Working As a Chemist – What Real Chemists Have To Say 77

What is it like working as a chemist? The job is great, but it can be hard to get hired! (Ahmed F)

What is it like working as a chemist? The job is great, but it can be hard to get hired! (Ahmed F)

Are you a chemist? What would you tell someone interested in becoming a chemist about your job? I invited readers to share information about their career so that someone thinking about becoming a chemist would be able to make an informed decision. I asked chemists to address the following questions:

  1. What type of chemist are you?
  2. What do you do as a chemist?
  3. What is the best/worst part of your job?
  4. What training did you need? Was it easy/difficult to find a job as a chemist?
  5. Are you happy being a chemist? Why?
  6. What advice would you give someone interested in chemist?

Here are the responses. Are you a chemist? You’re welcome to post a response to add!

Research Chemist

I have a B.Sc and M.Sc in organic chemistry and I was employed as a research chemist right after I graduated working in the BioTech-Ethanol production company. Some of the job responsibilities include: sample quality control, chromatography instrumentation, method development, and research on small projects. The pay for a chemist is very low, even with an M.Sc. You are expected to do research during your work hours and read more about the research topic during your off-hours, most chemists I know work pretty much around the clock. If you only go into Chemistry solely for the money, Chemistry is not for you. Only go into Chemistry if you love research and want a challenge.
— G0OS3

Don’t do it!/ R & D Chemist

Being a chemist is horrible! The pay is really bad and there is no room for advancement if a company ends up hiring you. Most companies don’t hire scientist and kept their chemists on as temps for years! And forget about having decent benefits! Most chemists I know leave the field a few years after graduating.

lab section leader-polymer division

Analysis of Raw material and finished good. supporting to production scale up lab trial for production customer complaint handling instrument calibration and maintenance. safety aspects

Paint & Polymer Chemist

Thought my career I was employed as a coatings chemist. My responsibilities included formulation of epoxy and urethane high performance coatings. I enjoyed formulating, color matching, technical support, authoring MSDS’s, and technical data sheets. The least favorite tasks included routine quality control, and exposure to solvents. For this branch of chemistry a BS in chemistry was not required, however my minor was in chemistry. Most of what I learned was on the job, vendor workshops, and a good deal of reading of information pertinent to polymer and coatings chemistry. New coatings are constantly being developed, with the focus on environmental safe products. Now that I am retired my experience as a chemist is put forth in my candle and soap business as well as mold making. I extended best wishes to those seeking careers in chemistry; many opportunities exist for hardworking, educated and determined people.
— Thomas Evans

Not worth it

The reason people are unhappy with $20 an hour with no benefits is science majors need to be very smart to get through quantum and organic. We could take many other paths that require less effort in college and take less time and would easily earn us 2 to 3 times what we make. It is degrading to have businesses screaming for intelligent people to major in science and then have them offer us less than a garbage man. There is no reason someone smart enough for science should have to struggle to pay basic necessities.

Going to school to be a chemist

I’m only in my first semester of college and part of my major is chemistry. I was looking at all the responses to this and was very displeased with a lot of what people had to say. Granted many of them may be unhappy with their job options but when it comes to the pay it disturbed me very much to see people complaining about making $19-$20 per hour. This is coming from someone who has to work a minimum wage job and try to support a child on my own. How can you people complain about making that money when there are so many people out there that make nothing even close to that. Also, I saw not one good review of this field. Isn’t there anyone out there that is happy doing what they’re doing. I’m sorry but I am so looking forward to getting my degree in chemistry!
— christine


I am a Biochemistry major. i’ve been job hunting for 8-9 months now. and god!! finding a work that suits my preference is really hard!! help!!

work as a chemist

i am msc chemistry with 10 yr of work ex as a chemist but at this stage i work for only rs 10000/month, worst career i never think of such a sc career will left me nowhere
— avinashpr

Must read article about Science Careers

If you are thinking about investing 9-10 years of your life to become a scientist (PhD), then the Miller-McCune article, The Real Science Gap, is a must read. Do a Google search or find it here:

Physical Chemist

Chemistry is dying; please do not choose this path. I have spent the past 10 years in chemistry research environment and I do not have a single positive aspect of it. No money, no work, no future and no time. A car sales man with no degree earns more money.
— Ibrahim

Don’t let them fool you

Don’t let all these negative comments sway your decision on becoming a chemist. I cannot believe there are so many on here with Masters degrees and all I hear is complaining. If your not happy with what you earn don’t blame it on your profession, blame yourself for living “inside the box”. If your stuck in a laboratory doing grunt work then that’s your fault for choosing to submit your application for being a drone. To me, Chemistry is a discipline that enables a person to be effective in many different areas of life. It also shows you have the grit to make it through tough material, not like a Art or Business degrees where I consider the coursework to be much simpler. I could have passed 90% of those classes drunk. C’mon, didn’t you ever notice that all the jocks/cheerleaders were “Art/Business Majors”. I’ve seen the bumper sticker “Chemists can do anything”. I believe this 100%, because if you make it through the coursework then nothing seems daunting.
— CurrentlyInTheGrind

Very bad idea

I loved science ever since I was a kid and kept hearing about the desperate need for more scientists. I thought I did my research on career viability and salaries and went for an MS in Chemistry. It was grueling hard work and difficult material. Now I make $19 per hour with no benefits and no hope for a raise or advancement in my career. Does that sound like a good deal? The previous poster SJ is a tool. It is not an entitlement complex to resent the fact you were misled and to expect at least a minimal middle class salary and benefits like a blue collar worker. He sounds like an abusive employer who resents the fact he can’t get educated workers to work for minimum wage.
— Boned

Environmental Chemist

I’ve been working as an Environmental Chemist for 18 years. My best advice for people looking into this field is this. Don’t bother with excessive amounts of school. A Masters degree is just as useful as a High School diploma in this field. I prefer to hire people with little to no schooling after HS. The pointless knowledge delivered in College level chemistry is a complete impediment to actual laboratory work. The egotistical attitude that evolves with higher learning ie; I expect 75000$ a year to start and full benefits, is unrealistic and unobtainable in this field. A high tolerance for routine work and solid attention to detail, with a reasonably good attitude is all that is needed to begin working in this field. As the readers can see, the egotistical attitudes of the past posts reflect exactly the kind of person the Environmental community rejects. Do be a chemist, don’t be an over-blown, pompus intellectual maniac. It won’t work for you in any field.

Organic Chemist

As an organic chemist with a PhD, I’m well aware of the hard work and commitment it takes for a chemist to progress in the field. However don’t let some of the other responses put you off becoming a chemist in the future. The elation you feel after finally making that hard to reach target makes all those sleepless nights and long days worth it. The pay may not be as good as some jobs.. but the job satisfaction I think makes up for it completely.
— Organic Chemist

Huge Mistake!

I am a M.Sc Chemist, I work for 18 dollars an hour with no sick day and mediocre benefits. worst career ever!
— MSc Chemistry

R&D Chemist

I have an M.Sc in chemistry. The annual salary offered for a chemist with a M.Sc is in the range of 40-45k. Considering the work conditions (a lot of hard work and overtime), compensation, and opportunity for advancement. Chemistry is terrible! Do yourself a huge favor and choose Chemical Engineer instead. Even though I have an M.Sc., I am going back to Chemical/Environmental Engineer for a better job prospect and their competitive salary.
— R&D Chemist

R&D Chemist

A career in R&D Chemistry is not great in terms of salary, work conditions and advancement. A lot of chemists I know have considered leaving the field. Even though I have an M.Sc. in Chemistry, I am considering switching to Environmental Engineering because they have better job prospects and competitive salary.
— Chemist

I regret it

I have an MS get $20 an hour no benefits of any kind. I am looking to leave the field. No one in my family is ever going into science again.
— MSCHemist


For those of you who lament your career choice, have any of you with B.S.’s in Chem made any effort to branch off into Chemical Engineering or Patent Law? I’m honestly just asking because I want to know if this is or isn’t do-able. It would require a higher degree, but if it affords you a better career with better benefits and opportunities, why not just put the extra time into more school? The field can’t be a complete dead end, can it?

Science and Engineering is a DEAD END

I’m working on an OChem PhD. The job market is horrible and has become worse for the past decade. My lab can’t find jobs or post-docs, and this is a top institution on the west coast. Some people have went home unemployed or taken jobs that don’t require a bachelors or their training. Everyone regrets coming into science, wishing they had spent their undergrad years partying with the business students instead of slaving in a lab. Science and engineering are seriously dead ends. Don’t believe the salary statistics, it’s bull. What they don’t tell you is that it is taking 7-8 years for PhD and 2-6 years for post-doc because of the lack of jobs. They don’t count all that in the statistics. Undergrads that have majored in STEM and left for finance and consulting have done well. As long as they don’t touch a PhD program. They are respected and well paid. If you got the brains to do science, plz go elsewhere. I’m happy when I see one of our undergrads leave science, one less whiny victim.
— OChemist

Chemist is not practical

Chemistry is too abstract and not very practical. You are trained at the graduate level to do research such as method development, compounds formulation. Not alot of companies out there looking for research chemists. A lot of smaller company only want low level, ie. college grads, to do the grunt works in the Analytical services industry. They want ppl to just do routine dilutions, sample prep, and instrument maintenance. The pay for these kind of jobs is maximum 18 dollars. 80% of chem grads with BSc or MSc will be stuck doing this jobs. A lot of chemists i know leave the field after few years. I hope employers will change their attitude towards chemists and offer some decent salaries. At this rate chemistry is gonna disappear entirely. maybe then, they can get the Chem. Eng. to work for for the same peanuts they are offering to the chemists now.
—Another Chemist


I hate it. I went to school, did well, published a lot, earned a Ph.D all the while hoping I would quit being treated like a dog. It didn’t happen. I was lied to my whole career. To heck with Chemistry.
— geeze


DON’T DO IT!!! The pay is the HORRIBLE! I know high school drop outs that drive fork lifts at the company I work for that make like $10/hr more than I do as a chemist!!! I only make $15/hr w/ my masters degree and 4 years of experience and I get ZERO benefits!!! Sometimes at night I cry myself to sleep.
— Crying Chemist

I make more money than most…

at about 45,000 USD/year, and 50,000 USD/year after bonus, but I still hate it. I live in the NYC area and this kind of money is abysmal for this area. I live in an area where there is at least one murder per week, because it is all I can afford! I’m currently back in grad school while working full time, pursing my MS/MBA combine degree. If you have any interest in supporting yourself, DO NOT PURSUE CHEMISTRY, especially at the B.Sc. level.
—Regretful Chemist

Don’t believe all comments

I see people saying they can’t find any good jobs or getting less paying jobs. But, I want to say that it all depends on the location. I would suggest going to TX, NM, AZ, etc area to find jobs with this degree. The cost of living is very less there and you can make a decent money
— NM

Not a viable career anymore

I just want to add to the chorus and say that science is not a viable career in this country anymore. I mean why go to college to get a job that is worse than what you could have gotten with a GED. I have and MSc. and am headed back to school next fall to get another MSc though in accounting. I finally decided that I would like health insurance and $40k+. A science degree is a sure bet to end up defaulting on your student loans. Not worth it.
— Hector

Life is What You Make It

One could find shortcomings in any field. Some MDs make less than $100K/yr after malpractice insurance while other make high $100s or more. I worked at a chemical company while going to school for my BS in Biology and Chemistry. I learned the field and got a great job offer from another company right after I graduated due to my experience. Also, having a chemist background doesn’t mean you have to be a low end chemist forever…it can give you a firm foundation to transition into sales, r&d management or many other higher positions if $ isn’t good enough. The challenge is up to the individual. You must pick your prospects and put your efforts toward fields and specialties that are more geared toward where you want to eventually be. Like everything, there are no absolute guarantees in life, but I think one can be much worse off than having a BS or MS in chemistry when filled with ambition and intangible street and business sense.


