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Chemist

Kairarau Matū

Alternative titles for this job

Chemists study the make-up and behaviour of chemicals, and may use their findings to develop new products and processes.

Pay

Chemists with a Bachelor's or Master's degree usually earn

$50K-$90K per year

Chemists with PhDs usually earn

$90K-$150K per year

Source: Argenta Limited, 2019.

Job opportunities

Chances of getting a job are good for analytical chemists working in industry, but average for research chemists.

Pay

Pay for chemists varies depending on skills and experience:

  • Chemists with Bachelor's degrees working at an assistant chemist level usually earn around $50,000 to $70,000 a year.
  • Chemists with Master's degrees usually earn around $70,000 to $90,000 a year.
  • Chemists who have PhDs usually earn $90,000 to $120,000 a year.
  • With more responsibility and/or management experience, pay could rise to about $150,000 a year or more. 

Source: Argenta Limited, 2019.

(This information is a guide only. Find out more about the sources of our pay information)

What you will do

Chemists may do some or all of the following:

  • develop methods and equipment to study chemical compounds
  • test chemical samples to determine their make-up and properties
  • think of ways to make new chemical compounds
  • work with industries to develop chemical processes
  • carry out experiments and write up the results
  • publish articles in scientific journals
  • teach and supervise students and/or staff.

Chemists who work with industries that manufacture chemicals may also do some or all of the following:

  • manage and monitor chemical manufacturing processes
  • carry out environmental monitoring
  • carry out analytical testing to check the quality and safety of products or materials
  • design and carry out experiments to develop improved chemical processes. 

Skills and knowledge

Chemists need to have:

  • knowledge of chemistry and chemical compounds
  • knowledge of how to safely handle, store and produce large quantities of chemicals
  • practical skills for performing experiments and operating scientific equipment.

Working conditions

Chemists:

  • may work long but flexible hours, and evenings and weekends when doing experiments
  • work in laboratories and offices at research centres, universities and chemical-manufacturing companies. They may also do field research. 
  • may come into contact with hazardous chemicals, so need to take safety precautions
  • may travel nationally and internationally to do research or attend conferences.

What's the job really like?

Chemist video

Natalie Haverkate talks about life as a chemist – 2.20 mins.

Hi there. My name is Natalie Haverkate and I am a chemist.
I spend a lot of my day in the lab trying to make new chemical compounds.
There are many branches of chemistry, but I work in organic chemistry,
which means that I work mainly with chemicals that have carbon in them.
For example,
DNA. So I've just put my safety glasses on as we are in a chemistry lab.
Over here is my bench, and as you can see,
I'm working on a bunch of different things at the moment.
There's a lot of things that kind of half work.
Sometimes you get a little bit of something that works and then a lot of
something that didn't work,
and then you have to try and clean it up. We've just actually sent some
compounds off to the Auckland Cancer Society Research Centre to see if some
compounds have any activity against some cancer cells.
I think it's really cool working on something that, you know,
has big sort of world potential impact. Over here,
I've got this reaction set up.
I wanted to make this compound here because that's one of the
fragments that we use to make the final products,
which we know kill cancer cells. I like being a chemist because I love being in
the lab, working with my hands and putting things together.
I love the problem solving aspect of it. So this is the fifth floor computer and
study room, and this is my desk.
People assume you're just nerdy and very introverted.
Is that like a stereotype? I don't know,
but I feel like I don't know anybody like that, so, oh,
this is my chemistry mug.
It's very appropriate for the environment. So I finished high school and then I
did my Bachelor's, which took 3 years,
and then I did a Postgraduate Diploma in Science, which was 1 year,
followed by a Master's, which was another year. And then I finally did my PhD,
which was 3 and a half years. So in total 10 years.
You can do it in a little bit shorter.
I sort of went the long way around. If you're thinking about doing a career in
chemistry, definitely go for it.
It'll be a lot of hard work and you'll really need to persevere.
But if you love problem solving and you love doing practical work,
absolutely give it a go.

Entry requirements

To become an assistant chemist you need to have a Bachelor's degree in chemistry, biochemistry or a related science.

To become a chemist you need to have a Master's degree in chemistry, biochemistry or a related science. However, a PhD or further postdoctoral study are often preferred. 

Secondary education

A tertiary entrance qualification is required to enter further training.

Useful subjects include chemistry, physics, maths with calculus and statistics, computer science, biology and English.

Personal requirements

Chemists need to be:

  • accurate and observant, with an eye for detail
  • patient and persistent
  • enquiring, creative and motivated
  • good at problem solving
  • good written and verbal communicators
  • well organised, with good planning skills.

Useful experience

Useful experience for chemists includes laboratory work as a technician, or other scientific research work.

Physical requirements

Chemists need to have good eyesight (with or without corrective lenses) and good hand-eye co-ordination.

Find out more about training

National Institute of Water and Atmospheric Research (NIWA)
0800 746 464 - enquiries@niwa.co.nz - www.niwa.co.nz
Royal Society of New Zealand
(04) 472 7421 - www.royalsociety.org.nz
Check out related courses

What are the chances of getting a job?

Growing demand for analytical chemists 

Analytical chemists are in high demand in industries such as health and wellness to test raw materials and finished products before they are produced on a large scale.

There are fewer positions for research chemists because more new product research is being done overseas.  

According to the Census, 615 chemists worked in New Zealand in 2018. 

Industry experience as an assistant chemist improves your chances 

You can increase your chances of getting work as an analytical chemist if you have experience as an assistant chemist:

  • working in industry and using a variety of testing equipment
  • using specific analytical instruments and techniques
  • working within Good Manufacturing Practice (GMP) production standards.    

Types of employers varied

Chemists work for a variety of employers including:

  • Crown research institutes (CRIs) or Crown entities such as Callaghan Innovation, which is the largest employer of research chemists in New Zealand
  • universities
  • private research and development companies. 

Sources

  • Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment (MBIE), 'Occupation Outlook - Scientists, 2019'. 
  • Mitchell, B, people & performance business partner, Argenta Limited, careers.govt.nz interview, November 2019. 
  • Stats NZ, '2018 Census Data', 2019.

(This information is a guide only. Find out more about the sources of our job opportunities information)

Progression and specialisations

Chemists may progress to jobs in areas such as: 

  • senior roles in an analytical laboratory
  • management  
  • research science
  • lecturing in universities 
  • advising on policy and funding for government organisations, including councils
  • patent law for legal firms. 

Chemists can specialise in a number of roles, including:

Analytical Chemist
Analytical chemists determine the structure, composition and nature of substances. They help pharmaceutical industries identify compounds that can be used in drugs, and also identify chemical pollutants in air, water and soil.
Biochemist
Biochemists study biology and chemistry.
Inorganic Chemist
Inorganic chemists study chemical compounds other than those in living things.
Materials Chemist
Materials chemists study, develop and improve materials such as plastic.
Organic Chemist
Organic chemists study the chemical compounds that make up living things. They mix these chemicals to create new compounds, which are used to develop products such as drugs or plastics.
Physical Chemist
Physical chemists study the physical characteristics of atoms and molecules in chemicals. Their research may result in new and better energy sources.
Chemist pouring a chemical solution into a beaker

Chemists perform experiments to test the behaviour of different chemicals

Last updated 19 December 2022