Biochemist Job Description
Biochemists use advanced laboratory instruments like electron microscopes and lasers to study the chemical principles of biological processes. Some of the most common areas of study include heredity, metabolism, growth, cell development, nutrition, and reproduction. In short, biochemists try to better understand the chemical makeup of life.
In order to work effectively, biochemists need to be able to work well with other people. They normally work on teams with many other biochemists, and often get to work with experts in other disciplines as well. Collaboration with computer scientists, chemists, engineers, and physicists is common.
There are two types of research that biochemists do: basic research, and applied research.
Basic research is academic in nature. Biochemists who work in basic research try to improve human understanding. Though their research often ends up being applied to products by others, the goal of this research is not to make money, but to increase knowledge. For example, a biochemist who is involved in basic research may study the evolution of a particular species, or genetic mutations that lead to disease.
Since basic research is not performed in order to make money, it has to be funded by outside sources. Raising money can take a significant amount of time and effort, and requires writing grant proposals that are sent to colleges and universities, the federal government, various foundations, and other organizations who might be interested in funding their research.
Applied research is performed to solve a particular problem (or set of problems). For example, biochemists who work for pharmaceutical companies do applied research. These biochemists are tasked with developing medicines or treatments that are needed to treat specific illnesses or diseases. When you go to the doctor and get a prescription, the medicine that you take is developed by biochemists.
Not all applied research is concerned with medicine, however. Some biochemists research things like the development of alternative fuel sources, ways to clean up the environment, and methods of genetically engineering crops. Others go on to work as teachers, primarily at the high school and college levels.
Regardless of the type of research that they do, biochemists rely on advanced tools and software to do their jobs effectively. In the laboratory, they use things like spectrophotometers, radioactive isotopes, centrifuges, and electron microscopes to perform experiments and to learn more about the materials they’re researching.
Biochemists also need to have strong computer skills. They frequently rely on advanced computer software that helps them analyze and visualize the data collect in ways that were never before possible. For example, they may use modeling software that allows them to visualize molecules or proteins in a three-dimensional format. These visualizations help to increase the scientists’ knowledge of the subject they’re studying.
Biochemists are most often employed by research and development firms, pharmaceutical companies, and colleges and universities.
Biochemists who work in research typically split their time between the laboratory and an office. In the laboratory, they conduct experiments and collect data. In the office, they use computers to analyze and manipulate the data.
The majority of biochemists work full time, and are able to maintain regular working hours.
How to Become a Biochemist
A minimum of a bachelor’s degree in biochemistry is required to qualify for an entry-level position in this field, but a Ph.D. is required to move beyond the most basic positions. If you have a bachelor’s degree in biochemistry but don’t plan to attend graduate school, there are many other jobs that would allow you more opportunities for advancement in your career.
The majority of students who earn a Ph.D. in biochemistry get their bachelor’s degree in engineering, chemistry, biology, physics, or another closely related field. Math and computer science courses can be extremely helpful as well, as biochemists spend a lot of their time using advanced computer software to perform data analysis.
Bachelor’s programs in biochemistry require students to spend considerable time working in a laboratory setting. Not only is lab work a great way to increase your understanding of biochemistry, it also helps prepare students for graduate school and their careers. Additional lab experience can be obtained by getting an internship. To learn more about the internship opportunities available to you, stop by your college’s career center.
After earning a bachelor’s degree, it takes an additional 4-6 years to earn a doctoral degree. Ph.D. candidates spend a significant amount of time performing research in a laboratory setting, and the final two years of their studies are very demanding.
After earning a Ph.D., most graduates spend 2-3 years working in a postdoctoral research position. These positions allow graduates the opportunity to work under the supervision of experienced scientists, and provide them with the chance to develop a stronger understanding of research methods and their subject of interest.
Postdoctoral research positions also allow graduates with an opportunity to publish their research in academic journals. If you want to work as a college professor, this is a great opportunity. All of the best schools require their professors to have published research.
If you are still in high school and you’re considering a career as a biochemist, taking as many math and science classes as possible will help prepare you for your undergraduate degree.
There are currently 25,100 biochemists in the United States, with 1,340 new biochemist job openings created each year.
Biochemist jobs are not expected to see much growth beyond their current levels in the next decade.
Biochemist salaries can vary depending on your experience, the location, company, industry, and benefits provided. Nationwide, most biochemists make between $54,200 – $109,600 per year, or $26.07 – $52.67 per hour.