What Skills Do You Need to Become a Nuclear Chemist?

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Nuclear medicine is becoming increasingly important in the development of diagnostic techniques and even medicines that help prevent and cure disease. However, chemistry jobs do much more than that. Chemist jobs also deal with quality control and production in chemical manufacturing plants; chemists prepare instructions for workers there so that specific proportions of ingredients, temperatures and times for various substances are sure to be included. These chemists may also monitor processes that have been automated to ensure that products yielded are in the proper portions. They also test samples of products to make sure that they meet government or industry standards, including anything governing pollution. This is also important in nuclear chemistry, since nuclear pollution, too, is of concern.

Chemist jobs may also include studying the physical characteristics of molecules and atoms and determining what matter is made of. They may also investigate how chemical reactions work, including what occurs in nuclear reactors. By figuring out how chemical reactions work, we can figure out how to make better and much more energy-efficient and nonpolluting energy sources. While macromolecular chemists may study the behavior of atoms and molecules, medicinal chemists study how compounds are put together as they relate to application in human medicine advances. This includes not only diagnostic techniques such as scans and x-rays, but also in medicinal properties themselves.

If those working in chemist jobs are working in research and development, they may spend a lot of time in the laboratory and in the office to do to research and planning, reporting and recording on their lab research and observations. Chemist jobs may also involve working with engineers in industrial manufacturing facilities, if products are being made. At other times, chemistry jobs may include working in a chemical plant or outdoors, if these chemists are working on testing for environmental pollution, for example.

Possible Hazards

In some cases, nuclear chemists may face job dangers if they are exposed to nuclear hazards such as radiation, but in most cases, these jobs are quite safe as long as safety procedures are followed. In many cases, these chemists work only 40 hours a week with longer hours as long as overly tired scientists are not a risk, in the event of mistakes being made in product development or in nuclear exposure, for example. In some cases, those involved in research may have to work odd hours in various locations, depending on what type of research they're doing.

Education and Background

To become a nuclear chemist, you'll first need a bachelor's degree in chemistry or related discipline. Oftentimes, related degrees can include physics or electrical engineering. If you opt to go into research as a nuclear chemist, you will usually need a master's degree or even a Ph.D.

Many colleges and universities have degree programs specifically in chemistry. If you're planning a career as a nuclear chemist or as a chemist in another capacity, you should take courses in mathematics and sciences, and you should like working with your hands. Doing research and performing laboratory experiments, including doing computer modeling, are also necessary skills.

As an undergraduate, you'll usually be required to take various chemistry courses such as inorganic, organic, analytical and physical chemistries. You may also study the biological sciences, physics, or mathematics. Computer science, too, is becoming an increasing need as computer modeling becomes more and more prevalent in the laboratory. You'll usually need a somewhat intensive background in statistics as well, since you'll need to be able to determine probabilities of various experiments and outcomes.

As you move onto graduate school, it's likely that you'll specialize in a chemistry subfield related to your specialty. For example, if you are interested in working for the pharmaceutical industry, you may study organic or medicinal organic chemistry. In most cases, you don't need to specialize at the undergraduate level; in fact, it's usually better if you don't. Being "broadly" trained will give you more flexibility when you're looking for your first job in chemistry; then, you can specialize once you've gotten your first job and are in graduate school.

Other Skills Needed

Especially if you work in research and development, you'll likely work as part of a team so that you'll need to know something about other disciplines like marketing, economics or business practices. Good oral and written communication skills and leadership ability are also desirable if you expect to move up in your field. Because there is increasing interaction among specialists in various fields, this is important, especially if you are interested in pharmaceutical job postings. Because you'll be working with a variety of different types of chemists and specialists in other fields, you'll likely use each others' work as you make decisions about various product development needs and so on.

In addition to your ability to work as part of an interdisciplinary team, though, you'll also need to be able to concentrate on details and work independently. Advancement as you continue in a career should come pretty much as a matter of course; again, it's useful that you have both an advanced degree such as a master's or Ph.D. and the proper communication and leadership skills, since many of these advanced positions involve having to work with others in a leadership position.

Outlook and Compensation

Nuclear chemists and other chemists of various specialties are expected to have quite a good job outlook as manufacturers and the medical field, as well as the pharmaceutical industry, work on developing new materials, products and manufacturing processes that make things of higher quality and with greater efficiency. There is quite a bit of competition among all fields, but especially if you have a Ph.D., you will likely be in good standing for job advancement and getting a job in general.

Chemists in every field earned an average of about $60,000 a year as of 2006.
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