How to Become a Chemist
Chemists study matter and energy and reactions between them. You’ll need to take advanced courses to become a chemist, so it’s not a job you pick up right out of high school. If you’re wondering how many years it takes to become a chemist, the broad answer is 4 to 10 years of college and graduate study.
The minimum education requirement to be a chemist is a college degree, such as a B.S. or Bachelor of Science in chemistry or a B.A. or Bachelor of Arts in chemistry. Usually, this takes 4 years of college. However, entry-level jobs in chemistry are relatively scarce and may offer limited opportunities for advancement. Most chemists have masters (M.S.) or doctoral (Ph.D.) degrees. Advanced degrees usually are required for research and teaching positions. A masters degree typically takes another 1 1/2 to 2 year (total of 6 years of college), while a doctoral degree takes 4 to 6 years. Many students get their masters degree and then proceed to the doctoral degree, so it takes, on average, 10 years of college to get a Ph.D.
You can become a chemist with a degree in a related field, such as chemical engineering, environmental science, or materials science. Also, many chemists with advanced degrees may have one or more of their degrees in math, computer science, physics, or another science because chemistry requires mastery of multiple disciplines. Chemists also learn about laws and regulations related to their area of expertise. Working as an intern or a postdoc in a lab is a good way to gain hands-on experience in chemistry, which may lead to a job offer as a chemist. If you get a job as a chemist with a bachelor degree, many companies will pay for additional training and education to keep you current and help you advance your skills.
How to Become a Chemist
While you can transition from another career into chemistry, there are steps to take if you know you want to become a chemist when you’re you.
- Take the appropriate courses in high school. These include all college-track courses, plus you should try to get as much math and science as possible. If you can, take high school chemistry because it will help prepare you for college chemistry. Make sure you have a solid understanding of algebra and geometry.
- Pursue a bachelor’s degree in science. If you want to be a chemist, the natural choice of a major is chemistry. However, there are related majors that can lead to a career in chemistry, including biochemistry and engineering. An associate’s degree (2-year) might land you a technician job, but chemists need more courses. Important college courses include general chemistry, organic chemistry, biology, physics, and calculus.
- Gain experience. In college, you’ll have the opportunity to take summer positions in chemistry or to help with research in your junior and senior years. You’ll need to seek these programs out and tell professors you’re interested in getting hands-on experience. This experience will help you get into graduate school and ultimately land a job.
- Get an advanced degree from a graduate school. You can go for a Master’s degree or doctorate. You’ll choose a specialty in graduate school, so this is a good time to know which career you want to pursue.
- Get a job. Don’t expect to start your dream job fresh out of school. If you got a Ph.D., consider doing postdoctoral work. Postdocs gain additional experience and are in an excellent position to find a job.