Becoming a Product Development Chemist: Salary & Job Description

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A product development chemist's mean salary is about $94,000, but is it worth the high level of education required? Get the truth about job descriptions and career outlook information to see if it's the right career choice for you.
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Pros and Cons of a Career as a Product Development Chemist

Product development scientists use principles of chemistry, physics and engineering to study and develop products that range from food and personal care items to medicine and medical equipment. If you are interested in pursuing this career, you may wish to consider some of the pros and cons.

Pros of Being a Product Development Chemist
Above-average income potential (median salary for materials scientists $92,000)*
Ability to see ideas come to life
Using a variety of disciplines in your work
Developing potentially life-saving drugs or medical products

Cons of Being a Product Development Chemist
High level of education required
Profit-driven budgets can halt research and development
Previous advances may limit future opportunities**
High level of patience and persistence is required

Sources: *U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, **American Chemical Society

Essential Career Information

Product development scientists are involved in the research and development of new products and testing methods for a variety of materials, from consumables to plastics, rubber, polymers and metals. Your job will require a high degree of reasoning skills, problem sensitivity, communication skills and persistence.

Job Duties

As a product development scientist, you may be charged with supervising and directing technicians. Your duties will include analyzing substances, developing testing procedures, writing reports and presenting findings to clients or supervisors. Products you may help to develop include pharmaceuticals, plastics, cleaners, personal care items and other products. The American Chemical Society (ACS) describes product development science as the process of combining and studying microstructures of materials to establish desired properties.

Salary Information and Career Outlook

The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) projects a 5% increase in employment for materials scientists from 2012-2022. Although the need for new product development will persist, the ACS warns that recent successes in product development may cause some manufacturers to decrease research and development funding, particularly in industries like consumer electronics. The top industries of employment for materials scientists include scientific research and development and colleges, universities and professional schools.

The median salary for materials scientists, based on BLS 2014 data, was about $92,000. According to the most recent data available from the American Chemical Society, over 90% of product development scientists worked full-time, and the vast majority were employed in the corporate sector.


Education Requirements

According to the Occupational Information Network (O*NET), 85% of surveyed materials scientists earned a master's degree, while 14% earned a doctoral or professional degree. Minimum requirements for careers generally include a bachelor's degree or higher in chemistry, chemical engineering, physics, nutrition or microbiology, depending on the type of work you wish to specialize in. For future food scientists, the Institute of Food Technologists approves undergraduate and graduate degree programs.

Specialized graduate programs include the Master of Product Development, Master of Science in Product Development Engineering, Master of Professional Studies in Food Chemistry and Product Development as well as the Master of Science in Clinical Research and Product Development.

Real Job Listings for Product Development Scientists

Many opportunities are available in product development. Generally, industries require experience in their specific type of manufacturing. A minimum of a bachelor's degree is often required; however, advanced degrees can count as required years of professional experience. Here are some real job listings for product development scientists:

  • A pharmaceutical manufacturer in Wisconsin seeks a research scientist for formulation development. Duties include managing oral, inhalation and nasal products as well as designing and implementing studies, followed by analysis and review of study findings. A BA/BS degree was required in chemistry plus eight years of pharmaceutical experience. Applicants with a master's degree or Ph.D. can substitute academic experience for professional work.
  • A coffee distributor in Vermont seeks a product development scientist for new product development. Duties include product shelf-life studies as well as communication with suppliers and consultants. A BS, MS or Ph.D. is required from an Institute of Food Technologists approved program with a degree in nutrition or related field.
  • A large personal care product manufacturer in New Jersey seeks a principal scientist for product development. A bachelor's degree plus 12 years of experience is required or commensurate postgraduate degrees and experience. Applicants must have broad knowledge of various regulatory requirements.

How to Get Ahead in Your Career

Specialize Your Experience

The ACS reports that Ph.D. graduates earn more than professionals with less academic experience. However, scientists with doctoral degrees tend to see a limit on their income potential. While developing a broad range of scientific knowledge in your undergraduate degree may prove useful, you may wish to pursue a specialized advanced degree and focus your early professional research in a specialized area, such as food science, clinical pharmaceutical studies or work with polymers. This ensures that you are able to advance in your given specialized profession.

Acquire Relative Training and Information

Advanced knowledge of computer software programs for study modeling can also prove beneficial. Since your work may involve principles of management and marketing, academic courses in these areas may make you more competitive for certain positions. Also, the production of many products is governed by strict regulations set forth by agencies such as the Food and Drug Administration or the Consumer Product Safety Commission. Gaining knowledge of these regulations may benefit your career development.

Alternative Careers in Science and Product Development

Careers in Biochemistry

As opposed to product development scientists, biochemists generally perform basic laboratory research without immediately knowing the application of their findings. Many biochemists study genetic mutations, potentially discovering new methods of disease diagnoses and prevention. Biochemists are also employed by the food industry, developing crop engineering techniques to increase production, quality and safety. Based on BLS data, 44% of biochemists are employed in private research, while another 22% are employed in pharmaceutical and medical manufacturing.

As a biochemist, you will most likely need to earn a doctoral degree in biochemistry with undergraduate work in areas such as biology, chemistry, physics or engineering. Many professional biochemists spend two to three years conducting postdoctoral research for universities. In industries such as pharmaceutical manufacturing, 31% job growth is projected for biochemists from 2010-2020, due in part to the aging population in the U.S. These professionals earned a median salary of about $79,000, based on BLS 2011 data.

Careers in Industrial Design

Industrial designers develop concepts for manufactured products. These professionals are highly engaged in cost analysis and market research, in addition to illustration, blueprint design and prototype manufacturing. As an industrial designer, you will most likely earn a bachelor's degree in industrial design with extensive training in computer-aided design and drafting (CADD). Your program may also include topics covering materials and manufacturing processes. Many professionals pursue relevant postsecondary degrees such as a Master of Business Administration (MBA).

The BLS reports that 29% of industrial designers are employed in manufacturing industries. Earning a median salary of about $58,000 in 2011, your income potential may range much higher depending upon experience and your specific industry. The BLS projects a 10% increase in employment for industrial designers from 2010-2020, with employment potentially slowed by small manufacturers' unwillingness to commit resources to product development.

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