To become a materials specialist, it is necessary to have at least a four-year degree in chemistry, materials science, or a related field. This may be sufficient for work in quality control and as a basic research assistant. Scientists who want to participate in research and development need graduate degrees, and a doctorate is highly useful. It is also possible to pursue postgraduate work in the field to develop more skills and professional connections.
Materials specialists work with chemical, electrical, biological, structural, and computational materials. They can develop new products, test existing ones to learn more about their properties, and improve products to make them more useful. Usually a person in training to become a materials specialist will choose a specific career track to focus on, as each of these areas is very broad and requires specialized training.
A high school student who thinks she might want to become a materials specialist can take math and science courses to prepare. If electives in fields like engineering are available or she can take such courses at a local college, she might want to pursue these to get ahead on her college coursework. Undergraduate work in the sciences can be very demanding, and students may also find it helpful to take care of some general education requirements before they go to school. These may include advanced placement exams or classes at a college that will transfer credits.
Many colleges offer chemistry, materials science, engineering, and similar training to students who want to pursue careers in these areas. A student who wants to become a materials specialist might want to think about the kind of work he wants to do because this can determine the best undergraduate institution for his needs. Students who want to develop new bandaging materials, for example, should go to schools that work on medical materials. Conversely, students interested in new metals need to attend colleges and universities that do research in metallurgy.
After completing a bachelor's degree, it may be possible to become a materials specialist who does work like quality control in a pharmaceutical company or tests materials for a steel manufacturer. This work can be varied and rewarding, but does not involve very much research. Scientists with a passion for research should pursue graduate work and research opportunities in a specific area of materials science. It can also be advisable to join a professional organization to make connections with other scientists.