists work in many disciplines since polymers may be synthesized for a variety of environments from nicotine patches to paints and adhesives.

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Requirements for Polymer Scientists

While a few select jobs only require a bachelor's degree in polymer science for employment, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) a majority of employers desire applicants to have a Doctor of Philosophy (Ph.D.) in a field like polymer science, to work full-time in a research capacity (www.bls.gov). The path to a Ph.D. involves completion of an undergraduate program in general chemistry focused toward organic chemistry. This type of degree focuses students toward polymer structure and function by combining general organic and inorganic chemistry with chemical and physical properties of polymers classes.

Specializing in a Ph.D. program in polymer science, organic or materials chemistry, gives polymer scientists the educational tools to construct, design and understand the structures of polymers. Graduate degrees in these fields focus on research, teaching, examinations, seminars and work specialization.

Work Experience

Many employers require prospective polymer scientists to have experience working in a relevant setting such as an organic chemistry laboratory. Generally, completion of a Ph.D. program in either organic chemistry or material chemistry requires students to work in a lab setting. Some companies, such as Goodyear Tires, offer internship opportunities related to polymer synthesis for graduate students (www.goodyear.com).

Salary and Job Outlook

According to the BLS, the average annual salary for materials scientists, including polymer scientists, was $94,940 as of May 2015. The BLS projects that jobs for materials scientists will increase by 3%, which is slower than average, during the 2014-2024 decade. Additionally, BLS May 2015 statistics showed that approximately 31% of materials scientists worked in the scientific research and development services industry.

Scientists in this field may work to develop new and useful polymer materials, while others are tasked with enhancing existing materials, such as Kevlar. Most polymer scientists work in scientific research and development, though opportunities are expected to be competitive in the coming years.

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