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What Does a Chemist Do?

Chemists may be tasked with testing and identifying substances that have been found at the scene of a crime or accident.
Industrial firms employ chemists who specialize in developing new compounds for commercial applications.
A forensic chemist may examine clothing articles from a crime scene.
Chemists work in research and development for a number of different industries.
From ancient times through the 1800s, alchemists laid the foundation for modern chemistry.
Ouroboros was used for the symbol of alchemy during the Middle Ages.
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Chemistry is the study of chemicals and matter, and people whose careers are focused on this field are called chemists. These professionals study matter on the atomic and molecular levels in order to understand how elements join together to form different substances. They also measures proportions, reaction rates, and various other properties of substances in order to understand more about those substances. The term is also used in the United Kingdom and some other places to refers to what a person in the United States would call a pharmacist.

A chemist will have at least a bachelor's degree in chemistry and may work within many different career fields, the most popular of which are industry, academia, and government work. Undergraduate-level students are typically educated in mathematics and physics as well as chemistry in order to encourage a robust knowledge of general science, while graduate-level students usually specialize in a subfield such as organic chemistry or quantum chemistry. A person with a bachelor's degree can be employed in a wide variety of positions, but people in academia almost always have master's or doctoral degrees in order to qualify to teach classes and conduct research.

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The field began with first casual and then more intensive investigations of the properties and usefulness of fire. Once people discovered gold, they developed alchemy in a search for a way to turn other substances into gold. While the alchemists never actually managed to turn anything into gold, they did lay down the foundations of modern-day chemistry by discovering many important chemical processes.

Today, chemistry is divided into several subfields. One is analytical chemistry, which is the study of materials with the aim of learning about their chemical composition and structure. A biochemist studies the chemicals, chemical interactions, and chemical reactions that occur within organisms. Physical chemistry is the study of chemical systems and processes on the physical fundamental level, meaning they study why and how the physical structures of molecules and atoms interact.

A chemist might be found in a related scientific field such as medicine, physics, biology, forensic science, or engineering. He or she might also be employed in the pharmaceutical manufacturing industry, chemical manufacturing, fuel extraction, or scientific research fields. Because it is a broadly applicable field, chemists can be found in almost every imaginable area of employment.

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irontoenail
Post 12

@bythewell - The thing is that you figure this stuff out while you're in school. As long as you're focused on a career and you're talking to people and paying attention to your options, you'll probably know by the end of the bachelors whether or not you should continue to study or leave to search for a job.

Chemistry is quite a wide specialty and students can go in directions that they didn't realize would interest them. The only way to figure it out, in my opinion is to do it.

bythewell
Post 11

@anon179746 - If you are convinced that chemistry is what you want to do, you should go for it, since it's a degree that's going to be in demand. But, the other comments are on the ball in that you should do some research on where your degree will be able to take you. Think about where you're living, where you're willing to live, what you're willing to do and so forth.

It's not entirely true that your only option with a bachelor's in chemistry is to be a teacher, but in some areas it's going to be difficult to find anything else. You might need to start at the bottom with very low pay in order to move up the ranks at a lab.

Getting an advanced degree is expensive, in both time and money and not everyone is suited to the work. You have to think hard about whether it's right for you.

anon179746
Post 5

well i'm a high school student who would love to study chemistry at university. what are the pros and cons of these degrees and do you have any suggestions as to what to do?

anon165326
Post 4

I agree with techgeek1. Having graduated with a BS in chemistry, I had no problem finding a job. I was leader of a research team in cosmetics, earned an R&D100 Award and also have papers published. Additionally, I have a patent from work done cooperatively with another team in my department. There is much work to be done by bachelor's chemists. I actually did the same kind of work as my fellow PhD's, I just didn't get paid what they got paid. However, having been in the workforce longer than some because they were in school, people my own age with PhD's earned the same amount. What I lacked in degrees, I made up (and was compensated for) in years of experience.

techgeek1
Post 3

@poincaire - While the job market is smaller for someone who only has their bachelor's degree, there are still opportunities to be found. I got my bachelors of science in chemistry from the University of Texas and went straight into working for a company that produces packing materials.

Am I going to win the Nobel Prize anytime soon for my “research” in foam peanuts? Probably not, but it is a good job that pays well and offers benefits. I might decide to go back to graduate school some day, but I wouldn't be going back because there are a lack of job opportunities.

poincaire
Post 2

A small word of advice from a professional chemist: if you want to work in this field get a graduate degree. There really isn't much work out there for someone who only has their bachelor’s degree, even if it is from a reputable school. Most the people I see who only get their bachelor's degree in chemistry end up as high school teachers-- which isn't a bad profession, it's just not what most people with a chemistry degree want to do.

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