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In this final article covering the Bureau of Engraving and Printing (BEP) we interview Michael L Ramirez, a research chemist (GS-1320) for the Bureau of Printing and Engraving. According to the Bureau of Labor Statics (BLS) chemists research and solve a wide range of problems and are employed in a similarly wide range of industries. About a third of all chemists are employed in chemical manufacturing industries; the remainder work at colleges and universities, in government, and for independent testing and research laboratories.

The federal government employs 5,665 chemists of which 24 work overseas. The Department of Health and Human Services is the largest employer of chemists with 2,057, followed by the Department of the Army with 623 civilian employees, and the Department of the Navy with 567. The EPA employs 464 and the Department of the Treasury 58. Small numbers work for other cabinet level and large independent agencies. The Bureau of Engraving and Printing is under the Treasury Department.

Some chemical manufacturing industries, such as pharmaceutical manufacturing, increasingly may be outsourcing their R&D activities, rather than doing the research in-house. This outsourcing strategy is likely to cause faster growth in the employment of chemists in small, independent research-and-development firms than in the more traditional large manufacturers.

Interview with Michael L. Ramirez

 

Michael L. Ramirez BEP Research Chemist

Michael L. Ramirez BEP Research Chemist

Michael L. Ramirez is a research chemist (GS-1320), and works for the Bureau of Engraving and Printing in Washington, DC.

Why did you become a chemist?

I was always into science as a kid. I had a microscope and many science kits. I wanted to study medicine. When I went to college I discovered that my passion was research. As a chemist, I have completed projects in the fields of Biology, Chemistry, and Polymers.

What is the most interesting project you have worked on as a chemist?

Chemistry is always interesting. I have worked in the development of fire resistant materials for aircrafts, detection of explosives in the environment, and now I support the manufacturing of U.S. currency at the Bureau of Engraving and Printing. What can be more interesting than that; millions of people know our products.

What is a typical day for a chemist?

In my current position I support many projects related to the characterization and testing of materials we use to print U.S. paper currency. A typical day starts by visiting the laboratories and discussing with other chemists the requests that we have for the day. I attend multiple meetings to discuss properties of new materials and the development of specifications and test methods.

Would you recommend a chemist as a good occupation to pursue?

Yes. I would recommend chemistry as a good profession; chemistry opens doors for careers in many fields.

Note: All Occupations (includes all occupations) in the U.S. Economy. Source: U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, Occupational Employment Statistics

The median annual wage for chemists was $71,260 in May 2015. The median wage is the wage at which half the workers in an occupation earned more than that amount and half earned less. The lowest 10 percent earned less than $41,110, and the highest 10 percent earned more than $125,450.

In May 2015, the median annual wages for chemists in the top industries in which they worked were as follows:

Federal government, excluding postal service $104,660
Research and development in the physical, engineering, and life sciences 83,140
Pharmaceutical and medicine manufacturing 69,920
Basic chemical manufacturing 68,700
Testing laboratories 56,080

Employment of chemists is projected to grow 3 percent from 2014 to 2024, slower than the average for all occupations. Many chemists are employed in manufacturing industries that are projected to decline.

Employment of chemists is projected to grow 3 percent as they continue to be needed in scientific research and development (R&D) and to monitor the quality of products and processes.

Chemists research and solve a wide range of problems and are employed in a similarly wide range of industries. About a third of all chemists are employed in chemical manufacturing industries; the remainder work at colleges and universities, in government, and for independent testing and research laboratories. Some chemical manufacturing industries, such as pharmaceutical manufacturing, increasingly may be outsourcing their R&D activities, rather than doing the research in-house. This outsourcing strategy is likely to cause faster growth in the employment of chemists in small, independent research-and-development firms than in the more traditional large manufacturers.

Duties, Qualifications and Education

The following information is excerpted from the Bureau of Labor Statics website.

Duties

Chemists typically do the following:

  • Plan and carry out complex research projects, such as the development of new products and testing methods
  • Direct technicians and other workers in testing and analyzing components and the physical properties of materials
  • Instruct scientists and technicians on proper chemical processing and testing procedures, including ingredients, mixing times, and operating temperatures
  • Prepare solutions, compounds, and reagents used in laboratory procedures
  • Analyze substances to determine their composition and concentration of elements
  • Conduct tests on materials and other substances to ensure that safety and quality standards are met
  • Write technical reports that detail methods and findings
  • Present research findings to scientists, engineers, and other colleagues

Some chemists work in basic research. Others work in applied research. In basic research, chemists investigate the properties, composition, and structure of matter. They also experiment with combinations of elements and the ways in which they interact. In applied research, chemists investigate possible new products and ways to improve existing ones. Chemistry research has led to the discovery and development of new and improved drugs, plastics, and cleaners, as well as thousands of other products.

