Organic chemists analyze the structure and chemical properties of carbon-containing compounds. Entry-level positions require a bachelor’s degree in organic chemistry, while senior or independent research and teaching positions require a doctorate. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, the median wage for all chemists, including organic chemists, was $68,320 a year in May 2010. Job projections are 4 percent, compared to 14 percent for all other jobs, with those with doctorate degrees having the best job prospects.
Organic chemists working for pharmaceutical companies may develop new drugs or analyze highly theoretical concepts. Those with graduate degrees might develop compounds such as a new antibiotic, aided by organic chemists with a bachelor’s degree. When developing new compounds, such as an anti-tumor agent or a replacement hormone, organic chemists determine its structure, modifying and enhancing it to get the greatest effect with the least undesirable side effects.
Many organic chemists obtain doctorate degrees and teach college-level courses. Most colleges require applicants to have a demonstrated history of leading successful research projects and might require previous teaching experience. An associate professor tenure-track position offers the opportunity to teach classes at the undergraduate and graduate level, conduct original research projects and mentor students. To achieve tenure, they must have published numerous scientific articles in peer review journals, have a history of exemplary performance and be well-respected by their colleagues.
Forensic chemists analyze organic compounds found at crime scenes, such as blood, hair samples, paint chips, saliva and glass fragments. In addition to proficiency in organic chemistry, forensic chemists need good public speaking skills and organizational abilities, and must be able to handle stress and tight deadlines. Job duties include analyzing compounds, writing reports, publishing scientific papers and testifying in court. Most work for government labs or federal law enforcement agencies, such as the Federal Bureau of Investigation.
Research and Development
Chemists working in research and development develop or customize products useful to consumers. They must be adept at handling and maintaining laboratory equipment, and troubleshooting malfunctions so that equipment failure does not threaten the integrity of their lab results. Once they test a new compound, they analyze their results using statistical and mathematical modeling software to evaluate its efficacy or to diagnose malfunctions. Products with which they might work include plastics, petrochemicals, explosive materials, paints and food additives.