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What Chemists Earn

By Heike Friedrichsen

They are some of the top earners among academics. They conduct research in laboratories and are in demand as experts in environmental protection; they advise companies and manage contacts in the international wholesale business. The working areas of chemistry graduates are as diverse as their salaries - factors that have a positive effect on salary include postgraduate qualifications, working in industry and management responsibility.

What chemists earn© esemelwe - iStockphoto.comWith increasing professional experience pay can vary strongly
A large proportion of graduates goes directly into industry - to pharmaceuticals companies, the oil industry, to manufacturers of paints, cleaning agents, plastics or fertiliser, or to producers of cosmetics or food additives. Like Anke Richter*, who holds a degree and a PhD in chemistry: "What persuaded me were the opportunities for development, the responsibility, and not least the salary", says the laboratory manager. It's true that researchers and developers in industry generally earn more than their colleagues at research institutes. While career starters in the chemical industry can expect salaries of around 52,200 euros a year, at research institutes they earn a mere 38,450 euros. According to salary consultants PersonalMarkt, the average entry-level salary is approximately 43,700 euros a year.

Industry beckons with high salaries

That so many young scientists head into industry is due not only to the salaries, but also to rocky qualification paths, uncertain career prospects and the often short-term contracts in public research institutions. Only a handful manage to gain one of the few professorships or rise to the top at an extra-mural research institution; the others remain research assistants for too long, stuck on short-term contracts they constantly worry may not be renewed, and with comparatively low salaries. A move to industry almost always has a positive effect on salary.

A post-graduate degree is mandatory

Particularly in the research departments where the majority of graduates starts out, a PhD is considered indispensable. And most chemists do indeed have a post-graduate degree. A doctorate may cost time and nerves - but it also holds clear financial advantages. Chemists with no PhD earn approximately 57,000 euros a year, while those with a PhD make an average of 63,000 euros.

Small business, small money

Approximately 2,000 companies make up the chemical industry in Germany. Over 90 percent of these are small and medium-sized companies. "I specifically didn't want to specialise in matters of detail in my work, but rather be more involved in processes", is how Tobias Richter* explains his decision to work for a medium-sized business rather than one of the big players in the chemical industry. The chemist has been working as a project manager in a research and development department for almost three years, and particularly values the flat hierarchy levels and the close collaboration with colleagues from other departments: "It makes decision-making processes relatively short, which means that I can always respond quickly and adequately", says Richter.

Pay in Chemistry

A tip from PersonalMarkt: What matters is how well you perform, how good you are and what you earn compared to other employees at similar companies.
The catch: while rigid pay scales are rarer, many of the small and medium-sized companies that employ chemists are not members of the German Employers' Federation of the Chemical Industry (Bundesarbeitgeberverband Chemie) and therefore not bound by its collective wage agreements. This means they usually pay less: companies with up to 100 employees pay their young scientists on average around 40,400 euros a year, whereas those who sign a contract with a company that has over 1,000 employees can expect a starting salary of more than 50,000 euros. In the public sector, graduates are generally paid according to the applicable federal or state collective wage agreements for public service (TVöD or TV-L), whether they hold a PhD or not. Their salary then depends on age, marital status and place of residence, and is generally lower than the pay grades in the chemical industry.

Managing personnel has a strong impact

Entry-level salaries may be relatively similar, but with increasing professional experience pay can vary strongly - especially in positions with high levels of responsibility. Performance- and success-related salary components also become increasingly important. On average, someone who has been working as a Diplom chemist for more than 10 years will earn 70,000 euros a year, with salaries already spanning a range from 50,000 to 80,000 euros. Taking on management responsibilities significantly boosts salary. Diplom chemists who manage staff earn an average of 92,800 euros annually; their colleagues who do not manage others earn 58,500 euros.

* Name has been changed