Pharmaceutical chemists apply chemistry to the development and improvement of medication. Sometimes referred to as medicinal chemists, they also work with other scientists to test and analyze substances and compounds for pharmaceutical use. More often than not, pharmaceutical chemists are found working in labs, employing basic and applied research techniques to investigate the composition and structure of old and new compounds. Salaries vary by degree.
In 2012, chemists earned an average of $76,870 a year, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. Those working in the pharmaceutical industry brought home closer to $75,980 annually. This was an increase of more than 5 percent from the previous year, when salaries averaged at $71,990. But these figures don’t account for level of degree.
As with many occupations, earnings can vary by educational attainment, and pharmaceutical chemists are no exception. In general, starting salaries are the highest for pharmaceutical chemists holding a Ph.D., with salaries ranging from mid-$60,000 to mid-$90,000 a year, according to the American Chemical Society. With a master’s degree, starting salaries were high-$40,000 to mid-$50,000, while pharmaceutical chemists with a bachelor’s degree earned between high-$30,000 to high-$40,000 a year.
No matter the level of degree, female chemists earn less than their male counterparts. As of 2012, women with bachelor’s degrees earned $65,000 a year, while men earned $80,479, according to an ACS survey. With master’s degrees, female chemists earned $85,500 and male chemists earned $98,604. Women with doctorates earned $113,500, while men with doctorates earned $125,000 a year.
The BLS expects employment opportunities for chemists in general to grow by 4 percent between 2010 and 2020. By comparison, this is slower than the anticipated growth for all U.S. occupations, an average of 14 percent. With a reported 14,620 working in the pharmaceutical industry, the expected growth rate works out to nearly 585 new jobs over the course of a decade. The ACS has a similar opinion of the future for pharmaceutical chemists, believing the job market will be mixed. This is largely due to the fact that companies are decreasing the size of labs, constraining employment growth.
2016 Salary Information for Chemists and Materials Scientists
Chemists and materials scientists earned a median annual salary of $75,840 in 2016, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. On the low end, chemists and materials scientists earned a 25th percentile salary of $55,450, meaning 75 percent earned more than this amount. The 75th percentile salary is $102,920, meaning 25 percent earn more. In 2016, 96,200 people were employed in the U.S. as chemists and materials scientists.