Career in Chemistry



Chemistry is often considered as a central science. To many, it is a science subject taught in schools, colleges and universities. However, many are not aware what a chemist does or what a career in chemistry would mean! Many are vaguely aware that chemistry is somehow connected with a number of science subjects, engineering, medicine, pharmacology, food science and nutrition, materials science and environment but few would exactly pinpoint how chemistry is associated with economic development and our life.

First of all, chemistry is a science of substances, their properties and behaviours. All substances we encountered, whether living or non-living, are chemical in nature. Whether it is the clothes that we wore, the materials which we used in our everyday life, or the food that we ate, are all chemicals in nature. Some of these occurred naturally (including those planted or reared by man), and some are manufactured in the factories. All these natural and man-made products are the results of chemical reactions which lead to the final products which we desired. Even life processes such as growth, metabolism, respiration, reproduction and even aging are all chemical processes. It shows the importance of chemistry and how a better understanding of chemical processes would definitely lead to a better quality of life.


By definition, a person who practices chemistry in his work, would be referred to as a chemist. However, the term “chemist” is often applied in a more restrictive sense to include only those directly involved in chemical works such as quality control, research and development, and those government officers carrying out chemical testings and measurements, standards and forensics. The term normally does not apply to those school teachers teaching chemistry, marketing and sales personnel, and, administrators and managers of factories, power plants and other establishments. However, the term does generally include those educators and academicians involved in chemical education and research at the university or college levels.

So, what does a chemist do? A chemist is often a person who carries out his work in a laboratory, doing work such as testing, analysis, research or development work. He may also be a chemistry lecturer at the college or university level. Thus, a chemist may be involved in a manufacturing environment carrying out quality control work on raw materials and finished products; or he may also be doing development work to find new processes, new formulations and/or new products. Or he may be involved in new research to further understand chemical processes and extend new frontiers in science.

It is obvious chemists play an important role in our sustainable development and our daily life. The question is: how does one become a chemist?

becoming a chemist and THE Chemist Act 1975

Chemists are considered as professionals in Malaysia, just like engineers, doctors, architects, accountants and lawyers. Malaysia is one of the few countries in the world that has a Chemist Act. The Institiut Kimia Malaysia (Malaysian Institute of Chemistry) or IKM is empowered under the Chemist Act 1975 to regulate the practice of chemistry in Malaysia. In order for a person to register with IKM, one must be a graduate majoring in chemistry from a college or university recognised by the Malaysian Government. Only those registered with IKM are allowed to practice as chemists under the Act.

It is thus obvious that in order for one to become a chemist, one must have a university education majoring in chemistry. All local universities offer degree programmes majoring in chemistry or chemistry related disciplines. For those with overseas qualifications, they must ensure that their degrees are recognised by the Malaysian Government.

For admission to the membership of IKM, a graduate with a degree would require one year working experience before registration. For those with higher degree such as master and doctor of philosophy, no working experience is required for registration with IKM.

Chemists in Malaysia

At the moment, the number of practicing chemists in Malaysia is about 4,000. However, these do not include the majority of some 5,000 chemistry teachers in schools and a sizable number of chemistry lecturers in the universities who do not register as members of IKM.

Chemists in Malaysia are employed both in the public as well as in the private sectors. In the public sector, the most numbers of chemists may be found in the (Government) Chemistry Department, the universities and colleges, research and development (R & D) institutions such as the Forest Research Institute Malaysia (FRIM), the Institute for Medical Research (IMR), the Malaysian Agricultural Research and Development Institute (MARDI),  the Malaysian Palm Oil Board (MPOB), the Malaysian Rubber Board (MRB), and the Standards and Industrial Research Institute of Malaysia (SIRIM), and other government departments such as the Agriculture Department, the Department of Environment (DOE), the Minerals and Geoscience Department (JMG), the Department of Public Health and the Public Works Department (PWD). It is estimated that about 3,000 chemists worked in the public sector (excluding education) in various capacities.

In the private sector, chemists are employed in analysis and testing, quality control, sales and marketing, production and manufacturing, including research and development, with some in the management position. The industries served by these chemists covered a wide spectrum as shown below:

–   Petrochemicals
–   Oleochemicals
–   Polymers and Plastics
–   Industrial Chemicals
–   Minerals and Metals
–   Electronics and Electroplating
–   Food and Beverages
–   Fragrances and Flavours
–   Cosmetics
–   Pharmaceutical and Medicinal Products
–   Household Products
–   Detergents and Surfactants
–   Textiles and Dyes
–   Paints and Coatings
–   Adhesives and Resins
–   Glasses and Ceramics
–   Building Materials
–   Agro-based Industries
–   Palm Oil and Related Products
–   Rubber and Latex Products
–   Timber, Paper and Pulp
–   Agrochemicals

Chemistry and SUSTAINABLE DEVELOPMENT in Malaysia

Chemistry has played an important role in the sustainable development of Malaysia. In the earlier years after independence, the Malaysian economy is based on agriculture produces such as rubber and oil palm. Later in the 70s, petroleum became an important resource, contributing to a large portion in the export earning of the country. It was not until the 80s that manufactured goods and processed products from primary commodities became an important source of foreign exchange. In fact, in the 90s, manufactured goods have overtaken all other sectors and became the major export sector of the Malaysian economy. Coming to the 21st Century, the Malaysian economy is shifting to information technology and communication (ICT), advanced materials, services and financial sectors.

Chemistry has played a key role in the transformation of the Malaysian economy. First the primary commodities such as rubber, palm oil, tin, petroleum and timber are processed into secondary products for export. Taking palm oil as an example, the crude palm oil exported in the 70s is now sold as fractionated palm olein and palm stearin, and further downstream activities have converted palm oil into oleochemicals for processing into other end-use products. The rubber and latex are also made into rubberised and latex products for export.

Also in the manufacturing sector, chemistry has played an important role in polymers and plastic, industrial and agrochemicals, detergents and surfactants, pharmaceutical and medicinal products, just to name a few.

Another area where chemistry has played a key role recently is in pollution control, waste management and utilisation. The possible consequences of industrialisation are pollution and waste generation. Chemists have been able to reduce the pollution loads of many industries and provide proper waste management and utilisation.

Chemistry and the Malaysian Way of Life

Chemistry has also affected the Malaysian way of life in providing new products and materials in our everyday life. Chemistry has also elevated the standards of living by providing better health care and nutrition, protection against diseases and elements of the environment, and improving the quality of life.

Prospects as a chemist

The prospects of a chemist in Malaysia are good. With rapid sustainable development, chemists are needed in almost all industries and services. They are also needed in pollution controls and abatements, and also in ensuring a better quality of life through better nutrition and health care. It is thus envisaged that those interested in taking up chemistry as a profession will be both challenging and rewarding.

Personal Characteristics

Chemists are known for their analytical minds, curiosity, perseverance and an interest in solving problems. Thus, if one is interested in becoming a chemist, he must have the following personal attributes:

–   logical thinking,
–   curiosity and determination
–   good analytical skill
–   mathematical ability
–   precision and attention to details
–   ability to solve problems
–   patience and persistence
–   the ability to work as a team

Obtain further information on chemists from:

Institut Kimia Malaysia
129B, Jalan Aminuddin Baki
Taman Tun Dr Ismail
60000 Kuala Lumpur
Tel: +603-77283272
Fax: +603-77289909


Contributed by:
Datuk Dr Soon Ting Kueh
Past President, IKM
Malaysian Institute of  Chemistry

September 2016.

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