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Career as a Biophysicist


Who is a biophysics?

A biophysicist is a scientist who uses physics to study biological systems using an interdisciplinary approach. Studies from molecules to organisms are conducted, analyzed, and interpreted for scientific evidence in proving or providing information for the greater good of medicine or science.

Also called: Research Assistant, Research Associate, Research Scientist, Scientist


What does a biophysicist do?

A biophysicist learns about organisms through the use of physics and biology. Sometimes this is also known as molecular science because the primary goal is to understand and interpret varies biological functions and interactions at a molecular level. Biophysicists mostly work in laboratories to conduct their research.

Study the chemical composition or physical principles of living cells and organisms, their electrical and mechanical energy, and related phenomena. May conduct research to further understanding of the complex chemical combinations and reactions involved in metabolism, reproduction, growth, and heredity. May determine the effects of foods, drugs, serums, hormones, and other substances on tissues and vital processes of living organisms.

Study physical principles of living cells or organisms and their electrical or mechanical energy, applying methods and knowledge of mathematics, physics, chemistry, or biology.

Share research findings by writing scientific articles or by making presentations at scientific conferences.

Prepare reports or recommendations, based upon research outcomes.

Biochemists and biophysicists study the chemical and physical principles of living things and of biological processes, such as cell development, growth, and heredity.


Duties

Biochemists and biophysicists typically do the following:

Plan and conduct complex projects in basic and applied research

Manage laboratory teams and monitor the quality of their work

Isolate, analyze, and synthesize proteins, enzymes, DNA, and other molecules

Research the effects of substances, such as drugs, hormones, and food on tissues and biological processes

Prepare technical reports, research papers, and recommendations based on their research

Present research findings to scientists, engineers, and other colleagues

Biochemists and biophysicists use advanced technologies, such as electron microscopes and lasers to conduct scientific experiments and analysis. They also use computer modeling software to determine the three-dimensional structures of proteins and other molecules. Biochemists and biophysicists involved in biotechnology research use chemical enzymes to synthesize recombinant DNA.

Biochemists and biophysicists work in basic and applied research. Basic research is conducted without any immediately known application; the goal is to expand human knowledge. Applied research is directed toward solving a particular problem.

Biochemists involved in basic research may study the genetic mutations in organisms that lead to cancer and other diseases. Others study the evolution of plants and animals, to understand how genetic traits are carried through successive generations.

Biophysicists may conduct basic research to learn how nerve cells communicate or how proteins work. Biochemists and biophysicists who conduct basic research typically must submit written grant proposals to colleges and universities, private foundations, and the federal government, to get the money they need for their research.

Biochemists and biophysicists who conduct applied research attempt to develop products and processes that improve our lives. For example, in medicine, biochemists and biophysicists develop tests used to detect diseases, genetic disorders, and other illnesses. They also develop new drugs and medications, such as those used to treat cancer or Alzheimer’s disease.

Applied research in biochemistry and biophysics has many uses outside of medicine. In agriculture, biochemists and biophysicists research ways to genetically engineer crops that are resistant to drought, disease, insects, and other afflictions. Biochemists and biophysicists also investigate alternative fuels, such as biofuels—renewable energy sources from plants. In addition, they develop ways to protect the environment and clean up pollution.

Large amounts of data are generated by biochemists, biophysicists, and others who work in biological research. Specialists called bioinformaticians use their knowledge of statistics, mathematics, and computer science to analyze these data. Bioinformaticians often work to create a theoretical framework intended to combine large amounts of data into meaningful theories. They mine large data sets for correlations that might suggest relationships or explain biological phenomena.

Many people with a biochemistry background become professors and teachers. For more information, see the profile on postsecondary teachers.


Types of biophysics

Biophysics is incorporated into many diverse areas of biology. Some research topics in biophysics or involving biophysics include:

Membrane biophysics: the study of the structure and function of cell membranes, including the ion channels, proteins, and receptors embedded within them.

Computational/theoretical biophysics: using mathematical modeling to study biological systems.

Protein engineering: creating and modifying proteins to advance synthetic biology. Often used to advance human health in the form of new disease treatments.

Molecular structures: biophysics studies the molecular structures of biological molecules including proteins, nucleic acids, and lipids.

Mechanisms: using physical mechanisms to explain the occurrence of biological processes. Some physical mechanisms include energy transduction in membranes, protein folding and structure leading to specific functions, cell movement, and the electrical behavior of cells.

Biophysics Lab

Here, a biophysicist in a U.S. Food and Drug Administration lab is studying the electrical activity of the heart as related to pacemaker and defibrillator use.


