Formulation Chemist Careers: Job Description & Salary Information

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What are the pros and cons of a career as a formulation chemist? Get real job duties, career outlook and salary information to see if becoming a formulation chemist is right for you.
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Pros and Cons of a Career as a Formulation Chemist

As a formulation chemist, you will assist in the testing and development of pharmaceuticals and household products. If you are considering a career as a formulation chemist, there are a few things you may wish to consider.

Pros of Being a Formulation Chemist
Opportunity to create safe pharmaceuticals, health products, foods, cosmetics and cleaning products***
Potentially high income (Material scientists earn a mean salary of about $92,000 per year)*
Ability to utilize environmentally sustainable chemicals and practices***
Opportunities for collaboration (may work with biologists, engineers or physicists)*

Cons of Being a Formulation Chemist
Slow job growth (6% for chemists, 5% for materials scientists)*
Limited career-specific college programs**
Employment may be limited to areas with high levels of manufacturing*
May need to earn an advanced degree to improve employment prospects*

Sources: *U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, **CCL.NET, ***American Chemical Society Green Chemistry Institute

Career Information

Job Description and Duties

Your work will mainly consist of mixing non-reactive chemicals to find a desired compound or polymer for products that include paints, adhesives, plastics, personal care items, food products and pharmaceuticals. In your research, you will find quantifiable characteristics of different chemical compounds for their use in making products more durable, more palatable, safer and more effective. Formulation chemists work mainly in a laboratory setting, adjusting chemical compounds and recording information over an often long period of time.

Career Outlook and Salary Information

The BLS projects a six percent increase in employment for chemists from 2012-2022. Professionals identified as materials scientists should expect employment to grow at about 5%, based on BLS projections. Although formulation chemists should continue to play an important role in manufacturing, recent economic sluggishness in this sector may affect job growth for scientists that work in research and development. Pharmaceutical manufacturers may also outsource their research efforts to other countries, further contributing to a slowdown in employment growth, the BLS reported.

In May 2014, the BLS reported a mean salary of about $79,000 for chemists, while materials scientists earned a mean salary of about $94,000.

Requirements

Education

While you can find entry-level jobs with a minimum of a bachelor's degree in chemistry or related natural science field of study, the BLS reports that most research jobs require a graduate degree. An advanced degree may provide you with a competitive edge and can often be substituted for extensive professional experience. Although college programs specifically geared toward careers in formulation chemistry are not commonly available, you can find programs in cosmetic science, chemical biology, medicinal chemistry or applied chemistry.

Within different chemistry or biochemistry programs, you may find a variety of courses that can begin to prepare you for your career. For example, courses on the chemistry and analysis of food formulation, biomaterials and clinical drug development, performance compounding, polymer testing and properties of enthalpy and thermodynamics may be appropriate.

Useful Skills

Formulation chemists need critical thinking and strong analytical skills in order to perform precise research and evaluate their results. In addition to knowledge of calculus and algebra, these chemists need good speaking and writing skills to clearly explain their findings.

Real Job Listings

Many employment opportunities in formulation chemistry require a combination of industry experience and a scientific academic background. You will see that while permanent positions are available, many firms are looking for temporary contract professionals. Here are a few actual job postings for formulation chemists from March 2012:

  • A polymer formulation chemist was wanted for a consulting contract for an Indiana research company. A bachelor's degree plus ten years of experience was the minimum requirement. Preferred qualifications included a master's or Ph.D. plus 5-7 years of experience.
  • A Texas food company sought an organic flavor formulation chemist. Experience in preservation, processing and nutrition was required. Candidate needed a bachelor's degree in an area such as chemistry, biology or food science.
  • A pharmaceutical manufacturer in Minnesota was seeking a formulation chemist for a short-term assignment. The job required a bachelor's degree in pharmacy, chemistry, chemical engineering or biology plus three years experience in product development, manufacturing support or analytical development.
  • A healthcare product manufacturer in California wanted a formulation chemist to conduct pre-clinical testing for the development of prototype consumables. Applicants needed a bachelor's or master's degree in life sciences plus relevant experience.

How to Get Ahead in Your Career

In a competitive job marketplace, you may want to focus your educational training on coursework in career-specific areas of research and product development. Additionally, the BLS reports that acquiring experience while in school may be helpful. You can acquire experience in formulation chemistry through internships or fellowships with industry-specific companies.

Acquire Specialized Job Skills

The growing attention to creating environmentally safe products and eco-friendly methods of product development may make certain job skills more desirable to employers. In 2010, the American Chemical Society's Green Chemistry Institute partnered with the formulated products industry to create an outline for environmentally safe chemical testing procedures. To stand out as an applicant, you might consider some of their recommendations, such as collaborating with stakeholders to promote transparency in production methods, using risk-based decision making in testing and production and influencing suppliers and academic institutions to adopt 'green' standards.

Alternative Careers

Biological Technician Careers

Not sure you want to take the time to get the education needed for a career as a formulation chemist? You might consider some related options that require less educational investment. For instance, biological technicians assist the research and production process through skills derived from a 4-year bachelor's degree program. The BLS projected average growth in this field with strong competition expected from 2010-2020. These professionals earned a mean income of about $43,000 annually, as of May 2011. As companies develop new medicines and drug treatments, professionals involved with biological research play a crucial role. You can find employment in this field at universities, research and development companies or federal government agencies.

Commercial and Industrial Designers

Would you rather work directly with product creation? At the conceptual stages of product development, commercial and industrial designers establish and evaluate design concepts. Many jobs in this field require training with drafting and computer-aided design. Although you will not need extensive academic experience with chemistry and research methods, developing designs may require some training or experience with physics and mechanical engineering. The Occupational Information Network (O*NET) reported a median income of about $60,000 for commercial and industrial designers in 2011 with average expected job growth from 2010-2020.

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