A biochemist in front of test tubes in a lab

A biochemist could...

Use green fluorescent protein (GFP), to investigate how cells work. Two round fluorescent green cells against a black background Develop a vaccine to prevent a new strain of flu. A doctor inserts a needle into the arm of a patient
Discover how a protein works by determining its 3-D structure. A man stands in front of a screen filled with spiraling protein structures Develop new biofuels that will provide an alternative source of energy. A biodiesel refueling pump
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Key Facts & Information

Overview Growing, aging, digesting—all of these are examples of chemical processes performed by living organisms. Biochemists study how these types of chemical actions happen in cells and tissues, and monitor what effects new substances, like food additives and medicines, have on living organisms.
Key Requirements Attention to detail, great logic skills, and the ability to work independently
Minimum Degree Master's degree
Subjects to Study in High School Biology, chemistry, computer science, algebra, geometry, calculus; if available biotechnology
Median Salary
U.S. Mean Annual Wage
Min Wage
Projected Job Growth (2014-2024) Average (7% to 13%)
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Related Occupations
Source: O*Net

Training, Other Qualifications

Most biochemists need at least a master's degree. To conduct research at an academic institute or to lead a team of other scientists at a biotechnology company, a PhD is necessary. In addition, it is common for biochemists to spend a period of time working as a postdoctoral (after receiving a PhD) student in the laboratory of a senior researcher, especially for those who want to conduct research or teach at the university level.

Education and Training

For biochemists, a PhD is usually necessary for independent research and for advancement to administrative positions. A master's degree is sufficient for some jobs in applied research or in product development, and for jobs in management, inspection, sales, and service. A bachelor's degree is adequate for some non-research jobs. Some graduates with a bachelor's degree start as biochemical scientists in testing and inspection, or get jobs related to biological science, such as technical sales or service representatives. In some cases, graduates with a bachelor's degree are able to work in a laboratory environment on their own projects, but this is unusual. Some may work as research assistants, while others transition to related careers in medicine, biotechnology, or food sciences.

Biochemists who have advanced degrees often take temporary postdoctoral research positions that provide specialized research experience. In private industry, some may become managers or administrators within biology. Others leave biology for nontechnical managerial, administrative, or sales jobs.

Other Qualifications

Biochemists should be able to work independently, or as part of a team, and be able to communicate clearly and concisely, both orally and in writing. Those in private industry, especially those who aspire to management or administrative positions, should possess strong business and communication skills and be familiar with regulatory issues and marketing and management techniques. Those doing field research in remote areas must have physical stamina.

Nature of the Work

Biochemists study the chemical composition of living things. They analyze the complex chemical combinations and reactions involved in metabolism, reproduction, growth, and heredity. Biochemists do most of their work in biotechnology, which involves understanding the complex chemistry of life.

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Specifically, they study the chemistry of living processes, such as cell development, breathing and digestion, and living energy changes like growth, aging, and death. Biochemists may conduct research and determine the chemical action of substances—such as drugs, hormones, and food—on tissues. Biochemists examine chemical aspects of how antibodies function; research chemistry of cells, and isolate, analyze, and identify hormones, vitamins, allergens, minerals, and enzymes.

Biochemists develop and execute tests to detect disease, genetic disorders, and other abnormalities, and develop methods to process, store, and use food, drugs, and chemical compounds. They also develop and test new drugs and medications used for commercial distribution, and prepare reports and recommendations based upon research outcomes. Biochemists clean, purify, refine, and otherwise prepare pharmaceutical compounds for commercial distribution, and analyze foods to determine nutritional value and effects of cooking, canning, and processing on this value.

Work Environment

Biochemists work indoors, and they must perform their jobs accurately and with a lot of attention to detail in order to complete every task. Usually, they work regular hours in offices or laboratories and are not exposed to unsafe or unhealthy conditions. Biochemists who work with dangerous organisms or toxic substances in the laboratory must follow strict safety procedures to avoid contamination. Some biochemists depend on grant money to support their research. They may be under pressure to meet deadlines and conform to rigid grant-writing specifications when preparing proposals to seek new or extended funding.

On the Job

  • Prepare reports and recommendations based upon research outcomes.
  • Develop new methods to study the mechanisms of biological processes.
  • Manage laboratory teams, and monitor the quality of a team's work.
  • Share research findings by writing scientific articles and by making presentations at scientific conferences.
  • Develop and execute tests to detect diseases, genetic disorders, and other abnormalities.
  • Develop and test new drugs and medications intended for commercial distribution.
  • Study the mutations in organisms that lead to cancer and other diseases.
  • Study spatial configurations of submicroscopic molecules, such as proteins, using x-rays and electron microscopes.
  • Study the chemistry of living processes, such as cell development, breathing and digestion, and living energy changes, such as growth, aging, and death.
  • Determine the three-dimensional structure of biological macromolecules.
  • Prepare pharmaceutical compounds for commercial distribution.
  • Research the chemical effects of substances such as drugs, serums, hormones, and food on tissues and vital processes.
  • Research how characteristics of plants and animals are carried through successive generations.
  • Develop methods to process, store, and use foods, drugs, and chemical compounds.
  • Investigate the nature, composition, and expression of genes, and research how genetic engineering can impact these processes.
  • Study physical principles of living cells and organisms and their electrical and mechanical energy, applying methods and knowledge of mathematics, physics, chemistry, and biology.
  • Produce pharmaceutically and industrially useful proteins, using recombinant DNA technology.
  • Isolate, analyze, and synthesize vitamins, hormones, allergens, minerals, and enzymes, and determine their effects on body functions.
  • Design and perform experiments with equipment such as lasers, accelerators, and mass spectrometers.
  • Teach and advise undergraduate and graduate students, and supervise their research.
  • Research transformations of substances in cells, using atomic isotopes.
  • Examine the molecular and chemical aspects of immune system functioning.
  • Design and build laboratory equipment needed for special research projects.

Source: BLS and NIH Lifeworks

Companies That Hire Biochemists

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