There are three items required to become a polymer chemist: post-secondary training, related work experience, and laboratory skills. A polymer chemist is specifically trained in chemical synthesis and focuses on the properties of polymers or macromolecules. This type of chemist can find employment opportunities in a wide range of industries, from consumer or industrial grade products to research laboratories. Polymer chemists are responsible for the tremendous growth in plastics and related synthetic materials.
A polymer is a type of molecule that has repeating structures connected with covalent chemical bonds. In the popular media, the term polymer is used to refer to plastic. However, the term polymer actually refers to a set of specific properties at the molecular level and they can be found in both organic and artificial materials. Polymer chemistry is also known as macromolecular chemistry and is one of the fastest growing sectors in the chemical industry.
People who want to become a polymer chemist are typically detail-oriented, enjoy working independently, have a high degree of mental focus, and are interested in precision. The volume of knowledge required to be successful in this career is quite significant, and requires a high level of dedication and study. As a result, many chemists find that they need additional courses in communication and presentation skills later in their careers, in order to master these skills.
The first requirement to become a polymer chemist is to complete a post-secondary education program. This is typically a university degree in chemistry, chemical engineering, or synthetic chemistry. The vast majority of employers will accept a bachelor's degree for an entry-level position as a polymer chemist. However, in order to advance your career, a master's or doctoral degree in chemistry or chemical engineering is necessary.
Related work experience includes experience gained through a job placement program or internship during your studies. It is extremely rare for anyone without formal post-secondary level training in chemistry to obtain a position in a polymer laboratory. This training is necessary to work safely in this environment, and the risk of accident is too high to allow untrained staff access to volatile chemicals.
Laboratory skills are critical for anyone who wants to become a polymer chemist. The vast majority of the day is spent in a laboratory, combining chemicals, analyzing results, testing the properties of different synthetic chemicals and documenting experiments. These skills are taught during the post-secondary training. Accuracy, precision, and focus are all essential to achieving a high quality work product.