Biochemists are scientists who study biological and chemical processes in viruses, bacteria, human beings and other living organisms. They use their findings to solve problems in environmental protection, disease detection and prevention, agriculture and food processing. It takes advanced education and excellent research skills to become a biochemist.
1. What Do Biochemists Do?
The general duties of biochemists include:
- Writing research proposals
- Planning research projects – This involves identifying the research methods and methodologies to use in various projects
- Supervising research assistants and technicians
- Compiling scientific reports detailing their findings and recommendations and presenting them to engineers, colleagues and other professionals
It is essential to note that the nature of problems biochemists solve vary by industry:
In healthcare, they:
- Conduct tests on body fluids such as blood and urine to identify the causes of various diseases
- Analyze the effectiveness of treatment methods
- Develop tests to detect various diseases
In pharmaceutical manufacturing and food processing, they:
- Study the chemical composition of raw materials
- Conduct tests on final products to check their safety
In the agriculture and environmental services industry, they:
- Study the evolution of plants
- Find ways to develop genetically-engineered crops
- Investigate the effects of chemicals on the environment
- Recommend environmental pollution control methods
Other biochemists work in the energy field, where they investigate biofuels.
2. Work Environment
Biochemists work from 9am to 5pm, Monday to Friday. They spend most of their time in laboratories, where they work with electron microscopes computers and other advanced machines.
As a standard occupational practice, biochemists wear lab coats while in the laboratory. Depending on the nature of the experiment, they can wear protective clothing such as gloves and safety glasses.
According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, biochemists earn an average annual salary of $91,960.
4. Entry Requirements
In many scientific fields, you typically need a doctoral degree to engage in independent research projects. In biochemistry, the rules are no different.
Begin by earning a bachelor’s degree in biochemistry. The program will introduce you to basic biochemistry knowledge and prepare you for graduate school. If you wish to work before pursuing a master’s degree, you can be employed as a laboratory technician in biochemistry labs.
Next, pursue a master’s degree in biochemistry. This will enable you to advance to senior positions, such as research associate.
Finally, obtain a Ph.D. in biochemistry to gain advanced knowledge in areas such as genetics, toxicology, molecular biology and biostatics.
5. Important Qualities
To be a competent biochemist you need:
- Excellent research skills
- Strong analytical skills
- Superb critical-thinking skills
- Strong report-writing skills
- Strong problem-solving skills
- Good communication skills
- Good observation skills
- Good math skills
- Good teamwork and interpersonal skills
- The ability to persevere – It may take several research projects to make a concrete finding, so you should not give up easily
- An interest in a particular field, for example, agriculture or health care
6. Career Advancement
Because of the advanced academic credentials you need to enter this profession, there is typically not much left to pursue in terms of degrees. Once you earn your Ph.D., focus on improving your professionalism and growing your reputation. One way to do this is to engage in research projects that lead to a break-through in a certain field.
Another way is to join the American Society of Chemistry to network with other researchers and find a platform to publish your research findings.
7. Job Opportunities
The employers of biochemists include:
- Colleges and universities
- Healthcare facilities
- Pharmaceutical manufacturing firms
- Food processing plants
- Government agencies such as the Food and Drug Administration
- Agricultural research centers
- Environmental services companies
- Private biochemistry laboratories
- Research foundations
- Energy companies
With vast research experience, you can become a research manager – a position that involves approving research proposals, authorizing funding for projects and supervising other biochemists.
Finally, as long as you have the required credentials, expect little competition for jobs. According to the BLS, the employment of biochemists and biophysics will grow by 19 percent between 2012 and 2022. This beats the 11 percent average growth for all jobs.
So if you are fascinated by science, and you are a problem-solver, then you could become a biochemist.