Biochemists and Biophysicists

Summary

biochemists and biophysicists image
Biochemists and biophysicists study the chemical and physical properties of cells.
Quick Facts: Biochemists and Biophysicists
2015 Median Pay $82,150 per year
$39.50 per hour
Typical Entry-Level Education Doctoral or professional degree
Work Experience in a Related Occupation None
On-the-job Training None
Number of Jobs, 2014 34,100
Job Outlook, 2014-24 8% (As fast as average)
Employment Change, 2014-24 2,800

What Biochemists and Biophysicists Do

Biochemists and biophysicists study the chemical and physical principles of living things and of biological processes, such as cell development, growth, heredity, and disease.

Work Environment

Biochemists and biophysicists typically work in laboratories and offices to conduct experiments and analyze the results. Most work full time.

How to Become a Biochemist or Biophysicist

Biochemists and biophysicists need a Ph.D. to work in independent research and development. Most Ph.D. holders begin their careers in temporary postdoctoral research positions. Bachelor’s and master’s degree holders qualify for some entry-level positions in biochemistry and biophysics.

Pay

The median annual wage for biochemists and biophysicists was $82,150 in May 2015.

Job Outlook

Employment of biochemists and biophysicists is projected to grow 8 percent from 2014 to 2024, about as fast as the average for all occupations. More biochemists and biophysicists will be needed to use the knowledge they have gained from basic research to develop biological products and processes that improve people’s lives.

State & Area Data

Explore resources for employment and wages by state and area for biochemists and biophysicists.

Similar Occupations

Compare the job duties, education, job growth, and pay of biochemists and biophysicists with similar occupations.

More Information, Including Links to O*NET

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What Biochemists and Biophysicists Do About this section

Biochemists and biophysicists
Biochemists and biophysicists play a key role in developing new medicines to fight diseases such as cancer.

Biochemists and biophysicists study the chemical and physical principles of living things and of biological processes, such as cell development, growth, heredity, and disease.

Duties

Biochemists and biophysicists typically do the following:

  • Plan and conduct complex projects in basic and applied research
  • Manage laboratory teams and monitor the quality of their work
  • Isolate, analyze, and synthesize proteins, fats, DNA, and other molecules
  • Research the effects of substances such as drugs, hormones, and nutrients on tissues and biological processes
  • Keep up with current knowledge by reviewing the findings of other researchers and by attending conferences
  • Prepare technical reports, research papers, and recommendations based on their research findings
  • Present research findings to scientists, engineers, and other colleagues

Biochemists and biophysicists use advanced technologies, such as lasers and fluorescent microscopes, to conduct scientific experiments and analysis. They also use x rays and computer modeling software to determine the three-dimensional structures of proteins and other molecules. Biochemists and biophysicists involved in biotechnology research use chemical enzymes to synthesize recombinant DNA.

Biochemists and biophysicists work in basic and applied research. Basic research is conducted without any immediately known application; the goal is to expand human knowledge. Applied research is directed toward solving a particular problem.

Biochemists involved in basic research may study the molecular mechanisms by which cells feed, divide, and grow. Others study the evolution of plants and animals, to understand how genetic traits are carried through successive generations.

Biophysicists may conduct basic research to learn how nerve cells communicate or how proteins work. Biochemists and biophysicists who conduct basic research typically must submit written grant proposals to colleges and universities, private foundations, and the federal government to get the money they need for their research.

Biochemists and biophysicists who conduct applied research attempt to develop products and processes that improve people’s lives. For example, in medicine, biochemists and biophysicists develop tests used to detect infections, genetic disorders, and other diseases. They also develop new drugs and medications, such as those used to treat cancer or Alzheimer’s disease.

Applied research in biochemistry and biophysics has many uses outside of medicine. In agriculture, biochemists and biophysicists research ways to genetically engineer crops so that they will be resistant to drought, disease, insects, and other afflictions. Biochemists and biophysicists also investigate alternative fuels, such as biofuels—renewable energy sources from plants. In addition, they develop ways to protect the environment and clean up pollution.

Many people with a biochemistry background become professors and teachers. For more information, see the profile on postsecondary teachers.

Work Environment About this section

Biochemists and biophysicists
Most biochemists and biophysicists work in laboratories.

