How To Become An Analytical Chemist

Lucy Bell-Young

by Lucy Bell-Young

9th November 2020

Becoming an analytical chemist is no easy feat. In addition to earning a degree in chemistry, biochemistry, or any other chemistry-related field, you must also master all the skills and techniques necessary to gain precise qualitative and quantitative data from chemical substances. If you’re interested in how to become an analytical chemist, this article will give you a deeper insight into how it all works. 

Analytical scientist measuring samples in glass test tubes

What Does An Analytical Chemist Do?

The role of analytical chemistry has always been somewhat of a grey area since, technically speaking, all chemistry professions require analytical skills in some way. In a nutshell, though, analytical chemistry is a field specifically focused on determining the composition, structure and properties of substances: 

  • Analytical chemists determine the composition, molecular structure and properties of unidentified samples
  • By employing quantitative and qualitative analytical techniques, they provide data about a sample’s origin and composition
  • An example of how this works is when an analytical chemist is employed to identify what types of pollutants are present in a river, and how or where they originated
  • This involves a meticulous series of samplings and analyses, as well as the ability to make sense of complex chemistry problems 

There are many sectors you can get involved in as an analytical chemist. You could work on developing new commercial products and materials for industries, or be employed by hospital toxicology laboratories, pharmaceutical companies and even forensic laboratories. 

As an analytical chemist, you’ll have a wide range of responsibilities, some of which won’t be directly related to analysing data at all. Depending on your employer, some of your general duties may include:

  • Preparing the necessary documents for new products
  • Ensuring that the collected data is accurate and based on guideline protocols
  • Clearly reporting and presenting results to policymakers, stakeholders, and the general public
  • Writing clear and informative research papers, reports, reviews, and summaries of findings
  • Being up-to-date with the latest, state-of-the-art technical developments in chemistry
  • Ensuring that environmental protocols and safety regulations are being followed
  • Developing or improving the analytical methodologies used in your specific job or operation
  • Competently using various types of software applications, laboratory techniques, and instrumentations related to analytical chemistry
Sample preparation process by analytical chemist
Analytical chemists determine the composition, molecular structure and properties of unidentified samples

Can I Be An Analytical Chemist With A Biochemistry Degree?

Because chemistry is fundamentally analytical, most of its areas of study will equip you with the necessary mathematical and methodical skills that you need to succeed as an analytical chemist.

This is the case with studying biochemistry. A biochemistry degree doesn’t only prepare a graduate for the challenges of analysing organic chemicals, it also sets the foundation and skills for analysing complex inorganic chemicals. In this sense, a biochemistry degree is suited to a wider range of career options than an inorganic chemistry degree, which excludes the study of organic compounds. 

With that in mind, a biochemistry graduate can specialise as an analytical chemist in a range of industries, from medical diagnostics, toxicology and pharmacology, to biological and environmental sciences. In these professions, a biochemist usually analyses:

  • Hormones
  • Enzymes
  • Nutrients
  • Antibodies
  • Pathogens
  • Genetic markers
  • Protein structures
  • Venoms and antivenoms
  • Metabolic products and wastes
  • Drugs or any pharmacological agent

At the same time, there are instances where a biochemist will actually have a more complex time with analysing organic compounds, specifically things like venoms, viruses, and genetic markers. This is because, unlike inorganic chemistry, many of the chemical reagents needed in biochemistry are difficult to synthesise. This means that particularly complex organic chemicals have to be directly extracted from living organisms, such as in the case of venoms.

How Long Does It Take To Become An Analytical Chemist?

Virtually any graduate of chemistry, biochemistry, or chemical engineering can become an analytical chemist. Here in the UK, it takes about three to four years to earn a degree in chemistry, regardless of the specialisation. 

In addition to this, you may also be required to undergo an apprenticeship or industry placement, either during or after your degree. While most chemistry apprenticeships last between two and four years, the exact length of time will depend on your personal circumstances, such as the industry you’re applying to and what level of education and experience you already have.

Therefore, how long it takes to be hired as a fully-fledged analytical chemist will depend on what undergraduate or postgraduate degrees you pursue, and how long your on-the-job training lasts for. 

But you also might get lucky, as there are companies that will hire analytical chemists straight out of university. In these cases, on-the-job training is included as part of your regular work, rather than in the form of an apprenticeship. This is usually an ideal option for an employee, because apprentices don’t enjoy the full employment benefits that regular employees receive.

Analytical chemists in a lab analyzing samples
A biochemistry degree sets the foundation and skills for analysing complex organic or inorganic chemicals

How Much Does An Analytical Chemist Make?

As an analytical chemist, your potential earnings will vary depending on various factors, including the location of the company, the type of industry, the company itself (large multinational companies tend to offer better compensation packages, for example), your education, and your skills. For example, analytical chemists with postgraduate degrees, like a PhD in biochemistry, can earn more. While undertaking advanced degrees like this isn’t required to land a job in the field, it will give you a more competitive edge.

Location is also a determining factor. The average base salary for an analytical chemist in the UK is around £25,254 per year, but this can go as high as £40,254 depending on experience. By comparison, the median salary of an analytical chemist in the United States equates to roughly £43,152 per year.

Some companies also offer profit-sharing schemes for senior analytical chemists. This is where a lump sum, usually worked out as a percentage of the employee’s salary, is added on top of your base pay. Alternatively, bonuses are also common when you decide to work in the private sector, which offers better compensation packages than public or government sectors. This means that if you want to earn a lucrative salary as an analytical chemist, you may want to consider applying to large multinational companies.

Find out more in our careers in chemistry resources hub.


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