Chemistry is dying. Its not what it was 20 years ago. In order to get a good job at the bs or ms level you NEED TO KNOW SOMEONE. I have a B.S in chem. The major is hard, yet the pay off is weak. If your smart enough to do chemistry, then switch to chemical engineering, you’ll make much more money, be in the same type of field(almost) and its only slightly harder. Federal bureau of labor puts chemists as a profession to grow much slower than average thru 2018, about 3%. Chem Eng is actually worse at -2 growth, but the starting salary is like 30-40% more. If your so set on chemistry, do biochemistry, its much easier and biochemist jobs are expected to grow much more. It will make getting into med or pharm or dental school easier too because youll do the bio classes required. Why the poor jobs and pay, all these chemistry jobs are being moved overseas. Good luck. Ill be going back to school soon for a second b.s. in engineering.
— Mike

Life is ruined

I am 30 have an MSc. and earn $15 an hour without any benefits. Chemistry is the worst. I regret the day I ever took a science class. I pray every day for a career change. Meanwhile I am boned.
— ruined

my life sucks

I am an applied chemist and my life sucks. I studied applied chemistry from one of the top university in my country. But now i cant find any jobs. chemistry is useless, i hate chemistry, I hate applied chemistry, I wish i could go back & change my major to IT.
— ahmed

Poor Career Choice

I spent 4 years completing my B.Sc. and another 2 years for M.Sc. During my graduate studies i spent an average of 50h/week researching. After graduation, i make 18dollar/h with no benefit. An economic major who has a B.A, spent half the amount of time in school, now making 50k/year. I don’t know about you guys…but the effort to reward ratio is seriously skewed for chemistry.
— Chemist

the darkside

Used to work in pharma, made pretty good money. Lost my job in the mass layoff`s and had my job shipped overseas. Now I make 500K a year only working only three months a year. My work mostly involves phenylethylamine synthesis. Pretty good employer, good benefits, sometimes stressful though.
— Heisenberg

QC Chemist

I have a BS in chemistry and I’m currently a QC chemist at a pharma company. I’ve worked for big name companies like DuPont and BASF. I haven’t had one chemist job I’ve enjoyed in the least. You either rarely use the chemistry you learned or end up doing the same tests over, and over and over again (don’t take a job as a QC chemist). Chemistry is fun to learn but it sucks as a career. I’m pretty lucky that I make 44K a year + benefits but I think I’m an exception, not the rule. Now I’m stuck in pharma hell because I can’t afford to leave (20K in student loans). I’m now going back to school for business and paying cash of course 🙂
— hatechem

teaching at community college

I teach chemistry for nurses at a community college, part time. The best part of this job is the hours are short, even though this also means that the money is short. I needed an M.S. in chemistry to work here, and I am a former K-12 teacher so that experience helped too. It was not difficult to find this job. I think this might be because most people are looking for full-time work rather than part-time work. I am happiest performing demonstrations or helping individual students with lab experiments. Unfortunately I am not happy lecturing to a group of students at once. I like to deal with the complexity of chemistry, and I do not enjoy the repeated simplification which may be necessary with some lessons. If you are interested in teaching chemistry, I suggest that you find industry experience before you come to the community college to teach. This is because now that I have been teaching for some time, I feel I have no other skills and few other opportunities.
— progle

Switch careers in grad school

I am finishing my Ph.D. at a west coast school and got a job at a big consulting firm. Also, I have no debts after the Ph.D., better than my MBA colleagues. If you are still in school, it is never too late to switch!
— Tony

it sucks

I wish I had seen this when I decided to major in chemistry. I got my MS and it’s completely worthless. You can make more money with a high school diploma, but these jobs aren’t available if you have a MS, because you’re overqualified.
— ms

another complainer

Check this out: Pfizer, a big pharmaceutical company, is gonna trim down 40% of the company. i.e. more chemists will get laid off. I suspect more organic chemists will be complaining. I wish i ran into this site 10 years ago..could have saved myself a lot of grief.
— OChemist


Getting jobs in science fields has been difficult for the last 30 years. Get use to it. I have enjoyed being a scientist/chemist and found it very rewarding. I’ve spent many days in labs trying to get pesticides, herbicides and medicines through the EPA. Lately, I’ve even taken up being a High School Science Teacher – sharing what I’ve learned with others. There are plenty of opportunities as a teacher to work with research projects at the university level to satisfy most science minds. As for your 70 hour work-week, welcome to the work schedule everyone else keeps. Companies want as much as they can get from you for free as they can get. That is ALL companies, not just laboratories. Lastly, only go after your PhD if you WANT it. Don’t do it to postpone job entry; you will be WAY over-qualified for any entry level position you eventually apply for (and won’t get)
— Zeller

it’s a good field

I m senior chemist & production in charge in paint manufacturing company with 10 years experience, i have done M.Sc in Chemistry major organic, in start i had struggled a lot. but now for last 3 years i am satisfied with my job & what i have studied. i am earning a good salary, benefits (car, medical, etc). my suggestion to all other chemist is get good experience in the manufacturing fields, synthetic fields it will help u a lot earning money & if ur formulating some products, believe me it will benefit u a lot. jobs in pharmaceutical, paint, cement, textile field will give benefit u much, just doing analysis will not benefit u in earning sense. so be in filed of manufacturing , research & development, & if u have time u can be a consultant as a part timer.
— adnan

Important stats for students

This field has gotten so bad that not even its tenured representatives can sugar coat the bad stats anymore: Note how bad the employment prospects are for new grads. This should not exist, since new grads are malleable, cheap, young and flexible. Yes, that is a blog dedicated to chemistry jobs, but mostly to the lack of them. ChemE is better overall, but it will likely face the same problems Bio, Physics and other science degrees have faced in prior decades. As for Europe Chemist, things are as bad on the continent as in the U.S. The last Euro Post-Doc we had broke down in tears her final week in the lab because she wound up unemployed. 10 years down the drain. If you must go, plz go to the most elite group you can find, prepare to work 70+ h/week and tell your boss you love every minute.
— AnotherOrgChemist

If I only knew

I have an Organic Chemist PhD from one of the best university in Europe (oh yes, it took me 9 years from my undergrad.). This was followed by 3 years postdoc in Harvard after which I went back to Europe. The situation for chemist is really bad in the continent, and if I only knew that things would be this bad (lack of jobs, poor salary and benefits etc)! To those of you thinking about studying chemistry, please don’t bother to go for PhD (it’s simply not worth it!). A lot of my PhD friends are also in the same situation (most of them have postdoc experience also)! The choice is yours (follow your heart, and you end-up like me (very talented but jobless!) or make a wise decision now! YOU HAVE BEEN WARNED!!!
—Chemist from Europe

Screw Organic Chemistry

I’m a synthetic organic chemist. I used to like organic chemistry a lot. It’s a cool science, but it’s not a valid career path anymore. Universities should really restrain the number of new students in chemistry programs, for their sake. In 2000, when I started my degree, the pharma industry was doing very well and paying big bucks for chemists. This is NEVER going to happen again. Our jobs are all in China now. I have a PhD from a top Canadian school and I did a postdoc in a top US lab. I’ve now been looking for a job for 6 months, and I’m willing to relocate ANYWHERE in North America, Europe or Australia, but I can’t find anything! Talk about wasted time! If you are ready to work very hard (easily 70 hrs/week) to do a PhD & postdoc, and then need to work as a store clerk to pay the rent, then organic chemistry is for you. If you don’t want to completely waste the best years of your life, then PLEASE PLEASE choose something else!!
— About to Hang Himself

hard and sweet!

Just I will add that I you really interested in it, just do it. I did B. Sc in chemistry and enjoy my time working in research labs very much but if you seeking to be rich, science field will be the most stupid choice. because get a job after a graduation is not the easy matter. the story that chemists treated as a dog is right.but i still love chemistry.
— geochemist


I love biology and chemistry, so it saddens me to see that the jobs in these fields are so insignificant. I am actually majoring in bio and minoring in chem, but I am also getting into med school, so booo yaaa scrubs haha jk
— No Big deal

Alternatives to Chemistry

MathChem, I know people with a BS that have went into patent law and been extremely successful. So it is definitely an option. Again, at the BS/MS level you are generally enough to flex yourself and leave unfavorable situations without having to explain yourself too much. With a PhD, it can be difficult to secure letters of recommendation from professors who want to graduate scientists! Especially after 7-8 years as a student, many schools can only see some one who is burned out and may bring negative vibes. If you’re gonna get our of chem, do it as a BS/MS level graduate. Is Chem really a dead end? For most people I’ve met it is. Very few people contain that excellent pedigree, connections and timely field of study to weather this career well for the rest of their lives. If they do, they are usually tenured professors. The rest often spend 6-12 months unemployed between positions, really regretting the decision to be in chem. Even when people have jobs, the volatility still dogs them
— OChemist

RE: Curious

ChemE is totally different than chem. ChemE is Engineering with some chem background. It is not a simple transition. Also, ChemE, while higher paying, is expected to decline by 2-3% according to BLS. Law is seriously glutted with less than 50% of graduates able to find work. Patent law is no exception. That gravy train left 10 years ago. Tons of science grads left the field to get a JD and now the field is glutted now. If you pay $200k for a JD and are unable to get a decent job you are in big trouble friends.
— Hector

Chemical engineering

Chemical engineering is not Chemistry. If you are/ were a Chemistry major and trying to branch off to chemical engineering, you are in for tremendous change. First of all, you will not be able to make the transition easy. Schools won’t let you just get your Master’s in chemical engineering without a whole bunch of courses in chemical engineering, about 5 -6 courses undergraduate chemical engineering courses. and if you do you will be in for a disaster. Undergraduate courses are pure engineering courses, no Chemistry, tough as heck. you will find yourself doing a twelve hour Transport phenomena twice a week, chemical engineering thermodynamics is not fun either, Mass transfer needs pretty strong Mathematical and graphing skills. You will have to take differential equations first to be able to work tranport phenomena. so you will find yourself taking 4 semesters of undergraduate courses and of course you have to maintain a least a B grade in each course to meet the conditional admission.
— V

Where all the jobs at?

I just got a bs in chemistry and haven’t found a job in the 6 months I’ve looked. Forget it, I’m going wwoofing to learn agriculture! After that I’ll find some other way to make money. There’s a lot of money out there for we chemists to make ourselves. If you can’t find a job, make one!
— Daniel

how much do chemists earn?

I saw some ppl complaining about too low salaries but I think they weren’t that low. I am from Slovenia and a usual salary for whatever you do is 17500 dollars per year or less even with a degree.

Better than being a hobo

I see all the responses on here, and honestly I understand how it can feels. Being like you not getting anywhere in life and you probably smarter than the guy that cut your check probably suck. However, all this happen to me before I became a chemistry major. NO MATTER WHAT YOU PEOPLE SAY CHEMISTRY SAVE MY LIFE. This is coming from your so-called average African-American male, who is proud that he not dead or in jail and keeping busy keeping himself to the highest potential of understanding the world in a different perspective view from that idiot English major who will one day need to wipe and shelter himself in a big house made by the chemicals I will one day contribute to society. It not about the money people, it about making sure that this world does not shatter and bring about another ice age. If you want a career-changer, sure go ahead you a chemist everyone wants you..YOU probably just a spoiled person that was probably premed or couldn’t cut it in Calc 3. – CHEMISTRY IS LIFE
— blackmale chemist

Get out fast!

Pharma is definitely a deadend–too many business idiots ruining perfectly good research, and waaay too much pharma dollars are spent on marketing than R&D (3:1). Chemical engineering and oil&gas seem better.
— SickChemist

No, no, no and again, NO!

30 year veteran. Worked in several startups and in big pharma. Organic synthesis, drug discovery. First 20 years or so was big time fun, interesting, lucrative. Last 10 years: total unmitigated disaster. My smarter ex-colleagues are now in regulatory affairs and/or patent/IP roles. Those of us too stupid to make the jump continue to toil in a diminishing, increasingly barren and unrewarding field. Been laid off 4 times in the past three years. Last project was providing precursors to collaborators in Korea–eventually they figured out they didn’t need us, they could do it all themselves so they did. Can’t blame them. Everyone let go. Increasingly desperate, my network and contacts are in similar hopeless situations. Not the happy ending one would have wanted. No, afraid that science and engineering are dead ends and not to be recommended; unless, maybe, you’re in the top 5% or so coming out of a top school with good contacts.