Biochemists and biophysicists held about 34,100 jobs in 2014. The industries that employed the most biochemists and biophysicists were as follows:

Research and development in the physical, engineering, and life sciences 47%
Colleges, universities, and professional schools; state, local, and private 16
Pharmaceutical and medicine manufacturing 14
Basic chemical manufacturing 2
Management, scientific, and technical consulting services 2

Biochemists and biophysicists typically work in laboratories and offices, to conduct experiments and analyze the results. Those who work with dangerous organisms or toxic substances in the laboratory must follow safety procedures to avoid contamination.

Most biochemists and biophysicists work on teams. Research projects are often interdisciplinary, and biochemists and biophysicists frequently work with experts in other fields, such as physics, chemistry, computer science, and engineering. Those working in biological research generate large amounts of data. They collaborate with specialists called bioinformaticians, who use their knowledge of statistics, mathematics, engineering, and computer science to mine datasets for correlations that might explain biological phenomena.

Some biotech companies need researchers to help sell their products. These products often rely on very complex technologies, and having an expert explain them to potential customers might be necessary. This role for researchers may be more common in smaller companies, where workers often fulfill multiple roles, such as working in research and in sales. Working in sales may require a substantial amount of travel. For more information on sales representatives, see the profile on wholesale and manufacturing sales representatives.

Work Schedules

Most biochemists and biophysicists work full time and keep regular hours. They may occasionally have to work additional hours to meet project deadlines or to perform time-sensitive laboratory experiments.

How to Become a Biochemist or Biophysicist About this section

Biochemists and biophysicists
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 temporary postdoctoral research positions. Bachelor’s and master’s degree holders are qualified for some entry-level positions in biochemistry and biophysics. 

Education

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. High school students can prepare for college by taking classes related to the natural and physical sciences, as well as math and computer science.

Students in bachelor’s degree programs in biochemistry or a related field typically take courses in mathematics, physics, and computer science in addition to courses in the biological and chemical sciences. 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 can gain valuable laboratory experience by working for a university’s laboratories. Occasionally, they can also gain such experience through internships with prospective employers, such as pharmaceutical and medicine manufacturers.

Ph.D. programs typically include advanced coursework in topics such as toxicology, genetics, and proteomics (the study of proteins). Several graduate programs include courses in bioinformatics, which involves using computers to study and analyze large amounts of biological data. Graduate students also spend a lot of time conducting laboratory research. Study at the master’s level is generally considered good preparation for those interested in doing hands-on laboratory work. Ph.D.-level studies provide additional training in the planning and execution of research projects.

Training

Most biochemistry and biophysics Ph.D. holders begin their careers in temporary postdoctoral research positions. During their postdoctoral appointments, 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 getting a permanent college or university faculty position.

Important Qualities

Analytical skills. Biochemists and biophysicists must be able to conduct scientific experiments and analyses with accuracy and precision.

Communication skills. Biochemists and biophysicists have to write and publish reports and research papers, give presentations of their findings, and communicate with team members.

Critical-thinking skills. Biochemists and biophysicists draw conclusions from experimental results through sound reasoning and judgment.

Interpersonal skills. Biochemists and biophysicists typically work on interdisciplinary research teams and need to work well with others toward a common goal. Many serve as team leaders and must be able to motivate and direct other team members.

Math skills. Biochemists and biophysicists use complex equations and formulas regularly in their work; they also need a broad understanding of mathematics, including calculus and statistics.

Perseverance. Biochemists and biophysicists need to be thorough in their research and in their approach to problems. 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.

Time-management skills. Biochemists and biophysicists usually need to meet deadlines when conducting research. They must be able to manage time and prioritize tasks efficiently while maintaining their quality of work.

Advancement

Some biochemists and biophysicists become natural sciences managers. Those who pursue management careers spend much of their time on administrative tasks, such as preparing budgets and schedules.

Pay About this section

Biochemists and Biophysicists

Median annual wages, May 2015

Biochemists and biophysicists

$82,150

Life scientists

$72,090

Total, all occupations

$36,200

 

The median annual wage for biochemists and biophysicists was $82,150 in May 2015. The median wage is the wage at which half the workers in an occupation earned more than that amount and half earned less. The lowest 10 percent earned less than $44,640, and the highest 10 percent earned more than $153,810.

