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Biological Scientist

Job Outlook: 6% (As fast as average)

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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
  • Review literature and the findings of other researchers and attend conferences
  • Prepare technical reports, research papers, and recommendations based on their research findings
  • Present research findings to scientists, engineers, and other colleagues
  • Secure funding and write grant applications

Biochemists and biophysicists use advanced technologies, such as lasers and fluorescent microscopes, to conduct scientific experiments and analyses. 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, sometimes called molecular biologists or cellular biologists, 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 37,500 jobs in 2021. The largest employers of biochemists and biophysicists were as follows:

Scientific research and development services 57%
Pharmaceutical and medicine manufacturing 15
Colleges, universities, and professional schools; state, local, and private 7
Wholesale trade 1

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, math, 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 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

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.

Training

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.

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 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.

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 2021

Biochemists and biophysicists

$102,270

Life scientists

$80,140

Total, all occupations

$45,760

 

The median annual wage for biochemists and biophysicists was $102,270 in May 2021. 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 $61,090, and the highest 10 percent earned more than $167,210.

In May 2021, the median annual wages for biochemists and biophysicists in the top industries in which they worked were as follows:

Wholesale trade $126,470
Scientific research and development services 119,330
Pharmaceutical and medicine manufacturing 96,100
Colleges, universities, and professional schools; state, local, and private 62,350

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

Job Outlook About this section

Biochemists and Biophysicists

Percent change in employment, projected 2021-31

Biochemists and biophysicists

15%

Life scientists

11%

Total, all occupations

5%

 

Employment of biochemists and biophysicists is projected to grow 15 percent from 2021 to 2031, much faster than the average for all occupations.

About 4,000 openings for biochemists and biophysicists are projected each year, on average, over the decade. Many of those openings are expected to result from the need to replace workers who transfer to different occupations or exit the labor force, such as to retire.

Employment

Biochemists and biophysicists will continue 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. Techniques, tools, and applications of biochemistry and biophysics are expanding as technology and knowledge progress.

The aging population will drive demand for new drugs and procedures to prevent, cure, or manage disease. This increased demand is, in turn, likely to create demand for biochemists and biophysicists involved in biomedical research. For example, biochemists and biophysicists 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 also will be needed to develop new tests used to detect diseases and other illnesses.

Areas of research and development in biotechnology other than health also are expected to provide employment growth for biochemists and biophysicists. These workers will continue to be needed to study topics that advance our capabilities related to clean energy, efficient food production, and environmental protection.

Employment projections data for biochemists and biophysicists, 2021-31
Occupational Title SOC Code Employment, 2021 Projected Employment, 2031 Change, 2021-31 Employment by Industry
Percent Numeric

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

Biochemists and biophysicists

19-1021 37,500 43,200 15 5,700 Get data

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