What is the workplace of a biophysicist like?

Biochemists and biophysicists typically work in laboratories and offices, to conduct experiments and analyze the results. Those who work with dangerous organisms or toxic substances in the laboratory must follow safety procedures to avoid contamination. Most biochemists and biophysicists work on teams.


Knowledge areas that need to be acquired –

Physics - Knowledge and prediction of physical principles, laws, their interrelationships, and applications to understanding fluid, material, and atmospheric dynamics, and mechanical, electrical, atomic and sub- atomic structures and processes.

Mathematics - Knowledge of arithmetic, algebra, geometry, calculus, statistics, and their applications.

English Language - Knowledge of the structure and content of the English language including the meaning and spelling of words, rules of composition, and grammar.

Engineering and Technology - Knowledge of the practical application of engineering science and technology. This includes applying principles, techniques, procedures, and equipment to the design and production of various goods and services.

Computers and Electronics - Knowledge of circuit boards, processors, chips, electronic equipment, and computer hardware and software, including applications and programming.

Chemistry - Knowledge of the chemical composition, structure, and properties of substances and of the chemical processes and transformations that they undergo. This includes uses of chemicals and their interactions, danger signs, production techniques, and disposal methods.

Telecommunications - Knowledge of transmission, broadcasting, switching, control, and operation of telecommunications systems.

Mechanical - Knowledge of machines and tools, including their designs, uses, repair, and maintenance.

Public Safety and Security - Knowledge of relevant equipment, policies, procedures, and strategies to promote effective local, state, or national security operations for the protection of people, data, property, and institutions.

Design - Knowledge of design techniques, tools, and principles involved in production of precision technical plans, blueprints, drawings, and models.

Communications and Media - Knowledge of media production, communication, and dissemination techniques and methods. This includes alternative ways to inform and entertain via written, oral, and visual media.

Education and Training - Knowledge of principles and methods for curriculum and training design, teaching and instruction for individuals and groups, and the measurement of training effects.

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.

Biology - Knowledge of plant and animal organisms, their tissues, cells, functions


Skills

Critical Thinking - Using logic and reasoning to identify the strengths and weaknesses of alternative solutions, conclusions or approaches to problems.

Speaking - Talking to others to convey information effectively.

Reading Comprehension - Understanding written sentences and paragraphs in work related documents.

Complex Problem Solving - Identifying complex problems and reviewing related information to develop and evaluate options and implement solutions.

Active Listening - Giving full attention to what other people are saying, taking time to understand the points being made, asking questions as appropriate, and not interrupting at inappropriate times.

Active Learning - Understanding the implications of new information for both current and future problem-solving and decision-making.

Judgment and Decision Making - Considering the relative costs and benefits of potential actions to choose the most appropriate one.

Learning Strategies - Selecting and using training/instructional methods and procedures appropriate for the situation when learning or teaching new things

Writing - Communicating effectively in writing as appropriate for the needs of the audience.

Instructing - Teaching others how to do something.

Programming - Writing computer programs for various purposes.

Systems Analysis - Determining how a system should work and how changes in conditions, operations, and the environment will affect outcomes.

Time Management - Managing one's own time and the time of others.

Monitoring - Monitoring/Assessing performance of yourself, other individuals, or organizations to make improvements or take corrective action.

Social Perceptiveness - Being aware of others' reactions and understanding why they react as they do.

Coordination - Adjusting actions in relation to others' actions.

Persuasion - Persuading others to change their minds or behavior.

Systems Evaluation - Identifying measures or indicators of system performance and the actions needed to improve or correct performance, relative to the goals of the system.

Technology Design - Generating or adapting equipment and technology to serve user needs.

Service Orientation - Actively looking for ways to help people.

Operations Analysis - Analyzing needs and product requirements to create a design.

Management of Personnel Resources - Motivating, developing, and directing people as they work, identifying the best people for the job.

Quality Control Analysis - Conducting tests and inspections of products, services, or processes to evaluate quality or performance.

Negotiation - Bringing others together and trying to reconcile differences.

Operation Monitoring - Watching gauges, dials, or other indicators to make sure a


Abilities

Biochemists and biophysicists typically have an interest in the Building, Thinking and Creating interest areas, according to the Holland Code framework. The Building interest area indicates a focus on working with tools and machines, and making or fixing practical things. The Thinking interest area indicates a focus on researching, investigating, and increasing the understanding of natural laws. The Creating interest area indicates a focus on being original and imaginative, and working with artistic media.

If you are not sure whether you have a Building or Thinking or Creating interest which might fit with a career as a biochemist and biophysicist, you can take a career test to measure your interests.

