Analytical chemist: job description

Analytical chemists assess the chemical structure and nature of substances. Their skills are needed for a variety of purposes including drug development, forensic analysis and toxicology.

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Analytical chemists can specialise in areas as varied as toxicology, pharmaceuticals and forensics.

What does an analytical chemist do? Typical employers | Qualifications and training | Key skills

Analytical chemists analyse samples using a range of techniques such as electro-chromatography, high performance liquid chromatography and spectroscopy. They are employed by a variety of public and private sector organisations, and can specialise in areas such as toxicology, pharmaceuticals, quality control or forensics. Typical responsibilities include:

  • using a range of software, techniques and equipment to carry out research and analysis
  • analysing and interpreting data
  • making sure that data is accurately recorded in accordance with guidelines
  • reporting and presenting results
  • writing research papers, reports, reviews and summaries
  • keeping up to date with scientific and technical developments
  • ensuring that health and safety standards are adhered to
  • preparing product licence documentation
  • liaising with customers, suppliers and research/scientific staff
  • developing new analytical methods

Typical employers of analytical chemists

  • Government agencies
  • Publicly funded research councils
  • Hospitals
  • Universities
  • Public health laboratories
  • Environmental agencies
  • Specialist research organisations
  • Consultancies
  • Testing companies
  • Private food, materials, polymers, biotechnology, pharmaceutical and chemical companies

Opportunities are available in large, localised centres throughout the UK, although roles in research and development (R&D) are more common in the south of England.

Vacancies generally attract strong competition, especially those for graduate training schemes with major companies. For this reason, applications (particularly those to larger employers) should be made early in the academic year. Opportunities are advertised online, by careers services, in national newspapers, in relevant scientific publications such as New Scientist , Nature , Chemistry World and their online equivalents, and in other journals published by scientific professional institutions. Specialist recruitment agencies also advertise vacancies, although these are generally for laboratory-based posts.

  • The recruitment process is likely to involve a technical interview. Read our article on technical interviews to find out what these involve and how you can tackle them.
  • If you'd like to find out what your salary might look like, take a look at our article on how much you might earn in science on our TARGETcareers website.

Qualifications and training required

You can only become an analytical chemist if you have a good honours degree (typically a 2.1 or above) in a relevant subject such as chemistry, applied/analytical chemistry or biochemistry. There are also opportunities for geochemists, materials scientists, mathematicians and environmental scientists within the field of analytical chemistry. Practical research/laboratory work experience is helpful, although full training on the job is often available.

A postgraduate qualification in analytical chemistry may be beneficial for careers in research or for career advancement in the long term and may allow entry to the profession at a more senior level. Read our article on scientific postgraduate study to explore your different options.

Membership of the Royal Society of Chemistry (RSC) may help you progress to more advanced positions. This is a recognition of achievement gained through professional activity, and may be awarded three years after graduation. Members may subsequently be awarded the status of fellow (FRSC) or chartered chemist (CChem), denoting professionalism, achievement and a high level of specialised subject knowledge.

Key skills for analytical chemists

Analytical work demands patience, determination, creativity, flexibility and decisiveness. Employers increasingly look for both research and transferable skills including:

  • a logical and independent mind
  • the motivation and ability to solve complex problems
  • a systematic approach to tasks
  • theoretical knowledge of analytical techniques
  • the ability to develop and validate new methods
  • excellent IT skills
  • numerical and analytical ability
  • teamworking
  • responsibility
  • communication and presentation skills

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