Chemists study the make-up of materials and chemicals and how they interact and behave under different physical conditions. Chemistry has aspects in common with both biology and physics, and chemists can work in areas closely related to these fields.
Chemists are involved in many areas of work. These may include:
Chemists often use complex and sensitive equipment and procedures. They design and conduct experiments, take measurements and make observations. They also write up their work in reports and scientific papers, presenting their results at scientific meetings or conferences.
They may work in many different specialist roles. Some common roles for chemists include research and development, production and quality control, the marketing and sales of chemical products, as well as providing technical support for customers.
Chemists often work in teams with other scientists and technicians.
Chemists usually work 37 hours a week, from 9am to 5pm, Monday to Friday. There may be additional evening and weekend work. Chemists in hospitals, industry and some public services may undertake on-call or shift work.
They often work in laboratories, and in a wide range of environments outside the laboratory in specialist jobs.
Modern laboratories are clean, often separated into practical and office areas. They may be full of technologically advanced equipment. Some work may require sterile conditions and it might be necessary to work with hazardous substances.
Most chemists travel occasionally to attend scientific meetings and conferences. They might also visit customers or research partners.
Chemists wear some form of protective clothing, either to protect themselves or to prevent contamination of samples or equipment.
Starting salaries may be in the region of £20,000 a year.
There are large numbers of chemists working throughout the UK. Job opportunities are good and are growing in certain areas, for example in pharmaceutical research or work for environmental agencies. Chemists work for a wide range of employers.
In industry, most chemists work in research and development. Employers include the chemical, pharmaceutical, agrochemical, food, drink and consumer goods, oil, water, paper, electrical equipment, metals and nuclear industries, as well as contract research organisations, food research associations and the whole spectrum of biotechnology industries.
Chemists also work in the public sector, where employers include universities and government research establishments.
In the National Health Service (NHS), chemists work in hospitals, the Health Protection Agency and the Public Analytical Laboratory Service.
Many chemists teach in schools, colleges or universities, or use their scientific knowledge in the media, broadcasting or journalism.
Vacancies may be advertised in the local and national press, on company websites, or in trade sector publications.
Most chemists are graduates. In addition to a relevant degree, a postgraduate qualification may be required for some jobs. Increasingly, graduates need relevant work experience before applying for their first job, perhaps through an industrial placement as part of their course.
For a degree course in chemistry, the requirements are usually at least two A levels/three or four H grades, including chemistry and usually maths and another science, or equivalent qualifications. Applicants also need five GCSE's/S grades (A-C/1-3), including two sciences, maths and English, or equivalent qualifications. The requirements for related courses such as pharmacy and biochemistry may be similar, but it is essential to check with each university.
It is also possible to work in a chemistry laboratory as a technician or in a pharmacy as a pharmacy technician. Applicants usually need at least four GCSE's/S grades (A-C/1-3), including two sciences, maths and English, or equivalent qualifications. With further training and qualifications they may be able to progress to the job of a chemist.
All chemists and technicians receive on-the-job training. They learn new laboratory techniques and new developments in technology. They must keep up to date in their specialist area. Employers may also provide training for personal development, management or supervisory responsibilities.
Chemists may study for postgraduate qualifications or higher degrees, and might become members or fellows of a professional body. The professional body for chemists is the Royal Society of Chemistry (RSC).
Technicians may have the opportunity to study for NVQ's/SVQ's at Levels 2, 3 or 4 in Laboratory Skills, or NVQ/SVQ Level 5 in Analytical Chemistry, BTEC nationals, HNC's/HND's or part-time degrees in their subject.
Laboratory technicians carry out routine laboratory tests and perform a variety of technical support functions to help scientists, technologists and others with their work. They can work in research and development, scientific analysis and testing, education and manufacturing.
They are employed in a wide range of scientific fields which affect almost every aspect of our lives.
Opportunities for career progression are good. Experienced chemists may supervise and lead a team of scientists. Career prospects may be improved by a higher qualification, such as a PhD.
There are opportunities for chemists to move away from practical work into management, or more commercially related work, such as sales, marketing, drug registration or patent work.
Association of the British Pharmaceutical Industry (ABPI),
12 Whitehall, London SW1A 2DY
Tel: 0870 890 4333
Forensic Science Service
Institute of Food Science and Technology (IFST),
5 Cambridge Court, 210 Shepherd's Bush Road, London W6 7NJ
Tel: 020 7603 6316
Institute of Materials, Minerals and Mining, Education Department,
1 Carlton House Terrace, London SW1Y 5DB
Tel: 020 7451 7300
NHS Careers, PO Box 2311, Bristol BS2 2ZX
Tel: 0845 6060 655
Medicines and Healthcare Products Regulatory Agency (MHRA),
Market Towers, 1 Nine Elms Lane, London SW8 5NQ
Tel: 020 7084 2000
Royal Society of Chemistry, Burlington House, Piccadilly, London W1J 0BA
Tel: 020 7437 8656
Additional resources for job seekers and those already in a job.