Biochemist and Biophysicist

Career Information

Female researcher looking into a microscope
••• Arvid Emtegren / E+ / Getty Images

Biochemists study living organisms' chemical composition and biophysicists investigate their physical principles including electrical and mechanical energy. Some people who work in this field conduct basic research to further their own and others' knowledge. Biochemists and biophysicists may also carry out applied research with the goal of solving problems.

Quick Facts

  • In 2015, biochemists and biophysicists earned a median annual salary of $82,150.
  • Over 34,000 people worked in this field in 2014.
  • Almost half the jobs were in the professional, scientific and technical services industry. Others were in pharmaceutical and chemical manufacturing, and education.
  • There are employment opportunities in colleges and universities, hospitals, and pharmaceutical and cosmetic companies. 
  • Most jobs are full time. Biochemists and biophysicists sometimes work overtime to meet deadlines.
  • The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics expects employment to grow about as fast as the average for all occupations through 2024.

How to Become a Biochemist or Biophysicist

If you want a research or development job, you will need to earn a Ph.D. There are few jobs available for someone with a bachelor's degree, but it will provide good preparation for your graduate studies. In fact, most Ph.D. candidates have earned an undergraduate degree in biophysics, biochemistry, chemistry, biology, physics or engineering. You may be able to get a job doing laboratory work after earning a master's degree.

What Soft Skills Do You Need to Succeed in This Career?

In addition to earning a degree, you also need certain soft skills. They are:

  • Verbal Communication and Writing Skills: To present your research findings in journals and at conferences, you must have excellent oral and written communication skills.
  • Problem Solving and Critical Thinking Skills: Conducting experiments requires the ability to identify problems and weigh the possible solutions and outcomes.
  • Perseverance: Researchers must continue to work on projects even if they get discouraging results.
  • Ability to Work Independently and on a Team: Biochemists and biophysicists spend time doing research on their own and with other researchers.

    A Day in a Biochemist's or Biophysicist's Life

    These are some typical job duties we collected from online ads for biochemist and biophysicist positions found on Indeed.com:

    • "Prepare samples and perform analyses using various analytical techniques"
    • "Physically draw samples via aseptic technique"
    • "Process samples as applicable"
    • "Maintain electronic lab notebooks, interpret results, and communicate findings both orally and in well-written technical reports"
    • "Manage laboratory operations and fiscal and personnel resources"
    • "Perform independent research and develop new analytical methods with the support of senior staff"
    • "Analyze samples for metabolites, turbidity, cell count and viability"
    • "Set up and clean up of bioreactor scale lab experiments"

    What Will Prospective Employers Expect Of You?

    What characteristics do employers look for when they hire new biochemists and biophysicists? Again we turned to Indeed.com and looked at actual job announcements:

    • "Ability to supervise and mentor a highly specialized team"
    • "Attention to detail is essential"
    • "Team player and proactive communicator"
    • "Flexible with assignments and adaptable to the changing needs of projects and the group"
    • "Demonstrated ability in authoring scientific publications"
    • "Results oriented; ability to manage performance"

    Is This Occupation a Good Fit for You?

    • Holland Code: IAR (Investigative, Artistic, Realistic)
    • MBTI Personality Types: ISFJ, INTP (Tieger, Paul D., Barron, Barbara, and Tieger, Kelly. (2014) Do What You Are. NY: Hatchette Book Group.)

    Related Occupations 

    Description Median Annual Wage (2015) Minimum Required Education/Training
    Microbiologists Study microorganisms to learn how they interact with their environments

    $67,550

    Bachelor's degree in Microbiology; Ph.D. to do independent research
    Medical Scientist Does research about diseases and conditions $82,240 Ph.D. in Biology or a Related Life Science
    Chemist Looks for new knowledge about chemicals to find ways to improve the way we live $71,260 Bachelor's Degree for Entry-Level Jobs; Ph.D. for Research Positions
    Epidemiologist Investigates the causes of diseases and other health problems $69,450 Master's Degree in Public Health or a Related Field

    Sources:
    Bureau of Labor Statistics, U.S. Department of Labor, Occupational Outlook Handbook, 2016-17 (visited January 31, 2017).
    Employment and Training Administration, U.S. Department of Labor, O*NET Online (visited January 31, 2017).
    Biochemical Society, Biochemistry: The Career Guide, June 2015.