Career change

Get out of chemistry and use you numeracy/problem solving skills in business. I learned a lot during my bench career. Never trust your line manager if he does not spend time with his direct reports in the lab or during lunch. Learn to communicate effectively and take every opportunity to do so – however scary it seems. Work somewhere there is an atmosphere of mutual trust – if your HOD ask for your boss to sign your order for £100 of key starting material it’s a warning. Get away from analy retentive wankers. However, that is another career option, as these guys tend to find employment first!
— Ex Merck Newhouse

Stay Away

If you value your life, your potential future children’s lives, and your very own well being, stay far, far away from chemistry. It is no longer a viable occupation. You will find vast swaths of nothing more than low paying temp jobs that offer no benefits. Before you consider this career, do some interviews first, ask people who have been chemists for more than a decade how many jobs they’ve had in the past 10 years. I guarantee you the vast majority have had more than 3 or 4 different jobs in the past decade and the reason is simple. There’s simply no stability in chemistry careers. Forget about ever being able to own a home or raise a family, because you’ll constantly be between being underemployed or unemployed and will always be looking to relocate to find another job.
— Mike B

Is this a viable field?

Is chemistry a viable field of employment anymore? It is a never ending wave after wave of layoffs and low paying QC or terrible method development temp jobs w/ no benefits. I would really like to own a house one day and not be stuck in a “chemistry” permatemp job testing the same samples over and over and over and over again for $15/hr. I regret every single day of my life taking out loans to go to college to study science rather than just going to trade school to be an elevator mechanic or electrician.
— AnonymousChemist

The Hindsight Problem

Chemists need only look at their fellow scientists in other fields such as Physics and Biology. Count the years to doctorate and the amount of time spent in post-doctoral training. That’s where chemistry is heading. This idea that somehow MBAs and others are going to suddenly realize our value has been proven wrong by the consistently abysmal market for other scientific fields over the past four decades. It’s not coming back. What MBA and politicians value are advanced paper pushing. Accountants, money shufflers in finance, lobbyists, etc. that can secure that short term profit and a favorable regulations. Science is a long term investment, with lots of complications thrown in by the U.S. govt. It’s just too hard to even throw money at anymore. Asia and India have a much more favorable environment that is far cheaper. The past decade in chemistry has definitely surpassed the optimism most chemists could muster as this thread has definitely shown.
— GuestAngryChem

Hindsight is 20/20

I, too, was lured to synthetic chemistry back when the $100K jobs with signing bonus were being dangled in front of even new PhD grads (imagine that money at 26, 27 years old!) I count myself among the lucky to have a job in a “down cycle”, but it’s not exactly exciting. Much repetitive work, not much use of my skills, little chance to publish. But, hey, I like most of the people I work with, and I look at this as a stepping stone, to when the economy has come around a little. While it may seem like every job is being outsourced, eventually, politicians and MBAs will come back around to realize that we can’t stay competitive without local talent. Look what happened in the shoes / clothing / consumer goods market…sure, we don’t have the huge companies here we used to in the ’50s – ’80s, but the “buy local” phenomenon is bringing skilled artisans and laborers back to the US. I feel that the same thing might be true for chemists in the near future….
— See Arr Oh

why do it to yourself?

For years now US and multinational companies have been shedding talented scientists and shipping their jobs overseas. The result is an ultracompetitive job market for relatively low pay. The payoff is not commensurate with the effort: not only the monetary benefits are not there, the work environment has seriously deteriorated because fear has taken the joy out doing chemistry. A recent post in the weblog “In the Pipeline” (04/28/11:”Pfizer Layoffs Today”) prompted the following comment: “Since 2000 until 2009, major United States-based multinational corporations eliminated 2.9 million jobs in the United States. During that same time, they’ve added 2.4 million jobs overseas. There are many other posts in this site that will shed some light on the many reasons of why the idea of getting an advanced degree in the sciences has become such a terrible idea, which was not the case even 15 years ago

grad yr is everything

Really, it comes down to the economy in the year you graduate. I graduated mid-90s when the permatemp phenomenon was starting, luckily I landed permanent gigs then eventually switched to IT. The people who entered when things were good can expect better success throughout their careers. If you graduated from say 99 to 07 things were relatively good. 08 and later, you’re starting with a temp badge if you’re lucky. If you’re in a lousy permatemp gig, do your best, learn what you can, and move on. Bounce around every 6-12 months and learn. Try something different because what do you have to lose?
— lab2IT


Avoid chemistry like the plague. You will blow the best years of your life stuck in a lab. After 10 years of post HS education, you will find yourself unemployed and poor. The job market is horrible. These jobs are going to China and India.

I loved it

I loved my job as a comp chemist and structural biology. The last couple of years were particularly rewarding. The projects I worked on got more and more interesting and my brain was on fire- right up to the day in January when my job was eliminated. I’ll never have a job like that again. As a career, chemistry is dead. Companies have no appreciation for how difficult these fields are. Save your insatiable curiosity for science for your days off and become a plumber or electrician.
— RD

Wow, this sucks

I understand this is in America, but I’m in NZ, and.. wow. I’m top of my year in chem, and love it… Feeling like crying D:
— Sad

Re: MS chemist

Unfortunately, what you say about the government is true. Although I never worked for the feds, I worked as a contract employee for a county and I was surprised to see how many graduates spend many years as technicians trying to get a chemist position, and most of the times this never happens, because at the time of the interview, even though they claim to be an equal opportunity employer, bla, bla, the one that gets the position -usually- is a “friend” of some supervisor etc. I’ve seen that many, many times. And what’s even worst is that they don’t try to hide it. On the contrary, they make every effort to show you that they have control and it doesn’t matter how well you do on the interview, they hire the person they want. I am also thinking on change careers and go teaching. It’s scary but I don’t see what else can I do right now in this economy.
— ex-chemist


Cara is 100% wrong! She must be an ACS shill. I also only submitted one post. Chemistry should be avoided at all costs. The 3.5% number she quotes is a joke. I know numerous unemployed chemists who cannot get an interview to save their life. You can thank the jackasses who are sending these jobs to Indiana and China. Lets look at the typical chemistry career. You begin by blowing your college years busting your butt, writing lab reports while your business major buddies are having fun. Next you go to graduate school and work 90 hour weeks for 5 years, followed by a 2-4 year post-doc(look up Eric Carreira letter on google). After you have blown the best years of your life, you are now unemployable. Or if you are lucky, you get employment for 5 years, then you are laid off. Please don’t do this to yourself.


I also wrote 1 post. No one whom I know and graduated with a chemistry degree would ever let their children follow in their footsteps. Most of the science grads I know head towards teaching because it is more lucrative or leave the field. I agree a Fed job is the only viable alternative but I have been trying for 2 years hundreds of applications even in undesirable locations. Too competitive.
— MSChemist

Believe these Posts

Guest Cara, personally I know a handful of chemists that are unemployed after years of good service in the industry as a result of downsizing and outsourcing. The 3.5% figure that you parrot is from the ACS, NOT including non-members. If you were somehow able to factor in non-ACS members that number would be much higher. Personally I have watched chemistry in America slide downhill my whole career, as jobs have been sent overseas. I have watched as coworkers with 30+ years of service and a proven record of success have been let go. Chemistry is fun, creative, and rewarding when you can find work, its just not viable in the US anymore.
— Cara you are wrong

These posts are true: Face the reality

reply to last post: I wrote just ONE of these posts, and because of my experience I know that mostly everything said here is real. Chemists are treated terrible, overworked, underpaid, and there are no jobs (few dead-end jobs like QC analysis, and definitely no high-quality, challenging, high-paid jobs) . I just applied for a tutoring position along with more than 50 graduated and unemployed scientists looking for a job. This is my experience, take it or leave it. If you really like chemistry, like someone here said (not me), try to get a government job. At least you will receive a better treatment, stability, and income. This is just one of many post with HUNDREDS of comments from many scientists that agree about the current situation of the job market for us among other things.
— sad chemist again

Don’t Believe these Posts

Carefully re-read many of these negative posts and you will discover they are the same person posting many time over under different names. I don’t know why s/he did this (maybe to discourage future competition). The factual truth is that chemists (even entry level) have a much lower unemployment rate than many other jobs (at the time this was written 3.5% vs. 9.9%) and mean salaries show $40K even at the lower end of the bell curve, triple digits at the top. The bottom line is, if you LOVE chemistry, this is a viable career choice. Don’t let some stranger discourage you from doing something you love just because they are bitter and/or resentful that their career didn’t work out as planned. And FYI, I personally know a handful of chemists that LOVE their job, schedules, and salaries.
— Cara

Thinking of studying Chemistry

At $18/hr you get paid better than most math grads I have read about. They often can’t find any job, except teaching, including me. $18/hr looks good to someone making $12/hr as an office clerk. I am gluten allergic and I enjoy gardening. I bet some chemistry knowledge would serve me well in the garden (fertilizers) and I could damn well use more gluten free foods made by food scientist – inexpensive food
— Todd

Gave up on Chemistry

I had an M.Sc. in Chemistry, worked in the industry for 2 years, and then I gave all that up to go back to school for a second chance at a better career. Every negative things about a chemistry career that people post on here are all true. Low pay, dangerous environment, volatile job market, poor treatments and round-the-clock work expectation are all there. I experienced them all. My Advice: If you have a degree in Chemistry and want a decent life/career, try getting into the government. Forget about starting your own chemical business, the overhead cost is too much (fumehood, chemical reagents, ISO 17025 requirement, etc..) Bill Gate and Mark Zuckerberg’s business model does not apply to chemistry. To all the Chemistry freshmen out there who think they can get by on passion and unfounded optimism alone, well, you’ve been warned.
— XChemist

Stay AWAY from chemistry!

where do I start…..I love science and I love chemistry. I never regret the wonderful time I had in the university, all the knowledge that I have, etc. But believe me, there are LOTS of lies about this career out there. The job market is terrible. I have worked in the industry and you are treated as a slave. Low salaries, on your toes all day, heavy lifting, dangerous environments, no career advancement and don’t dream about the 6-figures salary. That’s simply false. I feel that I burned my eyelashes for nothing. The last thing I saw (and I said, enough) was a BS in chemistry graduate accepting a job as a “lab analyst” for $11/hour. What the hell! That’s why I am working as a online tutor. At least I work from home and I don’t spend on commuting time and gas. And I can earn much more if I open my own business. Sad but true.
— sad chemist

Chemistry in the US is dead.

I’ve worked as a synthetic chemist for 15 yrs since my BS degree and have watched the industry get destroyed by outsourcing. After 15 years of working with toxic chemicals I have little to show for it, a few patents and publications, outstanding work record and recommendations, but no job. Our chemistry group was cut without warning and there are no jobs out there at all. If I am lucky I will find a temp job running analytical samples until that works dries up and then I will be out of luck. Don’t bother with the ACS as it is a complete joke and waste of time and money. Science is dead in the US. Run as far away from chemistry as you can.
— AnotherUnemployedChemist

Chemistry Fugetaboutit

I’m an analytical chemist with 30 Years of experience soon to get the boot. Not sure what I will do next. All the manufacturing & research jobs have evaporated. I may drive a truck teach or start my own business

The Ruthless Tournament of Science

“If I had been married earlier in life, I wouldn’t have seen the double helix.” -J. Watson, Nobel Prize Physiology or Medicine Being successful in the sciences is a ruthless tournament. Your success in science will depend on your narrow focus on the subject matter, so drop the friends, family and people in your life who get in the way. It may not win you a Nobel, but it will help you get a job in the end. Chemistry is a horrible career below the top 5-10%, so if you’re not in that upper region of success then you’ll also be seeing a lot of this for your effort: “On the other hand, I was lonely a lot of the time.” My advice as someone in chemistry: Unless you are in the top schools in the nation (Bachelor, PhD & Postdoc) and can honestly say you are in the top 90-95% of the people you meet at a conference, don’t go further. Do something else. You’re wasting your time and will end up poor and resentful
— ConfusedChemist


I was a young chemist, graduate student of small university in my country. But, I Love chemistry so much. I Agree with Jeniffer. We will not get much money if we work as a chemist but, we will satisfied for our knowledge desire. I hope I can work in the right place and right time to maximize my potency.
— Candra

NO avoid it

I did a Chemistry MSci, after a year of searching I got a job in a lab, then worked there for four years. Since quitting that job four years ago I’ve been unable to find work in the field. You will never make the amount of money you expect for such a difficult subject and positions are few and far between. I don’t regret it because it has helped my understanding of how things work but don’t do it if you want a job or money, only do it for knowledge.
— Jennifer

Yet another chemist who can’t find a job

I’ve got an organic Ph.D. from a top 10 institution, and post-docing at a top 15. Entry level jobs (especially quality ones) are scarce and I practically have to hold back tears every time someone asks me how the job search is going. I used to love chemistry…
— Sad Postdoc


Here’s an example of what’s out there. Yes, it’s off craigslist, but it’s a real company, offering a real job. And this was one out of maybe four or five total chemistry jobs posted in the entire month. $20.00 an hour FOR A SUPERVISORY POSITION. With 5+ years of experience! MS or Ph.D a plus! And I’ve seen entry level chemist jobs for $12/hr. Does that seem commensurate with the average intelligence and education of the average chemistry major? Are those the kind of jobs that make it into the ACS survey?
— Eric

Just telling it like it is.

