An analytical chemist studies the chemical composition of substances and materials.
Although a specialised occupation, it is relevant to a diverse range of professions; the various skills of an analytical chemist can be used in criminal investigations, medical diagnosis, and pharmaceutical development and manufacturing.
The career of a competent chemist could therefore be spent across a range of public and private sector organisations, working on crime scenes one year and solving diseases the next.
Nevertheless, it is a highly technical job that requires long hours of research and experimentation. Successful chemists will regularly employ their exemplary maths and I.T. skills, all the while keeping their fingers on the pulse of all the hot new trends in their relevant fields.
Salary & benefits
The pockets of the analytical chemist’s lab coat are not necessarily all that well-lined. Entry-level jobs tend to go at around £16,000 to £22,000 a year.
However, the test-tube is not necessarily half empty; some highly qualified candidates can earn as much as £30,000 straight off the bat. The right postgraduate qualification with a few years of experience might see you taking home £50,000 a year.
The nature of analytical chemist jobs differs from company to company, role to role.
Newly hired analytical chemists will spend most of their time doing the legwork for senior chemists. Don’t be surprised if you begin by doing menial lab work in a nine-to-five job to earn your stripes.
Senior chemists, in the meantime, can get on with the cutting edge research. Bear in mind, though, that as a big cheese you will have more managerial and administrative responsibilities on your plate.
It goes without saying that you will need a very specialised degree to be qualified for the job. The degrees that will be considered include chemical engineering, chemistry, process engineering, and other specialist science and medical areas (for instance, marine sciences for job roles that are involved in handling marine-related substances).
Although an undergraduate degree in these areas should be sufficient enough to get you a junior position, postgraduate education can help you gain more specialisation and career progression.
Many senior level position holders have Masters and even Doctorate degrees in science and chemistry-related courses. Of course, professional experience is just as important too, so make sure you accumulate both types of credentials.
Training & progression
An academic and research-heavy background will give you a solid basis, but there are, as always, professional and corporate elements that come into the equation.
With such a range of potential employers, you will often have to dumb down on the science jargon and interact with noobs in plain English, or give presentations on highly technical concepts to potential commercial backers.
Some major employers will run graduate training schemes or offer courses to get you acquainted with specialist equipment or software.
As with all scientific fields, you will have to keep up with the latest research and discovery; it is a dynamic profession, and you don’t want to get left behind!
As for career progression, most senior positions are reserved for doctorate title holders. If you want to go far, it’s a good idea to explore further education.
It’s also a good idea to gain chartered chemist status. The standard requirements for a chartered title include postgraduate education and extensive relevant work experience. However, it is a good idea to consult your professional organisation about this.