In May 2015, the median annual wages for biochemists and biophysicists in the top industries in which they worked were as follows:

Management, scientific, and technical consulting services $105,430
Research and development in the physical, engineering, and life sciences 87,650
Pharmaceutical and medicine manufacturing 77,960
Basic chemical manufacturing 74,840
Colleges, universities, and professional schools; state, local, and private 55,560

Most biochemists and biophysicists work full time and keep regular hours. Some positions require additional hours.

Job Outlook About this section

Biochemists and Biophysicists

Percent change in employment, projected 2014-24

Biochemists and biophysicists

8%

Total, all occupations

7%

Life scientists

6%

 

Employment of biochemists and biophysicists is projected to grow 8 percent from 2014 to 2024, about as fast as the average for all occupations. More biochemists and biophysicists are expected to be needed to do basic research that increases scientific knowledge and to research and develop biological products and processes that improve people’s lives. However, budgetary concerns may limit researchers’ access to funding for basic research.

The large baby-boom population is aging, and that, along with the demand for lifesaving new drugs and procedures to cure and to prevent disease, likely will drive demand for biochemists and biophysicists involved in biomedical research. For example, biochemists will be needed to conduct genetic research and to develop new medicines and treatments that are used to fight genetic disorders and diseases such as cancer. They will also be needed to develop new tests used to detect diseases and other illnesses. Currently, it is the smaller pharmaceutical companies, rather than the large companies, that tend to do biomedical research. This state of affairs helps the larger companies avoid risks and costs.

Areas of research and development in biotechnology other than health also are expected to provide employment growth for biochemists and biophysicists. Greater demand for clean energy should increase the need for biochemists who research and develop alternative energy sources, such as biofuels. A growing population and rising food prices are expected to fuel the development of genetically engineered crops and livestock that provide greater yields and require fewer resources. Efforts to discover new and improved ways to clean up and preserve the environment will increase demand for biochemists and biophysicists as well.

Job Prospects

Biochemists and biophysicists involved in basic research should expect strong competition for permanent research and faculty positions at colleges and universities. Biochemists and biophysicists with postdoctoral experience who have had research articles published in scientific journals should have the best prospects for these positions. Many biochemists and biophysicists work through multiple postdoctoral appointments before getting a permanent position in academia. 

A large portion of basic research in biochemistry and biophysics is dependent on funding from the federal government through the National Institutes of Health and the National Science Foundation. Therefore, federal budgetary decisions will have a large impact on job prospects in basic research from year to year. Typically, there is strong competition among biochemists and biophysicists for research funding.

Most applied research projects that involve biochemists and biophysicists require the expertise of scientists in multiple fields, such as microbiology, medicine, and chemistry. Biochemists and biophysicists who have a broad understanding of molecular biology and its relationship to other disciplines should have the best job opportunities.

Those who gain laboratory experience through coursework or employment during their undergraduate studies will be the best prepared and have the best chances of gaining employment or entering graduate-level programs.

Employment projections data for biochemists and biophysicists, 2014-24
Occupational Title SOC Code Employment, 2014 Projected Employment, 2024 Change, 2014-24 Employment by Industry
Percent Numeric

SOURCE: U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, Employment Projections program

Biochemists and biophysicists

19-1021 34,100 36,900 8 2,800 [XLSX]

State & Area Data About this section

Occupational Employment Statistics (OES)

The Occupational Employment Statistics (OES) program produces employment and wage estimates annually for over 800 occupations. These estimates are available for the nation as a whole, for individual states, and for metropolitan and nonmetropolitan areas. The link(s) below go to OES data maps for employment and wages by state and area.

Projections Central

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Career InfoNet

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Similar Occupations About this section

This table shows a list of occupations with job duties that are similar to those of biochemists and biophysicists.

Occupation Job Duties ENTRY-LEVEL EDUCATION Help 2015 MEDIAN PAY Help
Agricultural and food scientists

Agricultural and Food Scientists

Agricultural and food scientists research ways to improve the efficiency and safety of agricultural establishments and products.

Bachelor's degree $62,470
Biological technicians

Biological Technicians

Biological technicians help biological and medical scientists conduct laboratory tests and experiments.

Bachelor's degree $41,650
Biomedical engineers

Biomedical Engineers

Biomedical engineers combine engineering principles with medical and biological sciences to design and create equipment, devices, computer systems, and software used in healthcare.

