Introduction to Careers and Jobs in Chemistry

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Chemistry is the scientific study of the composition, changes, reactions, and transformations of matter. Many people who major in chemistry in college become chemists, chemical engineers and technicians, or college chemistry professors.Others combine their study of chemistry with classes or even dual majors in physics, environ mental science, or biology, and pursue careers as environmental technicians, toxicologists, wood scientists, and a variety of other occupations.

The study of chemistry is an excellent path to well-paying, rewarding career opportunities that you might never have imagined.For example, you might work as a forensic expert gathering and analyzing evidence at a crime scene, a food technologist studying the chemical properties of tomatoes to improve their flavor and nutritional value, a pharmacologist developing a drug that will increase the life spans of people with pancreatic cancer, or a chemist at a petroleum company working to make the refining of petroleum less damaging to the environment.

In the United States, more than 881,000 people are employed in the chemical industry—a major employer of people with chemistry degrees. And nearly five million additional jobs are indirectly generated by the chemical industry, according to the American Chemical Society (ACS). Most of the 50,000-plus chemical products manufactured by the chemical and allied industries are used by other industries to make jet fuels, food additives, paints, detergents, and perfumes.

The chemical industry is a loose confederation of eight separate branches: agriculture, detergents, nitrogen compounds, paints, paper and textiles, petrochemicals, pharmaceuticals, and plastics. The occupational makeup of the workforce varies among the different branches of the chemical industry. Industries that make finished products ready for sale to the final consumer, such as paint and cosmetics, hire more administrative, marketing, and managerial personnel. A greater number of production workers are employed by industries that sell their products primarily to industrial consumers. The chemical industry is highly capital-intensive and has factories in practically every state. California, Illinois, New Jersey, New York, Ohio, Pennsylvania, South Carolina, Tennessee, and Texas have the most plants.

As a result of plant automation and more efficient production methods, job opportunities for production workers, who made up almost 44 percent of the total chemical industry workforce in 2004, are expected to decline. For those in the specialty occupations, including chemical engineers and chemical technicians, the employment outlook will be slightly better as the chemical manufacturing industry continues to research and develop new chemicals and streamline production processes for existing products. Employment for chemists will grow more slowly than the average for all occupations through 2014. Chemists who have at least a master’s degree will be in the strongest demand. Opportunities for all workers will be best in pharmaceuticals and biotechnology and in research, development, and testing firms.

One area of strong growth is expected to be forensic chemistry, especially DNA analysis. According to the ACS, experts predict that more than 10,000 new forensic scientists will be needed over the next decade to work in private laboratories and government agencies. There is also a need for chemists to do crime-scene investigation and analysis of evidence.

Companies that provide environmental services and earth-friendly products should do well. This concern will also continue to compel the chemical industry to devote resources to complying with governmental regulations. Therefore, occupations related to compliance, improvement of product visibility, and promotion of consumer confidence should grow. International competitiveness will also be important.

Other trends include a continued emphasis on research and development. In order to stay competitive and differentiate their products, companies will continue to produce specialty chemicals, such as advanced polymers and plastics, which are designed for specific uses. This should increase employment of chemists in research-oriented positions. A focus on new manufacturing processes will also continue and should represent opportunities for chemical engineers. The market shift to specialty chemicals and increasing competition will create more marketing and sales positions as companies strive for product visibility and an increasing market niche. In general, opportunities in the chemical industry continue to be best for those with advanced degrees.

Each article in this guide discusses in detail a particular chemistry-related occupation. The articles in this guide have been updated and revised with the latest information from the U.S. Department of Labor, professional organizations, and other sources.

The following paragraphs detail the sections and features that appear in the guide.

The Fast Facts section provides a brief summary of the career including recommended school subjects, personal skills, work environment, minimum educational requirements, salary ranges, certification or licensing requirements, and employment outlook. This section also provides acronyms and identification numbers for the following government classification indexes: the Dictionary of Occupational Titles (DOT), the Guide for Occupational Exploration (GOE), the National Occupational Classification (NOC) Index, and the Occupational Information Network (O*NET) Occupational Classification System (SOC) index. The DOT, GOE, and O*NET indexes have been created by the U.S. government; the NOC index is Canada’s career classification system. Readers can use the identification numbers listed in the Fast Facts section to access further information about a career. Print editions of the DOT (Dictionary of Occupational Titles. Indianapolis, In.: JIST Works, 1991) and GOE (Guide for Occupational Exploration. Indianapolis, In.: JIST Works, 2001) are available at libraries. Electronic versions of the NOC ( and O*NET-SOC ( are available on the Internet. When no DOT, GOE, NOC, or O*NET numbers are present, this means that the U.S. Department of Labor or Human Resources Development Canada have not created a numerical designation for this career. In this instance, you will see the acronym “N/A,” or not available.

The Overview section is a brief introductory description of the duties and responsibilities involved in this career. Oftentimes, a career may have a variety of job titles. When this is the case, alter native career titles are presented. Employment statistics are also provided, when available. The History section describes the history of the particular job as it relates to the overall development of its industry or field. The Job describes the primary and secondary duties of the job. Requirements discusses high school and post- secondary education and training requirements, any certification or licensing that is necessary, and other personal requirements for success in the job. Exploring offers suggestions on how to gain experience in or knowledge of the particular job before making a firm educational and financial commitment. The focus is on what can be done while still in high school (or in the early years of college) to gain a better understanding of the job. The Employers section gives an overview of typical places of employment for the job. Starting Out discusses the best ways to land that first job, be it through the college career services office, newspaper ads, Internet employment sites, or personal contact. The Advancement section describes what kind of career path to expect from the job and how to get there. Earnings lists salary ranges and describes the typical fringe benefits. The Work Environment section describes the typical surroundings and conditions of employment—whether indoors or outdoors, noisy or quiet, social or independent. In addition, this section discusses typical hours worked, any seasonal fluctuations, and the stresses and strains of the job. The Outlook section summarizes the job in terms of the general economy and industry projections. For the most part, Outlook information is obtained from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, a division of the U.S. Department of Labor, and is supplemented by information gathered from professional associations. Job growth terms follow those used in the Occupational Outlook Handbook. Growth described as “much faster than the average” means an increase of 21 percent or more. Growth described as “faster than the average” means an increase of 14 to 20 percent. Growth described as “about as fast as the average” means an increase of 7 to 13 percent. Growth described as “more slowly than the average” means an increase of 3 to 6 percent. “Little or no change” means a decrease of 2 percent to an increase of 2 percent. “Decline” means a decrease of 3 per cent or more. Each article ends with For More Information, which lists organizations that provide information on training, education, internships, scholarships, and job placement.

Careers and Jobs in Chemistry also includes photographs, informative sidebars, and interviews with professionals in the field.

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