Science, Technology & Environment
Chemists conduct chemical analyses or experiments in laboratories for quality or process control or to develop new products or knowledge.
What does a Chemist do?
Chemists conduct qualitative and quantitative chemical analyses or experiments in laboratories for quality or process control or to develop new products or knowledge.
As a chemist, you would use your knowledge to develop products and processes in a wide range of areas, for example:
- saving lives through development of new medicines
- analysing the environment and investigating climate change
- protecting health by keeping water supplies clean
- creating new products and controlling quality in the food industry
- finding ways to dispose of industrial waste safely
- inventing new artificial fibres and plastics
- diagnosing and treating illness and disease in the healthcare sector
- analysing forensic evidence in criminal investigations
- teaching, lecturing and academic research.
Whatever industry you worked in, you would follow complex procedures and use sophisticated equipment. Your day-to-day tasks would include:
- designing and conducting laboratory experiments
- making observations and noting results
- writing reports and presenting your findings.
You may also supervise the work of support staff such as laboratory technicians, and carry out other administrative work.
Key skills and interests
To become a chemist, you would need:
- scientific, numerical and technical skills
- an enquiring mind
- logical approach to solving problems
- patience and persistence
- the ability to analyse data
- leadership and teamworking skills.
Working hours and conditions
You would usually work 9am to 5pm, Monday to Friday, with occasional evenings and weekends. Depending on where you work, you may need to work shifts or be on an on-call roster.
Much of your work will take place in a laboratory in sterile conditions.
Some travelling may be involved, for example, when carrying out fieldwork or going to scientific meetings and conferences.
How to become an Chemist?
Entry Level Education
To become a chemist you usually have to complete a science or applied science degree at university with a major in chemistry. To get into these courses you usually need to gain your senior secondary school certificate or equivalent. English, mathematics, physics, chemistry and biology would be appropriate subjects to study prior to university.
Students and graduates of a chemistry-related program may be eligible for membership of the Royal Australian Chemical Institute.
For research and teaching positions, postgraduate qualifications may be required. GeoChemists require tertiary training in earth science, as well as in chemistry.
Employment of chemists is projected to grow about the same as the average for all occupations. Chemists will continue to be needed in scientific research and development and to monitor the quality of products and processes.
Chemists research and solve a wide range of problems and are employed in a similarly wide range of industries. About a quarter of all chemists are employed in chemical manufacturing industries; but the remainder work at universities, in government, and for independent testing and research laboratories. Some chemical manufacturing industries, such as pharmaceutical manufacturing, increasingly may be outsourcing their research and development activities, rather than doing the research in-house. This is likely to cause faster growth in the employment of chemists in small, independent research and development firms than in the more traditional large manufacturers.
Environmental research will offer new opportunities for chemists and materials scientists. Chemists will continue to be needed to monitor pollution levels at manufacturing facilities and to ensure compliance with environmental regulations.