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How to Become a Biochemist: Education and Career Roadmap

Learn how to become a biochemist. Research the job description and the education and necessary skills, and find out how to start a career in biochemistry.

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Should I Become a Biochemist?

Biochemists analyze the chemical characteristics and processes that are involved with living organisms. In this profession, you may work for governments, universities or private industries. Your day-to-day activities as a biochemists will often include working in teams conducting basic and applied research. Depending on the industry you're in, some of your duties may involve dealing with hazardous organisms or toxins. You'll typically be able to work a regular schedule in this field, but longer days may be necessary from time to time.

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Career Requirements

Degree Level Most biochemists earn a PhD; a bachelor's or master's degree may be an adequate qualification for some entry-level positions
Degree Field Biochemistry or a related field such as biology, chemistry, physics or engineering
Experience Many biochemists gain 2-3 years of experience in postdoctoral research positions
Key Skills Analytic software (Accelrys QAUNTA, Fujitsu BioMedCache, Wavefunction Titan), computer-aided design software (Accelrys Insight II, ChemInnovation SW), graphics software (Photoshop, GE Healthcare Image Quant TL, Molecular Devices Corporation MetaFluor, WebLab ViewerPro) or object- or component-oriented development software (Perl, Python); experience with tools such as microscopes, lasers and centrifuges may be necessary
Salary (2014) $91,960 per year (Mean annual salary for all biochemists and biophysicists)

Sources: U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, O*Net OnLine

Step 1: Earn a Bachelor's Degree

Many careers in the biological sciences, especially in research or academia, require a doctoral degree, so a bachelor's degree in a relevant science major is a necessary foundation for an aspiring biochemist. Schools offer concentrations in biochemistry, molecular biology, chemistry and biology. Biochemistry majors may take course topics that include organic chemistry, genetics and cells. In addition to having a strong science background, students need to develop skills in computer science, engineering and math.

Success Tips:

  • Begin to develop relevant skills. Biochemists must have strong communications skills for engaging in research and writing about complex subjects. Students should use time in undergraduate programs to sharpen speaking and writing skills with related coursework in English and the humanities.
  • Work on undergraduate research projects. Some schools offer opportunities for undergraduates to work on collaborative research projects. This is a good chance to gain experience in the lab and prepare for a career in academia or research.

Step 2: Pursue a Graduate Degree

A PhD is typically required to work in this field, particularly in research or academia; however, some entry-level positions require only a bachelor's or master's degree. Colleges and universities have Master of Science in Biochemistry programs, and some master's degree programs provide students with a dual concentration, such as biochemistry and biophysics. Curricula usually require graduate students to conduct individual research. Students then use this research to develop their thesis, which many schools require for graduation.

While a master's degree may also be enough to work as a research technician, advanced research and academic faculty positions typically require applicants to hold a doctoral degree. Graduate students can find Doctor of Philosophy in Biochemistry programs. All doctoral candidates must complete a dissertation based on their original research. They may also take advanced courses that discuss metabolism, molecular biology and cell biology. PhD holders commonly begin their careers with postdoctoral research positions lasting 2-3 years.

Step 3: Gain Experience

Once earning a PhD or master's degree, biochemists will begin to see their earning potential increase as they accrue more experience in their chosen field. Some biochemists may choose to specialize in a specific niche of their discipline. Alternatively, the advanced education required makes biochemists strong candidates for managerial or upper-tier administrative roles at their respective universities or companies.

Success Tips:

  • Concentrate on publications. Students should take the opportunity to focus on research interests and work on academic papers while in graduate programs. For academic research positions, candidates who have published research papers may improve their chances to secure employment.
  • Network in the field. Potential biochemists, especially those looking for work outside of academia, would benefit from participating in as many networking opportunities as possible. One way to meet people in the science industry involves attending science-related workshops and conferences. For example, the National Institute of Health (NIH) offers a variety of career and professional development opportunities in topics such as career planning and workplace dynamics.
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