Chemist Vs. Chemical Engineer

Chemists and chemical engineers may share some common core tasks but they apply their research and skills in different ways. This article explores the similarities and differences between these professions.

Comparing Chemists to Chemical Engineers

Chemists and chemical engineers may both work with chemicals and be involved with research but their focus differs. Chemists work with atoms and molecules and seek to understand how they interact and how to improve products by altering the chemical structure. Chemical engineers are typically focused on manufacturing products such as chemicals and fuel and how to improve the manufacturing process.

Job Title Educational Requirements Median Salary (2016)* Job Outlook (2016-2026)*
Chemists Bachelor's degree $73,740 6%
Chemical Engineers Bachelor's degree $98,340 8%

Source: *U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics

Responsibilities of Chemists vs. Chemical Engineers

Chemists and chemical engineers share some common basic duties. They are both involved with developing design plans when they are working on product development or manufacturing systems. Once they develop a plan they may build a prototype of the proposed equipment. They then perform tests to determine if their design works as intended and they may refine the design or make alterations to ensure it meets their objectives. Chemical engineers prepare project budgets and are usually more focused on the manufacturing process since their work involves improving how chemicals are produced and used in the production of other items. Chemists may produce products or alter existing products or perform research for the purpose of increasing knowledge. It's common for them to summarize and present their research and findings to other professionals, including engineers.


In order to be eligible for entry-level positions as a chemist a bachelor's degree is required. Chemists need strong mathematical skills to make calculations and they spend a lot of time analyzing data based on their research. They primarily work indoors in laboratories and they are commonly employed in manufacturing or research. Their primary tasks involve performing experiments and assessing the data from their experiments. Their research may be used to develop new products or new ways of producing chemical compounds or they may focus on research that's intended to increase our understanding about atoms and molecules.

Job responsibilities of a chemist include:

  • Preparing a research plan
  • Overseeing the work of technicians and others in their lab
  • Documenting their research
  • Sharing their conclusions with other professionals
  • Looking after laboratory equipment
  • Operating computer software to analyze data or produce design plans

Chemical Engineers

Chemical engineers are involved with producing things like food and fuel. They typically work in manufacturing and research. They help determine how to improve the manufacturing process and their work can also be applied to producing drugs and chemicals. Although they often have regular working hours they sometimes work overtime to meet deadlines and may also need to travel as part of their work. To prepare for this career individuals typically study chemical engineering and must earn at least a bachelor's degree. Employers may also require their chemical engineers to have a Professional Engineer (PE) license.

Job responsibilities of a chemical engineer include:

  • Examining existing manufacturing processes
  • Exploring ways to improve manufacturing
  • Designing manufacturing equipment
  • Providing safety guidelines
  • Preparing budgets

Related Careers

Those interested in being a chemist or chemical engineer may also want to consider being a biochemist or biofuel process engineer. Links listed below connect to information about these alternate career options.

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