Biochemists study the structure, composition and interaction of the substances that make up living systems. Molecular biology, immunochemistry, neurochemistry, and bioinorganic, bio-organic and biophysical chemistry are the major subdisciplines within biochemistry. Biochemists typically have at least an undergraduate degree, and many have graduate degrees, including doctorates. Industries that commonly employ biochemists include agriculture, food science, medicine and pharmaceutical research.
One of the primary duties of a biochemist is planning research. Unless you are a senior researcher or in management, you probably will not get to choose the specific research topic, but you can certainly look for jobs with employers that are doing research you are interested in. Biochemists are generally responsible for planning the details of the individual experiments or phases of projects that they are involved in. The research of academic biochemists is often funded by grants, and grant applications typically require a detailed plan that spells out how the research funds will be spent.
Molecular Biology and Related Fields
Biochemists specializing in molecular biology, immunochemistry and neurochemistry isolate, identify and synthesize organic molecules, including proteins, enzymes and genetic materials including DNA and RNA. They use equipment such as electron microscopes to observe processes on the molecular level. Modern medicines owe a great debt to biochemists, who have developed many classes of lifesaving medicines, including antibiotics, antipsychotics and replacement hormones such as insulin and estrogen.
Toxicology and Pharmacology
Biochemists who specialize in toxicology and pharmacology study the effects of drugs, hormones, and food on biological processes. Many undertake research on which organic compounds in the body are changed by enzymes into toxic metabolites. Some toxicologists study air pollutants, for example. Their job is to develop methods to detect pollutants or their metabolites in body tissues. This requires applying sophisticated mathematical analyses to describe the relationships between the air and body concentrations of these chemicals and metabolites, and coming up with a practical method to accurately measure them.
Report Research Results
Biochemists are also responsible for preparing reports on the results of their research. Organizing and reporting research results can be quite time consuming, as most biochemistry research is complex, and often involves animal or human subjects. Senior biochemists, especially in academia, are expected to write articles for professional journals regarding their research. Many also make presentations at major scientific conferences.
2016 Salary Information for Biochemists and Biophysicists
Biochemists and biophysicists earned a median annual salary of $82,180 in 2016, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. On the low end, biochemists and biophysicists earned a 25th percentile salary of $58,630, meaning 75 percent earned more than this amount. The 75th percentile salary is $117,340, meaning 25 percent earn more. In 2016, 31,500 people were employed in the U.S. as biochemists and biophysicists.