What Is the Best Degree Path for Becoming a Biochemist?

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Biochemists work in different areas of research, primarily basic and applied. In basic research, a biochemist’s role is to expand human knowledge. Applied research focuses on solving a particular problem. To become a biochemist, you must fulfill certain biochemistry degree requirements, such as completing the proper coursework and earning a degree in biochemistry or a related discipline. Higher-than-average wages and promising job prospects draw science-bent students to this career. Below, we discuss important details about this unique occupation and the best degree path for becoming a biochemist.

How Do You Become a Biochemist?

  • Earn Your Undergraduate Degree
  • Complete an Internship
  • Enroll in a Doctoral Studies Program
  • Conduct Research
  • Land a Job
  • Succeed in Your Career

The first step toward becoming a biochemist is to complete the proper education. Education for biochemist jobs consists of undergraduate and graduate degrees. As an undergraduate, you will likely complete a biochemistry major. Bachelor’s degree programs in biochemistry blend concepts from both biology and chemistry. Undergraduate programs, depending on the institution, may require you to complete a research project during the senior year.

To help gain critical experience in the field as an undergraduate, some students complete an internship. Internships provide valuable work experience in research settings, such as laboratories. Interns make important contacts with industry professionals that can lead to a job. Some institutions encourage undergraduates to secure full-time work during summer months or part-time employment during the academic year. Schools often have relationships with industry professionals and may help arrange internships as part of the biochemist education requirements.

Once you’ve completed your biochemistry degree and internship, the next step toward becoming a biochemist is to pursue doctoral studies. You need a PhD in biochemistry to conduct independent research and to work in an administrative role. Doctoral programs in biochemistry are research heavy and take about five years to complete.

With a PhD in biochemistry, you’ll likely qualify for employment as a biochemist. Potential employers may include:

  • agribusiness firms
  • biotechnology companies
  • drug companies
  • hospital laboratories
  • research labs

With research experience, you’ll be able to advance your career and succeed as a biochemist.

What Degree Does a Biochemist Need?

Bachelor’s Degree
One of the best degrees for biochemists is a bachelor’s in biochemistry. A biochemistry undergraduate degree serves as the foundation for your career in biochemistry. Bachelor’s in biochemistry programs synthesize concepts from biology and chemistry. Courses cover foundational topics, such as:

  • Calculus
  • Cellular biology
  • General biology
  • Inorganic chemistry
  • Microbiology
  • Molecular biology
  • Organic chemistry
  • Physics

Master’s Degree
After completing the undergraduate degree to become a biochemist, some students earn a terminal master’s in biochemistry degree. However, most doctoral programs offer students a master’s degree during their PhD studies. This means that while working toward your PhD, you’ll earn a master’s in biochemistry. The master’s degree typically takes two to three years to complete, and most require a thesis component. Research project requirements vary by program. Graduate courses in a typical master’s in biochemistry program include:

  • Biochemistry
  • Chemical thermodynamics
  • Intermediate organic chemistry
  • Research planning

Doctoral Degree
The best degrees for biochemists are doctoral degrees. You need  PhD in biochemistry to:

  • conduct independent research
  • secure funding
  • hold an administrative position

During the first two years of the five-year doctoral degree program, you’ll complete coursework requirements. Students take advanced core courses, as well as specialized seminars and lectures. In the third year as a PhD student, you will begin a research project and write a dissertation on a topic of your choosing. Topics are typically original and pertinent to the field of biochemistry.

An image of a biochemist for our FAQ on What Is the Best Degree Path for Becoming a Biochemist

What Does It Take to Be a Biochemist?

Are you suited to work as a biochemist? Scientists have distinct personalities. They tend to be:

  • introspective
  • inquisitive
  • intellectual

Biochemists must possess certain qualities and skills that aren’t always taught in the classroom. If you plan on becoming a biochemist, the following are important qualities to have.

  • Ability to persevere: Since scientific research involves extensive trial and error, biochemists must be able to persevere and not become discouraged. They must be thorough and persistent in their approach to problems.
  • Analytical skills: Biochemists must approach research and analysis with a high degree of accuracy and precision. Strong analytical skills are needed when conducting experiments.
  • Critical-thinking skills: The abilities to think critically and make sound judgments are needed in science. As a biochemist, you must draw scientifically based conclusions from experimental results. To do this, a biochemist should have strong critical-thinking skills.
  • Effective communication skills: Being a good communicator is essential in any role, but as a biochemist, communication skills are critical. All forms of communication are used in the role of a biochemist. Biochemists:
    • publish research papers and findings
    • give presentations to wide audiences
    • communicate with fellow colleagues and team members

To carry out these tasks, one must be a superior communicator.

  • Interpersonal skills: The work of a biochemist is interdisciplinary in nature. Research teams are made up of experts in a range of disciplines. Biochemists must have strong interpersonal skills. Biochemists and their team members work toward a common goal. However, they may disagree on results or findings. Having strong interpersonal skills allows them to continue their work as a cohesive team.
  • Mathematical acumen: Biochemists work with complex mathematical equations and formulas. They must have strong math skills and a clear grasp on calculus and statistics. It’s important to try to develop your math skills as early on as possible by taking foundational math courses in high school and college. Algebra, calculus, and statistics are all important courses to take for a career in biochemistry.
  • Time-management skills: Much of the work a biochemist does is time sensitive. Lab experiments and data collection involve tight deadlines that, if missed, cause poor outcomes. Biochemists must be able to manage their time efficiently while maintaining high-quality work.

How Long Does It Take to Become a Biochemist?

