How to Become a Biochemist or Biophysicist
Biochemists and biophysicists need a Ph.D. to work in independent research and development positions.
Biochemists and biophysicists need a Ph.D. to work in independent research and development positions. Most Ph.D. holders begin their careers in a temporary postdoctoral research position, which typically lasts 2 to 3 years. Bachelor’s and master’s degree holders are qualified for some entry-level positions in biochemistry and biophysics.
Most 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.
Analytical skills. Biochemists and biophysicists must be able to conduct scientific experiments and analyses with accuracy and precision.
Critical-thinking skills. Biochemists and biophysicists draw conclusions from experimental results through sound reasoning and judgment.
Interpersonal skills. Biochemists and biophysicists typically work on research teams and need to be able to work well with others toward a common goal. Many also serve as team leaders and must be able to motivate and direct other team members.
Math skills. Biochemists and biophysicists regularly use complex equations and formulas in their work, and they need a broad understanding of mathematics, including calculus and statistics.
Perseverance. Scientific research involves substantial trial and error, and biochemists and biophysicists must not become discouraged in their work.
Problem-solving skills. Biochemists and biophysicists use scientific experiments and analysis to find solutions to complex scientific problems.
Speaking skills. Biochemists and biophysicists frequently give presentations and must be able to explain their research to others.
Writing skills. Biochemists and biophysicists write memos, reports, and research papers that explain their findings.
Biochemists and biophysicists typically receive greater responsibility and independence in their work as they gain experience. They may lead research teams and have control over the direction and content of projects.
Some biochemists and biophysicists move into managerial positions—often as natural sciences managers. Those who pursue management careers spend much of their time on administrative tasks, such as preparing budgets and schedules. For more information, see the profile on natural sciences managers.