If you are wondering how to become a chemist, below are tips and advice on training for and beginning careers in chemistry, as well as science and research job prospects in the UK.

    The Job Description
    Chemists study the make-up and content of substances, including chemicals and materials. They are experts in interpreting the way substances interact and behave under different physical conditions and use this knowledge in a wide variety of ways, for example, to create new food products or materials, such as plastics and artificial fibres.

    As a chemist, you could work in a range of areas, including:

    developing medicines in the pharmaceutical industry
    analysing oceans and investigating climate change
    keeping the water supply safe or finding ways to dispose of industrial waste safely
    creating new products and maintaining standards in the food industry
    diagnosing and treating illness and disease in the healthcare sector
    forensic analysis for criminal investigations
    education and academic research.
    You would follow complex procedures and use sophisticated and sensitive equipment. Your duties would usually include:

    designing and conducting experiments
    making observations and noting results
    writing and presenting reports and scientific papers.
    You may also supervise the work of support staff and carry out other administrative work. On a project, you would often work alongside other scientists and technicians.

    Person Specification
    The key personal attributes of good chemists include:

    an enquiring mind
    the ability to think clearly and logically
    good problem solving skills
    a methodical, analytical approach to your work
    the ability to work with and lead a team of professionals
    the ability to make quick decisions
    excellent spoken and written communication skills
    the ability to interpret statistics and use relevant computer packages.

    How to become a chemist
    To work as a chemist, you will usually need a degree in chemistry or chemical science. Some employers will also prefer you to have a relevant postgraduate qualification, such as an MChem or MSci in Chemistry (or a specialist area within chemistry). Longer courses, such as the MChem or MSci, often include industrial placements, which will help you when you apply for your first position.

    To get onto a chemistry degree you will usually need five GCSEs (A-C) including science subjects, English and maths, plus three A levels including science, technology and maths subjects. If you have not studied science before, you may be able to do a one-year foundation or bridging course in preparation for the degree. Please check with colleges or universities for exact entry requirements – alternative qualifications may also be accepted.

    Increasingly, you will also need some relevant work experience before you can secure your first paid job. The Royal Society of Chemistry (RSC) has further details.

    You may be able to start work in this area as a technician in a chemistry lab. To be a technician, you are likely to need at least four GCSEs (A-C) including science, English and maths. However, some employers expect technicians to have higher qualifications, for example, A levels, BTEC National awards, BTEC HNC/HND, or a degree in science-based subject.

    Training and Development
    As a chemist, you will be given on-the-job training in lab techniques, relevant IT software, and health and safety regulations. If you have supervisory and management responsibilities, you will also receive relevant training in this area.

    If you do not already have a postgraduate certificate/diploma, a higher degree, or membership/fellowship of a professional body, your employer may encourage you to work towards this. For example, all public analysts, food analysts and agricultural analysts need to achieve the Mastership in Chemical Analysis (MChemA), which is an RSC qualification.

    As an experienced chemist with in-depth knowledge of your specialist area, you may meet the requirements of Chartered Chemist (CChem) or Chartered Scientist (CSci) status. The RSC website has further details. You could also work towards NVQ Level 5 in Analytical Chemistry (achieving this qualification would also help you meet the criteria for Chartered Chemist status).

    Other qualifications you could work towards as a technician or chemist, include NVQ at levels 2, 3 or 4 in Lab and Associated Technical Activities.

    The Pay (a rough guide)
    Trainee graduate chemists can earn between £17,000 and £22,000 a year.
    With experience, this can rise to between £25,000 and £35,000.
    With postgraduate or professional qualifications you could earn up to £45,000.

    Job Prospects
    You would find job opportunities with a wide range of employers including government agencies, hospitals, public health laboratories and research institutes. You may need to relocate or carry out further study in your subject of interest in order to progress in your career.

    As a chemist working in industry, you could also be involved in patent work, health and safety and forensic science.

    You could also use your scientific knowledge in other areas such as education, the media and administration.

    Useful research and science resources:
    Royal Society of Chemistry
    Burlington House
    W1J 0BA
    Tel: 020 7440 3344

    This page is for chemist careers advice and training opportunities.

    Recent Articles


    Related Stories

    Stay on op - Ge the daily news in your inbox