Becoming a biochemist is no short journey. The first step in becoming a biochemist is to earn a bachelor’s degree. The bachelor’s in biochemistry typically takes four years to complete. Once you’ve earned a bachelor’s degree, you’ll enroll in a PhD program. Typical PhD in biochemistry programs take, on average, five years to complete. So, to qualify for most biochemist jobs, you’ll need to spend nine years in college. However, accelerated programs take less time. For example, students may sometimes be able to earn a bachelor’s in biochemistry in three years.

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How to Become a Biochemist Without a Degree

Without a degree, you won’t go far as a biochemist. In fact, most biochemist jobs require a doctorate degree. If you plan to work in research and development, you’ll most likely need a PhD in biochemistry, even for entry-level positions. There’s no way around it. If you don’t have a degree in biochemistry, you won’t be able to work as a biochemist.

How Much Money Does a Biochemist Make?

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), the median annual wage for biochemists is $94,270. The lowest 10% of earners in this occupation make less than $53,000, while the highest 10% of earners make over $169,800. Biochemists earn nearly twice the national average for all occupations ($41,950).

But to earn high wages, you must land a job in a high-paying industry. BLS reports four top-paying industries for biochemists that offer favorable earnings. Two of the top four industries pay equal to or above the average earnings for this occupation. The highest-paying industries for biochemists are listed below:

Wholesale trade: $115,260
Management, scientific, and technical consulting services: $94,100
Pharmaceutical and medicine manufacturing: $89,230
Colleges, professional schools, and universities: $59,190

While industry type impacts the earnings you make as a biochemist, so does geographic location. According to the BLS, there are five top-paying states for biochemists. In these states, biochemists see higher earnings than the national average of $94,270. High-paying states include:

  • Montana: $165,300 (annual mean wage)
  • New Jersey: $115,670
  • California: $115,110
  • Massachusetts: $110,750
  • Pennsylvania: $107,480

There are also high-paying cities for this occupation. In fact, the Occupational Employment and Wage Statistics (OEWS) published by BLS reports 10 high-paying metro areas with higher-than-average earnings for biochemists. These states and their reported annual mean wages are listed below:

  • San Jose, Sunnyvale, Santa Clara (California): $145,020
  • Cincinnati metro area: $132,280
  • Minneapolis, St. Paul, Bloomington: $131,720
  • San Francisco, Oakland, Hayward (California): $128,750
  • New York, Newark, Jersey City: $112,040
  • Boston, Cambridge, Nashua: $110,220
  • Baltimore, Columbia, Towson (Maryland): $107,090
  • Philadelphia, Camden, Wilmington: $106,820
  • Phoenix, Mesa, Scottsdale (Arizona): $106,080
  • Bridgeport, Stamford, Norwalk (Connecticut): $106,060

In most metro areas, the cost of living can be higher than it is in medium- and small-sized cities or towns. However, BLS reports higher-than-average earnings in the non-metropolitan area of West Central and Southwest New Hampshire. In this area, biochemists earn $105,030 in annual mean wages.

What Is the Job Outlook for Biochemists?

Once your biochemistry schooling is complete, you’ll embark on your career. It’s important to know what the projected job outlook is for biochemists, so that you know what your job prospects will be after you graduate.

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), employment for biochemists is expected to grow five percent through 2030. Growth is slower than the average for all occupations (eight percent) and significantly slower than the average for all life scientists (11 percent). However, despite the limited employment growth, there should be about 3,200 job openings for biochemists and biophysicists each year, on average, over the next 10 years.

Most of these openings will result from the need to fill positions left vacant when people retire or exit the labor force. However, openings will also result from the continued need to conduct basic research that increases scientific knowledge and the development of products that improve people’s lives. As the population ages, we will see a demand for the creation of new drugs, procedures, and processes to prevent and cure disease. The increased demand will drive the need for biochemists who are involved in certain areas of biochemistry, such as biomedical research.

Further demand for biochemists will result in areas of research and development in biotechnology outside health topics. Biochemist researchers will be needed to work on projects that advance capabilities related to:

  • more efficient food production
  • clean energy
  • protection of the environment

An image of a biochemist for our FAQ on What Is the Best Degree Path for Becoming a Biochemist

What Is the Work Environment Like for Biochemists?

Biochemists typically work in laboratories, where they:

  • conduct experiments
  • analyze data
  • determine outcomes and results

However, some biochemists, especially those in management, work in offices. Those working in managerial positions spend more time on administrative tasks, such as budget preparation, and less time on research. Biochemists who work in laboratories must follow safety protocols when handling toxic materials or dangerous organisms to avoid harm and contamination.

Research biochemists work on teams. But not everyone on a team is a biochemist. Most research projects conducted by biochemists involve collaboration from other scientists, as the work is interdisciplinary. Research projects may involve other experts in the field, such as:

  • chemists
  • computer scientists
  • engineers
  • physicists

Biochemists also collaborate with bioinformaticians. These are specialists who use their statistical and mathematical knowledge to mine datasets for relationships and correlations that help explain biological phenomena.

Biochemists also work for biotechnology companies to help sell products, such as pharmaceutical drugs. Researchers may work for small startup companies or larger, more established pharmaceutical companies. Startup companies may require biochemists to work long hours as they launch new products and get their business up and running. However, most biochemists work full time and during regular hours. At times when there are tight deadlines or when laboratory work is time-sensitive, hours may be extended.

According to the BLS, biochemists and biophysicists held approximately 34,800 jobs last year. The largest employers for these occupations were as follows:

  • Pharmaceutical and medicine manufacturing: 11 percent
  • Colleges, professional schools, and universities: seven percent
  • Management, scientific, and technical consulting services: two percent
  • Wholesale trade: two percent

BDP Staff
January 2022

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