What type of chemist are you?
I'm a synthetic organic chemist. I mostly make difficult-to-find-or-make carbon-based molecules from easily-found-or-purchased carbon-based molecules.
What do you do as a chemist?
Well, there is the above. I have an interest in process chemistry -- I try to find better ways of making kilogram (or more) quantity amounts of desired molecules in a practical and efficient manner. I also test my molecules for their purity.
What is the best/worst part of your job?
The best part of my job is the making. There's nothing quite like looking at a flask or a tray (or a bag or a bucket) of compound, and thinking "I made that."
The worst part of my job? I enjoy almost everything about my job, which is why I am still a chemist. Many tough things about being a chemist don't have to do with the chemicals, it has to do with the people that you work with. But if you're blessed (and I am), you have colleagues that you enjoy being around and a supervisor who gives you clear goals and gets out of your way with a pat on the back.
Also, some chemists like working with instrumentation and machines and trying to keep them maintained and operational. I find this pretty frustrating, actually. But if you like tinkering (I don't, really), that part of the job is for you.
What training did you need? Was it easy/difficult to find a job as a chemist?
I got a Ph.D. and I also did a two-year stint as a postdoctoral fellow; all in all, a lot of school and a lot of training. Getting your doctorate is a traditional way of getting some level of independence in your work (hopefully -- it's not always the case.)
It was incredibly easy to find my first 'real' job as a bachelor's-level chemist; I showed up for my campus interview, demonstrated that I understood what I was doing for my research project, enjoyed the heck out of my on-site interview and was offered my job and a signing bonus (CJ readers: remember those?) and worked for a year as a formulator and an analytical chemist.
It was pretty difficult to find my first 'real' job as a doctoral-level chemist; it took about 8 months of intensive daily searching, e-mailing, letter writing and phone calls. But there was also the economy, which was in pretty tough shape at the time. I actually attempted to sign up in the Air Force to be an officer and a chemist (which I don't think you can do, actually.) I took a job for pay that was a lot lower than I expected to have, even with my reality-calibrated expectations.
Are you happy being a chemist? Why?
Yes, I am happy being a chemist. I enjoy knowing things about the physical world; I like the fact that I work with 'real stuff' on a day-to-day basis and that I am more-or-less a molecular architect, carpenter or blacksmith. It can be incredibly frustrating and some of the problems that I deal with on a regular basis with make your hair curl. But in the end, when someone asks me what I do for a living, I'm proud to say, "I'm a chemist."
It's tough, of course, to try to find and keep a job as a chemist these days. It seems that the modern industrialized global economy does not value the products of chemists (and chemistry) as much as they used to -- maybe that's an illusion, maybe (most likely?) it's not. That's a very real and very difficult part of being a chemist; it's also something that can cast a pall over your everyday work.
So I'm happy being a chemist. But I also have a non-typical view of the word "happy" -- I don't value happiness perhaps as highly as other people. (Maybe that's how I made it through grad school.)
What advice would you give someone interested in chemistry?
Go to school and study hard?
My advice: take a lab course in a community college or 4-year setting. Like it? Great. Try working for a summer as an intern in a research lab. Like it? Then you might enjoy a life in chemistry. If you don't enjoy it, then you might want to think elsewhere.
But my final advice is this: have a very real and up-to-date expectation of the employment prospects and salary levels of chemists at your level of expertise (and your general rank amongst your educational peer group). If life at $44,000 a year as a bachelor's-level chemist doesn't sound good (and you'd get angry that one of your college classmates that worked a lot less hard to get his/her business degree is making 68k), then you either need to find a different field, get a better job or recalibrate your expectations. If you could not handle the seeming instability of the chemical/pharmaceutical/biotech industry for the long-term, then perhaps this isn't for you.
Pessimism isn't a perfect tool for life, but having realistic expectations (or a lot of personal steady-state contentment) helps in keeping you sane.