How to Become a Mass Spectrometry and Affinity Proteomics Scientist

Learn how to become a mass spectrometry and affinity proteomics scientist. Research the education, training information, and experience required for starting a career in biochemical research.

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Should I Become a Mass Spectrometry and Affinity Proteomics Scientist?

Proteomics is the study of proteins and how they change within living organisms. Since proteins are so small and change rapidly, scientists have to use specialized tools, such as mass spectrometers, to analyze proteins effectively. Affinity proteomics is a subfield that focuses on identifying specific proteins through the use of either binding reagents or known antibodies, according to the National Institutes of Health.

Scientists such as these usually split their time between working in a laboratory and an office. Safety procedures, protective clothing, and gear are required in order to protect scientists from exposure to some of the potentially toxic chemicals with which they work. The majority work in teams, full-time, and with regular schedules, although some overtime may be required.

Career Requirements

Degree Level Bachelor's, master's or Ph.D.
Degree Field Biochemistry, chemistry or biology
Licensure and Certification Medical scientists who perform invasive procedures on or administer drug or gene therapy to patients must be licensed physicians
Experience 2-6 years' experience with running proteomics laboratory experiments or related projects
Key Skills Work well with team members, be a strong problem solver, have a thorough understanding of biological processes and a strong background in mathematics, possess excellent writing skills and be able to keep accurate records; familiar with scientific computer software programs, such as data systems, research databases and other information management software systems; knowledge of mass spectrometers and related laboratory equipment
Salary (2015) $82,150 per year (Median salary for biochemists and biophysicists)

Sources: U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, Job postings from CareerBuilder.com

Step 1: Earn a Bachelor's Degree

Many employers prefer candidates with bachelor's degrees in fields such as biology, chemistry or biochemistry. Additionally, individuals who wish to go on to graduate studies usually must first complete bachelor's degree programs. Biochemistry bachelor's degree programs include such courses as general chemistry, analytical chemistry, molecular biology, physics, calculus, physical chemistry, biochemistry and biophysical chemistry. Most of these courses require students to complete additional laboratory hours.

Success Tip:

  • Get experience working with advanced equipment. Biochemistry undergraduate students often spend plenty of supervised hours in laboratories where they learn about laboratory safety and equipment usage. Beyond standard laboratory equipment, undergraduate students may want to consider taking courses or volunteering to learn about more advanced equipment, such as mass spectrometers. Students who want to eventually become mass spectrometry and affinity proteomics scientists will require this knowledge at some point, and students who learn this information as undergraduates may make better graduate school candidates.

Step 2: Complete Graduate Studies

Although the BLS states that most biophysicists and biochemists require Ph.D.s to find suitable employment, some employers may be willing to hire candidates who hold bachelor's degrees or master's degrees, provided that job candidates have enough related work experience. Without graduate degrees, however, professionals may not be able to design their own research projects or supervise team members.

Master's degree programs in biochemistry can usually be completed in two years, but Ph.D. programs may take 5-7 years, depending on the length of dissertation research projects. Common graduate-level courses may include cell biology, biostatistics, biomedical sciences, genetics and gene regulation. Ph.D. students in biochemistry typically design and conduct lengthy experiments, during which students document the results within lengthy reports known as dissertations.

Success Tip:

  • Consider a dual-degree program. Although it's not required to earn a dual-degree, many universities offer combination medical degree (M.D.)/Ph.D. programs in biochemistry. These programs are designed for professionals interested in conducting medical biochemistry research on live patients. Students have to complete medical school requirements, which include classroom lectures and clinical rotations with patients. For the Ph.D. portion of the degree, students are usually required to complete some additional classes plus conduct advanced research projects.

Step 3: Join a Postdoctoral Fellowship

One way to build experience directly after completing graduate studies is joining a postdoctoral fellowship. Fellowship programs are more likely to take on graduates with little to no real-world experience. Furthermore, fellowships provide scientists with direct training in the field, although training opportunities might be in general proteomics research fields instead of more specific fields, such as affinity proteomics. Possible fellowship activities in this field may include identifying organisms by protein development, early disease detection, disease treatments and biological protein dating.

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