Job Description:

Chemists study chemicals and materials and how they behave under different conditions.

Job Category:

What you will do:

Depending on your role, you could be:

  • inventing and developing new medicines and products
  • investigating environmental issues
  • diagnosing and treating illness and disease
  • analysing forensic evidence
  • teaching, lecturing and carrying out academic research

Your day-to-day tasks may include:

  • designing and conducting laboratory experiments
  • making observations and noting results
  • writing reports and presenting your findings (organisational skills)

You may also supervise the work of support staff such as laboratory technicians, and carry out other administrative work.


You’ll need:

  • knowledge of chemistry including the safe use and disposal of chemicals
  • maths knowledge
  • science skills
  • to be able to use a computer and the main software packages competently

As well as:

  • scientific, numerical and technical skills
  • excellent spoken and written communication skills
  • the ability to work well with others (teamwork)
  • complex problem-solving skills
  • to be thorough and pay attention to detail – analytical
  • a logical approach to solving problems
  • the ability to analyse data
  • the ability to make decisions
Illustration of employee looking at workspace

Entry Requirements:

To become a chemist, you typically need to follow a specific educational path and gain expertise in various subjects related to chemistry. Here are the key subjects you should focus on:

  1. Chemistry: This is the core subject, and you’ll need a strong foundation in general chemistry, organic chemistry, inorganic chemistry, and physical chemistry. These courses will cover the fundamental principles of chemistry.
  2. Mathematics: Mathematics is crucial for solving complex chemical equations, performing quantitative analysis, and understanding physical chemistry concepts. You should study mathematics through at least calculus.
  3. Physics: Physics provides a basis for understanding physical phenomena at the atomic and molecular levels, which is essential in chemistry. Focus on topics like classical mechanics, electromagnetism, and quantum mechanics.
  4. Biology: Some branches of chemistry, such as biochemistry and medicinal chemistry, have strong ties to biology. Understanding biological concepts can be valuable for certain chemistry careers.
  5. Analytical Chemistry: Analytical chemistry deals with techniques and methods for analyzing chemical substances. This subject is important for laboratory work and quality control.

Post School

You’ll usually need a degree accredited by the Royal Society of Chemistry in the UK (or equally relevant association in the country in which you want to practise in) in:

  • chemistry
  • applied or analytical chemistry
  • biochemistry

Many employers will also want you to have a relevant postgraduate qualification.

Most universities now offer both BSc (Bachelor of Science) and MChem/MSci (Master of Chemistry/Science) degree programmes. The entry requirements for the MChem/MSci courses are usually a little higher.

You may also be able to get into this career through a foundation degree, HNC/HND or higher apprenticeship.

You could also start your career as a laboratory technician and study for a relevant qualification part-time.

Working Hours and Environment:

You’ll usually work 9am to 5pm, Monday to Friday, with occasional evenings and weekends. You may need to work shifts or be on an on-call rota.

Much of your work will take place in a laboratory.

Some travelling may be involved, for fieldwork or going to meetings and conferences.


Career Path & Progression:

You’ll usually be able to find work with a wide range of employers including the hospitals, public health laboratories, research institutes and government agencies.

As a chemist working in industry, you could be involved in research and development, patent work, health and safety or forensic science.

You could also move into teaching or a career in the media.

As an experienced chemist in the UK, you could work towards chartered status like Chartered Chemist (CChem) and Chartered Scientist (CSci).