Analytical chemists identify and analyse materials to find their chemical composition and how they react. Industrial chemists research and produce chemicals. Chemists may also specialise in medicinal or process development areas.
carry out tests on a wide range of materials – from foodstuffs, cosmetics, paints and dyes, to fertilisers, medicines and plastics – and analyse the results
create new products, develop existing products and design systems for testing them
design systems for manufacturing chemicals, often in very large quantities
supervise production processes in industry making sure they are efficient and safe
test products to make sure they do their job properly and are safe to use
monitor waste materials, or air, water or soil pollution and recommend ways to make improvements
using analytical techniques and instruments, such as chromatography
investigate the use of organic and biological compounds in medicine
keep records, complete forms and write reports.
The figures below are only a guide. Actual pay rates may vary, depending on:
where you work
the size of the company or organisation you work for
the demand for the job.
Starting salaries for chemistry graduates in industry tend to be in the range of £18,000 to £24,000 a year. Post-doctoral research staff tend to start at around £26,500, rising to around £40,000. Senior chemists in industry can earn up to £45,000 a year or more.
Registered clinical scientists in the NHS are generally on Agenda for Change Band 7, £37,570 to £44,688 a year. Principal clinical chemists are on Band 8a, £45,446 to £51,883 a year and Band 8b, £53,291 to £62,259 a year. Pre-registration trainees are on Band 6, £30,401 to £38,046 a year.
The current pay scales are from April 2019.
Starting salaries for scientific officers in government departments will depend on skills, experience and qualifications. Check individual departments for details of current vacancies.
You usually work in a laboratory but perhaps also in a factory or office.
You may travel to meetings or conferences – a driving licence is useful.
You will probably work regular hours but in some industries you might have to work shifts including weekends and evenings.
You have to wear a lab coat and sometimes other protective clothing such as a face mask or gloves.
You may have contact with dangerous or unpleasant substances.
You usually need a degree in chemistry. This may be a BSc, MChem or MSci. For entry you need 4 or 5 Highers, normally including Chemistry and another science subject and usually English, Maths and Chemistry at National 5. Some courses may require certain other subjects.
Some entrants have a specialist postgraduate qualification in chemistry. Those with a PhD are likely to enter at a more senior level.
You could work in a wide variety of jobs, including:
pharmaceuticals, cosmetics or foodstuffs
manufacturing textiles, dyestuffs, paints, cleaning materials, fertilisers, plastics, nuclear or oil industries, or for water boards
If you have an honours degree (2:1 or above) in a relevant subject you may be eligible to apply to train as a clinical scientist with the National Health Service (NHS). This three-year Scientist Training Programme (STP) combines various clinical placements with academic study in a specialist area and usually leads to an MSc or specialist postgraduate diploma and registration with the HCPC. Continuous assessment is recorded through the National School of Healthcare Science (NSHCS). Vacancies are usually advertised on the NHS Scotland Recruitment and NHS Education for Scotland websites.
Training may be on the job with short training courses throughout your career.
You will need to keep up to date with new laboratory methods and with developments in your specialist subject.
You may also study for a postgraduate qualification or take exams to become a member of a professional body. Some larger companies may support further study.
With experience and ability, you may move on to senior scientific or management positions.
Some employers, such as the NHS and Scientific Civil Service, have a fixed promotion structure.
It helps if you are willing to move and you may be able to work abroad.
Taking a postgraduate course or joining the Royal Society of Chemistry and becoming a Chartered chemist may help your progress.
The Future Morph website shows you some of the amazing and unexpected places that studying science, technology, engineering and maths can take you.