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Chemists and Materials Scientists - What They Do

How to Advance (Advancement)
Advancement among chemists and materials scientists usually takes the form of greater independence in their work or larger budgets. Others choose to move into managerial positions and become natural sciences managers. Those who pursue management careers spend more time preparing budgets and schedules and setting research strategy. Chemists or materials scientists who develop new products or processes sometimes form their own companies or join new firms to develop these ideas.

Chemists and materials scientists held about 94,100 jobs in 2008. Chemists accounted for about 84,300 of these, and materials scientists accounted for about 9,700 jobs. In addition, 24,800 chemists held faculty positions.

About 42 percent of all chemists and material scientists were employed in manufacturing firms—mostly in the chemical manufacturing industry. Firms in this industry produce plastics and synthetic materials, drugs, soaps and cleaners, pesticides and fertilizers, paint, industrial organic chemicals, and other chemical products. About 18 percent of chemists and material scientists worked in scientific research and development services; 9 percent worked in testing labs. Companies whose products are made of metals, ceramics, plastics, and rubber employ most materials scientists.

Chemists and materials scientists are employed in all parts of the country, but they are mainly concentrated in large industrial areas.

Job Outlook
Job growth is expected to be slower than the average for all occupations. New chemists at all levels may experience competition for jobs, particularly in declining chemical manufacturing industries. Graduates with a master's degree or a Ph.D. will enjoy better opportunities, especially at larger pharmaceutical and biotechnology firms.

Job Growth
Employment of chemists and materials scientists is expected to grow by 3 percent over the 2008-18 decade, slower than the average for all occupations. Job growth will occur in professional, scientific, and technical services firms as manufacturing companies continue to outsource their R&D and testing operations to these smaller, specialized firms. Chemists will see 2 percent growth as increases in biotechnology-related fields will be tempered by declines in other chemical manufacturing. Employment of materials scientists is projected to grow by 12 percent as manufacturers seek to improve the quality of their products by using new materials and manufacturing processes.

Demand for chemists is expected to be driven by biotechnology firms. Biotechnological research, including studies of human genes, continues to offer possibilities for the development of new drugs and products to combat illnesses and diseases that have previously been unresponsive to treatments derived by traditional chemical processes.

The chemical manufacturing industry is expected to employ fewer chemists as companies divest their R&D operations. To control costs, most chemical companies, including many large pharmaceutical and biotechnology companies, will increasingly turn to scientific R&D services firms to perform specialized research and other work formerly done by in-house chemists. As a result, these firms will experience healthy job growth. Also, companies are expected to conduct an increasing amount of manufacturing and research in lower-wage countries, further limiting domestic employment growth. Quality control will continue to be an important issue in chemical manufacturing and other industries that use chemicals in their manufacturing processes.

Chemists also will be employed to develop and improve the technologies and processes used to produce chemicals for all purposes and to monitor and measure air and water pollutants to ensure compliance with local, State, and Federal environmental regulations. Environmental research will offer many new opportunities for chemists and materials scientists. To satisfy public concerns and to comply with government regulations, chemical manufacturing industries will continue to invest billions of dollars each year in technology that reduces pollution and cleans up existing waste sites. Research into traditional and alternative energy sources should also lead to employment growth among chemists.

New chemists at all levels may experience competition for jobs, particularly in declining chemical manufacturing industries. Pharmaceutical and biotechnology firms will continue to be a primary source of chemistry jobs, but graduates with a bachelor's degree in chemistry may also find science-related jobs in sales, marketing, and management. Some bachelor's degree holders become chemical technicians or technologists or high school chemistry teachers. In addition, they may qualify for assistant research positions at smaller research organizations.

Graduates with an advanced degree, particularly those with a Ph.D., are expected to enjoy somewhat better opportunities. Larger pharmaceutical and biotechnology firms provide openings for these workers at research laboratories, and many others work in colleges and universities. Furthermore, chemists with an advanced degree will continue to fill most senior research and upper management positions; however, similar to applicants in other occupations, chemist applicants face strong competition for the limited number of upper management jobs.

In addition to job openings resulting from employment growth, some job openings will result from the need to replace chemists and materials scientists who retire or otherwise leave the labor force.

During periods of economic recession, layoffs of chemists may occur—especially in the industrial chemicals industry. Layoffs are less likely in the pharmaceutical industry, where long development cycles generally overshadow short-term economic conditions. The traditional chemical industries, however, provide many raw materials to the automotive manufacturing and construction industries, both of which are vulnerable to temporary slowdowns during recessions.

Median annual wages of chemists in May 2008 were $66,230. The middle 50 percent earned between $48,630 and $89,660. The lowest 10 percent earned less than $37,840, and the highest 10 percent earned more than $113,080.

Median annual wages of materials scientists in May 2008 were $80,230. The middle 50 percent earned between $59,180 and $102,180. The lowest 10 percent earned less than $43,670, and the highest 10 percent earned more than $124,010.

According to the National Association of Colleges and Employers, beginning salary offers in July 2009 for graduates with a bachelor's degree in chemistry averaged $39,897 a year.

In March 2009, annual earnings of chemists in nonsupervisory, supervisory, and managerial positions in the Federal Government averaged $101,687.

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