Detailed Guide forBiochemists and Biophysicists in California
May also be called: Research Scientists; Clinical Laboratory Scientists; Clinical Researchers; Enzymologists; Pharmaceutical Scientists; Research Chemists; Structural Biologists; Molecular Biologists; and Toxicologists
What Would I Do?
Biochemists and Biophysicists seek to understand the chemical and physical principles that govern living cells and organisms. These scientists study cells' electrical and mechanical energy, and how they relate to their environment. With this knowledge, they develop solutions to human health and environmental needs.
Some Biochemists and Biophysicists specialize in the study of a certain type of organism, such as a mouse or a yeast cell, or in a specific activity, such as how the brain stores and processes information. Many work in biotechnology firms, where they apply their research to discover, manufacture, or improve upon a product. California biotechnology firms manufacture a wide range of products that include tumor-inhibiting medicines, chemical applications, genetic testing kits, medical instruments, and acne creams. Their research results in new applications that enhance medical outcomes, crop yields, and environmental remediation capabilities. For example, these scientists are at the forefront of developing oils from algae to replace the petroleum currently used in such common products as soaps, solvent cleaners, and hairspray.
Most of these professionals work as part of research teams that collaborate with other scientists, communicating their findings, and discussing the implications of their collective work throughout the course of the project. At project end, they write papers and reports for publication in journals, and present findings at conferences. Some time is spent writing grant proposals.
While some of the tasks of the Biochemist and Biophysicist overlap, there are some distinctions between these two types of scientist.
Biochemists study the chemistry of reactions within human, animal, and plant organisms. They analyze and describe how normal organisms function, and also determine the effects of foods, drugs, serums, hormones, and other substances on tissues and vital processes of these living organisms. Their work includes looking for reasons why some people develop diseases or health problems, while others do not, in order to provide direction in developing therapies for these conditions.
The Biochemist's research is focused to the areas of metabolism, growth, genes and heredity, nutrition, biological development, and reproduction.
Biophysicists use the methods of mathematics, physics, chemistry, and molecular biology to study how living organisms work. Some investigate bioelectrical processes to understand how the brain processes and stores information, how the heart pumps blood, or how muscles contract. Others use molecular techniques to study how plants use light in photosynthesis, or how genes are switched on and off. Much biophysical research is focused to determine how protein machines work in an organism, how nerve cells communicate through electrical impulses, or how microorganisms can be modified to create improved products.
Biophysicists apply the rules of energetics, electromagnetism, and statistical mechanics as a regular part of their research and development. They also employ computer modeling programs to better understand and visualize concepts such as how proteins in the body are involved with cancer, aging, or chronic degenerative diseases.
Tools and Technology
Biochemists and Biophysicists use a variety of tools in the course of their work, including benchtop centrifuges, calorimeters, electron microscopes, lasers, nuclear magnetic resonance spectroscopes, spectrometers, and electrophysiological amplifiers. They also use computers for simulations, as well as modeling, analytic, computer aided design (CAD), presentation, spreadsheet, and word processing software.
Biochemists and Biophysicists are playing important roles in the emerging green economy in areas such as biofuels production, waste bioremediation, and the manufacture of biodegradable products.
Important Tasks and Related Skills
The tasks of Biochemists and Biophysicists can vary, depending on the nature of the project and type of research. Each task below is matched to a sample skill required to carry out the task.
|View the skill definitions|
|Task||Skill Used in this Task|
|Prepare reports and recommendations based upon research outcomes.||Inductive Reasoning|
|Develop new methods to study the mechanisms of biological processes.||Science|
|Share research findings by writing scientific articles and by making presentations at scientific conferences.||Written Expression|
|Manage laboratory teams, and monitor the quality of a team's work.||Administration and Management|
|Develop and execute tests to detect diseases, genetic disorders, or other abnormalities.||Complex Problem Solving|
|Develop and test new drugs and medications intended for commercial distribution.||Active Learning|
|Research the chemical effects of substances such as drugs, serums, hormones, and food on tissues and vital processes.||Near Vision|
|Study the mutations in organisms that lead to cancer and other diseases.||Systems Analysis|
|Study the chemistry of living processes, such as cell development, breathing and digestion, and living energy changes such as growth, aging, and death.||Critical Thinking|
|Study physical principles of living cells and organisms and their electrical and mechanical energy, applying methods and knowledge of mathematics, physics, chemistry, and biology.||Deductive Reasoning|
|Prepare pharmaceutical compounds for commercial distribution.||Production and Processing|
|Develop methods to process, store, and use foods, drugs, and chemical compounds.||Judgment and Decision Making|
|Research how characteristics of plants and animals are carried through successive generations.||Information Ordering|
Below is a definition for each skill.
