Biochemistry Undergraduate General Info

Biochemistry Undergraduate General Information


What is Biochemistry?

Anyone who has ever imagined making a more effective medicine, discovering a cure for a disease, or finding a way to convert toxic waste into a valuable source of energy may want to consider a career in biochemistry.

The Department of Chemistry and Biochemistry at Ohio State offers excellent training in the chemical basis of life and insight into the chemistry of living systems. The study of biochemistry provides a good background for further study or employment in many basic science fields. Many undergraduates in biochemistry go on to professional schools.

Ohio State's faculty and students are engaged in a range of research, including projects in biochemical and physiological processes of higher animals, molecular genetics, photosynthesis, and mammalian cell gene expression.

Biochemists look at how living organisms function at the molecular level. Biochemists may be teachers or researchers. They may study subjects such as the structure of enzymes, the transfer of genetic information, or photosynthesis. Biochemists tackle fundamental questions:

  • What are the structures of molecules?
  • How does molecular structure determine biological function?
  • How do molecules recognize one another in order to form complex cellular structures?
  • What is the nature of the dynamic chemical changes that occur in cells?

Looking for answers to such questions is exciting, considering that all of the uniquely human factors-memory, thinking, learning, feeling-are rooted in biochemical processes.

Biochemists have found that many biochemical processes are shared by all life forms. Basic research into the complex chemistry of living systems provides a springboard for practical advances in medicine, agriculture, and biotechnology.

Career Opportunities in Biochemistry

Biochemists may work in industry, pharmaceutical houses, hospitals, universities, or private research labs. The federal government employs many biochemists, as do state and local government agencies, and the rapidly growing field of biotechnology has a great need for biochemists.

Many jobs in biochemistry involve high-level research and require advanced-degree training. However, with the demand for biochemists at all levels and the excellent quality of The Ohio State University's training at the undergraduate level, a variety of employment opportunities can be found with a bachelor's degree.

Some jobs available to graduates with bachelor's degrees might include

  • biochemist;
  • medical or pharmaceutical lab technician;
  • food scientist; and
  • industrial salesperson.

The undergraduate biochemistry major is excellent preparation for professional schools, such as medicine, dentistry, optometry, or veterinary medicine. This major also provides a sound background for pursuing advanced master's or PhD degree work in the biological sciences. In general, jobs for graduates with master's degrees involve more responsibility and higher pay. For positions designing or directing research projects, a PhD is a must.

Job Outlook

Biochemists and Biophysicists

Percent change in employment, projected 2012-22

Employment of biochemists and biophysicists is projected to grow 19 percent from 2012 to 2022, faster than the average for all occupations. However, because it is a small occupation, the fast growth will result in only about 5,400 new jobs over the 10-year period. More biochemists and biophysicists are expected to be needed to do basic research that increases scientific knowledge and to research and develop biological products and processes that improve our lives. However, budgetary concerns may limit the ability for researchers to find funding for basic research.

The aging baby-boom population and the demand for lifesaving new drugs and procedures to cure and to prevent disease likely will drive demand for biochemists and biophysicists involved in biomedical research. For example, biochemists 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. Currently, there is a trend of smaller companies doing biomedical research, rather than the large pharmaceutical companies. This helps the larger companies avoid risks and costs.

Areas of research and development in biotechnology other than health are expected to provide employment growth for biochemists and biophysicists. Greater demand for clean energy should increase the need for biochemists that research and develop alternative energy sources, such as biofuels. A growing population and rising food prices are expected to fuel the development of genetically engineered crops and livestock that provide greater yields and require fewer resources. Efforts to discover new and improved ways to clean up and preserve the environment will increase demand for biochemists and biophysicists, as well.

As the amount of biological data continues to grow and computer analytical techniques and software continue to become more sophisticated, the number of dedicated bioinformaticians should also continue to grow. This specialty is relatively new but is growing in importance and complexity.

Job Prospects

Biochemists and biophysicists involved in basic research should expect strong competition for permanent research and faculty positions at colleges and universities. Biochemists and biophysicists with postdoctoral experience who have had research articles published in scientific journals should have the best prospects for these positions. Many biochemists and biophysicists work through multiple postdoctoral appointments before getting a permanent position in academia. 