Whining? This forum is supposed to provide information to people who are considering a career in chemistry. If experienced chemists have found that opportunities are scarce and the financial reward is not on par with our education and training, are we just supposed to “shut up” about it, as some people have suggested? If you love chemistry, great. But you need to know you can’t expect a great salary and that a lot of jobs are being outsourced. That’s a fact. I don’t know where the ACS gets its numbers, but I suspect that they are polling their own members, many of whom are Ph.Ds or chemists who have landed jobs in management. If they are employed and well compensated, of course they are going to retain their $120+ year ACS membership and respond positively in a poll. OTOH, the unemployed or lab tech level chemists probably aren’t going to be ACS members, so naturally they are woefully underrepresented.
— Eric

a chemist

I am an analytical chemist. I analyse compounds into small ones, the worst of it that I exposed to chemical vapors. I need more training to control more instruments. I am happy because I do help people in their daily work. I advise people to study more and do hard work to get better life.
— alhamdi

chemical engineering no better

I worked as a research chemist for 1 year after my chemistry degree. The business, Franklin Research Center; then the oldest research center in the US, closed completely. I went back to grad school and got a Master’s degree in Chemical Engineering. After being hired in Houston, I was treated like an expendable dog for 5 years then laid off. Basically all jobs in science are exported overseas. The few US engineers scientists have to keep salaries low to compete with the overseas engineering offices (sometimes set up by US firms). For interfacing with upper management they always hire an attorney or business major for the thousands of engineers/scientists kept ‘grunting away’.
— Gallienus

Chemistry: Yes or No?

I see a few people here saying this site is full of whiners and exaggerations. But the views expressed here really are not exaggerations as bad as they are. Chemistry has been a very painful field to be a part of for the past decade and the next one looks about the same. If the stories here don’t make you think deeper about a decision to go into chemistry, here is a project focused on the stories of laid off chemists: It’s very tough out there, even for very experienced people.
— ChemOrNot

Don’t do it

Have been in the field for about 12 years. It sucks. All jobs are being outsourced overseas. Pick another profession!
— Weezey

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77 thoughts on “Working As a Chemist – What Real Chemists Have To Say

  • Ada Brown

    That’s true. Being a chemist means narrower working area and little chance to make great advancement in researches. There are a plenty of chemists in our company a biochemical company. But doing researching over teaching is a perfect choice for the people who have the dreams to be a chemist.

    • MS in chemistry k

      The reality of the situation is that there are really very little ideal jobs when it comes to being a chemist and so there is a lot of competition in those areas. So if I was to due it over again I would look for bottle necks in industry where you can demand higher pay.( example IT if the companies network goes down everything stops I know plenty of people in the IT market that get payed twice what i get and have never been to college)

      For those thinking about being a chemist i would like them to think about things like life expectancy and pay.

      On average a Chemist lives a much shorter life then the rest of the population only about 66 years.(see links below with ACS article).

      Schools and businesses play off of your ego that is tied to your intellect and ability to gain knowledge to promote those kinds of careers choices.

      I still say that a degree in the sciences is not a bad choice but remember you are playing the RPG(role playing game) of life and dieing early for little pay and little reword is not winning.

      If you do get a degree in chemistry use it only to your advantage you earned that knowledge and if others want it make them pay for it because you are worth it and they need you. Hell you can get some other job while you wait for the career you want and probably make just as much if not more then most of the chemist jobs with out the exposure.

      • Holger

        Very true in regard to the above comment! Especially when it comes to salary, the average level sucks compared to other industries – supply and demand in the market! There is definitely an oversupply in chemists looking for decent full time jobs. This has to do with many positions cut in R&D due to mergers, acquisitions, and simply focus only on customer support and application. I thought it was bad > 20 years ago – realizing it has gotten even worse in Europe and North America since.



  • Anonymous

    What annoying individuals. News flash: if you’re not doing well in your field, it’s your fault. Granted, the job market is tough, but it is not impossibly so. If you don’t enjoy your job as a chemist and have not conducted any interesting research, perhaps your level of intelligence is the issue. I have absolutely no issue with being paid $20 an hour. That is fine to me, perhaps that’s due to the fact that I actually enjoy academia – if you don’t, then I apologize, you’ve made a bad life choice in choosing a career which you are not passionate about.

    • Penny

      What the hell – if we can’t find a job in the science field, it’s “our fault” for having the wrong colour skin? Yeah, I’ve actually been told by more than one family member that I should have majored in something which employers are “more comfortable” having “people like you” working in. And I wanted to bloody well hit them with my car for that. Yeah, those are the people who were supposedly “on my side.” What a bunch of assholes, anyone and everyone who says or implies these things.

    • Neal

      $20/hour? How is that supposed to support a family, take vacations, have a life outside of work? Chemistry may be fun as a job but paying $20/hour doesn’t leave room for much else in life. And what would you know about the job market, your’re an academic. I would never take advice from someone who hasn’t had to dip their toes into the job market in several years,.

  • OrgChemJon

    These are difficult times for chemists, e.g. M.S./Ph.D. organic chemistry. Companies are cutting back on that type of lab work or outsourcing to cheaper labor countries. PhD requires a lot of personal time, effort and motivation. In a nutshell, supply far outweighs demand even for experienced chemists. For sure, the very best award-winning candidates will always do well in academia or industry and remain in it, but what about the rest who deserve better employment prospects? Also what happens to PhDs who for one reason or another decide to move away from an apparent 24-hour research effort to focus more on family life or other interests?

  • Government Chemist

    I have a Ph.D. in analytical chemistry and it was very difficult for me to find a job after completing my degree. I taught at a small university in the South making only $35K about 20 years ago. Luckily I got a job in the federal government and now I’m a mid-level manager making $120K a year. There are some opportunities with the feds but it can be challenging dealing with the overwhelming bureaucracy.

    • Penny

      You have to be in NO DEBT WHATSOEVER to work for the Feds. I know, I tried that and got sacked (or rather, was “found unsuitable for Federal employment”) for drowning in student loan debt and being unable to touch it for like 4 years after graduating, due to the fact that I couldn’t find a JOB with my degree. Part-time call center crap jobs put me in “Economic Hardship deferment” for so long that they then fell into Default and I really had no way to pay them. And don’t tell me that “STEM fields should have been free” here in the US. All those non-loan scholarships and grants required more recommendations than I was ever able to get because people would see me and decline to do it because they were apparently assuming (and some told me outright this) that I WOULD fail and it would make them look bad for having recommended me. I’ve been told by my own FAMILY (who should have known better; should have known that my father was a Cost Accountant and that I COME from him, for God’s sake) to “go teach English” instead of Math or science, and they even tried to dissuade me from going to law school. Maybe that should have been my first CLUE that the rest of the world wasn’t going to treat me any better in those fields than my own damn family, but I digress. By now none of my family is speaking to me or wants me around, and I haven’t done any of the usual things people do to alienate their families.

      In fact, by now you have to be free from law school debt to even be Bar admissible in most states – they’ve changed that over the years because they were admitting too many minorities to the Bar who were drowning in student loan debt that they’d never be able to pay back unless they could get the kind of job that requires Bar admission, so this doesn’t only apply to the Science fields.

      Now, what is to become of a minority who can’t get government jobs because they’re exempt from the various states’ laws against credit-checking for employment; and also can’t get past the “skin colour test” of most private-sector employment. What, go overseas to some other country where there ARE entry-level science jobs and they don’t mind Americans/Canadians coming and “taking their jobs” (as the English put it…and the Swedes, and the Finnish, and yada yada yada). Most countries’ government jobs require at the very least citizenship of that country; what’s left are the English-speaking American or British companies with locations in those countries. Maybe, what, some American company with locations IN Malaysia where more of their scientists look like me anyway so they can’t as easily discriminate….of course, American companies are moving to countries where there are no laws in place against racial discrimination, probably for that very reason. So that American minorities with Science or Math degrees can’t follow them.

  • Lizelle

    Oh come to South Africa, lots of jobs for chemists here! We have all the mineral resources to be mined and refined. US don’t have much do they.

  • Penny

    MSChemist: At least you got the JOB.

    I’m finding it almost as impossible now as it was 20 years ago to break into the “entry level” laboratory technician mode because I can never pass the “skin colour” test known as the job interview. BS, MS, and going to go for the PhD but I’m wondering if even the PhD will break that glass ceiling past the colour of my skin at the job interview. Back when I had first graduated from the Bachelor’s program at MIT I had trouble getting the time of day in science lab jobs even though it was the 90s and the Biotech industry was allegedly “better then.” I couldn’t get the time of day because I couldn’t make it past the paper screen when places saw no WORK experience on the resume. It felt like, “top science and tech school in the NATION = waste of my time and money!” I had to scrape out whatever Call Center jobs I could get then because at least in jobs like that, no one could see me and discriminate. Now – I look at the same “Bachelor’s degree in a science field required/desired” jobs and put my degree down, and by NOW it’s been 22 years since I got that science degree (hence my wanting to go “back” for my PhD). I suspect that the science-lab field is as racist as it turned out the Math teaching field, is. I look “good” on paper (at least 1% of the time) but when they see me, that’s all she wrote. “Thanks for stopping by.” “Thanks for wasting your time and money at MIT and Yale…”

    I know I’m going to have to come up with a wicked-ass brilliant research proposal to make up for the fact that nothing seems to have come out of my Bachelor’s degree except a Math teaching license that I also have no luck using.

  • Penny

    I’m going to guess that Physicists have it just as bad or worse, then?! I’m going to find a PhD program in Mathematical Computational Physics just to make everyone who sees me stop going “can you even DO Maths” or other related rubbish. I want to hole up in a lab someplace where no bat-crap RACISTS can see me and say stuff like that and be in charge of hiring costing me the job…

  • A Forensic Chemist

    I walked away from my top-rated organic chemistry PhD program and took a job doing forensic analysis for the local police department when I realized that organic chemistry was a dying field outside academia (in the West, anyway) and that the job offer was the best I was likely to ever see.

    That was two years ago and I don’t regret it for a second. Keep looking, good jobs are out there. They aren’t easy to find and may not be exactly what you had in mind but it beats indentured servitude as a PhD student or a $20/hr temp job.

