Analytical chemists use a diverse range of methods to investigate the chemical nature of substances. The aim of such work is to identify and understand the substance and how it behaves in different conditions.
In the pharmaceutical industry, for example, analytical chemists are involved throughout the drug development process; they study the physical or chemical properties of drug substances and formulations, with a view to determining the quality and stability of drug products.
Types of analytical chemist
Analytical chemists may be involved in work as diverse as:
- drug formulation and development;
- chemical or forensic analysis;
- process development;
- product validation;
- quality control;
Techniques used or activities carried out may vary depending on the employer or specialist area, but may include:
- analysing samples from various sources to provide information on compounds or quantities of compounds present;
- using analytical techniques and instrumentation, such as gas and high performance liquid chromatography (HPLC), ion chromatography, electrochromatography and spectroscopy (infrared and ultraviolet, amongst others);
- interpreting data and adhering to strict guidelines on documentation when recording data;
- reporting scientific results;
- using a range of analytical techniques, instrumentation and software;
- developing techniques for the analysis of drug products and chemicals;
- working collaboratively in cross-functional teams;
- liaising with customers, staff and suppliers;
- being aware of, and keeping up to date with, health and safety issues;
- validating methods and equipment.
More senior analysts are likely to be involved in:
- preparing the documentation for product licence applications, e.g. with the Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency (MHRA) or the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA);
- setting the specifications for finished products.
- Typical starting salaries range from: £16,000 to £22,000. Those entering with a PhD may start on higher salaries.
- Salaries with experience or at a more senior level vary but typically range from £24,000 to £35,000. Senior analytical chemists with management responsibilities could earn over £50,000 when they have built up extensive experience.
Salaries vary depending upon the employer, geographical location and the employer's primary business. Benefits also differ according to the employer, but free or subsidised medical insurance is common.
Income figures are intended as a guide only.
The working hours are usually 9am to 5pm, possibly with some extra hours required depending upon the workload and sample schedule. Part-time work and career breaks may be possible.
What to expect
- Working in multidisciplinary teams is common, as is communicating with scientists and customers from both within and outside the company.
- At more junior levels, staff are likely to be predominantly lab-based, whereas staff at more senior levels are increasingly office-based.
- Self-employment is very unlikely due to the significant financial investment in equipment and staffing, plus the need for accreditation. There are opportunities for freelance consultancy work, although large companies tend to have their own experts.
- Jobs are widely available throughout the country and tend to be in large, localised centres. Research and development (R&D) work can be more commonly found in south England.
- Work may occasionally be stressful due to tight deadlines and pressure to solve problems as quickly as possible. Routine analysis may involve doing the same job for long periods of time, although this is less likely at more senior levels.
- Typically, travel within a working day and absence from home overnight are not that common. Overseas travel is rare, although secondments abroad may be possible at higher grades.
The academic standards for entry into the career of analytical scientist are usually high; a good degree (typically a 2:1) is required. Relevant degree subjects include:
- analytical chemistry;
- applied chemistry;
- environmental science (physical);
- forensic science;
- marine sciences, marine biology or oceanography;
- materials sciences or technology.
Competition for jobs with many of the major companies is high. While entry with an HND or foundation degree could be a possibility (if the candidate has previous experience), it is likely to be at a lower level with restrictions on the laboratory functions that can be carried out. Employers may offer training schemes.
A pre-entry postgraduate qualification is not a requirement, although having an MSc or PhD in analytical chemistry or a related subject could prove to be an advantage for longer-term promotion and professional development or for jobs in research. PhD holders are also sometimes sought for more senior posts.
You will need to show:
- self-confidence and motivation to investigate and solve complex problems;
- the ability to prioritise and schedule work to meet demands set by the department, company or external customer;
- presentation skills and the ability to convey technical information to non-technical people;
- a good standard of numeracy and skills in data analysis;
- IT skills;
- creativity and the ability to use initiative;
- effective teamworking skills;
- a flexible and methodical approach to work.
Analytical chemists also need to be skilled in good laboratory practice (GLP) and have a theoretical knowledge, although not necessarily practical experience, of a range of analytical techniques and instrumentation. Being able to perform tasks to quality standards in a safe environment is also a requirement.
Practical experience of working in a laboratory environment is desirable, although graduates with little or no experience in this area should still be encouraged to apply, as full training is often available.
Analytical chemists work in a diverse range of scientific industries. Typical employers include:
- agrochemical companies;
- biotechnology or contract research organisations;
- chemical and polymer manufacturers;
- environmental agencies;
- food companies;
- government agencies;
- hospital laboratories;
- multidisciplinary consultancy or testing companies;
- petrochemical companies;
- pharmaceutical companies;
- public health laboratories.
Research and development (R&D) is carried out in a variety of organisations. Analytical chemists can be involved in work in both commercial organisations and the public sector, for example, in higher education. The work may focus on:
- pure research, which tends to be conducted within universities and is primarily done to improve understanding, without necessarily having an intended purpose; or
- applied research, which involves the development of a commercially viable product and tends to take place within private industry and commercial organisations.
Research is, however, increasingly collaborative across all scientific fields, with many partnerships between business and academia.
There is also a large number of research institutions (the government and research council laboratories and those affiliated with charities, foundations and museums) that have broader goals than industry, but are working in focused areas.
Look for job vacancies at:
Many of the major companies will advertise jobs and graduate training schemes on their own corporate websites, so check these regularly.
In addition, recruitment agencies commonly handle vacancies. These tend to be almost solely laboratory based and require practical experience, but may provide a first step into an organisation that you are interested in working for. Agencies you may want to investigate include:
Most training is on the job, delivered by senior colleagues, and may be supported by short courses.
All entrants receive documented training procedures in the techniques they will use. Suppliers of technical equipment or specialist software may also provide training.
In addition, training may be delivered through a programme of continuing professional development (CPD). For a range of short courses and conferences that can aid this see the Royal Society of Chemistry (RSC).
The RSC's Analytical Division is a group of analytical scientists working together to promote analytical science from school education to the most advanced research in academia and industry.
The group also has the Analytical Science Network, which was established specifically for young researchers (under 35 years), to foster the careers of present and prospective analytical scientists and to promote analytical science.
Larger companies may provide opportunities for further academic study, for example to undertake a relevant Masters or a PhD.
The role of analytical chemist offers good opportunities for career progression and employment is possible in a wide range of industries.
Progression to more senior grades will involve undertaking increasing responsibility, and promotion will depend upon ability and experience. Obtaining a higher qualification, such as a PhD, is a common route into senior roles.
Many analytical chemists become members of the RSC. This can be beneficial for progression as its careers service offers support to its members throughout their career. It provides information, advice and guidance on all aspects of career planning and the job-seeking process, including developing or changing careers.
Members can also receive advice and guidance via email, over the telephone and through career consultations and surgeries held throughout the UK and Ireland.
Analytical chemists can also develop skills and gain professional recognition by achieving chartered status as a Chartered Chemist (CChem) or a Chartered Scientist (CSci). Certain requirements have to be met to gain chartered status and it usually takes a minimum of two years.