Chemists often specialize in a particular branch of the field. The following are examples of types of chemists:

Analytical chemists determine the structure, composition, and nature of substances by examining and identifying their various elements or compounds. They also study the relationships and interactions among the parts of compounds. Some analytical chemists specialize in developing new methods of analysis and new techniques for carrying out their work. Their research has a wide range of applications, including food safety, pharmaceuticals, and pollution control.

Inorganic chemists study the structure, properties, and reactions of molecules that do not contain carbon, such as metals. They work to understand the behavior and the characteristics of inorganic substances. Inorganic chemists figure out, how these materials, such as ceramics and superconductors, can be modified, separated, or used in products.

Medicinal chemists research and develop chemical compounds that can be used as pharmaceutical drugs. They work on teams with other scientists and engineers to create and test new drug products. They also help develop new and improved manufacturing processes to produce new drugs on a large scale effectively.

Organic chemists study the structure, properties, and reactions of molecules that contain carbon. They also design and make new organic substances that have unique properties and applications. These compounds in turn, have been used to develop many commercial products, such as pharmaceutical drugs and plastics.

Physical chemists study the fundamental characteristics of how matter behaves on a molecular and atomic level and how chemical reactions occur. On the basis of their analyses, physical chemists may develop new theories, such as how complex structures are formed. Physical chemists often work closely with materials scientists, to research and develop potential uses for new materials.

Theoretical chemists investigate theoretical methods that can predict the outcomes of chemical experiments. Theoretical chemistry encompasses a variety of specializations itself, although most specializations incorporate advanced computation and programming. Some examples of theoretical chemists are computational chemists, mathematical chemists, and chemical informaticians.

Education

A bachelor’s degree in chemistry or in a related field is needed for entry-level chemist jobs. Many jobs require a master’s degree or a Ph.D. and also may require significant levels of work experience. Chemists with a Ph.D. and postdoctoral experience typically lead basic- or applied-research teams.

Many colleges and universities offer degree programs in chemistry that are approved by the American Chemical Society. High school students can prepare for college coursework by taking chemistry, math, and computer science classes.

Undergraduate chemistry majors typically are required to take courses in analytical, organic, inorganic, and physical chemistry. In addition to chemistry coursework, they take classes in mathematics, biological sciences, and physics. Computer science courses are essential, because chemists and materials scientists need computer skills to perform modeling and simulation tasks, manage and manipulate databases, and operate computerized laboratory equipment.

Laboratory experience, either at a college or university, or through internships, fellowships, or work–study programs in industry, is also useful.

Graduate students studying chemistry commonly specialize in a subfield, such as analytical chemistry or inorganic chemistry. For example, those interested in doing research in the pharmaceutical industry usually develop a strong background in medicinal or organic chemistry.

Important Qualities

Analytical skills. Chemists carry out scientific experiments and studies. They must be precise and accurate in their analyses, because errors could invalidate their research.

Communication skills. Chemists need to communicate with team members and other scientists. They must be able to read and write technical reports and give presentations.

Critical-thinking skills. Chemists carefully evaluate their own work and the work of others. They must determine if results and conclusions are based on sound science.

Interpersonal skills. Chemists typically work on interdisciplinary research teams and need to work well with others toward a common goal. Many serve as team leaders and must be able to motivate and direct other team members.

Math skills. Chemists regularly use complex mathematical equations and formulas, and they need a broad understanding of mathematics, including calculus, algebra, and statistics.

Organizational skills. Chemists scientists need to document processes carefully in order to conform to regulations and industry procedures. Disorganization in the workplace can lead to legal problems, damage to equipment, and chemical spills.

Problem-solving skills. Chemists research and develop new and improved chemical products, processes, and materials. This work requires a great deal of trial and error on the part of chemists and materials scientists before a unique solution is found.

Time-management skills.Chemists usually need to meet deadlines when conducting research. They must be able to manage time and prioritize tasks efficiently while maintaining their quality of work.

The Bureau of Printing and Engraving use chemists to help in the development and manufacturing of U.S. monetary currency. Chemists will always be needed, because research never stops and there are always new discoveries to be made.

Credit

  • Lydia Washington, Public Affairs Officer, Bureau of Engraving and Printing – DC Facility (Washington, DC)
  • www.bep.treas.gov
  • Photos provided by the Bureau of Printing and Engraving

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The information provided may not cover all aspects of unique or special circumstances, federal and postal regulations, and programs are subject to change. Our articles and replies are time sensitive. Over time, various dynamic human resource guidance and factors relied upon as a basis for this article may change. The advice and strategies contained herein may not be suitable for your situation and this service is not affiliated with OPM, the postal service or any federal entity. You should consult with school counselors, hiring agency personnel offices, and human resource professionals where appropriate. Neither the publisher or author shall be liable for any loss or any other commercial damages, including but not limited to special, incidental, consequential, or other damages.

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