What’s it all about then?
Biochemists investigate the chemistry of all living things,
As a Biochemist working in the Agricultural sector you could be studying the interaction between plants and herbicides, and developing genetically engineered crops that are resistant to drought, disease and so on.
Within the Food sector you could be researching methods of developing cheap and nutritious foods, or inventing ways to prolong product shelf life, or perhaps determining the chemical composition of foods.
What might I be doing?
The exact duties will vary depending in what industry you work but in Agriculture you could be likely to be doing some of the following:
- Improving the quality of crops
- Developing genetically modified crops
- Extending the shelf life of produce
- Researching the nutritional value of crops
- Collating large amounts of data
- Producing reports and presenting results
- Monitoring production and quality
- Ensuring safety of new and existing products
What will be expected of me?
You’ll need to have an interest in the natural world and have a high level of scientific knowledge to work as a biochemist.
Most of the work is lab based and you’ll need to be able to use complicated equipment in an accurate and methodical manner; sometimes you’ll work as part of a larger team and sometimes on your own but either way means being able to take responsibility for the work and be able to solve problems quickly.
Communication skills are vital for this job because of the need to record and explain all of your work in a concise and readily understood fashion.
What can I expect?
The job of Biochemist usually means working in a lab from 9am to 5pm from Monday to Friday although this can vary from job to job and sector to sector.
At busier times these hours will be considerably longer and you may even have to work shifts occasionally.
You will be expected to wear protective clothing at all times for this job.
Some fieldwork is also required from time to time, depending on the project you’re engaged with; of course the project based nature of the job means that you’ll have plenty of opportunity to learn new skills and techniques.
What about the pay?
This will depend on the sector in which you are employed and varies widely.
However, a research scientist working in the Agricultural industry could earn anywhere from £23,000 up to around £40,000 depending on experience.
Should you attain a management position then you can expect to earn more again.
These figures are only for guidance and you should check for up to date figures when you’re investigating careers
What qualifications do I need to get in?
You will need to have a relevant degree should you want to develop a career in biochemistry; in fact many industrial and research positions require experience and possibly postgraduate qualifications as well.
As well as biochemistry, other related subjects include:
- Molecular biology
- Chemical and molecular biology
Where would I get these qualifications?
There are loads of biochemistry and related degrees available both at undergraduate and postgraduate level and you should check out the university prospectuses for details.
In some universities you could follow a common first year in line with other subjects and then choose from there and this might be worth considering if you haven’t completely made up your mind – again you need to check in advance of application.
What about further training?
Once you are working as a biochemist you’ll continue to develop your skills on the job, perhaps as part of a company's structured graduate training programme.
If you do not already have a relevant postgraduate qualification, this is also something you may consider; indeed your employer may help fund this type of qualification for you. This is important as competition for bio-science jobs is intense and a Master of Science (MSc) or doctorate (PhD) will help set you apart from your colleagues.
You should also consider taking membership of a professional body such as the Biochemical Society; this will provide you with up to date knowledge on the subject amongst many other useful career pointers.
Anything else I might need to know?
Yes, working as a biochemist provides you with lots of different areas in which you might specialise, in Agriculture and Food amongst others.
So it’s potentially a really good choice of career for those who enjoy science and lab work, and an important job in all sorts of companies and organisations.