What Can You Do With a Biochemistry Degree?
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Biochemistry is a laboratory-based science that combines chemistry and biology. Its purpose is to explore chemical processes as they relate to living organisms. By applying chemical techniques and knowledge, biochemists can understand and solve biological issues such as how cells communicate with each other when under attack and trying to fight off disease. The Florida Institute of Technology further explains that biochemistry explores the complex chemical reactions within living organizations and is the foundation of medical advances, agriculture, and genetic engineering, among other influential scientific disciplines.
Students in biochemistry study topics such as cell biology, genetics, molecular function, disease mechanisms, and metabolism to gain an understanding of how life works and which factors that contribute to health and disease. This includes not only human life but the environment as well.
Here are ten careers open to candidates with degrees in biochemistry at varying levels. Please note that most positions in academia or high leadership in research typically require at least a master’s degree, and most prefer doctoral-trained professionals.
Biochemists and Biophysicists
The primary scope of study for a biochemist or biophysicist is on the physical and chemical principles of cell development, disease, growth, and genetic patterns. Specific duties these scientists perform include researching the effect of hormones, nutrients, and drugs on biological processes and tissues, managing a team of laboratory technicians, and analyzing and synthesizing DNA, fats, and protein.
The Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS 2017) reports a median annual income of $82,180 and expects openings to increase 11 percent from 2016 to 2026, the addition of 3,600 fresh positions nationwide. The typical entry-level position requires a graduate or doctorate degree, and it is common for biochemists with a doctorate to begin their career working in a postdoctoral research position.
Chemists and Material Scientists
Chemists study substances at the molecular and atomic levels to analyze and understand how they interact. Chemists typically develop new testing methods and products, instruct scientists and technicians on proper testing procedures and chemical processing, and complete complex research projects. While it is possible to enter the field with a bachelor’s degree, research positions typically require a graduate or doctoral degree.
The BLS (2017) reports a median annual income of $75,240 and anticipates 7 percent job growth in openings during the decade preceding 2026.
Chemical Safety Engineer
Chemical safety engineers design systems and develop procedures that protect people from injury and illness related to chemicals, furniture, machinery, software, and other consumer products. Typically, chemical safety engineers’ duties involve reviewing specifications and plans for new machinery, identifying and correcting potential safety hazards, and ensuring that products and buildings comply with all state and federal safety requirements. Most working professionals in this position have at least a bachelor’s degree.
The BLS (2017) reports a median annual income of $86,720 for health and safety engineers and anticipates an average job growth of 9 percent (2016-26).
Those who teach chemistry at the college level typically spend their days guiding students in laboratory studies, giving lectures, preparing class material, grading tests, and meeting with students outside of class. Chemistry professors often publish their scientific research as well. Chemistry professors at four-year colleges and universities typically have a doctorate, while those teaching at a community college usually have a master’s degree. The competition for full-time tenured professor positions can be intense.
Environmental chemists monitor the air, soil, and water to determine how certain chemicals enter the environment and the effects they have on human and animal life. They also study how human behavior affects chemicals in the environment. Some of the tasks involved in this type of position involve monitoring sources of contamination and pollution, performing analytical testing, initiating product development, and leading sustainability and conservation efforts. Due to the complexity of the physical environment, environmental chemists would need to call on their knowledge of several other specialties as well, such as biology, engineering, genetics, math, and soil and water chemistry. A bachelor’s degree in natural science or science-related field is the typical entry-level requirement for work as an environmental chemist.
The BLS (2017) reports a median annual income of $68,910 for environmental scientists and specialists and anticipates an above-average national job growth of 11 percent (2016-26).
Forensic Science Technician
Thanks to television shows such as CSI and Bones, there has been an increased interest in what forensic science technicians do. Of course, these types of shows are not entirely accurate as they tend to over-simplify the work involved. The basic definition of a forensic scientist is someone who collects and analyzes evidence to help criminal investigators determine who committed a crime. Types of evidence these technicians investigate include bodily fluids, hair samples, blood splatter, and fingerprints. Other duties these professionals might perform include photographing evidence, recording observations, and reconstructing crime scenes. A bachelor’s degree in chemistry, biology, or forensic science is the typical entry-level requirement for work as a forensic science technician. On-the-job training is also required for both those who investigate crime scenes and those who work in labs.
The BLS (2017) reports a median annual income of $56,750 for forensic science technicians and anticipates an above-average annual job growth of 17 percent (2016-26). The BLS attributes this strong growth because the existing field is small. Please note that growth will result in only about 2,600 new jobs over the ten-year period, and job competition is expected to be strong.
Medical scientists and researchers use information obtained from clinical trials and other research projects to help improve human health. Examples of specific duties include working with state and federal health departments to improve health outcomes for large groups of people, creating and testing medical devices, and standardizing the potency and doses of prescription drugs to ensure safe mass manufacturing. Medical scientists typically have a doctorate in biochemistry or another field related to chemistry. Some choose to earn a medical degree instead of (or in addition to) a chemistry degree.
The BLS (2017) reports a median annual income of $56,750 for medical scientists and anticipates an above-average annual job growth of 13 percent (2016-26).
Plastic surgeons repair, replace, or reconstruct physical defects of function or form on a human. They typically operate on a patient’s skin, breasts, trunk, hands, external genitalia, musculoskeletal system, maxillofacial and cranial structures, or the extremities. They complete some procedures for aesthetic purposes, such as when a patient wants to voluntarily change some aspect of his or her appearance. But they also operate on patients for reconstructive purposes, such as women who have lost their breasts due to cancer or victims of car accidents who have suffered disfigurement. Surgeons have demanding education and training requirements. A bachelor’s degree and medical degree is necessary, as well as an internship and residency program, which, depending on the specialty, typically takes three to seven years.
The BLS (2017) reports a median annual income of $208,000 for surgeons and anticipates an above-average job growth of 13 percent (2016-26). However, the salary of a plastic surgeon varies greatly depending on location.
Technical Sales and Marketing
The American Chemical Society (ACS) describes a technical marketer as someone who combines his or her scientific knowledge, business skills, and outgoing personality traits to offer appropriate solutions to the business and technical issues their customers face. They are typically involved in all phases of the product cycle, including advertising, market research, packaging, concept development, shipping, and sales. Examples of products that technical sales representatives sell include imaging equipment, computer software, scientific publications, laboratory equipment, and pharmaceutical services. Also known as a sales engineer, a technical sales and marketing professional typically has at least a bachelor’s degree.
The BLS (2017) reports a median annual income of $100,000 for sales engineers and anticipates a job growth of 7 percent between 2016 and 2026, roughly on par with the national average.
Technical Support Specialist for Scientific Products
A technical support specialist may take phone calls from customers who need assistance operating or repairing a scientific product. They also visit customer workplaces to investigate broken equipment, bring it in for repair, and return it to the customer. Some other possible duties for this position include writing instruction manuals, providing general maintenance on products that a company sells, and providing feedback to product development. They must have in-depth knowledge about a specific class of products in order to provide appropriate instruction to your customers. Most employers prefer at least a bachelor’s degree in a biology-related field for entry-level work as a technical support specialist, but a graduate—and sometimes doctorate—degree is preferred when working with complex products. Additionally, some employers prefer technical support specialists to have significant experience using the product themselves.