  • gio1colebrook2trick3

    I left school with only qualifications in English, maths and science. At first I went into the lowest of the low job in McDonald’s earning minimum wage which I worked during weekdays but due to my fascination with drugs I was addicted to narcotics which my job didn’t pay enough to support so I got into crime which was my moonlight job. I got the sack eventually from working in McDonald’s, where I prepared and cooked the food. I was a good cook so luckily the next summer I got a catering job at a restaurant in a safari park which payed more and although I still had to commit crime to get by without suffering because my stash had ran out it was quite a decent wage,just long hours without hardly having a break. I eventually left that job which was my choice and spent the next few years hustling just to get by. My choices at that age, 19 yrs old, got me 16 months in prison. When I got out I had changed from a teenager to an adult where I was more mature minded despite having an interest in drugs and choosing to stay at home than follow up a career. About a year later I started to self teach myself in a very strict and determined manor every day. I educated myself in law, criminology, psychology, pharmokonetics, chemical research and chemistry. I am 27 now and I prefer to say I am a chemical researcher and drugs law campaigner and although I put a lot of time and effort into them two titles I don’t earn anything from them. I earn a salary through a complicated system that in layman’s terms comes from a source which pays me to choose not to sit on my arse all day watching t.v but instead campaign and fundraise to change the drugs laws in the u.k, which is where I live. When the day is over I spend from 6pm-11.45pm searching online for information that could help me invent a synthetic time release drug that would be prescribed by a medical professional and taken under supervision that would stop an addict from craving narcotics, act as an anti-depressant as well as act on parts of the brain which would cause that drug addict to be motivated in many things from keeping themselves hygenic to have a strong urge to work. That’s only one example of what I do for work, I wouldn’t be able to fit into this already large article all my aspects of my work. Because of my evening work being so busy and challenging I usually use that part of my work as my job title which is Progressed Logics company representative as Progressed Logics is the company I mainly work for which pays my bills, living expenses, food and gives me £650 a month on top which pays another £20 every time my work spills over my clocking off time. If none of you lot like your jobs an have a relative understanding of basic chemistry along with a confident personality you could be working with the same perks that I am, living on the outskirts of London actually not just enjoying work but having a laugh while you do it alongside friendly and funny intelligent colleagues. Help Progressed Logics stand tall an be known by offering to work for us, share ideas that could help us or make a donation to cause the work we do save lives, improve health and prevent crime. Please be part of it by writing to me at

  • Chemgoddess1

    I am a 20+ year Chemist who has watched her salary decrease steadily in the last 7 years. I started off in pharmaceutical, went into drug discovery then was in research for ceramic catalyst carriers. I am now a GC/MS chemist in a pesticide lab making what I was making 15 years ago. I moved from the midwest to RTP because this used to be a hub for chemists but it is no longer. Most of the jobs here are contract positions or are paying even less than what i am making now with the added expectancy of a 50+ hour workweek. I LOVE what I do, it just sucks knowing that entry level IT folks who have maybe 6 months of schooling are making more than I am off the bat. I am considering a switch into Safety compliance.

  • blackmale chemist is an idiot.

    I am a black junior who will graduate with a biochemistry degree next year, and I am planning to get out. Many people flock to science because it supposedly has a high ‘ROI’, but that is the biggest lie told here. Science jobs are going to third world countries. That is a fact and you will always lose.A forensic scientist makes less money than a film editor, and all you need is a bachelors to make 57k a year in film.

    People like blackmale chemists are what we call ‘elitists’. You’re not the typical ‘black boy’? How cute. No one cares. You mocking English majors when there are quite a few of them who writes your paycheck and are living the good life when you are slaving in lab for $15 dollars an hour. You use that ‘I am contributing something to society unlike English majors’, but you can’t even write proper English with your run on sentences.

      • HartreeFocha

        MS, working in Bigpharm

        The field is top-heavy, to thrive you have to do it right, or you’ll end up like one of these sour-pusses hating (as they should) the GC/MS with which they have begun to fuse.

        1. Be a scientist, know the field/job market, know what is happening and where. Make sure you are this. If it ever changesc, leave. Don’t get into it for the money, do it because its dead sexy.

        2. Pick your graduate research/group wisely. Find a project that is with the times/forward thinking, intriguing, and most importantly, gives training in multiple disciplines. Do not graduate until you are strong in at least 3 of these: orgsyn+biochem+analytical+inorg+biology.This will set you up to be competitive in the current job market. Too many folks narrow their skill sets in graduate work with lame projects that leaves them trained only on fluorometers or HPLC..this often leads to QC.

        3. Do not settle for technician jobs. They are low paying, and this work gets boring. I think it is especially hard on intelligent people like chemists. Chemists should not be hammering nails. If this is the only work that seems to be available, reevaluate the field, go back to school, or do something else. I would f**kin loose it if I had to plug samples into an MS everyday.

        4. You have to charge it. This is not a good time in the field for the complacent type. Back to 1.

  • Suleiman

    I had a bachelors in industrial chemistry, Immediately after graduation I enrolled for master in petroleum engineering and graduated without any problems at all. Afterwards I got job in the field of oil well drilling and construction working and designing chemicals for drilling, I never searched for a job since then. I have been happy with my career with great time off, pretty decent pay and lovely self esteem.

    A career in chemistry just like in any other field of studies depends on individuals, do not limit your potentials, challenge your comfort zone and you will be anywhere you want to be. I will end up with our slogan those days in the college “What a deformed world without a chemist!”. Common guys study chemistry, go in to world and make it a better place for all of us.

    One love !

  • Regretful PhD

    Do not go to school to get any kind of chemistry degree. I have a PhD which I obtained in 2005. Majoring in chemistry has been led to a majorly disappointing career and I regret it every day. If you love chemistry, make it your hobby. You can’t live a good life if you are constantly worried about job security, being laid off, work long hours under stressful conditions and make a poor salary.

    I think we are to the point where all universities should be required to disclose to incoming students a clear picture of what their lives will be like should they complete a BS in chemistry, or the other sciences. We live in a strange world where Professors at large universities may make 150-200-250K per year, and the major product they produce…their students, can’t find decent work. There’s something majorly wrong with that picture.

  • Washington

    All the negative comments towards chemistry are spot on. To all the people that only have negative replies to them: if this many people are dissatisfied with Chemistry, doesn’t at least one electron spark in your brain to figure out “wait, maybe there is something wrong here with the field??” I mean think about it, if all of them were able to graduate with a degree in Chemistry (Bachelors, Masters, and PhDs!!) , you’d think they are intelligent enough to write about their own experience with it as a career, and can you believe so many have practically the same things to say?? What the heck do you think this is, a conspiracy?? Someone should do a statistic here of positive vs negative feelings towards chemistry and that percentage will tell you how well the field is doing. Just bashing their honest reflections doesn’t help at all. I bet some of you are the same types of people who looked at the occupy wall street protesters as lazy bums. Think about it, if people had jobs, and were modestly rewarded for it, I doubt there would be anything to see here. Start having some compassion for your fellow man and respect their observation of life, otherwise you will one day find yourself in the other end!!

  • StayAwayFromChemistry

    I am finishing up my Chemistry PhD in 2 months and is having a very hard time getting interviews (analytical chemistry) and I have published 6 papers so far (4 first author in ACS journals). I wish I have stopped after my masters, all the hard work I spent in the lab seems pretty… me right now. Most “jobs” that are available right now are short-term contract QA/QC work…

  • story

    A lot of the negative comments here I would agree with, related to the chemical sciences as a profession in the USA and Europe. Let’s not sugar coat the facts.

    Globalization of the economy over the last 20 years, as well as over-capacity has led to layoffs and to a decline in the industrial chemical and biological sciences in the U.S.. As a profession, there are structural problems, which make it a less appealing professional choice than it used to be. The work can often be done by more people at lower cost elsewhere.

    Layoffs, plant closings, and consolidation ARE happening, and will continue. Multi-nationals are locating entire research areas overseas, and closing sites and plants has become normal and expected. Some people manage second careers. Some people transition into management and quality roles.

    I suggest students in the US consider these realities when making a commitment to a graduate degree and a career in the physical sciences, which include Chemistry, Biology, and also Chemical Engineering.

    While it is possible to have a great career in the Chemical and Physical sciences in the US; temper your expectations and be grateful for any work you can do well, and don’t expect a straight, easy, simple career path.

  • Duped Chemist

    I have an M.S. in Chemistry. Graduated in spring 2015. My first job paid me 16/hr no benefits, where I worked for about half a year. Since then I have done interview after interview where my M.S. is ignored and I am offered the same pay as someone with a B.S. even tho I have 4 years of research experience.

    The industry is dying, and I have learned that employers only value industry experience (not college research) that is directly relevant to the job. Example: If you get 10 years of experience somewhere and lose your job, getting another job doing the same stuff will be difficult, and if you don’t, they will only offer you the same useless pay all the other recent grads get.

    Don’t believe the statistics, they are lies. I’ve been there and seen for myself. If you are currently in college and pursuing a B.S. in chemistry, switch to chemical engineering before you graduate, and salvage your future. If you have graduated, try to go into health care if your GPA is high enough. Either that or gain another skill set, like programming on your own, or become a teacher. Anything but being a permanently blue collar worker with no future. You will never own a house, never have a nice car, and won’t be able to afford decent education for your future children. You’ve been warned, avoid it like the plague.

    • StayAwayFromChemistry

      This is very true. The employee turnover rate is really high for chemistry related jobs and I don’t think it’s possible to buy a house or save enough for retirement. As you stated, most companies only offer contract jobs so that they don’t have to pay you any benefits, this is okay as long as the base pay is high enough to compensate the difference, but this is not always the case. What amazed me was that they always want “MS preferred with +5 experience” and is only willing to pay less than 20 bucks/hour for your work, and you have to relocate constantly.

  • Analytical Chemistry Technician

    After getting my bachelors degree in Geochemistry I started in a hospital as a laboratory aide for $11.10/hour. My girlfriend and I would go to the food bank for hot dogs and couldn’t afford television. I got my big break that same year starting as an Analytical Chemist at a microchip factory (Clean Lab), $20.00/hour I thought I won the lottery. As it turns out people with a highschool education get the same title (technician) and payed at the same rate. While the business major sits at a desk checking their facebook, I’m calibrating an IC or working with caustic materials.

  • Anonymous

    I think being a chemist is the best job in the world. I really love working in the lab. Even the monotonous work isn’t so bad because you’ll never lack exciting conversation about topics you care about too. And you get to be the first person to find out information. You get to challenge yourself in a field you hopefully love. You get to learn new things. I can’t think of a place id rather work. You get a new perspective almost daily and the world is just better when you get to work with chemistry

  • Bryon

    After 20 years in Pharma, it feels like my identity of “Chemist” is being ripped out of my soul. I applied for dozens of entry level jobs at $17/hr job as QC analyst, but no call back. I applied for senior level chemist jobs, but no call back. I applied for a job selling cars, but no call back. I applied for minimum wage job at a restaurant, but no call back. My son applied for a job selling cars and he put nothing on his application other than name and phone number. He was called the next day. I tried that on my next job application and the manager scolded me for not listing my employment history. Then he didn’t hire me.

  • Evan

    These posts are pretty on par. I struggled through the major but managed to graduate. I didn’t apply for graduation until after my last semester because i wasn’t sure if i would have to take classes over or not based on my flimsy gpa. During the semester i took no classes and applied for graduation, i posed as having a bs and was hired as a qc tech through a temp company for fifteen an hour. I worked with epoxy and resins. My employer never checked to see if i graduated and i did the most mindless work of my life. Anyone with a spreadsheet of basic data and a googled knowledge of relevant terminology could have snagged this job. I lost my mind inside that tiny epoxy smelling room, just me and my precious Internets. Mindless mistakes followed the boredom of being alone eight hours a day doing the same thing over and over again. I was fired a month in. I was so alleviated to be fired. I’d kept my job in retail on the weekends and went back to it when i was fired from the qc job. Months later, the retail company i worked for opened up a bunch of store engineering positions and i snagged it, having worked for the company for 5 years through my undergrad and boasting my degree which I received after i got fired from the qc job. Within 6 months i applied for a promotion and got it. 6 months after that I got a review and a raise. I’m sitting between 52-60k a year depending on overtime and profit sharing. I have great benefits, bonuses, incentives, company vehicle with free personal use, and best of all decent bosses. I am a trained chemist and get paid more than half of the folks i graduated with. I am a repair man. A happy happy happy not chemist repair man. Run from this major. If you’re in the major, you’d better have a damn good plan and a good job lined up by the time you’re a sophomore. And you’d better enjoy isolation and under utilization. Chemistry is the BEST subject matter, but the WORST career.

  • Analytical Chemist

    For about half a year I have been seeking new employment (Southern California). It seems as if the jobs have dried up. I have been in the industry for ~4 years with a BS in chemistry. This advice is if you’re a new grad or thinking about getting into chemistry in college.

    Getting the first job as a chemist is difficult and most likely with a hiring agency. Most likely you’ll end up in a GMP regulated environment where there will be many rules and regulations to follow. You’ll also probably end up as a quality control chemist or technician. Take what you can get and don’t complain or be picky about a job offer. Because you NEED to be positive and climb up. If you get lucky the highest instrumentation you’ll get to use for analysis would be HPLC (highly doubt they would give you the GC responsibilities). Be everywhere and try to learn as much as you can from the start and always continue with that mentality. Expect your first job pay to be ~$15/hr with terrible benefits.

    That being said if you still want to stick with it and you’re still in school, pay very close attention and get as much hands on experience in your analytical class because that’s where you’ll most likely be and using for your career. Good luck.

  • Anni

    Analytial chemistry National Diploma , South Africa.

    I have just completed by inservice training ( practical year study done in industry before graduating) In june 2016. The company i was doing this year study gave me a perminant position but not for the chemistry part but for me to be a health and safety officer.

    If you not about “developing new methods” , do not fancy research and cannot truthfully say you have a passion then this is not for you.

    I am currently looking into venturing off into a completely different career field.

    Good luck


    Its not what you know but who you know. I have so much training and experience however most good colleges/universities want students out of state or out of country because these students have to pay higher fees. Higher student fees equate to higher paychecks for staff. The result is a lot of foreign students or native citizens with friends in high places in leadership roles who hire their friends/family instead of qualified applicants or native citizens being denied opportunity. My advice is to fake friends with someone, like most do, to get your foot in the door. Pucker up. You will find that they don’t know much more than you but have better networks. This is why I don’t believe in networking. It breeds bullies and incompetence.

  • kineticdoctorchemist

    I spent ~14 years at university pursuing my BS, MS and then my PhD in Chemistry (finally graduated last year). While I was in school, all of my teachers told me that getting a PhD would open so many doors for me and that I would likely earn a high starting salary (everyone believed that a newly-minted PhD would earn ~80K to 90K per year *starting* salary). This rhetoric that obtaining a Chemistry PhD = a good job with benefits is a myth. The job market in both academia AND industry SUCK.

    1) In regards to academia: Tenure-track jobs are disappearing; instead, schools are hiring armies of low-paid adjuncts. Adjunct work is inherently unstable–you cannot depend that the school will renew your contract for the next term, and you cannot depend on a stable course load from one term to the next. In general, adjuncts have to constantly hustle from one college to the next, from one term to the next.

    …And it is very hard to obtain a post doc position nowadays. Because funding has dried up for many many many labs, PIs just can’t afford to take on as many post docs as they used to (or none at all). To even be *potentially* considered for a post doc position, applicants quite often need to have 5 strong letters of recommendation and write a 3 – 5 page mini research proposal to the PI and (quite often) be able to find their own source of funding (this is the hard part).

    2) In regards to industry: Currently, there is this popular idea circulating around that getting a degree in science makes you an educated worker, and educated workers make more money (supposedly) than blue collar workers; if you spend more time in school training, then it stands to reason that you would make more money…This is not necessarily true.

    Where I live (a major metropolitan area with a biotech cluster), there are companies that pay $10/hour for a Laboratory Technician job that requires a Bachelor’s degree in a hard science (how do you pay rent on $10/hr?). You could earn more money waiting tables or working at In-N-Out. And there are science companies in my area that pay new PhDs only 40K to 45K/yr. The reality of these pay rates is a far cry from the rhetoric that a career in science is lucrative. The reality is that, for most scientists, science is NOT a lucrative career; the reality is that most scientists work *long* hours in the lab for much *lower* pay than they were led to believe. Seriously, you could work at the Post Office or be an HVAC technician and make more money than a PhD level scientist in industry. This is just plain weird.

    I was able to get a job in industry after graduating with my PhD, but that job was only temporary. Ever since that job ended, I have encountered difficulty in finding another job. I have been looking for work for the past 8 months. The fact that I have a PhD and I have skills in molecular biology, mass spec, HPLC, kinetcs, etc., and I haven’t been able to find a job after 8 months of looking is incredibly disheartening. Even though I am located in a region that has a high concentration of biotech/biopharma companies, the job market is rough. There is unbelievable competition for few jobs, which puts a downward pressure on wages in a place where rent is already stupid expensive.

    For every one hundred jobs I have applied to, I get about ten call backs for phone interviews, and approx. four progress to further interviews higher up the chain. No joke, I have applied to over five hundred jobs at this point (I understand there are people out there who have applied for a lot more jobs than this; kudos to you). I have made it to the final round of interviews, but so far, hiring managers have told me several things: 1) my PhD made me overqualified; 2) they went with another candidate because they thought since I have a PhD they feared I would jump ship the moment I got another offer; 3) they wanted a candidate that fulfills 100% of their check boxes for skills; 4) they went with another candidate due to my lack of industry experience (it still makes no sense that you need experience in order to get experience); 5) when deciding between equally qualified candidates they went with someone whom they felt was a better fit.

    I spent over a decade preparing for a career in science and I have a large set of skills that can be transferable to either a research or production environment. The fact that I am having so much difficulty finding a job in science is weird, especially since I live in one of the top 10 life science clusters in the US.

    I personally feel disillusioned about science. I feel that the rhetoric I have been fed year after year after year is a lie. My professors told me it was a wide open job market in science, that I’d make good money…what they said was all just empty rhetoric. We need to be honest in regards to the rhetoric our society is feeding young people about science careers. Spending years of your life pursuing advanced degrees and training for a career in science DOES NOT equal a good high paying job with benefits. We need to be honest about the fact that the scientific job market has TREMENDOUS competition for a limited number of job opportunities, which puts downward pressure on scientific wages.

    Right now, there is a big push for promoting STEM in our public schools. We need to be truthful about what we tell our young people. We cannot continue to tell them that science is an all but guaranteed lucrative and wide-open job market.

    In the end, what I am saying is this: Think twice about spending years of your life getting an advanced degree in science; unless you *really* love science, and you are prepared to endure long hours for low pay, think twice. Even with an advanced degree, you may not necessarily find a rewarding high salary scientific career.

  • Experienced Chemist

    Glad I found this website…..reveals a lot more the “real” situation for chemists out there than the most often implied positive lookout from bigger professional chemistry-related organizations. Working for about 10 years in academia and another > 10 years in industry now, I could write a book about experiences I made in R&D in both fields and about hiring processes. I spent many years in the postdoctoral circle to find a full time job as PhD chemist with specialization in homogeneous catalysis and materials science. This caused the first issue after graduation: without postdoctoral experience recruiting companies claimed I was too young and lacked the international experience. But after doing several postdocs at top notch research Universities, suddenly I was considered not to fit into the “pattern” anymore because I was too diversified in my R&D experience…..just another made-up reason to get rid of me as applicant for a regular full-time position. I finally landed this kind of job – but had to move to another country and start all over from scratch. I changed jobs after a couple of years as the only way to improve my salary and benefits. I agree with other comments that industry is not doing much of “research” anymore – and if they do, it is done where work is cheapest but qualification not the best. Most chemists I know work more as engineers in industry, in supply or another business-related function. Research in industry – at least in Western countries – is fairly dead in my opinion because senior management sees it just as long-term cost with uncertain benefit from it.
    The situation in academia is even more gloomy: I was on the track to become a professor, but was despised by all the political games required to move even in a good position. And the hiring process focuses more on the security for the faculty that the applicant brings in money than about the ability to conduct good research and to teach students well, too. Own research interest – nobody cares, it is just important that the research proposal contains the latest fashionable keywords in chemistry (at my time it was first all about polymer stuff, then nanotechnology and later “click” chemistry…).
    Overall – I also have mixed feelings if I would do all of this again. I know many who went into IT directly after graduation and found work in a big software company a few miles away from home, made a decent salary and could build up a family there. My way was very different – but I did not do it voluntarily. On the other hand I don’t regret all the experiences I made until now, all the friendships I made over the years by meeting people with different kind of backgrounds and skills.
    What would I say to a young graduate from high school who considers studying chemistry? I would ask where her/his heart is, and if chemistry is the passion which is the driver. Then by all means study chemistry! But if is a pretty open mindset with a different focus in life – like starting a family soon, staying close to parents, making a lot of money, having security – I would advise to look into another direction. For example until now I did not even meet one unemployed physician or business major! But I have seen many unemployed and struggling chemists. But nobody talks about this in the common mainstream media.

  • Lauren

    I got my BS in chemistry hoping to work in an R&D lab. NOPE. After working for 4 years in QC as a contractor w no benefits ($22-32 an hour) I got a full time job in manufacturing support for the benefits while I’m working on my masters, in ENGINEERING. Know what you can do with your degree. BS will get you a 50-$60,000 a year job in QC. Masters rly doesnt help. PHD’s make more but the market is saturated and very very competitive. I recommend engineering. While it is also very competitive, it pays significantly better.

  • Dan-o

    I’m not in as bad of shape as the rest of the chemists in this page, but I get it. I will be thrown into a meat grinder if I lose my job. 47k, benefits and 20 hours plus of overtime a week make for a decent living considering I like my job. The overtime is killing me and I wanted to find a better paying 9-5 job. Sent out CVs, resumes for two years and got nothing back. Market is just too saturated. Going back to school to become a chemical engineer is somewhat of a joke too. I’d have to get a masters degree in CE just to considered for a position anywhere. 4-6 years of extra schooling/loans just for a better paycheck, F-no. Cannabis industry is somewhat booming still, I’m off to participate in that. While there’s still money in it.

  • Proud to be a Chemist

    I may be a bit late to the party, but I graduated with my PhD in Organic chemistry less than a year ago, and my first job as a chemist pays ~76k with full benefits plus annual bonus. The thing to realize about getting into the field of chemistry is that there are no short cuts, it is a tough field not meant for everyone and the years leading up to your degree will be some of your worst. I will admit I was lucky to find a job so quickly, and before I got this offer I was constantly offered $18-22 an hour from head hunters for contract work. The take away point, I would say, is to know what you’re getting yourself into. Other comments shed enough light on the worst side of this field, do recognize that there is truth in their comments. I personally have had many doubts throughout my career, the worst, I must admit, is watching my friends from undergrad that didn’t do as well as I did in classes graduate to become MDs and make fancy six figure salaries. But chemistry is the most exciting thing I could get my hands on, I absolutely love this field of science and can’t imagine myself doing anything else. If you think you share my passion, then here is my advice: in addition to research, work on your public speaking skills and the ability to convey your research / broad scientific topics in simple terms to non-chemists, then work on conveying chemistry materials to other chemists. This type of skill set will come in very handy during interviews (and dinner parties, if you get invited to one). Also, make friends, lab is a very lonely place. Most importantly, love what you do, it’s the only way to be a good chemist, and that’s the only way (although not guaranteed) to get a good paying job.

    • Experienced Chemist

      Some points mentioned are well taken, others I have to disagree with. Regarding your statement “….the years leading up to your degree will be some of your worst”, I have just experienced the opposite. I loved studying chemistry, and I was very successful in the field. But the toughest part came afterwards – finding a permanent position. My point is that chemistry is just not the safe career path it once has been. I found that contacts/connections are often everything, and qualification is more secondary. I love(d) chemistry, worked for many years in academia and since > 10 years in industry. But my general advice for youngsters is to look into another direction if possible – like medical or business fields where your studies actually stand a better chance to pay off.

      • Proud to be a Chemist

        I should have said “…the years leading up to your degree ‘may’ be some of your worst”, my very own sister would have disagreed with my previous statement. I should have spoken only for myself. You definitely have way more experience than I do in the field, and it makes me a bit sad to learn once again that even someone with your experience have had difficulties in finding a permanent position. Thank you for your comment, and although I still love what I do and I plan on staying in this field as long as I have a job, I would definitely take caution and try to branch out as I work through my career.

  • Robert

    It depend were you live. I live New Jersey most school pay chemist 40 – 45 hr. There a lot of chemical companies here so your starting salary can be between 25 -30 hr . Look into flavor companies or oil companies they pay very well. Better yet just move to another state.

  • College professor

    I think part of the major issue here is the lack of foresight before picking up a chemistry major degree. I myself am a college professor of Chemistry at a state college and I personally love my job. I only needed to work two years as an adjunct before landing a full time contract. I do have my PhD (2015) and did TA work during my graduate studies which paid all my tuition along with an additional stipend. Because of scholarships I needed to take no loans throughout my entire school career and also supplemented that with a part time job .

    Point is, I majored in chemistry and studied in chemistry with the full knowledge that the chemistry job market was incredibly tough and underpaid. Especially during these times where intellectuals are becoming more and more neglected. I knew because I had asked around and did small jobs here and there while being lucky enough to find joy in teaching chemistry during my undergrad. Knowing this, I saw myself being a college professor because I wanted to help teach this subject and knew at that time I would need a graduate degree to do so. During my schooling I made sure to become well acquainted with different faculty members who I knew could help me in getting a job. I also specifically chose to teach at a state college to avoid the research aspect because of how bad that side is getting.

