California Occupational Guides

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Detailed Guide for

Chemists in California

May also be called: Research Chemists; and Research and Development Chemists

Specialties within this occupation include: Analytical Chemists; Environmental Chemists; Inorganic Chemists; Materials Chemists; Organic Chemists; and Physical Chemists

What Would I Do?

Everything in the environment, whether naturally occurring or of human design, is composed of chemicals. Most Chemists are involved in research and development, production, or chemical analysis. In research and development, Chemists study the composition, structure, and properties of substances and the interactions between them. They search for new information about materials and look for ways to put this knowledge to practical use. They apply scientific principles and techniques using specialized instruments to measure, identify, and evaluate changes in matter. Chemists working in applied research use their knowledge to improve and create new products.

Chemists also work in production and quality control in manufacturing plants. They prepare instructions for plant workers that specify ingredients, mixing times, and temperatures for each stage in the manufacturing process. They also monitor automated processes to ensure proper product yield and test samples of raw materials or finished products to make certain that they meet industry or government standards.

Chemists often specialize in one of the following areas:

Analytical Chemists examine the content of substances and measure the amount of each component present. These Chemists also identify the presence of chemical pollutants in air, water, and soil.

Inorganic Chemists work with compounds of non-carbon structure, including most of the metals and minerals. In the electronics industry, they work on ways to build solid state electronic components. Others find ways to separate toxic metals from water or produce soil treatments.

Materials Chemists study and develop new materials to improve existing products or make new ones. Virtually all Chemists are involved in this quest in one way or another. Their work contributes to the creation or improvement of all kinds of products, from space shuttle tiles to disposable diapers.

Organic Chemists work with carbon and its compounds, mostly derived from animals and plants. These Chemists develop commercial products such as pharmaceuticals, plastics, and fertilizers.

Physical Chemists study the relationships between the chemical and physical properties of substances. These Chemists help to develop new energy sources.

Chemists use computers and a wide variety of sophisticated laboratory instruments for modeling, simulation, and experimental analysis. Some tools include bench top centrifuges, hematology or chemistry mixers, lasers, and spectrometers.

Those interested in the study of living cells and organisms may want to investigate the related career of biochemists.

Important Tasks and Related Skills

Each task below is matched to a sample skill required to carry out the task.

View the skill definitions
TaskSkill Used in this Task
Analyze organic and inorganic compounds to determine chemical and physical properties, composition, structure, relationships, and reactions, utilizing chromatography, spectroscopy, and spectrophotometry techniques.Chemistry
Develop, improve, and customize products, equipment, formulas, processes, and analytical methods.Complex Problem Solving
Compile and analyze test information to determine process or equipment operating efficiency and to diagnose malfunctions.Quality Control Analysis
Confer with scientists and engineers to conduct analyses of research projects, interpret test results, or develop nonstandard tests.English Language
Direct, coordinate, and advise personnel in test procedures for analyzing components and physical properties of materials.Oral Expression
Induce changes in composition of substances by introducing heat, light, energy, and chemical catalysts for quantitative and qualitative analysis.Science
Write technical papers and reports and prepare standards and specifications for processes, facilities, products, or tests.Writing
Source: U.S. Department of Labor Occupational Information Network (O*NET)

Working Conditions

Chemists usually work in well-lit, well-equipped laboratories, offices, or classrooms. They normally work a 40-hour workweek, but may work additional or irregular hours when completing special research projects. Chemists may perform some of their research in a chemical plant or outdoors, for example, gathering water samples to test for pollutants. Chemists can be exposed to health or safety hazards when handling certain chemicals such as highly caustic or potentially explosive chemicals. Risks are minimal when protective gear is worn and proper safety procedures are followed.

Will This Job Fit Me?

The job of Chemist will appeal to those who enjoy working with ideas that require an extensive amount of thinking, patience, searching for facts, and figuring out problems. Results-oriented individuals who are independent workers and like to make their own decisions should enjoy this type of job.

What Wages and Benefits Can I Expect?


The median wage in 2021 for Chemists in California was $81,868 annually, or $39.36 hourly. The median is the point at which half of the workers earn more and half earn less.

Change to Hourly Wages
Annual Wages for 2021Low
(25th percentile)
(50th percentile)
(75th percentile)
Source: EDD/LMID Occupational Employment Statistics Survey, 2021 Wages do not reflect self-employment.
View Wages for All Areas


Most employers provide health and life insurance, vacation, and retirement plans. Those in private industry may receive bonuses.

What is the Job Outlook?

Within the chemical industry, job opportunities are expected to be most plentiful in pharmaceutical and biotechnology firms, which would be less affected by economic downturns. Stronger competition among drug companies and an aging population are contributing to the need for drugs discovered through scientific research. The remaining chemical manufacturing industries are expected to employ fewer Chemists as companies shift from in-house research and development operations to use of scientific research and development firms. Consequently, these firms will experience a healthy growth. However, some companies are expected to move manufacturing and research to foreign countries for economic reasons.

Employment of Materials Chemists should continue to grow as manufacturers of diverse products seek to improve quality by using new materials and manufacturing processes.

