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Program Description

Just the Facts

Biochemistry. A program that focuses on the scientific study of the chemistry of living systems, their fundamental chemical substances and reactions, and their chemical pathways and information transfer systems, with particular reference to carbohydrates, proteins, lipids, and nucleic acids. Includes instruction in bio-organic chemistry, protein chemistry, bioanalytical chemistry, bioseparations, regulatory biochemistry, enzymology, hormonal chemistry, calorimetry, and research methods and equipment operation.

This program is available in these options:

  • Certificate / Diploma
  • Associate degree
  • Bachelor's degree
  • Graduate Certificate
  • Master's degree
  • Doctoral degree

High School Courses

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Additional Information

Biochemistry programs apply chemistry to the study of how biological organisms function (including you and me). It's about the mechanics of life.

As a biochemistry student, you might study anything from the workings of amino acids in humans to the way industrial chemicals affect plant life. You'll need a good grounding in the basic sciences: chemistry, biology and physics. Math is important, too.

So are computer skills. "I think that computer skills are assumed in this day and age," says Robert Bertolo. He's deputy head of a department of biochemistry at a university.

"I don't think you're necessarily tested on it, but I think you're expected to pick up on it pretty quick."

"Being able to not just manipulate a word processing document, but really working with spreadsheets and statistical software is... really important," says Ann Aguanno. "And using the power of a computer to analyze data, to organize data, to appreciate what information is telling you." Aguanno is an associate professor of biology at Marymount Manhattan College.

As you might expect, you should study chemistry in high school if you plan to study biochemistry at university. Take organic chemistry if it's offered.

"And as much laboratory experience as they can [get], because the laboratory experience allows them to apply the principles, and often that's the best way to drive those concepts home," says Aguanno.

Don't neglect your communication skills.

"Science is all about communication," says Aguanno. "The way science advances is by scientists communicating with each other." Getting involved in research involves honing your ability to read and understand lots of background material. And you have to write about your research results.

"If you achieve anything in a research project, even if it's a small answer, you can usually go present it somewhere, so your communication skills are being honed further there," says Aguanno. "And of course having strong communication skills to begin with is going to help that tremendously."

A lot of people study biochemistry because they hope to get into medical school. Their ultimate goal is typically to become a physician or medical researcher.

"Biochemistry would be considered one of the more specialized sciences," says Bertolo. "Biochemistry is typically associated with medical school, so it's more related to the medical field.

"It's not usually offered until third year," Bertolo adds. "Sometimes there are introductory courses in second year, but it's not what we consider an intro science. So, for example, if you're going to go into biochemistry, you would take first-year biology, chemistry and physics, and get into biochemistry in the later years. It's more of a specialized science than it is a general science."

There's something else that makes biochemistry different from other sciences: "Biochem is not just observational, it's really mechanistic," says Aguanno. "So if you really want to understand how things are working, biochemistry is going to take you there.... It's biochemistry that's going to drive everything -- how biological molecules interact, what the chemical principles are that drive those interactions."

Biochemistry students spend a lot of time in the lab. That means their schedules are usually pretty busy. Time management skills will serve you well.

If you don't get a taste of research in high school, you'll get plenty in college. You can also expect to do an internship at some point during your studies.

"Many schools, depending on their size, either require onsite [research] activities, or if they're a smaller school [they will] arrange for you to do something off campus -- what we would call either an internship or an externship," says Aguanno. "Most schools will require it or they'll strongly encourage it, and the only reason they don't require it is because they're limited in the resources they have."

Extracurricular activities can help you prepare. Some universities and government organizations offer summer programs for students interested in the sciences.

"There are actually quite a few programs now for high school students, as a matter of fact, that we often get involved with," says Bertolo. "We've got senior high school students not only doing science fairs, but there's all sorts of incentives and competitions for them to take part in."

Biochemistry students are often surprised by one aspect of their studies: "The amount of work that they need to do, the amount of reading, [and] the dense aspect of the material," says Aguanno. "The content is quite dense, so even if it's only 30 pages they need to read tonight, it's very dense what they're reading."

University students can sometimes get away with "coasting" much of the semester and cramming for exams. Not so in biochemistry.

"That will not work with any science degree, but especially with a biochemistry degree," says Aguanno. "You really need to recognize that it is a commitment....

You cannot say, 'OK, I'll just study a couple of days before the exam.' You must keep up and... the material is quite dense and you can't take a cavalier attitude towards it. You really need to focus and pay attention. You need to have really strong comprehension skills."

The major cost in this program, aside from tuition, is textbooks. Some universities require students to purchase a laptop if they don't already have one. Many universities also charge laboratory fees. These can range from $100 to $200 per course, says Aguanno.


Occupational Outlook Handbook
For more information related to this field of study, see: Biological Scientists

Biochemistry Online
An academic journal

Science Daily - Biochemistry News
Get the latest news from the field


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