Are you thinking of studying Biochemistry?
Biochemistry, as the name suggests, is where Biology meets Chemistry: it’s the study of living things at a molecular level – or, to put it another way, the study of the very foundations of life.
It helps us to understand topics as diverse as disease, genetics, evolution and DNA. Our understanding of Biochemistry enables the creation of safe synthetic drugs, helps forensic teams solve crimes, allows the development of agriculture and food, and much, much more. If you’re struggling to decide between Biology and Chemistry, or you see yourself working as a scientist in a role that makes a real difference, Biochemistry may be the perfect choice for you.
What kind of things can I expect to study?
As with any degree, you can expect to have a core set of compulsory modules to begin with, but the number of compulsory modules is likely to reduce in subsequent years to allow more scope for you to choose your own and specialise in areas you find interesting. Areas in which you could specialise might include disciplines such as virology, immunology, cancer biology and neuropharmacology.
Cellular and Molecular Biology
This involves learning about the chemical properties and complex chemical reactions that take place within cells and tissues. You’ll look at individual molecules and entire cells, and as part of your studies, you’re likely to focus on genetics, genetic engineering and DNA, looking at how DNA is structured and how it can be replicated. You’re also likely to look at mutation and the effects this has, in particular when it results in disease, as in oncology (the branch of medicine that seeks to understand tumours).
This is the study of microscopic organisms, such as viruses, bacteria and fungi. This has relevance to medicine and the fight against disease, and is part of disciplines such as immunology (the study of the immune system).
Though you’ll have lectures as well, much of your learning in this hands-on degree will revolve around laboratory work and the handling of chemical and biological substances. Other practical elements are likely to include computer-based research and data interpretation.
Individual research project
Many courses include a large research project towards the end of the course that you carry out independently (with guidance from a supervisor), which provides invaluable experience for a related career. You can usually choose the topic of your research yourself, which allows you to pursue an area you find interesting.
What do I need for a Biochemistry degree?
A-level Chemistry is the essential one for a Biochemistry degree, plus at least one other science (Biology or Physics) or Mathematics. If you don’t have Biology to full A-level, it would at least be helpful to have it at AS-level; though not a requirement, it would give you useful background knowledge. Some universities will also accept Psychology, Geology and Environmental Studies as additional science A-levels.
What skills will I acquire?
As well as a detailed and up-to-date understanding of Biochemistry, you’ll pick up numerous transferable skills by studying this degree. As a lab-based subject, Biochemistry teaches diligence and attention to detail, strong data analysis, problem-solving and decision-making skills, and social skills such as teamwork, communication and giving good presentations. Of course, your research skills will also be second to none, as you’ll have conducted a major piece of independent research; employers will look favourably on this experience, as it’s valuable preparation for industry.
Will I get to travel as part of my degree?
Travel opportunities are limited for a Biochemistry degree, although you may be able to spend a year abroad with some universities. Industry placements of up to a year may be an option as part of your course, for example in a pharmaceutical company. You may be able to take this abroad; it might also be possible for you to complete your major research project at an overseas university if there’s an ERASMUS exchange scheme in place.
What careers are possible with a Biochemistry degree?
A degree in Biochemistry makes you ideal for roles in the biological, environmental, clinical industries, and many graduates enter these industries having gone on to further study up to PhD level. Among many other possible roles, you might end up working in toxicology, pathology, bioengineering, researching drugs, food or agriculture, or learning more about viruses and how to fight them. Some Biochemistry graduates become science teachers or lecturers, while others go into unrelated business and finance fields utilising the many transferable skills they’ve acquired while studying this degree.
If you’re thinking about studying Biochemistry, you might also be interested in the following related degrees.
- Biology – if you think you might also be interested in studying life on a larger scale than the molecular level, Biology lets you study animals, plants and ecosystems as a whole (in addition to the molecular and cellular level). It also gets you out of the lab more, with field trips an important element of this degree.
- Chemistry – as well as organic chemistry, a Chemistry degree also teaches you about inorganic materials and physical chemistry (thermodynamics, for example). It’s a good degree if you can’t choose between Biology, Chemistry and Physics, as it covers all three.
- Human Sciences – this concentrates on the study of human beings, from the molecular level up to societies and cultures.
- Materials Science – this is the study of the chemistry of man-made materials, and may be a good option for you if you lean more towards other kinds of chemistry.
A final thought on Biochemistry
Biochemistry is a commercially valuable degree that will come in useful for a range of well-paid jobs in many important industries. Biochemists play a crucial role in the development of new drugs to fight terrible diseases such as cancer, but they’re also instrumental in forensics, agricultural research and numerous other areas that affect everyday life. If your aim is to be involved in scientific research that makes a real difference in advancing our understanding of life and how to improve it, a degree in Biochemistry would stand you in excellent stead.