Tab Format
Biochemist and Biophysicist

ActivitiesResearch or study chemical composition and processes of living organisms that affect vital processes -- such as growth and aging -- to determine chemical actions and effects on organisms such as the action of foods, drugs, or other substances on body functions and tissues.

OutlookFaster-than-average-job growth

Median Income$79,390 per year in 2010

Work Context & ConditionsBiochemists work indoors, and they must perform their jobs accurately, with a lot of attention to detail and to completing 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.

Minimum Education RequirementsBachelor's Degree

SkillsLearning Strategies, Critical Thinking, Active Listening, Writing, Equipment Selection, Time Management, Active Learning, Complex Problem Solving, Coordination, Reading Comprehension, Speaking, Science

AbilitiesDeductive Reasoning, Written Comprehension, Near Vision, Information Ordering, Inductive Reasoning, Written Expression

InterviewsPeter BandettiniVideo Icon

Job Description
Job CategoryLife, Physical, & Social Science

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

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

Biochemists develop and execute tests to detect disease, genetic disorders, or 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.

Biophysicist study fundamental physical principles that are essential to understanding life processes and use quantitative methodologies in advancing biomedical research and healthcare. They study physical principles of living cells and organisms and their electrical and mechanical energy, research how characteristics of plants and animals are carried through successive generations, research the transformation of substances in cells, and investigate damage to cells and tissues caused by X-rays and nuclear particles.

Biophysicists also study the spatial configuration of submicroscopic molecules, such as proteins, using X-rays and electron microscopes. They investigate the transmission of electrical impulses along nerves and muscles, the dynamics of seeing and hearing, and functions of electronic and human brains, such as learning, thinking and memory.

Working ConditionsBiologist work indoors, and they must perform their jobs accurately and with a lot of attention to detail and to completing every task. Usually, they work regular hours in offices or laboratories and are not exposed to unsafe or unhealthy conditions.

Biochemist and Biophysicist who work with work with dangerous organisms or toxic substances in the laboratory must follow strict safety procedures to avoid contamination. Some biochemists and Biophysicists 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.

Salary RangeThe median annual wage of biochemists and biophysicists was $79,390 in May 2010. The median wage is the wage at which half the workers in an occupation earned more than that amount and half earned less. The lowest 10 percent earned less than $43,050, and the top 10 percent earned more than $142,420.

Median annual wages in the industries employing the most biochemists and biophysicists in May 2010 were:

Pharmaceutical and medicine manufacturing: $84,970
Research and development in the physical,engineering, and life sciences: $83,590
Colleges, universities, and professional schools; state,local, and private: $50,760

Education RequiredMost Ph.D. holders in biochemistry and biophysics have bachelor’s degrees in biochemistry or a related field, such as biology, chemistry, physics, or engineering. Many schools have bachelor's degree programs in biochemistry, but few schools have bachelor's degree programs in biophysics. In addition to completing required courses in biology and chemistry, students must typically take courses in mathematics, physics, and computer science. Courses in mathematics and computer science are important for biochemists and biophysicists, who must be able to do complex data analysis.

Most bachelor's degree programs include required laboratory coursework. Additional laboratory coursework is excellent preparation for graduate school or for getting an entry-level position in industry. Students also can gain valuable laboratory experience through internships with prospective employers such as pharmaceutical and medicine manufacturers.

Ph.D. programs typically include 2 years of advanced coursework in topics such as toxicology, genetics, and proteomics (the study of proteins). Graduate students also spend a lot of time conducting laboratory research. It typically takes 4 to 6 years to earn a doctoral degree in biochemistry or biophysics.

Most biochemistry and biophysics Ph.D. holders begin their careers in a temporary postdoctoral research position, which typically lasts 2 to 3 years. During their postdoctoral appointment, they work with experienced scientists as they continue to learn about their specialties or develop a broader understanding of related areas of research.

Postdoctoral positions frequently offer the opportunity to publish research findings. A solid record of published research is essential to get a permanent position doing basic research, especially for those seeking a permanent college or university faculty position.

Recommended High School CoursesBiology, Mathematics, Chemistry

Postsecondary Instructional ProgramsMathematics, Chemistry, Biology

Certification and LicensingNone

Skills, Abilities, & Interests
Interest Area
InvestigativeInvolves working with ideas and requires an extensive amount of thinking.

Work Values
AchievementGet a feeling of accomplishment.
CreativityTry out your own ideas.
IndependenceWork alone.
SecurityHave steady employment.
Ability UtilizationMake use of individual abilities.
ActivityBusy all the time.
AutonomyPlan work with little supervision.
ResponsibilityMake decisions on your own.

Learning StrategiesUse multiple approaches when learning or teaching new things.
Critical ThinkingUse logic and analysis to identify the strengths and weaknesses of different approaches.
Active ListeningListen to what other people are saying and ask questions as appropriate.
WritingCommunicate effectively with others in writing as indicated by the needs of the audience.
Equipment SelectionDetermine the kind of tools and equipment needed to do a job.
Time ManagementManage one's own time and the time of others.
Active LearningWork with new material or information to grasp its implications.
Complex Problem SolvingSolving novel, ill-defined problems in complex, real-world settings.
CoordinationAdjust actions in relation to others' actions.
Reading ComprehensionUnderstand written sentences and paragraphs in work-related documents.
SpeakingTalk to others to effectively convey information.
ScienceUse scientific methods to solve problems.

Deductive ReasoningAble to apply general rules to specific problems to come up with logical answers, including deciding whether an answer makes sense.
Written ComprehensionAble to read and understand information and ideas presented in writing.
Near VisionAble to see details of objects at a close range (within a few feet of the observer).
Information OrderingAble to correctly follow rules for arranging things or actions in a certain order, including numbers, words, pictures, procedures, and logical operations.
Inductive ReasoningAble to combine separate pieces of information, or specific answers to problems, to form general rules or conclusions. This includes coming up with a logical explanation for why seemingly unrelated events occur together.
Written ExpressionAble to communicate information and ideas in writing so others will understand.

More Information
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Job OutlookEmployment of biochemists and biophysicists is projected to increase by 31 percent from 2010 to 2020, much faster than the average for all occupations. However, because it is a small occupation, the fast growth will result in only about 7,700 new jobs over the 10-year period. More biochemists and biophysicists are expected to be needed to do basic research that increases scientific knowledge and to research and develop biological products and processes that improve our lives.

The aging of the baby-boom population and the demand for lifesaving new drugs and procedures to cure and prevent disease will likely drive demand for biochemists and biophysicists involved in biomedical research. For example, biochemists will be needed to conduct genetic research and to develop new medicines and treatments that are used to fight genetic disorders and diseases such as cancer. They will also be needed to develop new tests used to detect diseases and other illnesses.

Aside from improving our health, other areas of research and development in biotechnology are expected to provide employment growth for biochemists and biophysicists. Greater demand for clean energy should increase the need for biochemists who research and develop alternative energy sources, such as biofuels. A growing population and rising food prices are expected to fuel the development of genetically engineered crops that provide greater yields and require fewer resources to produce. Finally, efforts to discover new and improved ways to clean up and preserve the environment will increase demand for biochemists and biophysicists.

More InformationFederation of American Societies for Experimental Biology, American Physiological Society, Education Office, American Society for Biochemistry and Molecular Biology, The Protein Society, American Institute of Biological Sciences

ReferencesBureau of Labor Statistics, U.S. Department of Labor, Occupational Outlook Handbook, 2012-13 Edition, Biochemists and Biophysicists,
on the Internet at

O*NET OnLine, on the Internet at