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Careers in Biophysics: Job Options and Education Requirements

Biophysics utilizes physics to study biological processes. The field encompasses the study of molecular and cell biology, atomic and molecular physics, organic and physical chemistry, and the curriculum may include courses in calculus, differential equations, computer programming and genetics. Learn about the career options, job growth, and salary information for workers with postgraduate degrees in the field of biophysics.

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If you want a job in biophysics, some of the options include becoming a biophysics teacher or research biophysicist. A master's degree is the minimum needed for biophysics teachers, while a doctorate is needed for research biophysicist positions.

Essential Information

Biophysicists study biological processes through the lens of physics. They conduct research in areas including neuroscience, genetics and medicine, and study everything from organs and bodily systems to individual molecules. Biophysicists may be employed by universities to teach and conduct basic science research or by private industry to develop and test new products and processes.

Job Options Biophysics Teachers Research Biophysicists
Required Education Master's Ph.D.
Other Requirements Teaching certificate Ph.D./M.D.
Projected Job Growth (2014-2024)* 13% 8%
Average Salary (2015)* $86,830 $93,390

Source: *U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics

Biophysics Job Options

According to the Biophysical Society, individuals with biophysics training can pursue research and teaching careers in academia or engage in applied research (www.biophysics.org). Available job options depend on factors including a student's areas of expertise and interest, level of education and aptitude for teaching.

Academic Careers

Biophysicists who choose careers as university or college faculty members have teaching responsibilities in addition to their research duties. As they move up the ladder from instructor or assistant professor to full professor, they may also take on additional administrative duties in their departments. The Biophysics Society explains that faculty members at liberal arts colleges can expect to provide career advice to undergraduate students and help them develop basic laboratory and research skills. Faculty members employed by larger universities are likely to spend time teaching graduate students and guiding them as they plan and execute dissertation research.

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), teachers at postsecondary institutions, including biophysics teachers, can expect an increase in employment opportunities of 13% from 2014-2024, reflecting the continuing rise in enrollment at postsecondary schools. This group of professionals earned a mean annual salary of $86,830 in May 2015.

Applied Research Careers

Biophysicists who prefer to devote their time entirely to research may prefer to seek employment with government agencies, research foundations or corporations. They are not required to teach, but experienced researchers may have supervisory responsibilities. Applied researchers typically do not need to obtain public funding for their research projects like academic researchers do, but they may need to justify their research budgets to the organization that employs them. They may also have less latitude in choosing research projects than academic researchers have, since they are usually assigned to develop products or address specific environmental, agricultural or public health issues.

The BLS reported that research biophysicists could experience 8% growth in jobs during the 2014-2024 decade, which is about as fast as average. Biophysicists received a mean annual salary of $93,390 in May 2015.

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Biophysics Education Requirements

The education requirements for biophysics careers vary depending on an individual's career aspirations. The Biophysical Society explains that students who want to become independent researchers for the government, universities or private companies need to earn either a Doctor of Philosophy (Ph.D.) degree or a joint Ph.D./Doctor of Medicine (M.D.) degree. Students with master's degrees may find employment as instructors at some postsecondary institutions, the BLS reported. They, along with bachelor's degree holders, may also be qualified to work as science technicians, science writers or science teachers in secondary schools.

Undergraduate Education

The Biophysical Society explains that since undergraduate degrees in biophysics are uncommon, most aspiring biophysicists begin their academic careers by majoring in math, chemistry or physics and supplementing their chosen major with biology courses. Some students also major in biology and take additional courses in math and the physical sciences. The Biophysical Society suggests a program that includes calculus, differential equations, computer programming and genetics as well as the following course topics:

  • Molecular and cell biology
  • Atomic and molecular physics
  • Organic and physical chemistry

Graduate Education

Biophysics is housed in its own department at some universities; at other universities it exists as a graduate group or interdisciplinary department consisting of faculty members from areas such as biochemistry, physics, pharmacology and cell biology. Ph.D. programs in biophysics generally attempt to accommodate students' research interests by minimizing required courses. They provide students with opportunities to gain research experience and develop their own research agendas in areas like computational biophysics, molecular biophysics and magnetic resonance biophysics.

Entrance requirements for Ph.D. programs in biophysics typically include strong performance on the analytical writing and quantitative reasoning sections of the Graduate Record Examination (GRE), as well as a solid academic record in mathematics, physics, chemistry and biology courses. Schools tend to look favorably upon applicants who also have undergraduate research experience.

Whether you choose to become a biophysics teacher or a research biophysicist, you will need an advanced degree in the form of a master's or doctorate. Job growth through 2024 is projected to be better for biophysics teachers (13%) than for research biophysicists (8%).

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