By studying chemical compounds and discovering ways to improve various products which range from consumables and medicine to microchips that go into electronics, research chemists are indispensable to the product manufacturing process.
Primarily based in laboratories and part of a team of researchers who carry out myriad tasks such as setting up lab equipment, researching papers and conducting tests and experiments, research chemists also record and analyse data – though associates often present results to a senior before writing reports or other documentation.
Work may differ slightly depending on the industry. For instance, a research chemist in the pharmaceutical industry may be in charge of developing new drugs and testing others in clinical trials. On the other hand, a materials chemist studies the physical properties of materials and conducts research into improving them. In the food and beverage (F&B) industry, they may instead look into new flavourings or food additives that can extend the shelf life of food while maintaining safety requirements.
A chemistry-based degree is needed to work in this industry, and postgraduate degrees offer an advantage for promotion to more senior positions. In addition, research chemists have to keep abreast of new research methodologies and equipment to ensure research is not only current, but also incorporates emerging developments in the industry.
Graduate hires typically start out as research associates, and career advancement usually includes either working upwards to becoming a senior researcher, or taking on positions with more of a managerial bent.
Trends and developments
With the environmental impact of waste triggering increasing concern, the industry’s shifting towards green chemistry and eco-friendly practices in order to reduce harmful emissions and waste – and resulting in a rise in demand for applicable knowledge of green chemistry in certain industries.
Research chemists are at the forefront of innovation, and make great contributions to society by improving materials or creating new compounds.
Most research chemists appreciate the satisfaction of seeing their findings add to something larger than themselves, and often cite knowing that their work has the potential of being a significant inclusion to industries or people’s lives as a strong motivator.
Skills required in research chemistry
- Scientific and analytical skills
- Methodical about work
- An eye for detail
- Strong written communication skills
- IT skills