• OPPORTUNITIES — Current job outlook continues to be
positive, but the job growth curve for the future could
flatten out, as is the case with such areas as electronics.
• EDUCATION NEEDED— The materials science field is
made up of people with various educational backgrounds.
Within materials science, a broad background in various
sciences such as chemistry, physics, or engineering is
• SALARIES — Median annual wage: $88,990 (2012),
according to the Bureau of Labor Statisics.
• RELATED FIELDS — Polymer chemistry is a subset of
materials science, and textile chemistry can intersect
with materials science.
and modifications of existing materials. Some of them caution, however, that materials science may become a victim of
its own success. Since much of the technology developed in
the past decade was so advanced, the job growth curve for the
future could flatten out. Certain areas within materials science,
such as electronics, are already seeing flattening in employment growth.
Is this career a good fit for you?
Most materials scientists describe themselves as curiosity-driven. They say they have always been interested in knowing
what things are made of, such as the plastic in the cup they
are drinking from or the components of a composite material.
They also express a strong
interest in engineering and
structures. Most describe
themselves as generalists;
some say they feel their knowledge
base is “a mile wide, but an inch deep.”
How to become a materials scientist
The materials science field is made up of people with various
educational backgrounds. Most projects in materials science are
team efforts that can include technicians, engineers, physicists,
and materials scientists with B.S. or M.S. degrees, as well as
Ph.D. chemists. Within materials science, a broad background
in various sciences such as chemistry, physics, or engineering is
There are currently about 20 materials science degree programs in the United States, and the number is increasing. Most
materials scientists recommend training in a more specific discipline, such as inorganic synthesis and organic chemistry, or a
specific materials science, such as ceramic engineering. In addition to their scientific training, materials scientists stress the
importance of understanding and being able to apply basic statistical concepts, and many materials scientists advise against
specializing too early.
Lisa M. Balbes of Balbes Consultants LLC contributed to
ACTION ITEMS: What You Can Do Now
Does a career in materials science interest you?
Take these steps to learn more!
1. Research Different Kinds of Materials Science Jobs. Almost
every field of chemistry is applied in a wide variety of positions
in manufacturing plants, research laboratories, or pilot plant
facilities. Research multiple types of employers, their processes,
and the kinds of jobs they offer.
2. Get Practical Experience. Ask the career office at your school
or alma mater about internships or cooperative programs for
chemistry students. Be open to exploring positions in a lab or
manufacturing plant; both areas can provide valuable hands-on experience.
Take classes and attend seminars on topics related to your
potential career path. Even if you don’t understand everything,
you will start to get a sense of what people in that field do, and
will become familiar with the terminology.
3. Conduct Informational Interviews. Talk with people who have
the kind of job you want, to get a first-hand account of what
it’s really like to work in that field. Find these contacts through
ACS, Facebook, LinkedIn, the career office at your school/alma
mater, or companies in your area. Ask your interviewee for 15
minutes of their time, and make sure you keep to that limit.
Ask them about why they went into the field, what they
like and don’t like about it, and what you need to know before
going into the field. You can ask them how to best prepare for
a career in the field, what kinds of jobs are available, and what
they wish they had known when they were in your position.
4. Meet with a Chemistry or Chemical Engineering Professor.
Discuss positions in academia, as well as in industry. Find out
what education and/or preparation is needed for your poten-
tial career and how those needs fit into your educational
5. Volunteer! Get involved in your local ACS chapter or other
professional organization. Don’t just attend meetings — volunteer to help organize career development sessions, outreach activities, and more. You will not only meet professionals in the field and build valuable relationships, but you will
also gain organizational and leadership skills that will set you
apart from other students once you graduate.