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Career: Biochemist

A Day in the life of a Biochemist

It would be wrong to call it a niche, since the science of biochemistry spans the study of all living things and provides the foundation for all of the life sciences. It would be right, however, to say that most biochemists are neck-deep in research. About 75% work in either basic or applied research; those in applied research take the fruits of basic research and employ them for the benefit of medicine, agriculture, veterinary science, environmental science, and manufacturing. Each of these fields offers safe harbor for the biochemist in search of a specialty, with clinical biochemists, for example, working in hospital laboratories and studying various tissues and body fluids to help them understand and treat diseases; and industrial biochemists, for another, involved in analytical research work such as checking the purity of food and beverages. Research biochemists find work in the labs of biotechnology companies; agricultural, medical, and veterinary institutes; and, in the case of half of all biochemists, universities. They study chemical reactions in metabolism, growth, reproduction, and heredity and apply techniques drawn from biotechnology and genetic engineering to help them in their research. The workday usually includes some laboratory duties, such as culturing, filtering, purifying, drying, weighing, and measuring substances using special instruments. Research goes to the study the effects of foods, drugs, allergens and other substances on living tissues. Many biochemists are also interested in molecular biology, the study of life at the molecular level and the study of genes and gene expression.

Paying Your Dues

Unlike chemists, who can find opportunities to enter the field upon completion of a Bachelor’s degree, biochemists traditionally hold a Doctor’s degree. Therefore, would-be biochemists have to complete an additional two to four years of study to earn their M.D. on top of their B.S. After finishing school, most biochemists embark on their career in the laboratory in the capacity of research technician. Biochemists usually work forty to fifty hours per week, with occasional weekend and evening work to meet deadlines or to attend and observe experiments.

Associated Careers

A Biochemistry degree can be put to use in a wide array of related medical, industrial, governmental and environmental fields. The field of medicine offers related careers such as nutrition, genetics, biophysics and pharmacology; industrial needs include everything from beverage and food technology to toxicology and vaccine production; while governmental and environmental fields require biochemists to work on everything from forensic science and wildlife management to marine biology and viticulture. This incredibly wide range makes biochemistry an extremely flexible career choice.

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