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A chemist is a specialist in chemicals. While the title can mean different things, in the United State of America, a chemist is a specialist in mixing, analyzing, and separating compounds and elements. There are many different types of chemists, but all share a basic understanding of matter. Specific types of chemists can include chemistry technicians, quality assurance chemists, and research chemists. Chemists can also be divided by their field, such as being biochemists, organic chemists, inorganic chemists, food chemists, or forensic chemists.
With so many different types of chemists, it may be hard for a prospective chemist to figure out how to get started. The following is a basic discussion of how to become one of the many different types of chemists. While each individual’s career path will be different, the following outline should be helpful to those aspiring to the profession.
All chemists must have the basic knowledge of matter that makes up the foundation of their profession. Most aspiring chemists will learn this through a year of high school chemistry and one year of college-level chemistry. This level of chemistry is often referred to as 100-level chemistry or first-year chemistry, and is considered the minimum amount needed to be a professional.
Those that have achieved the basic level of chemistry may be able to find a job as a lab technician or a lab assistant. Lab technicians generally run a few specific chemistry-based procedures over and over again for a specific company as the whole of their job. An example of this might be a lab technician that uses a spectrophotometer to analyze samples that other chemists bring to him and then returns the specific results. Lab assistants are similar to lab technicians, but are usually assigned to individual chemists or a specific lab. Lab assistants have a greater variety of duties than lab technicians, and are also usually responsible for keeping the lab and the equipment of other chemists clean.
Most chemists continue to pursue their education after they have learned the basics of chemistry. The next level is that of an associate’s degree. To achieve this, most chemists will need to continue their education to include a year of organic chemistry along with a few other chemistry and non-chemistry courses. Specific coursework may need to be taken if a chemist wants to work in a specific field such as food chemistry or forensic chemistry. A minor in chemistry usually has similar chemistry-related requirements to that of an associate’s degree.
Chemists with an associate’s degree can be found working in many areas. They can be found working as lab technicians and lab assistants as previously mentioned. They can also work as quality assurance (QA) technicians. QA techs test products or chemicals to make sure they meet specific standards. If there is a problem, they help to figure out what it is and correct it. QA techs may be required to have more education than just an associate’s degree, especially in certain industries.
The next level of education for a chemist is that of a bachelor’s degree. Bachelor’s degree chemists usually continue to take a broad approach to the subject matter. They take courses such as biochemistry, inorganic chemistry, and analytical chemistry. Chemists at this level usually have a complete overview of all areas of the science. A few chemists at this level specialize in a specific area such as food chemistry, forensic chemistry, or pharmacology, but many others will wait until their master’s degree before specializing.
Chemists that achieve their bachelor’s degrees can often be found working as junior researchers and researchers. Researchers have more autonomy than lab technicians. They are guided in their pursuits by a head researcher, supervisor, or similar authority. Researchers attempt to answer a specific question by looking at the experiments of other scientists and conducting their own.
A master’s degree, a doctorate, and post-doctoral studies are the final levels of education. Chemists usually specialize at the master’s level, choosing an area such as organic, inorganic, or analytical chemistry. Earning a master’s degree allows a chemist to teach as a college professor, though doctoral students and those with doctorates are usually the ones chosen for such positions. Knowledge-wise, it is sometimes difficult to distinguish those with doctorates from those with master’s degrees. Those with doctorates are usually pursued for the highest positions in chemistry, but those with master’s degrees and the right experiences can also be competitive.
Experience is usually the key to success when getting a job as a chemist. Prospective chemists are highly encouraged to do co-op education during their college careers if they want to work outside of a college setting. Chemists should also attempt to get positions as laboratory assistants either in the summer or during the school year at their colleges if at all possible.
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