15 September 2023

A Guide to Chemistry Placements & Internships

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There’s so much more to a career in chemistry than working in a lab.

As a chemist, you could find yourself working on some seriously cool projects. You could develop new antibiotics to combat infection. Find innovative ways to protect the planet from plastic pollution. Or even advise the government on policy and regulation.

Stick with chemistry and you could make a real difference every time you go to work.

However, you’re going to need more than a degree to get there. You can’t just toss your graduation cap into the air, like you just don’t care, and expect to walk straight into a graduate job in chemistry. Success starts with experience.

So, here is your one-stop guide to finding quality internships and placements in chemistry.

Chemistry placements

On an industrial placement, you’ll spend a whole year working full-time for an employer. You’ll have real responsibilities that contribute to the success of the business. And will be a valuable member of the team.

Placements are incorporated into your course and take place between your second and final year of university. They’re the dill to your salmon bagel, and the start of your career in chemistry.

How many projects do you work on?

Some chemistry placements will have you working on a single project, while others will allow you to rotate between different departments over the course of the year.

This will give you a chance to figure out where your strengths and interests lie. For instance, you may have had your heart set on working in R&D (Research & Development), but then discover you have the analytical mind of a chemical engineer.

Does a chemistry placement improve your job prospects?

A placement in chemistry is an opportunity to develop your technical and transferable skills, create a strong professional network, and start earning a real salary. And if you do well, you might even get a graduate job out of it.

“I learned a lot of new laboratory techniques and how to operate many different instruments. These were mainly focused in the field of solid-state chemistry and crystallisation. I also learned how to perform computational calculations, specifically molecular dynamics simulations. My scientific research skills also improved, as my role was research-based.”

Drug Product Design Undergraduate at Pfizer

Chemistry internships

An internship is a golden opportunity to find out what a practical chemistry career actually entails. It will help you answer important questions like ‘what am I good at?’ or ‘what do I enjoy?’. So that when you’ve finished, you’ll know if this is the right path for you.

Should I do an internship or placement?

Chemistry internships are a great option if your course doesn’t include a placement year or you want to get experience with a few different companies before you graduate.

Internships tend to last anywhere from a couple of weeks to four months and are open to students from all years. As an intern, you’ll be trusted to work on real projects.

Just like this Unilever intern.

“I was given a lot of responsibility from the get-go at Unilever. I was immediately tasked with leading two projects on my own with my line manager’s support, as well as supporting some of my colleagues’ projects at the same time.”

Supply Chain Analyst at Unilever

What are the top cities with open Chemistry intern jobs?

You can find chemistry internships in towns and cities across the UK, including:

  • Birmingham
  • Bolton
  • Grangemouth
  • Hazelwood
  • Heysham
  • Immingham
  • Newcastle upon Tyne
  • Oxford
  • Seer Green
  • Swindon

Chemistry summer internships

Most companies take students on during the summer, so the old ‘I didn’t have time for work experience at uni’ just won’t cut it anymore.

If you can’t commit to a long placement or internship, these shorter schemes are a fantastic way to fill the long stretch between semesters. After all, there’s only so many festivals and Ibiza trips you can afford.

Chemistry internships in the summer tend to last between one to four months. This is long enough to get a taster for the role and industry and will add real value to your CV.

“I have really enjoyed my internship at GSK. I have found the work interesting, and learnt a lot about the company, as I have been able to attend meetings and Q&A sessions. I have also attended Study Days with the other interns which were very valuable, including both tours of the sites and also presentations on the work done by specific areas of the company.”

Summer student at GSK

Chemistry internships near me

Looking for an internship that’s close to home? Have a look below and find your perfect match:

The Best Student Employers in chemistry

One of the most important decisions to make when looking for chemistry-related work experience is WHO you want to work for.

There are lots of factors to consider when choosing the right employer for you; including work-life balance, job security and company values.

Best Student Employers

Every year, we announce the Best 100 Student Employers, as well as the Best 45 Medium-sized Employers. Each of these tables is based on the thousands of student-written reviews on RateMyPlacement.co.uk. They are the Olympic gold medallists of work experience.

There are hundreds of companies across the UK that offer everything from summer internships to year-long placements in chemistry. But these are the best ones:

Get a sneak-peek into what it’s really like to do a chemistry placement, internship or insight scheme with one of these employers…

Securing funding for chemistry work experience

The average chemistry placement student earns £22,102 a year.

But not all experience is paid.


A number of organisations help interns cover their costs with research grants, departmental projects and research scholarships – so you won’t miss out on a salary.

For example, the Royal Society of Chemistry Undergraduate Bursary supports undergraduate students carrying out chemistry internships in the summer holidays. All interns are paid the UK National Living Wage of £10.42 an hour, for up to 8 weeks.

These are just a few other organisations that offer bursaries:

Where should I start?

It’s best to start by speaking to your tutor – they should be able to point you in the right direction when it comes to finding a suitable grant and supervisor. 

Make sure you carry out thorough research on each bursary, as the eligibility criteria can vary.

“What did one ion say to the other?… I’ve got my ion you.”

What you can do with a chemistry degree

Change lives

Developing medicines, cutting air pollution, working in antibiotic resistance, progressing medical devices and prosthetics – chemistry plays a vital role in prolonging and improving life.

Brian, for example, is a Sports Scientist for the British Olympic Association. He analyses the biochemistry of Team GB athletes and uses the results to tailor training programmes that fit their needs.

Fix the future

​Climate change. Pollution. Energy crises. Deforestation. All of these will seriously impact the lives of future generations. But chemists work tirelessly to create a better, sustainable world.

Margot is a Research Innovations Manager at Polymateria. She’s part of a team developing a molecule that can be added to plastic, and that when triggered by sunlight, heat or rain, will break the plastic down into small fragments.

Challenge the status quo

Politicians rely on science policy experts to bridge the gap between researchers and the public. It is their job to show how discoveries in the lab will benefit people in real life, by translating highly technical scientific issues into good policies.

Take Harriet. As a Policy Researcher for Cancer Research UK (the largest independent funder of cancer research in the world), her role is to ensure that government policy supports researchers in their important work.

Quick-fire application advice

1. Talk to your university tutor and lecturers… If you’re struggling to find a chemistry internship that you want to apply for, it’s worth talking to your university chemistry department. They may have contacts you can reach out to or even offer you some work themselves!

2. Think outside the box… There are other ways you can get experience besides applying to well-known corporations. For instance, The Royal Society of Chemistry runs an eight-week science writer internship, giving aspiring writers an opportunity to work for two publications: Chemistry World and Education in Chemistry.

3. Be proactive… Not all organisations advertise their opportunities online, simply because they don’t need to. If there is a company or academic researcher you’re interested in working for, there’s nothing stopping you from approaching them directly and making a speculative application.

What you can expect to earn

Based on over 5,000 reviews on RateMyPlacement.co.uk, the average salary for a science internship was £17,386.

Placement students earn slightly more, averaging £20,399 for a year-long scheme.

Whilst salaries depend on a large number of factors (such as experience, location and type of organisation), there is the potential for you to rake it in once you progress in your career…