Biochemists and biophysicists should also possess the following specific qualities:

Analytical skills. Biochemists and biophysicists must be able to conduct scientific experiments and analyses with accuracy and precision.

Communication skills. Biochemists and biophysicists have to write and publish reports and research papers, give presentations of their findings, and communicate with team members.

Critical-thinking skills. Biochemists and biophysicists draw conclusions from experimental results through sound reasoning and judgment.

Interpersonal skills. Biochemists and biophysicists typically work on research teams and need to work well with others toward a common goal. Many serve as team leaders and must be able to motivate and direct other team members.

Math skills. Biochemists and biophysicists regularly use complex equations and formulas in their work; and they need a broad understanding of mathematics, including calculus and statistics.

Perseverance. Biochemists and biophysicists need to be thorough in their research and in their approach to problems. Scientific research involves substantial trial and error, and biochemists and biophysicists must not become discouraged in their work.

Problem-solving skills. Biochemists and biophysicists use scientific experiments and analysis to find solutions to complex scientific problems.


Work Environment

Biochemists and biophysicists held about 29,200 jobs in 2012. The industries employing the most biochemists and biophysicists in 2012 were as follows:

Research and development in the physical, engineering, and life sciences 47%

Colleges, universities, and professional schools; state, local, and private 17

Pharmaceutical and medicine manufacturing 14

Drugs and druggists' sundries merchant wholesalers 2

Testing laboratories 2

Biochemists and biophysicists typically work in laboratories and offices, to conduct experiments and analyze the results. Those who work with dangerous organisms or toxic substances in the laboratory must follow safety procedures to avoid contamination.


Most biochemists and biophysicists work on teams. Research projects are often interdisciplinary; and biochemists and biophysicists frequently work with experts in other fields, such as physics, chemistry, computer science, and engineering.

Some biotech companies might need researchers to help sell their products. These technologies can be very complex, and having an expert explain them to potential customers might be necessary. This may be more common in smaller companies, where workers often fulfill multiple roles, such as working in research and in sales. Working in sales may require significant amounts of travel. For more information on sales representatives, see the profile on wholesale and manufacturing sales representatives.


Work Schedules

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


Personality

Attention to Detail - Job requires being careful about detail and thorough in completing work tasks.

Analytical Thinking - Job requires analyzing information and using logic to address work-related issues and problems.

Initiative - Job requires a willingness to take on responsibilities and challenges.

Persistence - Job requires persistence in the face of obstacles.

Integrity - Job requires being honest and ethical.

Adaptability/Flexibility - Job requires being open to change (positive or negative) and to considerable variety in the workplace.

Dependability - Job requires being reliable, responsible, and dependable, and fulfilling obligations.

Independence - Job requires developing one's own ways of doing things, guiding oneself with little or no supervision, and depending on oneself to get things done.

Achievement/Effort - Job requires establishing and maintaining personally challenging achievement goals and exerting effort toward mastering tasks.

Innovation - Job requires creativity and alternative thinking to develop new ideas for and answers to work-related problems.

Cooperation - Job requires being pleasant with others on the job and displaying a good-natured, cooperative attitude.

Self Control - Job requires maintaining composure, keeping emotions in check, controlling anger, and avoiding aggressive behavior, even in very difficult situations.

Stress Tolerance - Job requires accepting criticism and dealing calmly and effectively with high stress situations.

Concern for Others - Job requires being sensitive to others' needs and feelings and being understanding and helpful on the job.

Leadership - Job requires a willingness to lead, take charge, and offer opinions and direction.

Social Orientation - Job requires preferring to work with others rather than alone, and being personally connected with others on the job.


Education and Training

Biochemists and biophysicists need a Ph.D. to work in independent research and development positions. Most Ph.D. holders begin their careers in temporary postdoctoral research positions. Bachelor’s and master’s degree holders are qualified for some entry-level positions in biochemistry and biophysics.


Education

Most Ph.D. holders in biochemistry and biophysics have bachelor’s degrees in biochemistry or a related field, such as biology, chemistry, physics, or engineering. High school students can prepare for college by taking classes related to the natural and physical sciences.


Students in bachelor’s degree programs in biochemistry or a related field typically take courses in mathematics, physics, and computer science in addition to courses in the biological sciences. Courses in mathematics and computer science are important for biochemists and biophysicists, who must be able to do complex data analysis. Most bachelor's degree programs include required laboratory coursework. Additional laboratory coursework is excellent preparation for graduate school or for getting an entry-level position in industry. Students can gain valuable laboratory experience by working for a university’s laboratories and occasionally through internships with prospective employers, such as pharmaceutical and medicine manufacturers.