A large portion of basic research in biochemistry and biophysics is dependent on funding from the federal government through the National Institutes of Health and the National Science Foundation. Therefore, federal budgetary decisions will have a large impact on job prospects in basic research from year to year. Typically, there is strong competition among biochemists and biophysicists for research funding.

Most applied research projects that involve biochemists and biophysicists require the expertise of scientists in multiple fields, such as microbiology, medicine, and chemistry. Biochemists and biophysicists who have a broad understanding of molecular biology and its relationship to other disciplines should have the best job opportunities.

Those who gain laboratory experience through coursework or employment during their undergraduate studies will be the best prepared and have the best chances to gain employment or to enter graduate level programs.

Pay

Biochemists and Biophysicists

Median annual wages, May 2012

The median annual wage for biochemists and biophysicists was $81,480 in May 2012. 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 $41,430, and the top 10 percent earned more than $147,350.

In May 2012, the median annual wages for biochemists and biophysicists in the top five industries in which these scientists worked were as follows:

Drugs and druggists' sundries merchant wholesalers

$103,390

Research and development in the physical, engineering, and life sciences

$86,530

Pharmaceutical and medicine manufacturing

$82,490

Testing laboratories

$74,230

Colleges, universities, and professional schools; state, local, and private

$52,990

Most biochemists and biophysicists work full time and keep regular hours. Some positions require longer hours.

*Bureau of Labor Statistics, U.S. Department of Labor, Occupational Outlook Handbook, 2014-15 Edition, Biochemists and Biophysicists, available on the Internet  (visited December 2, 2015).

High School Preparation

Biochemistry is a demanding, rigorous discipline, yet satisfying for students interested in chemical life processes. A solid background in math, chemistry, physics, and biology is required.

All freshman applicants are considered within a competitive admission process for Autumn, Winter, and Summer quarters for the Columbus campus. The primary criteria for admission are the completion of the applicant's high school college preparatory program, performance in that program as indicated by class rank and/or grade-point average, and performance on either the ACT or SAT.

How to Major in Biochemistry at Ohio State

Once students decide they want to major in biochemistry, they should contact the Department of Chemistry and Biochemistry at 614-292-6009 for the current major requirements.

General Education Requirements

The GE is a body of courses designed to ensure that each student becomes acquainted with the basic areas of academic study. To meet the GE requirements, credit hours must be completed from the following areas of academic study: writing, quantitative and logical skills, natural sciences, literature, visual and performing arts, social sciences, historical study, culture and ideas (or second historical study), and foreign language proficiency. This body of coursework must also include courses designated as “social diversity in the United States” as well as “global studies.”

Biochemistry Requirements

Prerequisite courses required for the biochemistry major include:

  • General Chemistry I & II
  • Calculus I & II
  • Introductory (Calculus-based) Physics I & II
  • Biological Sciences: Energy Transfer and Development & Biological Sciences: Form, Function, Diversity, and Ecology

More About Biochemistry

Biochemistry majors at The Ohio State University are strongly encouraged to do a research project with a faculty member. Ohio State offers well-equipped laboratories which contain sophisticated instrumentation for biochemical research. Additionally, opportunities for interdisciplinary study are provided; independent studies and honors programs are also available.

Career Prep Advisors in the Arts and Sciences Career Services Office provide assistance with finding experiential learning opportunities such as internships, volunteer positions, or off-campus research positions in the private, public, and not-for-profit sectors. Career services encourage students to begin career planning as early as their freshman year. Students eeking assistance with a search for full time employment are encouraged to work with Career Counseling and Support Services

All students should file placement materials at the Career Services Office no later than the end of their junior or the beginning of their senior year.

Co-op Opportunities

Students who are interested in the college's cooperative education program should register with the Career Services Office in their sophomore year. This program offers a valuable opportunity to gain work experience while still in school.

For More Information

To obtain additional information about academic opportunities in biochemistry, contact the Department of Chemistry and Biochemistry | 110 Celeste Laboratory, 120 W 18th Avenue, Columbus, Ohio 43210 | 614-292-6009 | biochemadvisors@chemistry.ohio-state.edu

For more information about careers, contact the Arts and Sciences Career Services Office, | 100 Denney Hall, 164 Annie & John Glenn Avenue, Columbus OH, 43210 | 614-292-1868 | asccareer@osu.edu