How to Become a Biochemist in 5 Steps

Explore the career requirements of biochemists. Learn the facts about job duties, education requirements, employment outlook and salary to determine if this is the right career for you. Schools offering Biology degrees can also be found in these popular choices.

What Does a Biochemist Do?

Biochemists conduct research on the physics, chemistry and biological processes of living organisms. They may focus on diseases, genetics, new drugs, biofuels or the environment. They share their findings and recommendations with other scientists, including those in the medical and engineering fields. Often, their work involves isolated and synthesized molecules and DNA. In addition, they may be also tasked to oversee and monitor other research groups. The following chart gives an overview of what you need to know to enter this profession.

Degree Required PhD degree
Education Field of Study Biochemistry, biology, chemistry, engineering
Key Responsibilities Design and carry out original research projects involving biological molecules, such as DNA, enzymes, proteins; manage project team; report findings to scientific community
Job Growth (2014-2024) 8% (biochemists and biophysicists)*
Median Salary (2015) $82,150 (biochemists and biophysicists)*

Source: *U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.

What Is a Biochemist?

A biochemist is a scientist who studies the chemical composition and processes of living organisms at the molecular and cellular levels. In this profession, your work can encompass reproduction, metabolism, growth and death. In addition to breaking organisms down to their constituent chemistry, you might examine the effects of nutrients, hormones, drugs and other substances on life processes. Possible duties might include examining the configuration and function of proteins, cell membranes and organelles, developing new tests and techniques to study cells and testing new pharmaceutical candidates. You could also manage and monitor a lab team, write research reports and submit reports for publication.

Step 1: Earn a Bachelor's Degree

Bachelor's degree programs in biochemistry synthesize concepts from both biology and chemistry. In addition to a general science foundation, you're likely to have several levels of courses and labs in organic and analytical chemistry. Physics, calculus and cell biology are supporting subjects in many curricula. Some programs have you conclude with a research project during your senior year.

Step 2: Complete an Internship

An internship can give you an opportunity to gain experience working in a lab or other research setting and make contacts with industry professionals. Culturing cells, testing drug candidates or generating protein extracts are possible activities you might perform. Schools encourage and might help arrange internships outside of degree requirements. Internship positions usually occur part-time during the school year, but they could extend to full-time work in the summer.

Step 3: Pursue Doctoral Studies

If you want to conduct independent research or hold an administrative position, you'll need a doctoral degree in biochemistry. Doctoral programs are research-intensive and typically take five years to complete. In the first two years, curricula are often structured around a set of advanced core courses and a selection of specialized lectures and seminars. Some programs offer separate tracks to facilitate specialization. In the third year, you can begin researching and writing a dissertation on an original topic in biochemistry.

Step 4: Obtain a Job

The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics reports that approximately 30,800 people were employed as biochemists and biophysicists as of May 2015 (www.bls.gov). During the 2014-2024 decade, employment of these workers is projected to increase about 8%, which is as fast as average for all U.S. occupations. This growth will be driven by the need to increase the quality of life and health among the aging U.S. population, as well as for the development of biofuels for cleaner energy. Hospital labs, research labs, drug companies, biotechnology companies and agribusiness firms are potential employers. As of May 2015, the median yearly salary for biochemists and biophysicists was $82,150.

Step 5: Advance Your Career

Multiple paths for advancement are open to you in the field of biochemistry. If you want to continue doing research, you could accumulate enough experience and seniority to become the leader of a research team. Administrative or managerial positions that require technical expertise, such as director at a botanical garden or of a government food testing program, present other possibilities. You could also provide consulting services to government agencies or businesses.

What Are Some Related Alternative Careers?

Related fields requiring the same education include medical science, surgery, and physics/astronomy. Medical scientists focus on health research to educate the public on functioning, illnesses and cures. Physicists and astronomers study matter, energy and topics regarding the universe. Physicians and surgeons work to identify and treat injuries and/or illnesses and perform necessary procedures for such. Doctors also advise their patients about preventive and/or managing care and prescribe relevant medications.

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