Ph.D. programs typically include advanced coursework in topics such as toxicology, genetics, and proteomics (the study of proteins). Graduate students also spend a lot of time conducting laboratory research. Study at the master’s level is generally considered good preparation for those interested in doing hands-on laboratory work. Ph.D. level studies provide additional training in research project planning and execution.


Training

Most biochemistry and biophysics Ph.D. holders begin their careers in temporary postdoctoral research positions. During their postdoctoral appointments, they work with experienced scientists, as they continue to learn about their specialties or develop a broader understanding of related areas of research.


Postdoctoral positions frequently offer the opportunity to publish research findings. A solid record of published research is essential to get a permanent position doing basic research, especially for those seeking a permanent college or university faculty position.


Advancement

Some biochemists and biophysicists become natural sciences managers. Those who pursue management careers spend much of their time on administrative tasks, such as preparing budgets and schedules.


Salary

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.


Job Outlook

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.


Frequently Asked Questions

What is some good advice for biophysics students?

The best way to choose committee members is to make appointments to speak to the various faculty members who you think would be interested and knowledgeable in your area of study. If you like the feedback you receive, try to find dates and times that that person is available to sit on your committee. The chair of your committee should be someone who understands your research well, as this is the person who most influences the committee on whether or not you pass your oral exam.


One of the early steps in preparing to take your orals is to write a proposal stating the purpose and goals for your research project, the preliminary data that you have, and what you plan to do in the future. It is recommended that the proposal be thorough but concise. The written proposal should be distributed to your committee members for feedback. It is appropriate to ask your committee members the types of questions they might ask, based on the written proposal that you have given them to read. The questions you are asked during the exam depend on who is on your committee and the content of your research proposal.


It may also be helpful to discuss with your committee chair the format your exam will follow. Many students prepare a 10-minute oral summary of their research proposal as the first part of their oral exam. It is important to stress the significance and scope of the research that you are proposing to perform for your thesis project. Practice orals are one of the most important things you need to do in preparing for your exam. It is the best way to identify your strengths and weaknesses in everything from your general knowledge to your presentation skills.


The strategy for studying depends mainly on the specific project being proposed. You should ask both your research advisor and committee chair for guidance. Study general principles before becoming immersed in the specific.


What are the various biophysics designations?

Biophysical research shares significant overlap with biochemistry, molecular biology, physical chemistry, physiology, nanotechnology, bioengineering, computational biology, biomechanics, developmental biology and systems biology.


What is it like being a biophysicist?

A biophysicist learns about organisms through the use of physics and biology. Sometimes this is also known as molecular science because the primary goal is to understand and interpret varies biological functions and interactions at a molecular level. Biophysicists mostly work in laboratories to conduct their research.


What is the difference between physics and biophysics?

is that biophysics is the interdisciplinary science that applies theories and methods of the physical sciences to questions of biology while physics is the branch of science concerned with the study of properties and interactions of space, time, matter and energy or physics can be (physic).


what is the difference between biophysics and medical physics?

The main difference between biophysics and medical physics is that biophysics deals with understanding the structure, dynamics, interactions, and function of biological systems, while medical physics uses this understanding to make significant discoveries in medicine


How difficult is it to become a Biophysics?

You will need an extensive amount of skill, knowledge and experience to be a Biochemist and Biophysicist. Many require more than five years of experience. For example, a surgeon must complete four years of college and an additional five to seven years of specialized medical training to be able to do their job


Is biophysics an art or a science?

Biophysics is a growing enterprise world-wide, driven primarily by the widespread realization of the major contributions made to biological science by a combination of truly state-of-the-art physical measurements with modern molecular biology.


Is it worth it to study biophysics?

Like EVERY field, it's competitive and often only worth while if you love the daily minutia. It was great to major in, but tricky to build a career around. Biophysics is an amazing discipline and it equips you with great tools and insights for research that most people don't have.


Should I become a biophysicist?

To become a biophysicist, you must earn a bachelor's degree in chemistry, mathematics, or physics. With a bachelor's degree one can work as a technician or assistant. However, if you want to earn the title of a biophysicists, you must continue your education and go on to earn a master's degree.


What are Biophysicists like?

biochemists and biophysicists study living things and the processes that make them grow, change, and die. These scientists design and conduct experiments, such as testing the effects of drugs, or learning how different cells divide and grow.


What are the professional courses one can pursue as a biophysicist?

Biophysicists

Forensic biophysicist

Researcher

Medical biophysicist

Scientist

Nutritional biophysicist

Clinical biophysicist

Applied biophysicist


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