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Product Development Chemist

Product Development Chemist

Serena Smalley, Dulux New Zealand

Earning: Technician level chemists (with a bachelor’s degree) start at around $35,000. Higher salaries are possible with a higher qualification and/or more experience, up to $70,000.
In a nutshell: Developing new paint products, developing new colours and naming them, solving factory problems, evaluating competitors’ products and investigating customer complaints.
Why?
“There’s lots of variety, I work with great people, and I can walk into a hardware store and think ‘I helped make that’ when I see the tins of Dulux paint.”

Pathway Papanui High School, Christchurch, Year 13: Chemistry, Biology, Statistics, Classics, History
Massey University: Bachelor of Science, majoring in Agricultural Science and Chemistry; Master of Science in Chemistry

Serena Smalley didn’t decide on a career as an industrial chemist until she had finished her science degree.

“I was split 50:50 between becoming a chemist and doing agricultural research,” she says. “But I found my chemistry courses more analytical and I enjoyed the problem-solving side of the lab work.”

There are lots of different aspects to her job at Dulux, from developing new paint formulations (recipes) and colours to solving any problems on the production line, and resolving customer complaints.

“New Product Development is the most exciting part of my job,” she says. “The general process is that I make up a litre or so of the paint in the lab and test it for qualities such as viscosity (how thick the liquid is), its pH, gloss and tint strength. Then I tweak the formulation until it has the properties I want.”

Investigating customer complaints may involve looking at paint flakes under the microscope, or brushing out the paint purchased by the customer and comparing it to the samples retained by the company.

One of the challenges for Serena has been learning everything there is to know about paint. “It’s not something I got taught about at university or school, so I’ve had to learn pretty much everything,” she says. “It’s especially challenging because there are people who’ve been in the painting industry for years who ring up and expect me to give them advice.”

She says her job is quite creative, particularly in terms of finding new solution for problems, but you don’t need to be a particular sort of person. “You just need to be willing to learn, willing to try new things, and not be easily deterred by things not going right the first time.”

“I really like the way I can see a practical application for my work. Everything here is consumer-driven rather than research for the sake of research. It’s great to walk into a hardware store, and think ‘I helped make that’ when I see the tins of Dulux paint.”

Posted December 2011