What Do Biochemists and Biophysicists Do?

Learn About the Salary, Required Skills, & More

A Day in the Life of a Biochemist

Colleen Tighe/The Balance

Biochemists and biophysicists examine the chemical and physical bases of biological processes. Biochemists and biophysicists may also carry out applied research, which means that their research objective is to solve existing problems that may negatively affect living systems.

Biochemists usually focus on molecular-level operations such as cell development, how cell structure relates to function, how cells metabolize food and chemicals, and how toxins may adversely affect the biology of an organism or group of organisms.

Biophysicists, whose work complements that of biochemists, usually study atomic-level processes and how evolution or biology is affected by the laws of physics. For example, NASA continues to explore how various types of organisms, including bacteria and people, adapt to conditions of near weightlessness or microgravity in space.

Biochemist and Biophysicist Duties & Responsibilities

Duties and responsibilities of biochemists and biophysicists may require the ability to do the following work:

  • Design and conduct experiments.
  • Manage and review the work of research teams.
  • Analyze and synthesize organic molecules such as proteins and DNA.
  • Develop potential gene therapies.
  • Research the chemical composition of drugs, enzymes, and various types of nutrients and their effect on living tissues.
  • Write and publish papers and reports to describe research findings.
  • Review the research papers, methods, and findings of other scientists.
  • Attend conferences and present research findings and recommendations to other scientists.
  • Write grant applications to obtain funding for future initiatives.

Biochemists and biophysicists must obsessively adhere to the scientific method, think creatively but objectively, stay abreast of research in their field, and interact effectively with colleagues, potential sources of funding, subordinates, and the public when necessary.

In addition, they must be comfortable using state-of-the-art technologies, such as lasers, fluorescent microscopes, computer modeling software, 3D printing, and CRISPR, to carry out research and analyze the results.

Biochemist and Biophysicist Salary

The most significant variables influencing biochemist and biophysicist compensation are industry and location. The highest-paying jobs are in management and scientific and technical consulting, followed by scientific research and development services, pharmaceutical manufacturing, and colleges, universities, and professional schools.

The top-paying states for these jobs, in descending order, are New Jersey, Illinois, Indiana, Massachusetts, and New Hampshire.

  • Median Annual Salary: $93,280 ($44.85/hour)
  • Top 10% Annual Salary: $177,680 ($85.42/hour)
  • Bottom 10% Annual Salary: $49,230 ($23.67/hour)

Education, Training, & Certification

A bachelor's or master's degree may qualify a candidate for an entry-level position in biochemistry or biophysics. A Ph.D. is needed to work in independent research and development. Most candidates who have just received their Ph.D. begin their careers in temporary postdoctoral research positions.

  • Education: Education begins in high school by taking math, chemistry, and physics courses, in addition to biology, computer science, foreign languages, public speaking, and English composition. In college, major in biochemistry, biophysics, biology, chemistry, physics, or a similar area with additional emphasis in computer science and math, including calculus and statistics.
  • Advanced degree: To enter a Ph.D. program, candidates may be required to take the Graduate Record Examination and submit an application package that typically includes transcripts and GPA, a statement of purpose, personal history statement, description of research experience and interests, at least three letters of recommendation, a resume or curriculum vitae, completed application form, and application fee. Doctoral students spend substantial time planning and executing research projects and taking advanced courses in their area of specialization. To finish the program, they write a dissertation that demonstrates their ability to carry out independent, innovative research, and may be required to present a seminar discussing their findings. 
  • Training: Although it isn't required, candidates will benefit from an internship, such as those offered by NASA, Abbott Labs, Cook Medical, and the Max Planck Institute for Biophysical Chemistry. After being awarded a Ph.D., training will likely continue in a temporary postdoc research position under the supervision of experienced scientists in the field. During this phase of training, candidates publish their research findings to help them attain a permanent appointment.
  • Certification and Licensing: Certification and licensing aren't required for jobs in biochemistry or biophysics, but candidates can opt to become certified to demonstrate mastery of the core competencies in their field of study. For example, the American Society of Biochemistry and Molecular Biology (ASBMB) offers a certification option to students attending ASBMB-certified schools.

    You'll need recommendations from professors when you apply to graduate programs. Take the time to get to know them, ask for part-time work in the department, assist with research projects, and participate in departmental activities such as seminars.

    Biochemist and Biophysicist Skills & Competencies

    You'll need a variety of skills and attributes to be a successful biochemist or biophysicist:

    • Communication and interpersonal skills: They present findings orally, write and publish papers and reports, persuade sources other than the federal government to fund research, write applications for grants, and work effectively with a team toward common objectives.
    • Computer science and math skills: Biochemists and biophysicists regularly conduct complicated data analyses and use complex equations and formulas in their work.
    • Critical-thinking skills: They draw conclusions from experimental results through logical reasoning and sound judgment shaped by years of experience and training.
    • Objectivity: They must be objective about their research and go where the science leads rather than where they want it to go.
    • Problem-solving and analytical skills: They use experimentation and analysis to figure out the set of possible solutions to a scientific problem, select the best solution or hypothesis, and test it.
    • Tenacity: They are thorough, precise, and stick with a project or experiment regardless of the problems that crop up or the number of times they have to start over with a clean slate.
    • Time-management skills: They may often be on a deadline when researching a problem or writing a paper. They allocate their time wisely and efficiently juggle competing priorities without compromising the quality of their work.

    Job Outlook

    The occupations of biochemist and biophysicist enjoy O*NET's Bright Outlook designation. This means that based on Bureau of Labor Statistics projections, employment in these fields is expected to grow at least 11 percent during the decade 2016 to 2026, which is faster than the average forecast growth for all occupations.

    This growth rate is attributed to the predicted need for additional qualified personnel to conduct research and development into products and techniques that improve quality of life for people, including the rapidly increasing aging population, which is expected to precipitate demand for new pharmaceuticals and procedures to detect, reverse, and prevent disease.

    Biochemists and biophysicists are also expected to be in demand in areas such as disease detection, treatment, and prevention in animals; genetic research; green energy; efficient, clean food production; and the effects of pollution and climate change on biological systems.

    Work Environment

    Most biochemists and biophysicists work on interdisciplinary teams and divide their time between offices and laboratory environments where they may supervise other scientists, technicians, or interns; plan and carry out laboratory research; and record and analyze research results.

    Work Schedule

    Biochemists and biophysicists usually work full-time during regular working hours, although they may work overtime occasionally to complete time-sensitive experiments or meet other project deadlines.

    How to Get the Job

    CREATE YOUR CV AND MORE

    Visit Elsevier's Researcher Academy for video tips on how to write an effective resume or curriculum vitae (CV), prepare for an industry job interview, and learn key strategies for a job search, especially if you're just getting started.

    Additional targeted resources include the Biophysical Society's Job Search Resource Center, an example of a high-quality graduate CV from the University of Kent, Science magazine's Writing a Winning Cover Letter, and the Biochemical Society's CV & Personal Statement Tips.

    APPLY

    Start your job search with the vast science and technology job database at Mendeley Careers, which is searchable by discipline, job type, and location. Visit the Science Careers job board, the Biophysical Society Career Center, and the ASBMB Job Board to browse featured jobs, upload your CV, or subscribe to weekly job alerts.

    Comparing Similar Jobs

    Similar jobs that may interest you, along with their median annual salaries, include: