Careers in Chemistry: 15 Popular Options to Consider

Illustration of a man sitting at a desk and looking at various chemistry equipment

Do you remember that chemistry set your parents gifted you when you were nine years old? Yeah, well, it turns out that this was perhaps one of the most fantastic presents you ever received. Indeed, your parents nagging you to embrace any of the STEM fields in high school and university or college was good for you, even if you disagreed with their passive-aggressive behaviour to take a career test.

You may not see it in everyday life, but chemistry is a crucial component of our society's advancement and maintenance. From pharmaceutical development to food safety to destroying scents from those disgusting gym socks in your laundry bin, the science of chemistry has enhanced our world in a myriad of ways. And with new barriers being broken and new fields being discovered, a plethora of opportunities are being spawned, allowing chemists to expand or rejuvenate their passion.

So, what are they? And do they pay well? 

Whether you’re weighing up your options after college or considering a career change, we’ve compiled a list of the top 15 chemistry jobs for your consideration.

Let’s grab our microscope and explore!

1. Toxicologist

Average salary: $84,000 (£62,200)

Toxicologists study the safety, efficacy and biological effects of drugs, chemicals, agents and a wide variety of other substances on living things. Their job also consists of determining negative reactions, dosages that trigger these harmful effects and safe exposure limits.

2. Forensic chemist

Average salary: $59,150 (£43,800)

Forensic chemists have become famous due to popular culture references, thanks primarily to TV shows like CSI and Law & Order. But this is a serious job that performs incredible work by utilising forensic science to uncover information emanating from physical evidence. Forensic chemists will essentially analyse blood, gunpowder residue and DNA to determine when a crime was committed and by whom.

3. Pharmacologist

Average salary: $84,810 (£62,800)

Like a toxicologist, a pharmacologist plays an imperative role in today's world. These scientific professionals investigate and analyse drugs, chemicals and various other substances to learn how they impact biological systems and determine their safety, and they are integral in the development of pharmaceuticals.

4. Chemical engineer

Average salary: $108,770 (£80,560)

Chemical engineers' day-to-day responsibilities include researching, designing and developing chemical processes and equipment. They also manage, maintain and operate plants in the chemical, pharmaceutical, resource, food processing and plastics industrial fields. Quality control and environmental protection are other key aspects of the position.

5. Quality control chemist

Average salary: $50,060 (£37,080)

Quality control chemists will mostly be found in a laboratory, testing and measuring lab materials and products for pharmaceutical or manufacturing companies. The purpose behind this position is to ensure compliance with federal regulations and corporate safety procedures.

6. Academic researcher

Average salary: $64,100 (£47,480)

The title of academic researcher varies from industry to industry, but the same principles apply in the field of chemistry. Also known as a research chemist, this kind of employment will assess chemical compounds and understand how they interact. Experts in this field will apply their skills and acumens for a wide variety of companies, such as pharmaceuticals, cosmetics and even electronics.

7. Biotechnologist

Average salary: $45,860 (£33,970)

Biotechnologists are given a plethora of opportunities to improve our living standards. How? They’re tasked with creating and enhancing products and processes for agriculture, conservation and medicine, using intricate biological organisms. Ultimately, biotechnologists study chemical, genetic and physical attributes of things like cells and tissues and then try to develop industrial uses for them.

8. Nanotechnologist

Average salary: $78,790 (£58,370)

Nanotechnology is still a relatively new field, as it relates to constructing materials and devices on the scale of atoms and molecules. A nanotechnologist's job is to facilitate this area of science by manipulating matter one-billionth of a metre and coming up with new materials, equipment, drugs, diagnostic tools and foods.

9. Scientific laboratory technician

Average salary: $53,210 (£39,420)

Is a scientific laboratory technician the sexiest in science? Not quite, but it’s still a crucial job that lets scientists focus on intricate analytical processes in laboratories. While someone with a chemistry degree will concentrate on this kind of lab-based investigations, scientific laboratory technicians can still assist in biological, physical and life science probes.

10. Fragrance chemist

Average salary: $55,050 (£40,780)

Imagine being around different smells all day, whether it’s for dryer sheets or colognes. You could be nauseous just thinking about it. But that is the life of a fragrance chemist, who’s in charge of conducting research to develop attractive scents for all kinds of consumer products, from fabric softener to antibacterial wipes to perfume.

11. Synthetic organic chemist

Average salary: $64,400 (£47,710)

This is a subject related to chemical science that includes building specific chemical compounds from simple compounds. The synthetic organic chemist is responsible for getting the synthesis of naturally occurring compounds with a reliable structure to improve intended attributes.

12. Chemistry teacher

Average salary: $79,550 (£58,930)

A chemistry teacher teaches courses relating to chemical and physical properties, offering instruction in qualitative and quantitative chemical analysis methods at the secondary and postsecondary levels. It should be noted that many chemistry teachers do not only work in the classroom, but also do a lot of academic and laboratory research.

13. Hazardous waste chemist

Average salary: $69,200 (£51,250)

This is a challenging but critical job since you’re responsible for managing and monitoring chemical pollutants in air and water. As you may know, the air you drink and the water you breathe – reverse that – are crucial to the sustainability of life on Earth. These hazardous waste chemists will develop and implement private businesses and governments' plans to better manage their hazardous waste.

14. Oceanographer

Average salary: $83,700 (£61,990)

Chemistry is crucial to oceanography because oceanographers will research marine ecosystems, performing scientific studies on water compounds, seafloor geology and ocean life. Jobs in this niche are competitive but high-paying, so if you land this position with the government, a university or an energy corporation, thank your lucky stars.

15. Water chemist

Average salary: $67,320 (£49,860)

How safe is the water you consume? That is what water chemists are tasked to find out every day, whether it’s for the municipal government or a corporation that sells you water. Water chemists will study and assess the presence of chemicals in the water, conduct water purification testing, and analyse water from a whole range of ecosystems.

It’s been quite the last couple of years for the chemistry industry, especially on the coronavirus vaccine front. Chemists have been integral in mitigating the 2020 public health crisis, and early estimates suggest that professional chemists will be rewarded with plenty of employment opportunities around the world. From academic institutions to multinational corporations, the world is a chemist's oyster at this point.

Are you thinking about pursuing any of these top chemistry jobs? Got something else in mind? Let us know in the comments section below!