Job descriptions and industry overviews

Research chemist: job description

26 Jun 2023, 09:11

Research chemists use their knowledge of chemical compounds to create and improve products and processes.

research chemist job description

What does a research chemist do? Graduate salaries | Typical employers | Qualifications and training | Key skills

Research chemists (also known as research and development chemists) apply their academic and practical knowledge of chemical compounds to create and improve products – from new drugs and medical treatments to consumer goods – and the processes used to manufacture them. Many roles focus on exploring the environmental impacts of products and processes, and on ensuring they are minimised.

You can also be a research scientist in other areas, such as biology and physics.

Typical duties include:

  • setting up laboratory equipment
  • conducting tests and experiments
  • manufacturing chemicals
  • planning and running projects
  • following protocols to ensure research is conducted rigorously
  • ensuring experiments are carried out safely – for example, by carrying out risk assessments
  • recording and analysing data
  • presenting results to senior research staff and clients
  • researching and writing papers, reports and reviews
  • supervising junior staff, including laboratory technicians
  • keeping up to date with relevant scientific and technical developments.

The nature of the role means that work is likely to be laboratory based. Jobs tend to be centred around areas that are hubs of science-based industry, such as Cambridge.

Graduate salaries

Salaries for research chemists tend to start at around £20,000, according to jobs comparison site Glassdoor. Earnings will rise with experience; the average salary for a research chemist is around £30,000.

Typical employers of research chemists

  • Pharmaceutical companies
  • Consumer goods manufacturers
  • Contract research organisations.

Vacancies are advertised on targetjobs and careers services. You’ll also find them on sector-specific jobs boards. The recruitment process may involve a technical interview.

Qualifications and training required

You can only become a research chemist if you have a good degree (a 2.1 or above) in a relevant science subject such as chemistry or biochemistry.

A relevant postgraduate qualification such as a research-based masters or a PhD is also often required, particularly for permanent positions or senior research positions.

A school leaver could get into the science industry through an apprenticeship as a laboratory technician, which may involve being supervised by, and supporting the work of, a research chemist. However, it’s not possible to progress to a research chemist role without getting a degree.

Key skills for research chemists

Employers will be looking for:

  • excellent numerical skills
  • research skills
  • a logical and independent mind
  • excellent analytical skills
  • meticulous attention to detail and accuracy
  • teamwork and interpersonal skills
  • written and oral communication skills.

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