    • Holger

      Addition to this post: Try these days to land an adjunct position in a state college or even community college! I tried it now for a year working full time in industry to build something up on the side. Guess what: positions in chemistry were either not even open (one chair told me that people are stuck in adjunct positions because of the tight job market in chemistry) or given by contacts. Regarding research at a college – this is no longer the case from what I am hearing that colleges only focus on the teaching. The requirement is now for incoming faculty to build up a research portfolio too to get tenure. This makes it very difficult since the college is not set up to support efficiently in doing research (lack of staff is one thing, lack of graduate students another). It is a crazy situation out there for chemists currently. Glad I have a full time job for now. I just hope that I won’t be forced to look for a new job at this point.

  • RecentlyGraduated

    I recently graduated college. I have done undergraduate research and have done three internships, and still can’t get a job or a call back. I’ve applied to well over 100 jobs and kept revising my resume to make sure that I’m passing the “30 second” rule. I’ve been rejected from jobs because they think I’m under qualified. Apparently I’m only worth 16 dollars an hour ,the same as someone with an associates. This is absolutely insanity and it’s insulting. I would love to work as a chemist, but I can’t afford to only get 30k per year when I have loans to pay.

  • TD

    There are two basic types of chemistry majors, i.e., those that take engineering math and physics and real physical chemistry, and those that do not. Everyone in the field knows this, but everyone outside the field does not. And considering that at challenging colleges it’s common for 2/3 of the students to fail the second semester or third quarter of physical chemistry after having sailed through engineering math and physics, one has to question why someone would subject themselves to such a challenge. Almost every chemistry course has a lab which adds an enormous amount of time and effort per unit. In the end, a BS degree in chemistry at a challenging college is as difficult as an engineering degree, but the pay and career opportunities are vastly inferior for chemistry majors. There are far more “softer” chemistry degrees students can obtain that will enable them to get better GPAs and obtain equal or more pay than plain old rigorous BS chemistry degrees. One possible solution would be a recognized certification or registration. Engineers have their PE, geologists have their PG, RG, and CEG, industrial hygienists have their CIH. Chemists need certifications, and BS chemists need a certification exam that tests for and recognizes the higher level of math and physics.

  • Should've done bioinformatics

    Graduated with a BS in biochemistry a couple years back and got a job relatively fast (4 months out), but the pay was terrible ($14.50/Hr with laughable benefits), just needed money because I was running out of funds. Chalked it up to a bad first job, and landed a contracting job for $20/Hr, no benefits. I’m honestly just fed up at this point because I planned on working for two years as a research assistant then applying for a PhD, but boy was that a silly pipe dream, RA jobs are the most sought after and you’re competing with people with years more experience than you for positions that are entry level. Been stuck as a temp making $20/Hr, while people with tech degrees (ones that I know with far lower gpas than me) were making over double what I make now for their first jobs. I wish I had followed through with my curiosity about bioinformatics, because then I’d at least have THE most desired skill in the job market, but I fell into that cult-like mindset a lot of Chem/Biochem majors seem to have and didn’t see the writing on the wall. I know I can’t take much more of wasting my young years, but I don’t know another career path I can take, I’ve been learning programming, but I’m basically lower than a novice lol.

    Chemistry is not what its hyped up to be. If you’re fine with going $40K+ in debt for a degree to enter a field where you’ll be lucky to be making $45K with benefits after a couple of years or you know you’ll absolutely get your PhD, then sure, go into chemistry. But if you want to feel like all the hours studying and stressing in school were worth it, then you should look elsewhere.

  • BK Hawkins

    Wow. I guess I must be quite the go – getter, having parleyed my chemistry PhD into work paying in excess of $180K (USD) per year at mid-career, still in science, still researching.

    Not that hard, folks, but if you trained to be a lab rat and strictly a lab rat, have no leadership skills, refuse to advance your skills both in the lab and in the field (i.e., management)…yep, you’re going to be at $50K (perhaps adjusted for inflation) for a long, long, LONG, time.

  • Tom Welles

    Here is my story:

    I only had a BS when I started and got $50K a year back in 2004. Got hired as an associate scientist and worked my way up to senior scientist making $85K in 7 years. Eventually got promoted to manager and maxed out at $120K.

    Got laid off a few years ago with a nice severance package. Thought about going for an MBA, but didn’t want to spend too much time and money on a degree. Instead, I went to a coding bootcamp and became a web developer. Now, I bring in $100K base plus 10% bonus while only doing a few hours of “real work”. Most of my other time is used to do consulting which brings in about another $40K in income a year.

    Industry has changed a lot from when I started and most new grads don’t get hired in directly. They get stuck being contract employees which are easier to get rid of if too many mistakes are made during testing. Lots of good older chemists got shown the door when research went overseas to China and India.

    • Holger

      I couldn’t agree more from my own experience currently in the chemical industry. I wish this kind of stories would be shown more often especially when it comes to all these STEM activities where youngsters are told how great a prospective science career is.

  • Ella

    Not only in USA but chemistry as a field is dying everywhere in the world.. People here are not complaining or exagerating they are stating the truth. Chemistry is tough, I personally love chemistry and playing with atoms, decided that I will go for chemistry degree then asked a bunch of people graduated or have an idea of what is it like to be a Chemist after graduation, A chemist who is quite known in my country told me to switch majors no introductions and no sugar coating ( I know it’s a wrong move to get into college then ask about the future of the degree ) So I dropped out of college and I am waiting to pass a test to get accepted into another college for buisness degree.

  • Thankful to be a former chemist

    Many years ago from the depths of people who do nasty jobs I remember reading the “Crying Chemist” post and I laughed a bit for I knew where he was coming from.
    I graduated in 2010 with my bachelors, granted I knew getting a job would be tough but my brother got me a well paid with good benefits labour job so I took it. Making $60k base (after six months job hunting) driving a forklift wasn’t so bad after two years, but then I got layoff and fell into the 1.5 years unemployed stage of my life (I tutored high school to stay afloat), I got a job offer doing QA for $17/hour, having been getting paid almost twice as much I declined the offer, terrible idea. I didn’t get another job offer for a full 12 months after that. When I finally did get something it was supposed to be this great job, dealing with government policy and what not but instead it was a labour job which required a university degree by law handling narcotics; Horrible. I hated the job and quit 3 months after when I got a job handling chemical waste making $50k base low benefits, a quite labour intensive job which did require chemical knowledge but still I was majorly underemployed. I did that job for 2.5 years then got internally promoted to a much better job with zero pay increase, but not so much labour and some added benefits including more working hours (50 hours base plus overtime). 8 months in and they took away the extra hours and cut the extra benefits due to a downturn in the economy, I was very angry to say the least.
    However by this time I had already decided to write off my degree (prior to getting my promotion) and I had already invested in a trade school which I completed online and night school when required.

    I am very happy I did it, two years on and I am cashing in $70k base plus overtime and excellent benefits being a boiler man (power engineer).
    Maybe I will use my degree in the future but as many pointed out, save yourself!! DO NOT DO MASTERS or more, IT WILL NOT HELP YOU, pay is directly affected by supply and demand not by years of study or grades.
    I get together with my university mates, I make the most out of any of them (the teachers tail me the closest as here teachers get good pay).
    In general post recession days, chemistry is not a terrible degree in terms of work, you will get work but the problem is getting paid more than $40-50k per year in 2019. The outlook is that it will continue to be as bad or worse.

    I made it in chemistry, I was making $70k in 2016 and my boss did give me options when I posted my quitting notice but the problem is that talking to my friends I knew, today I have options but tomorrow I won’t.

    Getting out in my opinion was one of the toughest and best decisions I have ever made.

  • Alex Gataric

    I left chemistry 20 years ago. Switched careers to IT and am now a data engineer. Previous job titles of systems analyst, DBA and research analyst. My worst IT job was 5x better than my chemist job. Today I make more than a PhD at Abbott.

  • Holger

    I know several PhD chemists who quit chemistry and went into IT. None of them regretted the move. Better job security and more income/benefits. The chemical industry has turned sour especially for PhD chemists who can’t compete with lower paid BS or MS degree candidates who are increasingly hired instead for cheaper salary.
    Btw, this is to my knowledge the only WWW site which talks openly about these things by reading many comments. ACS, C&E News etc don’t like writing about this since they are all embedded with industry.

  • Experience in Chemistry

    For readers of this blog, keep in mind that the majority of people who are writing these comments have searched something akin to “chemistry job outlook” or “lack of chemistry jobs”. The results from this site are going to be biased.

    After acknowledging that the results of this site (and my own story here) are biased, I’d like to share my experience as someone who has worked in the field of chemistry for about 10 years. I can tell you that it is not AS grim as some describe here, but neither are there copious amounts of opportunities. There are MANY temp or “permatemp” positions sadly that pay between $30-40k. Often times those positions are going to involve repetitive work that is not terribly interesting but is necessary and important for the business unit to function. If you work in any regulated chemistry field, such as medicine or manufacturing, the regulations such as Good Lab Practice and Good Manufacturing Practice are extremely harsh in that no mistakes are allowed. You will work very hard to achieve “perfect” results on paper, and one single mistake may define your performance for weeks, months, or for the year. People in chemistry and the sciences are known to be OCD and may be difficult to work with as well, compounding how stressful and anal retentive these jobs can be.

    With that said, there are some firms out there that recognize these difficulties and work very hard to promote from within. Some commentators mention they only make “$35-40k” out of college with a BS in chemistry, which frankly I don’t believe is bad: More important is how long you stay in that entry level position. Some companies will hire you at that wage and after 2-5 years you will be making twice as much through promotions and other opportunities.

    My recommendation: If you are currently studying chemistry at the B.S. level, I encourage you to pick up another minor such as business, mathematics, computer science, economics, or biology (or even better, study biochemistry and pick up one of the other minors). You may find yourself better appreciated with a B.S. in chemistry working in an adjacent field such as in finance, business, law, or computer science. Try to find employers who will pay for advanced degrees while you continue to work. Do NOT load yourself up with debt. And if you find yourself at an employer who does not appreciate you, do not lament: Leave and find a better employer.

  • Holger

    Good points raised therein! I believe one issue of this thread is that it includes postings from 2015 and earlier, and things in the chemical industry have changed since quite significantly. I was in several temp positions in chemistry in the past, and I agree with you – those have become the most common ones which are also in reach without connections or network. But it has certainly become tough especially as PhD chemist to find a full-time position – already before the Covid-19 crisis. The US-based chemical industry is hiring predominantly chemical engineers instead of chemists since engineers can be used in a broader work environment including manufacturing (which is different in Europe where also chemists often work in manufacturing). Also, there is not much R&D left for PhD chemists to prosper in industry. Focus fully shifted towards manufacturing and business plus customer service. R&D is often outsourced to academia which does in the big majority of the work with temp positions (postdocs, grad students). I also agree with your point that the reality of R&D-related work in industry has become overwhelmingly bureaucratic and repetitive. Too many procedures, REACH and TSCA requirements plus all kind of safety constraints are not really encouraging creativity. Only very rarely a good technical person climbs the career ladder into management which is > 80% business and customer focused. Other skills are preferred by companies now like you mentioned in finance, business, or law. Good if you are interested in those areas even from my experience good skills in those areas very often contradict excellent research abilities and finding creative solutions – but there are maybe exemptions (I haven’t met one yet though).
    My advice from > 20 years of professional experience in the chemical field is to study chemical engineering, biochemistry, microbiology, robotics instead when starting off as undergrad. Later in life, I second the suggestion to add a MBA degree or get some IT knowledge if interested in those subjects. Chemistry alone is more likely to bring yourself into a one-way road with very limited career options these days.
    On a personal note, I thought 20 years ago when I graduated that things would turn around, and that soon demand in R&D would dramatically increase since companies were already at this point falling short in new IP (Intellectual Property). Now two decades later, I can clearly say that my hopes were proven wrong: the opposite happened, a continuing cut in R&D in the traditional chemical industry at least (maybe not in pharma).

  • John

    Excellent points regarding the state of chemistry in this entire thread. I left chemistry 20 years ago as I could see the writing on the wall. It’s a shame as I really enjoyed the development work that I did. The last time I was in a lab on a contract job. The level of automation was such that it was as if I were directing a junior chemist and two techs. Automation has also taken a chunk out of the chemistry job market.

    We loved it for what it was, and it was good while it lasted. I’ve watched a number of my chemist friends struggle to find work over the past five years. Some were successful others did as I did left.

