Information compiled by the GradSchools.com team - last updated November 2010
Biochemistry is a vibrant, dynamic discipline that embraces the study of biology from the point of view of chemistry. Historically, biochemistry evolved as a distinct field from two separate sources: agriculture, which required understanding of plant and animal metabolism to increase crop and animal productivity, and medicine, which required understanding of human metabolism to prevent and cure disease. Today, biochemistry graduate curriculums are at the forefront of many careers that help to keep human, animals and plants free of disease.
Students of biochemistry graduate curriculums can choose one of many biochemistry concentrations. They learn that biochemistry is the foundation upon which humans have grown to understand biological processes. Biochemistry courses equip students with the skills they need to contribute to the many advances being made in medicine for both human and animals, as well as in genetic engineering, biotechnology and agriculture.
In recent years, biochemistry concentrations such as structural biology (which uses the tools of X-ray crystallography and magnetic resonance spectroscopy to determine three-dimensional structures of macromolecules), biophysics (which uses the tools of physics to assess the detailed function of proteins and nucleic acids), genomics (which uses high-throughput DNA sequencing techniques to allow the total information content of a genome to be determined) and proteomics (which uses high precision mass spectroscopy to identify the total protein content of a cell or an organelle).
Molecular biology is a more recent and very popular biochemistry concentration. It evolved from a technique established solely to manipulate DNA, to a field that embraces all aspects of the function of nucleic acids in living organisms. Today, both molecular biology and biochemistry curriculums continue their highly interdisciplinary traditions of drawing from physics, chemistry and biology to understand the basic processes of life from the atomic, to the molecular, to the cellular levels.
As biochemistry graduate curriculums increase in number and mature further, students can expect a greater emphasis on the use of mathematics and physical sciences to probe the tightly-held secrets of biology. Students can also expect to enroll in biochemistry courses such as bioenergetics, analytical biochemistry and enzyme kinetics. They will be required to do extensive research, as well as participate in laboratory rotations.
At the graduate level of study, students can pursue either a Master's or a PhD degree in biochemistry. Almost all biochemistry curriculums at the graduate level are research-oriented, as students are encouraged to move in their studies from classes to independent research. In recent years, biochemistry graduate courses have also expanded to encompass business-oriented degrees, such as the professional science masters (PSM) that allow students to combine higher-level science classes with business classes.
Careers in biochemistry
Biochemistry careers have traditionally been academic, including teaching and research appointments in colleges and universities. A biochemistry professor can command an average annual salary of $75,000, while a research biologist can make an annual average of $79,000.
There are also exciting biochemistry careers in regulatory agencies in government, non-profit organizations and health care. The average biochemist with a graduate degree can earn about $70,000 a year. A PhD degree in biochemistry is normally required in many of these careers, though it is still possible to find a position with a masters degree. Bioengineers can make an average of $60,000 a year, while a geneticist can make about $85,000 annually.
Over the past couple of decades, however, biotechnology job opportunities have grown disproportionately, and are competing with the more traditional drug and chemical industries for biochemistry masters and PhD degree holders. A pharmacologist with a graduate biochemistry degree can make an average of $82,000 annually.
With the introduction of business-oriented degrees such as the PSM, those who have an interest in biochemistry as well as business have an opportunity to enter the business world as managers with a firm grasp of the science or technology of the companies for whom they will work.
Check out: Biological & Life Sciences Graduate Programs
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