Career Profile: Chemist
Chemistry is more than just a class you take in high school. The field of chemistry is the study of all things chemical, which includes processes, configurations, synthesis and manipulation of chemicals, and from the atomic and molecular level through all different states of matter.
Working as a chemist means mostly working in a laboratory setting, but many different companies and organizations employ chemists. Some of the primary places chemists can work include research labs at universities or corporations, chemical manufacturing plants, pharmaceutical research and manufacturing, oil and gas processing plants, and in agriculture, plastics, cosmetics, minerals, pulp and paper, food and beverages, environmental management, medical research and healthcare, among others.
Because this field covers a wide variety of topics, pursuing chemistry as a career path opens up many different opportunities and types of jobs. Depending on which of these industries you’re interested in working for, there are many different specialties for chemists, such as biochemistry, nuclear chemistry, neurochemistry, forensics, and medicine.
Chemists perform research tasks such as testing formulas, substrates, and reagents, then collecting and analyzing the data. This means they are highly skilled in using lab equipment for chemical analysis and processing, such as machines and techniques for high pressure liquid chromatography, gas chromatography, titration, and data analysis. Chemists are also familiar with the scientific method, which they use to plan experiments, and have a high attention to detail. They also need good communication skills, for writing notes, reports, and academic articles about their experiments, and for working on research teams with other scientists.
If you have an interest in chemistry but don’t want to spend your life in the lab, there are also many opportunities to work as high school and college chemistry teachers, or to pursue additional degrees in business or law and leading a company and offering guidance to governments and corporations.
Most careers as a chemist will require a minimum of a bachelor’s degree in Chemistry, Biochemistry or Chemical Engineering; for advanced careers, lead research positions, and professorships, a Ph.D. is usually required, as well. In addition, chemists need a strong understanding of mathematics, physics, biology, and scientific safety procedures and equipment. Adherence to safety protocols is essential in this field, as many chemists work with chemicals that are extremely hazardous, such as compounds that are toxic, corrosive, infectious, and volatile.
Salaries for Canadians working as chemists average around $51,000 per year. Entry level positions and those just beginning their careers see salaries starting around $37,000 per year, with experienced chemists and those working advanced careers can receive salaries as high as $80,000. For these experienced chemists, there can be opportunities for grants, fellowships, and inclusion in special projects and research teams, which can come with greater salaries and the opportunity to travel within Canada and internationally.