Bachelor's degree $86,220
Chemists and materials scientists

Chemists and Materials Scientists

Chemists and materials scientists study substances at the atomic and molecular levels and the ways in which the substances interact with one another. They use their knowledge to develop new and improved products and to test the quality of manufactured goods.

Bachelor's degree $72,610
Epidemiologists

Epidemiologists

Epidemiologists are public health professionals who investigate patterns and causes of disease and injury in humans. They seek to reduce the risk and occurrence of negative health outcomes through research, community education, and health policy.

Master's degree $69,450
Medical scientists

Medical Scientists

Medical scientists conduct research aimed at improving overall human health. They often use clinical trials and other investigative methods to reach their findings.

Doctoral or professional degree $82,240
Microbiologists

Microbiologists

Microbiologists study microorganisms such as bacteria, viruses, algae, fungi, and some types of parasites. They try to understand how these organisms live, grow, and interact with their environments.

Bachelor's degree $67,550
Natural sciences managers

Natural Sciences Managers

Natural sciences managers supervise the work of scientists, including chemists, physicists, and biologists. They direct activities related to research and development, and coordinate activities such as testing, quality control, and production.

Bachelor's degree $120,160
Physicians and surgeons

Physicians and Surgeons

Physicians and surgeons diagnose and treat injuries or illnesses. Physicians examine patients; take medical histories; prescribe medications; and order, perform, and interpret diagnostic tests. They counsel patients on diet, hygiene, and preventive healthcare. Surgeons operate on patients to treat injuries, such as broken bones; diseases, such as cancerous tumors; and deformities, such as cleft palates.

Doctoral or professional degree This wage is equal to or greater than $187,200 per year.
Physicists and astronomers

Physicists and Astronomers

Physicists and astronomers study the ways in which various forms of matter and energy interact. Theoretical physicists and astronomers may study the nature of time or the origin of the universe. Some physicists design and perform experiments with sophisticated equipment such as particle accelerators, electron microscopes, and lasers.

Doctoral or professional degree $110,980
Postsecondary teachers

Postsecondary Teachers

Postsecondary teachers instruct students in a wide variety of academic and career and technical subjects beyond the high school level. They also conduct research and publish scholarly papers and books.

See How to Become One $72,470
Zoologists and wildlife biologists

Zoologists and Wildlife Biologists

Zoologists and wildlife biologists study animals and other wildlife and how they interact with their ecosystems. They study the physical characteristics of animals, animal behaviors, and the impacts humans have on wildlife and natural habitats.

Bachelor's degree $59,680
Suggested citation:

Bureau of Labor Statistics, U.S. Department of Labor, Occupational Outlook Handbook, 2016-17 Edition, Biochemists and Biophysicists,
on the Internet at http://www.bls.gov/ooh/life-physical-and-social-science/biochemists-and-biophysicists.htm (visited July 25, 2016).

Publish Date: Thursday, December 17, 2015

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2015 Median Pay

The wage at which half of the workers in the occupation earned more than that amount and half earned less. Median wage data are from the BLS Occupational Employment Statistics survey. In May 2015, the median annual wage for all workers was $36,200.

On-the-job Training

Additional training needed (postemployment) to attain competency in the skills needed in this occupation.

Entry-level Education

Typical level of education that most workers need to enter this occupation.

Work experience in a related occupation

Work experience that is commonly considered necessary by employers, or is a commonly accepted substitute for more formal types of training or education.

Number of Jobs, 2014

The employment, or size, of this occupation in 2014, which is the base year of the 2014-24 employment projections.

Job Outlook, 2014-24

The projected percent change in employment from 2014 to 2024. The average growth rate for all occupations is 7 percent.

Employment Change, 2014-24

The projected numeric change in employment from 2014 to 2024.

Entry-level Education

Typical level of education that most workers need to enter this occupation.

On-the-job Training

Additional training needed (postemployment) to attain competency in the skills needed in this occupation.

Employment Change, projected 2014-24

The projected numeric change in employment from 2014 to 2024.

Growth Rate (Projected)

The percent change of employment for each occupation from 2014 to 2024.

Projected Number of New Jobs

The projected numeric change in employment from 2014 to 2024.

Projected Growth Rate

The projected percent change in employment from 2014 to 2024.

2015 Median Pay

The wage at which half of the workers in the occupation earned more than that amount and half earned less. Median wage data are from the BLS Occupational Employment Statistics survey. In May 2015, the median annual wage for all workers was $36,200.