|View the tasks to skills list|
|Inductive Reasoning||The ability to combine pieces of information to form general rules or conclusions (includes finding a relationship among seemingly unrelated events).|
|Science||Using scientific rules and methods to solve problems.|
|Written Expression||The ability to communicate information and ideas in writing so others will understand.|
|Administration and Management||Knowledge of business and management principles involved in strategic planning, resource allocation, human resources modeling, leadership technique, production methods, and coordination of people and resources.|
|Complex Problem Solving||Identifying complex problems and reviewing related information to develop and evaluate options and implement solutions.|
|Active Learning||Understanding the implications of new information for both current and future problem-solving and decision-making.|
|Near Vision||The ability to see details at close range (within a few feet of the observer).|
|Systems Analysis||Determining how a system should work and how changes in conditions, operations, and the environment will affect outcomes.|
|Critical Thinking||Using logic and reasoning to identify the strengths and weaknesses of alternative solutions, conclusions or approaches to problems.|
|Deductive Reasoning||The ability to apply general rules to specific problems to produce answers that make sense.|
|Production and Processing||Knowledge of raw materials, production processes, quality control, costs, and other techniques for maximizing the effective manufacture and distribution of goods.|
|Judgment and Decision Making||Considering the relative costs and benefits of potential actions to choose the most appropriate one.|
|Information Ordering||The ability to arrange things or actions in a certain order or pattern according to a specific rule or set of rules (e.g., patterns of numbers, letters, words, pictures, mathematical operations).|
Biochemists and Biophysicists usually work alongside team members in fully equipped laboratories or at research and development facilities. Many also spend some portion of their time in offices documenting their research, maintaining laboratory notebooks, preparing their reports, and writing grant proposals.
Most Biochemists and Biophysicists typically work a standard 40-hour week. Longer or irregular hours may sometimes be required due to project or grant deadlines, or when time-sensitive experiments require them to be in the laboratory during off-hours.
Those who work with unsafe organisms or toxic substances must be trained in proper health and safety procedures and, in some cases, must wear personal protective equipment.
Unionization is not common in these occupations. However, Biochemists and Biophysicists working for government agencies or universities may belong to a union such as the California Association of Professional Scientists.
Will This Job Fit Me?
The job of Biochemist or Biophysicist may appeal to those who enjoy analytical thinking, are eager to develop and promote new ideas and products, and who can attend to detail throughout a long project. This occupation may also interest those who have good oral and written communication skills, as well as the ability to work effectively either alone or as part of a team.
What Wages and Benefits Can I Expect?
The median wage in 2016 for Biochemists and Biophysicists in California was $101,104 annually, or $48.60 hourly. The median is the point at which half of the workers earn more and half earn less.
Biochemists and Biophysicists typically receive benefit packages, including health and life insurance, vacation, sick leave, and retirement plans. Those who own their own biotechnology firm will need to pay for their own insurance and retirement plans.
What is the Job Outlook?
With the increased focus on biotechnology research and development in areas such as genetics, agriculture, and pharmaceuticals, continued new opportunities are expected for Biochemists and Biophysicists. However, during economic downturns, the number of job openings for this occupation may decline for periods of time.
Projections of Employment
In California, the number of Biochemists and Biophysicists is expected to grow much faster than average growth rate for all occupations. Jobs for Biochemists and Biophysicists are expected to increase by 25.9 percent, or 1,400 jobs between 2014 and 2024.
|Estimated Employment and Projected Growth|
Biochemists and Biophysicists
(Estimated Year-Projected Year)
Due to Net
|View Projected Growth for All Areas|
Annual Job Openings
In California, an average of 150 new job openings per year is expected for Biochemists and Biophysicists, plus an additional 140 job openings due to net replacement needs, resulting in a total of 290 job openings.
|Estimated Average Annual Job Openings|
Biochemists and Biophysicists
|Jobs From Growth||Jobs Due to|
|View Data for All Areas|
How Do I Qualify?
