With the right experience, chemistry can be a lucrative job choice. This article identifies some of the highest paid jobs in this industry, as well as the skills needed to secure them, and the steps you can take to start your career in chemistry.
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Are These the Highest Paid Jobs in Chemistry?
There are many paths you can go down if you’re interested in a job in chemistry. While the more obvious route would be to become a chemist, there are in fact many other high-paying careers that chemistry graduates are able to pursue.
- Patent Attorney
If you’re a chemistry graduate who’s considering going back to university, combining your chemistry degree with a law degree could pave the way for a career as a patent attorney. This is a role that many chemical and pharmaceutical companies need.
The benefit of this chemistry job is that a new patent lawyer working on chemistry patent applications can earn a salary of at least £58,800. This is more than twice the average salary of chemists in the UK. Meanwhile, patent attorneys with more than three years of experience can demand an annual salary of around £80,000.
As a patent attorney, you can either work for corporations, or run your own private practice. Aside from patent applications, patent attorneys also help their clients in legal suits, referring to the laws and regulations that are used to settle patent disputes. So, if you are a chemistry graduate with an LLB degree, this is a potential career path for you.
Another job in chemistry that many graduates pursue is pharmacology. Involved in researching, testing, and analysing the effects of chemicals, this is a very competitive field to get into, and is suited to those who are detail-driven, organised, and naturally inquisitive.
Pharmacologists often work in hospitals or pharmaceutical companies. In addition to their main tasks of research and data analysis, pharmacologists are also responsible for monitoring patients in response to treatments.
Reaping the rewards of a successful pharmacology career can be seen in the senior positions, which come with a minimum annual salary of £80,000. There is also a wide range of areas that you can specialise in as a pharmacologist, from neuro or cardiovascular pharmacology to veterinary pharmacology.
- Research Scientist
Scientific research is a popular career in chemistry that many graduates pursue. This is not only because it accommodates a range of interests, from bioinformatics to stem cell research, but also because it has an average salary of £32,000 that only keeps climbing as your career develops.
Chemists are classed as research scientists, and these positions earn high salaries, especially when working under the umbrella of a pharmaceutical company.
Although the position of a research scientist may not be as immediately lucrative as that of patent attorney or pharmacologist, it is less competitive and gives you the opportunity to become an expert in a specific field, whether that’s marine biology, the study of how diseases are spread, or even paleontology.
- Materials Scientist
The key role of a materials scientist is to create new and improved materials by studying and innovating on old ones. The salary of a materials scientist is dependent on experience, as well as the sector that employs you.
The cutting edge of this field is nanotechnology, which has big potential in terms of applications in medicine, computer science, space exploration, and everyday objects.
But material scientists are sought after by a huge range of industry sectors, including the armed forces, the nuclear industry, pharmaceuticals, and even aerospace. This means that if you already have a degree in material science, this career path could involve you in exciting technological developments.
- Environmental Consultant
Many chemists work as an environmental consultant either for the government or for private companies. They are well-suited to this career because a knowledge of chemistry actually plays an essential role in protecting the environment.
With that in mind, environmental consultants with an understanding of chemistry are able to confidently advise companies on things like testing for pollutants, how to manage toxic waste, green manufacturing, and renewable energy, to name a few.
Environmental consultants are also responsible for ensuring a facility’s compliance with environmental laws. This is one of the higher paid jobs in chemistry, with a starting salary of around £35,000 and an average salary of approximately £42,000. Senior roles, on the other hand, plateau at £65,000 on average, which is significantly lower than other senior roles in chemistry, such as patent attorneys.
- Forensic Chemist
If you like working in an exciting environment while helping to solve crimes, a career as a forensic chemist might be for you. This role requires an understanding of forensic toxicology, which is then used during legal investigations to help identify unknown substances left at a crime scene.
Among a forensic scientist’s many duties are the analyses of toxicology samples and the investigation of trace chemicals. There’s also a range of fields within forensic chemistry, from pathology, which investigates disease and injury, to odontology, otherwise known as forensic dentistry.
