Friday, February 6, 2015

A Fermi question: how many QC chemists in the United States?

From the inbox, a question that I have no answer to: 
Do you know how many QC bench chemists there are in the pharmaceutical industry by country?
I will offer a fine prize* to whomever can come up with the best answer (I will be the final judge).

I approach this as a "Fermi question." Here's my 30-seconds-of-thought answer: find the number of actual chemical manufacturing subsector employees, the number of QC bench chemists will be no larger than 5% of that number.

*most likely a T-shirt. Market value: less than $10, actual value: priceless


  1. There are about 1 million employees in chemistry/chemical manufacturing in the US. In my graduating undergraduate class there were 28 students. After some LinkedIn stalking, I found semi-reliable data on 15 of them. One is a QC chemist. Therefore 6.67% of those in the chemistry/chemical manufacturing fields are QC chemists; there are 66,700 QC chemists in the US.

    1. There are, according to the BLS, 80-90k chemists in the US.

    2. Oy. Would have helped if I pulled my starting figure from the right column. Just scale my answer down by an order of magnitude.

  2. This question is not well defined. What do you consider a QC chemist?

    If you are talking about a BIG pharma this may be well defined. However, if you are talking about a small biotech it may not be.

    Is someone who does synthetic chemistry, SAR analysis, formulation, and analytical work a QC chemist? Are they counted as 1/8 QC chemist? I'm interested to know as this broad description fits myself - though I am outside of pharma.

  3. 15,800: Taken by estimating the ACS membership represents 20% of "chemists" and that 2% of them are self-identified QC chemists.

  4. Indeed posts 336 openings for QC chemists in the US. Let's assume that 90% of those openings are real instead of HR fishing for salary data. This leaves us with about 302 real openings.

    Let's guess that about 75% of these openings are to replace QC chemists leaving their field for retirement, unemployment or different fields. These are not net open seats. This leaves us with a net of ~76 open seats.

    So then the question becomes what percentage of open seats are there in the QC chemistry field? Lets guess 1%. This means there are a total of 7600 QC chemistry positions (filled and unfilled) in the US.

    7524 currently employed QC chemists in the US.
    302 people who will get a new job in QC chemistry in the near future.
    226 positions which will be vacated by people leaving the field.

  5. "Let's assume that 90% of those openings are real instead of HR fishing for salary data. "

    This is a bad assumption.

  6. How do you define a QC chemist, and draw the line between a chemist and a technician? Does a plant floor employee who's trained to operate a few instruments count? This question seems ambiguous as hell.

    1. I think I would define a QC chemist as someone who's primary job was analytically determining the quality of specific lots of incoming and outgoing chemicals against a known specification.

      That said, there are lots of different definitions of these things. I should look up the OOH/BLS definitions of "chemist" versus "chemical technician."

    2. That's probably the best way to get a clear number; just count how many people do QC as their primary job. Every place I've worked had a different idea of where to draw the line between technician and scientist.