    Chemistry has a plethora of practical knowledge applications find and exploit them. If you’re intent on getting a degree in it, make sure that you’re skilled in multiple things. My friends simply love my Christmas White Lightning.

  • Holger

    Good points, John. As I pointed out earlier, I made similar experiences but still work in a chemistry-related profession (surviver!). Here a few things which might distinguish if you are desirable or not these days for a chemistry job:

    1. Work area: Choose your focus area wisely. Pharmaceutical industry is a very enclosed network: You need to be an organic chemist to be hired first (inorganic/organometallic focus is usually already an exclusion criteria) and later you can easily switch between companies, but you will never get in from outside the pharma clique due to pharma-related sourcing requirements (cGMP, regulations etc) which you will never come across in the regular chemical industry.

    2. Experience is debit instead of credit: Industry has moved towards hiring cheaper and younger – experience is no longer important as it was > 10 years ago. Has also to do that not much serious research is still being performed in industry – it is easy now to train less experienced BS or MS chemists on application tasks. PhDs have indeed a harder time now to find a job in industry. They already have to fight for postdoc jobs…..

    3. Network: starts with selecting your MS or PhD advisor in college. Make sure it is somebody who is known to support students career-wise and not only focuses on 1% of favorite students (who might be not even very competent). The earlier you get the foot in the door into a good full-time position, the better. It took me years to get there because my PhD advisor retired soon after I graduated. I lacked the “push” provided by an active and known professor in the field.

    4. Avoid the postdoc loop. A postdoc was decades ago seen as very beneficial to gain more research and life experience by moving and working elsewhere, then it became a “must-have” standard for most PhDs when jobs started faltering in industry. Now it is just a cheap way for professors to hire experienced and ambitious chemists who work even crazy hours just to get a few more papers out and a chance to be positioned better for the “real” job. What happens with the majority of chemist postdocs? Right, they are not staying in chemistry and realize at this point that IT offers much better opportunities or become regular teachers or consultants. Some make a second degree like a MBA. Some decide to get going and do a second or even third postdoc with lots of success. But….getting hired will become more and more difficult with more than one postdoc. Because now employers think “what is wrong with her/him, why didn’t she/he find a full time job yet”. I was exactly in this situation myself > 15 years ago when my former boss told me that one employer called him back and said exactly this. Chemistry is tough – all try to find only reasons NOT to hire you even if you otherwise have more than enough what is needed.

    5. Age: If you are 50 years and older, you won’t be invited anymore for interviews. Maybe to a few to avoid age discrimination in the interviewing process. But chances are very slim you will be hired. I say close to 50 years in age, you just have to survive where you landed before – at least in the chemical field.

  • maybe yes... maybe no....

    there are a lot of fields of chemistry related to real life and real industry problems… Do not expect a great job is you do a MSc in theoretical chemistry (just if you are a top of the top), astrochem (just university research), avoid the more scientific specializations such as org, inorg, analitical and go out of the box.. but what if you do a MSc in industrial chemistry? (not chemical engineering, that is closer to mechanical eng than chemistry), what if a chemistry + MBA, what if chemistry + comerce, what if chemistry + data science, what if chemistry + explosives engineering, chemistry + metalurgy…

  • Global Gallivant

    A lot depends on your attitude. Chemistry is a fun subject and is useful , but you have to apply the knowledge & be realistic. When I started out with a Bsc in Chemistry , I chose a pharma lab over a forensics lab for the money. Worked shifts, saved + invested and paid off my student debt in 5 years. Completed my Msc, thinking that would help me become a lab manager with qualifications and benchwork experience. After I graduated, helped a big name Food & Beverage MNC build a lab only to have a big boss choose a more experienced person to take over the running of the lab. Refusing to serve under the new person I worked with my boss and HR to create a new position. Ended up with building my own Formulations-Regulatory department and even eventually taking on SAP Master Data administration. Had 4 people reporting to me. Took up a lot of courses using company dollars. Was taking care of Dangerous Goods management & Safety Data sheets as well. After a couple of years I was headhunted and joined another industry as a Regulatory Manager for a large region. I’m paid well over a 100k these days , own 2 properties with a million in networth. It’s what you make of it, whether you value-add yourself and bring value to the company.

  • Tropolone

    I dont know that I agree with all the negative opinions here; my experience has been good as a PhD synthetic organic chemist. I finished my PhD in 5.5 years (MS included) and decided to skip the post doc. I started at a CDMO doing process chemistry research for ~$90K in the mountain west (US) and 4 years later i’m into 6-figures and own a house. I’m happy with what I do, and i’m glad I went with a CDMO and not a start up (or even big pharma; we keep hiring folks that get displaced from big pharma as the business model changes to prioritize state-side outsourcing)
    I will say that I was only able to skip a post doc by having done rigorous synthetic chemistry during my PhD and electing to not work at big pharma (I still applied, but I kinda knew they want folks with a Baran post doc or similar). I was MedChem focused, and ended up synthesizing well over a hundred “final compounds” that were tested in some sort of bio assay (and not via quick click-chemistry libraries or similar; actual targeted, iterative synthesis of derivative libraries). I had a large enough breadth of chemistry experience that I was able to leverage my publication record and research summaries both while applying for jobs and during interviews. It was still a bit of a painful process to find a job, but it seems like that is fairly typical for any new PhD. However, it only takes one. With 1-3 years of experience + a PhD, you really can get a job just about anywhere.
    If you’re part way through your PhD, i’d heavily suggest you focus on improving your synthetic chemistry. Everything else can be taught on the job; Companies hire good synthetic chemist to train them to be a Med chemist or a process chemist, etc..
    So, expand the types of reactions that you have experience with, especially C-C bond forming reactions or heterocycle chemistry. Do some >10g scale-ups if possible. Learn how to do direct drops or develop crystallizations. Do everything you can to make more compounds. And understand that you may need to shoot for a 12-18 month post doc in a well-known group if you got stuck with a project or advisor that doesn’t enable you to do more rigorous synthetic work.
    And remember it only takes one: If you land one job and you love it, then great! If you land one job and it stinks, give it 18 months. We are desperate to find experienced PhDs and love early career folks with a few years of experience and good motivation.
    So, long story short, you can make it. It’s worth a PhD for the $20+K boost to starting salary. It’s hard, but you didn’t become a chemist without having just a tiny bit of masochistic tendencies after all! There is a light at the end of the tunnel, and I think it was worth it!

  • Holger

    @Tropolone: A couple comments regarding your earlier post:
    1. “With 1-3 years of experience + a PhD, you really can get a job just about anywhere.” – Not true from my experience. It depends a lot on the specialization and – even more important – on the network/connections. Early on, they often come from PhD advisor and/or postdoctoral advisor.
    2. “…heavily suggest you focus on improving your synthetic chemistry. Everything else can be taught on the job; Companies hire good synthetic chemist to train them to be a Med chemist or a process chemist” – limitedly true if you are a synthetic organic or medical chemist. But inorganic chemists who often do exactly the same, often even with more demanding synthetic methods will be out of luck here. There is some arrogance in the pharma and medical industry that only organic chemists are up for the tasks. From my experience, it is just vice-versa in reality: inorganic or organometallic chemists are much more competent in synthetic chemistry in the lab.
    3. “…expand the types of reactions that you have experience with, especially C-C bond forming reactions or heterocycle chemistry…you may need to shoot for a 12-18 month post doc in a well-known group” – I did exactly this. I actually did 3 postdocs. I gathered an excellent expertise in a few fields of chemistry which turned out to be a debit both in academia AND in industry. I was told several times in interviews that there is a problem to put me in a “pattern” since I did so much successfully. After 7 years of looking and working in postdoctoral positions, I finally landed my first industrial position – this was in 2006.
    4. “If you land one job and it stinks, give it 18 months” – nobody will hire you leaving a job after 18 months!
    I am now working successfully in industry for 15 years. Including my postdocs, I had all together 6 jobs in 23 years of professional experience. I loved studying chemistry, and I still love research. But seeing the circumstances for chemists in general, I do not recommend this path to anybody anymore. I recommend medicine or chemical engineering instead – much better job security, salary, and career opportunities. Industry simply needs less and less chemists since R&D continues to be cut.

  • Michael Jacobs

    I went to the Navy to get the GI Bill in 1975, got out and got a BS in Chemistry, quickly realized that Chemist Jobs are just another Industrial Factory Job. Priority in solving Product, Raw Material, QC and Sales Problems. No real interest from companies for real research. Always unappreciative when you would fix a problem , even when you spare them from a million dollar lawsuit. It’s your job. You are only kept, if your a necessity that can prove your everyday worth. Retired now,shoved out the door at 61. Four years later the same employer came sniffing around to see if I was desperate to go back to work. Don’t be a Chemist unless you like to be ignored and unappreciated. If you must be a Chemist find a Government Position not a Corporate.

  • Holger

    Well said, Michel! I am making exactly the same experience with Corporate. Only people in or related to business make a career there. Government positions are only reachable via good connections and networks. Same goes for University/College jobs in chemistry.

  • nobody

    I’m still in high school knowing that it would be a successful career particularly in B.S chemistry because of the corona virus. But reading some comments I maybe go for chemical engineering or Analytical chemistry. Need opinions, I’m in Asia so maybe the situation are different on Western side.

  • Badger

    I’m a junior majoring in Biochemistry, and I am wondering, is it different for Biochemistry as compared to chemistry. I am involved in undergraduate research with proteins and chemical crosslinking.

  • Holger

    Biochemistry opens in general more opportunities than chemistry for employment both in the medical and pharmaceutical industry. From my experience it is nearly impossible to get into the pharma industry with background in organometallic or inorganic chemistry. You need to have worked for a professor of organic chemistry or in biochemistry/molecular biology to get into pharma. But all science majors don’t have an easy time finding a full time and well paid position since a while and likely so in the future. Only India and China still have good opportunities for scientists. But it is a lot dimmer picture in the western nations regarding these opportunities. My advice: add something to your science degree while being in college. For example information technology/software/programming stuff, some business management degree, or some engineering. Likely this addition will help you more than your actual science degree….just talking from many years experience in the field.

  • Probably gonna die young

    My heart breaks for my fellow Chemists. As a starter, I absolutely love chemistry. A mere 4 years ago I was about to graduate with my Chem BS and I had so much hope for the future. Now that I am in the field I see how deep the flaws go. I work in biotech and although I make a pretty decent $25/hr I can see the cycle of never ending temp work, the lack of benefits, and the unreliability of the field. I also work in a job where absolutely none of my chemistry skills are utilized. The majority of what I need for my job is to be literate and be able to use a calculator. I constantly work around extremely harmful chemicals, and even with an abundance of caution I am constantly put at risk of inhaling potentially deadly chemicals or having poisons spilled on me. I understand the joy of perusing something you care so much about but I recommend minoring in education or something so you can at least get a decent job as a High School teacher when you graduate because industry Chem is a dead end.

  • Seth G.

    Do not go into chemistry unless you plan to get a MS or PhD right afterwards. The industry wages for someone with a BS/BA is not worth it. You will start off as a lab technician with $25/hr being the most recent trend for pay with entry level work in the NJ/NYC, which for anyone that lives here, is not much.

    Anyone thinking about going into chemistry in college right now, please study another major. You will not be happy. I’ve worked in the industry for 6 years; employers will not value you and the work is meaningless. Unless you are doing cutting edge work, it will be a brainless QC job.

  • Elle Edin

    I can’t believe the negativity.
    I’m a chemistry PhD (polymer chemistry), running my own company, making decent money, hiring chemists and paying them decently. I guess I’m in Canada, but is the US really this bad?
    Europe seems fine, so does Canada. All of my former colleagues during grad school have jobs, and are salaried between 40 to 120k USD (adjusted for exchange rate between CAD, SEK, and USD).

  • Holger

    You are in a better/more profitable field in chemistry, but you seem to have lost ground by running your own company what the real struggles are for many chemists graduating from college. Europe is as bad as North America – including Canada! I work with several Canadian chemists here in the US who did not find jobs in Canada. And in Europe, BASF and other big chemical companies are cutting thousands of jobs affecting also many chemists (this info can be found in media from a few weeks ago in Germany etc). But I agree with your salary estimate – which is quite low compared to salaries for chemical engineers for example who also stand much better employment opportunities.