Chemists will also be needed to develop and improve the technologies and processes used to produce chemicals, as well as monitor air and water pollutants to ensure compliance with government environmental regulations. Environmental research and the search for alternative sources of energy will offer many new opportunities for Chemists. The chemical industry will continue to invest in technology that reduces pollution and cleans up existing waste sites.

Projections of Employment

In California, the number of Chemists is expected to grow faster than average growth rate for all occupations. Jobs for Chemists are expected to increase by 11.3 percent, or 1,200 jobs between 2018 and 2028.

Estimated Employment and Projected Growth
Geographic Area
(Estimated Year-Projected Year)
Total Job
Source: EDD/LMID Projections of Employment by Occupation
View Projected Growth for All Areas

How Do I Qualify?

Education, Training, and Other Requirements

A bachelor’s degree in chemistry or a related science usually is the minimum educational requirement for entry-level Chemist jobs. However, many research jobs require a master’s degree or, more frequently, a Ph.D. Chemists usually follow one of the following training paths: bachelor’s degree in chemistry, master’s degree, doctorate degree, or extensive on-the-job training in addition to a college degree.

Early Career Planning

High school preparation courses in chemistry, biology, physics, environmental studies, algebra, geometry, trigonometry, statistics, and computer technology are helpful.

Continuing Education

While continuing education is usually not required, it is important for Chemists to keep up with current findings and technology. Several professional associations in various fields offer educational seminars and publications. Continuing education is required to maintain certain certifications.

Licensing and Certification

Licensing is required for those who work in a medical laboratory. The California Department of Public Health (CDPH) issues the Clinical Laboratory Chemist, Clinical Laboratory Chemist Scientist Limited, and Clinical Laboratory Chemist Scientist Trainee licenses. They do not administer a State examination but require applicants to pass a certifying exam given by an approved certifying organization such as the American Society for Clinical Pathology. The CDPH also requires passing a short quiz on state laboratory law for licensure. Contact the agency that issues the license for additional information. Click on the license title below for details.

Certification is not required for many Chemist positions; however, renewable certifications are offered by various professional organizations. The National Registry of Certified Chemists offers certifications for several categories such as Clinical and Environmental Analytical Chemists. The American Board of Clinical Chemistry, among others, also offers certification. Requirements to take the certifying exams include appropriate education and training in chemistry and experience in the field. For more information, go to the U.S. Department of Labor's Career InfoNet Web site and scroll down to "Career Tools." Click on "Certification Finder" and follow the instructions to locate certification programs.

Where Can I Find Training?

There are two ways to search for training information:

Contact the schools you are interested in to learn about the classes available, tuition and fees, and any prerequisite course work.

Where Would I Work?

The largest industries employing Chemists are as follows:

Industry TitlePercent of Total Employment for Occupation in California
Chemical Manufacturing31.3%
Scientific Research and Development Svc16.7%
Architectural and Engineering Services11.5%
Local Government5.4%
Employment Services4.5%
Source: EDD/LMID Staffing Patterns

Finding a Job

Direct application to employers remains one of the most effective job search methods. College placement offices and on-campus recruitment provide job leads for students. Professional journals, classified ads, and the Internet provide current job listings. Professional associations provide career services to their members. Online job opening systems include JobCentral at and CalJOBSSM at

To find your nearest One-Stop Career Center, go to Service Locator. View the helpful job search tips for more resources. (requires Adobe Reader).

Yellow Page Headings

You can focus your local job search by checking employers listed online or in your local telephone directory. Below are some suggested headings where you might find employers of Chemists.

  • Biotechnology, Products and Services
  • Chemicals, Wholesale & Manufacturers
  • Laboratories
  • Pharmaceutical Manufacturing
  • Scientific Research

Find Possible Employers

To locate a list of employers in your area, go to "Find Employers" on the Labor Market Information Web site:

  • Select one of the top industries that employ the occupation. This will give you a list of employers in that industry in your area.
  • Click on "View Filter Selections" to limit your list to specific cities or employer size.
  • Click on an employer for the street address, telephone number, size of business, Web site, etc.
  • Contact the employer for possible employment.

Where Could This Job Lead?

In private industry, Chemists with a bachelor’s degree have the opportunity, with experience and additional training, to advance to more responsible positions. Those with advanced degrees have greater opportunities for advancement. Chemists with a master’s degree usually qualify for applied research positions and teaching positions in two-year colleges. A doctorate offers the best opportunities for higher levels of research and four-year college teaching positions.

Related Occupations

Below is a list of occupations related to Chemists with links to more information.

Agricultural and Food Science TechniciansProfile
Biochemists and BiophysicistsGuide
Chemical Plant and System OperatorsProfile
Chemical TechniciansGuide
Environmental Science and Protection Technicians, Including HealthProfile
Materials ScientistsProfile
Soil and Plant ScientistsGuide

Other Sources

These links are provided for your convenience and do not constitute an endorsement by EDD.

For the Career Professional

The following codes are provided to assist counselors, job placement workers, or other career professionals.

SOC - Standard Occupational Classification19-2031
O*NET - Occupational Information Network
   Interest Codes (RIASEC)IRC
CIP - Classification of Instructional Programs
   Chemistry, General 400501
TOP - Taxonomy of Programs (California Community Colleges)
   Chemistry, General190500