One factor that makes this career very attractive to chemistry graduates is that forensic chemistry is not purely a laboratory-based job; it also involves some field work and crime scene investigation. Forensic chemistry is also home to some of the highest paid jobs in chemistry, including medical examiners, forensic engineers, and crime lab analysts. Therefore, if you are looking for a hands-on career in chemistry that also pays well, forensic chemistry ticks all the boxes.
Factors That Affect the Pay Rate
Just like in other fields, the highest paid jobs in chemistry are the senior positions, which involve supervisory and managerial roles. Whether it is a bureaucratic government job, a private corporate career, or an academic position at a university, the compensation package is largely based on your seniority.
Other factors that determine the pay scale are the type of job and the type of industry. Some jobs in chemistry have higher pay than others. Similarly, some industries, especially private ones, offer better compensation packages to employees. For instance, pharmaceutical companies generally have better compensation packages than diagnostic laboratories.
A good way of comparing compensation packages is by looking at the average income for entry-level employees in your desired industry. This is because entry-level positions have the lowest pay grade in any company, and so can be used as a baseline to set your expectations. Examples of entry-level jobs in chemistry include:
- Lab technicians
- Research chemists
- Assistant chemists
- Process chemists
- Pharmaceutical chemists
Skills Needed for a Job in Chemistry
The skill set necessary for a job in chemistry is usually based on highly technical knowledge gained through formal schooling. However, there are some skills that can also be learned through work experience, such as in chemical engineering.
Here are some of the basic skills that you need if you want to pursue a career in chemistry:
- Scientific Methods: You must be proficient in following approved scientific methods, or at least be systematic in your approach in solving problems at work.
- Critical Thinking: Not all problems that you will encounter at work have textbook solutions. Some may require intuitive or out-of-the-box approaches.
- Maths Skills: Chemistry requires you to have good maths skills because most chemistry-related work requires precise measurements and accurate calculations.
- Active Learning: Being open to new ideas and methodologies is key to problem-solving. It is also advisable to actively pursue learning in order to constantly improve your work.
- IT Skills: Many jobs in chemistry will expect you to be proficient in using the software applications specific to your work. For instance, to facilitate analyses, you may need to know how to generate computer models of chemical processes and molecular structures.
- Teamwork and Communication: In most cases, a career in chemistry will require you to work as part of a team, or with other teams. Doing this successfully necessitates excellent interpersonal skills so that you can effectively listen to, work with, and lead others.
How to Get a Job in Chemistry
Getting a job in chemistry, or at least a job related to chemistry, involves the same basic process as any other job. With that in mind, there are three main strategies you could take:
- Education: When applying for chemistry jobs, it’s typically essential to have some level of chemistry education, depending on the job you’re pursuing. Some careers, like analytical chemistry, prefer candidates to have a chemistry degree, while others, like research jobs, require you to have a Masters or PhD.
- Experience: In lieu of a degree, on-the-job experience or an apprenticeship can help set you apart in job applications relating to chemistry. Sometimes, experience is required as well as a degree, and some courses even place it as a requirement students need in order to graduate. In this context, having experience will distinguish you from candidates who ‘only’ have a degree.
- Licensure Exam: Depending on what field you’re breaking into, you may need to also pass the required licensure exam in chemistry or chemical engineering. This is a test provided by governmental organisations in order to ensure that the candidate is qualified to work in their sector.
One of the most effective of these strategies is internship and apprenticeship programmes, which usually lead to full-time employment and possibly even long-term careers. This shows how work experience is crucial in securing a successful career in chemistry.
All that being said, it’s difficult to secure a high-paid job in chemistry if you don’t possess the will, drive and determination. That means you can’t rely on education or experience alone – you must also be persistent and focussed if you want a successful and lucrative career in chemistry.
Find out more in our careers in chemistry resources hub.
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