Education, Training, and Other Requirements
A Ph.D. is usually necessary for independent and industrial research and development, as well as for advancement to administrative or teaching positions. In some cases, a master's degree with extensive laboratory research experience is sufficient to meet the needs of the employer.
The path to becoming a Biochemist or Biophysicist usually begins by earning a bachelor's degree at a four-year institution. This is often followed by a master's degree, either in one of the physical sciences or mathematics. Some pursue a doctoral degree immediately after the bachelor's degree.
Doctoral programs in biophysics and biochemistry, or in related majors such as biotechnology and molecular biology, last four to six years and include extensive laboratory research, classroom time, and a dissertation. Students are typically funded either from research grants or by teaching.
After earning their Ph.D., Biochemists and Biophysicists generally conduct postdoctoral research in a laboratory for a few years to expand their range of knowledge before taking on a permanent position. Employers often require two to five years of laboratory and research experience from their candidates, usually in the form of postdoctoral positions.
Early Career Planning
High school students planning to become Biochemists and Biophysicists should take college preparatory courses such as English, mathematics, biology, chemistry, and physics. Computer programming courses are beneficial as early preparation for modeling and simulation of biological processes. Students would also benefit from participating in extracurricular science programs such as Odyssey of the Mind; Science Olympiad; and Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics (STEM) programs.
Some colleges and universities help students find paid internships or postdoctoral positions. Internships are also an opportunity for the sponsoring organization to recruit future employees.
Continuing education is not a requirement for Biochemists and Biophysicists. However, most successful scientists stay current with new discoveries and changes occurring in their specialties.
Some certifications may be required for Biochemists and Biophysicists such as Molecular Diagnostics, Registered Environmental Professional, or Toxicological Chemist. These certifications are offered by various professional organizations. For more information, go to the U.S. Department of Labor's Career InfoNet Web site and scroll down to "Career Tools." Click on "Certification Finder" and follow the instructions to locate certification programs.
Where Can I Find Training?
There are two ways to search for training information:
- Search by Field of Study to find what programs are available and what schools offer those programs. You may use keywords such as: Biochemistry, Biophysics, Biotechnology, and Molecular Biology.
- Search by Training Provider to find schools by name, type of school, or location.
Contact the schools you are interested in to learn about the classes available, tuition and fees, and any prerequisite course work.
Where Would I Work?
Over half of Biochemists and Biophysicists work in private research and development firms, with the remainder working in research universities, national laboratories, and hospital research centers.
Finding a Job
Direct application to employers remains one of the most effective job search methods. University placement offices, company recruiting events, professional society career fairs, and online job boards are also good places to look. Career associations sometimes offer job openings on their websites. Online job opening systems include JobCentral at www.jobcentral.com and CalJOBSSM at www.caljobs.ca.gov.
To find your nearest One-Stop Career Center, go to Service Locator. View the helpful job search tips for more resources. (requires Adobe Reader).
Yellow Page Headings
You can focus your local job search by checking employers listed online or in your local telephone directory. Below are some suggested headings where you might find employers of Biochemists and Biophysicists.
- Research and Development Labs
- Scientific Apparatus
Find Possible Employers
To locate a list of employers in your area, go to "Find Employers" on the Labor Market Information Web site:
- Select one of the top industries that employ the occupation. This will give you a list of employers in that industry in your area.
- Click on "View Filter Selections" to limit your list to specific cities or employer size.
- Click on an employer for the street address, telephone number, size of business, Web site, etc.
- Contact the employer for possible employment.
Where Could This Job Lead?
As Biochemists and Biophysicists gain experience, they have more responsibility and independence over their work. They may lead research teams and have direction and control over projects. Biochemists and Biophysicists may also become managers or educators. Some start their own biotechnology firms.
Below is a list of occupations related to Biochemists and Biophysicists with links to more information.
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|Soil and Plant Scientists||Guide|
These links are provided for your convenience and do not constitute an endorsement by EDD.
For the Career Professional
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