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 temporary postdoctoral research positions. Bachelor’s and master’s degree holders are qualified for some entry-level positions in biochemistry and biophysics.
High school students interested in becoming a biochemist or biophysicist should take classes in natural and physical sciences, as well as in math.
Ph.D. holders in biochemistry and biophysics typically have a bachelor’s degree in biochemistry or a related field, such as biology, physical science, or engineering. Students in these programs usually take courses in math and physics in addition to courses in biological and chemical sciences. Most programs also require laboratory work. Students may gain lab experience working in a university’s laboratories or 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.
Many 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.
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 clearly 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 need a broad understanding of math, 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.
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.