Chemist Job Description - Requirements, Duties, Skills and Career
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What Does a Chemist Do?
A chemist is scientist who studies chemical elements and their reactions. Chemists are experts in chemistry, the branch of science that deals with the composition of matter, and the changes in composition that matter undergoes.
Let's answer a simple question: chemists - what do they do?
Chemists study the atomic and molecular properties of chemical elements and look at how chemical substances interact with each other. There are a number of different branches of the chemical sciences, including, for example, analytical chemistry, which deals with the composition and structure of a substance and of the elements it is composed of, and organic chemistry, which deals with organic substances (compounds containing carbon).
In basic research, a chemist’s aim is to advance the understanding and knowledge of organic and inorganic chemistry and to share the results of his or her research with the wider scientific community. Applied research, on the other hand, aims to develop new compounds and materials, improve existing compounds and materials, and use chemical reactions for a wide range of applications.
In industry, a chemist’s job often involves performing chemical analyses - for example, as part of a Research and Development (R&D) project to develop new chemical products, such as synthetic fibres, plastics, polymers, cosmetics, pharmaceutical, paint, building materials, pigments and colorants for the food industry, chemical fertilizers.
Laboratory analyses and experiments in fact form a key part of all such initiatives. When testing new products or processes, for example, chemists analyse substances and materials to determine their chemical and physical properties and molecular and atomic structures and study how different elements react with each other.
Subsequently, they develop verification and validation protocols and document the procedures performed and the results obtained. Research conducted by a chemist may lead, for example, to the development of a patent for the production of a new chemical substance or an innovative industrial process.
Chemistry graduates also perform quantitative and qualitative analyses for quality control purposes at every stage of a production process, from raw materials, via intermediate products, right through to finished goods. Quality control activities are carried out in all production sectors, including the food and wine sector and the pharmaceutical industry, where testing is performed on the active ingredients - i.e. the substances that are responsible for the beneficial health effects experienced by consumers.
Chemists perform a range of different chemical tests and analyses using a variety of equipment and instruments, during which they are required to adopt all of the safety precautions set out in the relevant procedure or protocol. Subsequently, they record the outcome of the procedures carried out, being careful to follow proper sample and data handling procedures.
Chemists may also be employed to oversee operations of production facilities in which chemical substances are used or in which there is a chemical risk. Others work in compliance and regulatory affairs, where the aim is ensuring that all established methods and procedures and all applicable environmental regulations are complied with.
Chemists have a vast number of employment opportunities from which to choose. They are sought after not only by ‘pure’ chemical companies (i.e. those operating in the pharmaceutical, biochemical, agrochemical, plastics and petrochemical industries), but also by a range of other employers. For example, chemical and microbiological analysis is a key aspect of work carried out to tackle issues relating to the environment (e.g. soil analysis, waste analysis and classification, monitoring of atmospheric emissions and biological agents), industrial hygiene (analysis of wastewater and production residuals) and food hygiene (chemical and microbiological analysis of food and drink products, animal feed and animal feed supplements).
Chemists may also be employed in a clinical testing role in the healthcare sector, or in research and teaching as a chemistry professor.
Typically, chemists work in a laboratory, which is a facility or workplace that provides controlled conditions in which analyses and experiments are carried out. Laboratories are equipped with a range of instruments and equipment for research, such as microscopes, spectrometers, densimeters, chromatographs, distillation columns, centrifuges, mixers, as well as test tubes, flasks, beakers and other glassware. Appropriate clothing - typically consisting of a lab coat, disposable gloves and protective eyewear - must be worn when working in a laboratory.
Chemists often work in teams with other chemists, physicists, engineers, technicians and laboratory assistants. Working hours may vary according to the nature of the job, but are usually standard full-time.
Chemist Duties and Responsibilities
Some of the key duties of a chemist include:
- Performing qualitative and quantitative chemical analyses on samples
- Documenting analytical data and results
- Conducting research and development into new materials, substances and chemical processes
- Using and maintaining laboratory equipment and instruments
- Keeping up-to-date with latest advances through scientific literature/journals
How to Become a Chemist - Education and Requirements
A degree in chemistry is typically required to become a chemist, although specialized positions in scientific fields may require a higher qualification, such as a research doctorate (PhD) in chemistry.
In addition to a knowledge of organic and inorganic chemistry, biochemistry, physical chemistry and analytical chemistry, other essential skills for a career in the chemical industry include the ability to use advanced laboratory equipment, as well as data analysis and molecular modelling software.
Another essential attribute for aspiring chemists is an awareness of the latest scientific advances and cutting-edge areas of research.
In some countries, chemists must first obtain a licence in order to be legally entitled to practice.
What Skills Are Needed to Work as a Chemist?
Job advertisements for chemists typically require candidates to have the following skills:
- Ability to perform quantitative and qualitative chemical analyses
- Ability to use laboratory equipment and instruments
- IT skills
- Analytical mindset
- Organizational and problem-solving skills
- Precision and attention to detail
- Communication skills
- Drive for continuous learning and improvement
Chemist Career Path
The career of a chemist can go in a number of different directions. For example, an entry-level position in a chemical analysis laboratory, such as laboratory assistant, may eventually lead to a job as laboratory manager, entailing overall coordination of the work done by the laboratory staff (e.g. technicians, chemists, physicists, biologists and engineers).
Other options include specializing in a specific sector, such as electrochemistry, biochemistry or agrochemistry, or going into quality control as a quality assurance auditor, which can lead to a position as quality control manager.
Candidates with a scientific background are also needed in chemical sales and technical support roles, where tasks include advising customers on product characteristics and correct usage. Other possibilities include going into basic or applied research or working as a chemistry teacher or professor in a school or university.
Top Reasons to Work as a Chemist
A career as a chemist is ideal for anybody with a passion for the natural sciences.
Chemistry and its applications play a vital role in modern society, with chemists responsible for some of the most important scientific discoveries and advances made in recent decades. Working as a chemist is a challenging but extremely stimulating job that calls for strong critical and analytical abilities, precision and problem-solving skills.
Finally, the chemical industry offers a wide range of job opportunities in a large number of different sectors, including petrochemicals, pharmaceuticals and biochemicals, as well, of course, as the option of going into teaching and research in the university sector.