Research Chemist: Job Description, Duties and Requirements

Learn about the education and preparation needed to become a research chemist. Get a quick view of the requirements as well as details about degree programs, job duties and work experience to find out if this is the right career for you.

Research chemists examine chemical compounds and how they interact. These professionals can work for different types of companies, like those in the cosmetics, electronics, and pharmaceutical fields. Aspiring research chemists should obtain some work experience, in addition to a bachelor's degree at minimum.

Essential Information

Research chemists work in public laboratories or for private organizations, using their knowledge of chemical reactions to investigate applications in medicine or other scientific innovations. This job requires a bachelor's degree in chemistry, as well as a minimum of 1 year of relevant lab experience. This job might appeal to individuals with interests in scientific procedure, innovation and medical applications.

Required Education Bachelor's degree in chemistry or higher
Required Work Experience 1+ year lab work
Projected Job Growth (2014-2024)* 3% for all chemists
Mean Salary (2015)* $77,860 annually for all chemists

Source: *U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics

Job Description

Research chemists create and improve processes and products, such as cosmetics, electronics and drugs. Chemical compounds make up everything found in nature, and a research chemist examines those compounds to determine how they interact with other chemicals. This process can help research chemists improve everyday human life by giving the findings practical applications, like developing new medicines and disease treatments. The results can also be used to improve current scientific developments or to further, enhance or re-evaluate current scientific theory. Research chemists utilize advanced lab equipment and computers to conduct their analyses.

Job Duties

In most cases, a research chemist works as part of a team or within a research and development department. Research chemists often test a company's current products or examine a laboratory's current means of testing to find out if they can be improved. Once they complete testing, their results get reported to other members of the department or team. If necessary, further evaluation and testing occur. Their duties also can include maintaining reports, documents and files regarding testing. In addition to testing and improving previous products and procedures, research chemists may develop new products.

Education Requirements

Pursuing a career as a research chemist requires a strong background and interest in math and science. When it comes to formal education, a potential chemist can choose either a Bachelor of Science (B.S.) or a Bachelor of Arts (B.A.) in Chemistry. At some schools, the latter degree program places a greater emphasis in biology and biochemistry and benefits students looking at careers in medicine or health sciences.

For students wanting to focus more on a chemistry career, the Bachelor of Science may be a more suitable option. Many programs incorporate a heavy math component - oftentimes calculus - but they should be heavy on different variations of chemistry. Some courses likely to be included in a B.S. curriculum would be:

  • Organic chemistry
  • Inorganic chemistry
  • Physical chemistry
  • Biochemistry

No matter which type of degree a prospective research chemist decides to pursue, students complete a lab component. The lab experience lends itself to finding a job, since employers prefer to hire research chemists with related experience.

Salary and Job Outlook Info

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), the employment of chemists, including research chemists, is predicted to increase by 3% between 2014 and 2024, which is slower than average. In May of 2015, the BLS reported that chemists earned an annual mean wage of $77,860.

Research chemists may assist in developing or making changes to products, such as drugs or cosmetics. While the job outlook for chemists in general points to slower-than-average growth in employment from 2014-2024, salaries in the field are higher than average.


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