Working in the Sciences

Archived Q&A and Reviews

Career Change - Chemistry to Biochem

Jan 2003

My husband has had a successful career as a research chemist in coatings technology for over 20 years. However, the paint business has been moving out of the bay area and now he finds he is out of a job with no prospect of finding another. He is considering switching careers to biochemistry, rather than all of us moving away. Does anyone know how realistic this idea is? He would have to take some classes, and we can afford for him to go to school full time for up to a year. Where would he take the classes? What would he need to take? What kinds of jobs might be available to someone with an extensive chemistry background and some biochemistry? Thanks. Considering Our Options

I am a consultant to 20 biotechnology companies and have extensive experience in hiring scientists at all levels.

I'm not sure if your husband is a B.S., M. S. or Ph.D. chemist, and it would make a difference for his options. His best chances are if he is a B.S. or M.S. level chemist. At the Ph.D.level, people tend to think you need to be an expert. One year of classes wouldn't be enough. So, let me assume he is a B.S. or M.S. level person.

Chemists tend to learn the biology side easily, but it's tough for biologists to learn any chemistry. Biochemistry is just a few new terms for a chemist. The principles don't change.

I'm not sure what aspect of biochem he is thinking about; however, it is so difficult for biotech companies to find good technical help, that they often accept people that have little direct experience in the area they want them to work in. If he has a strong chemistry background, and I assume he does, he should attempt to get out there and see what's available now without new schooling. Some companies might be willing to pay him to go to school while he works. He shouldn't pretend to know anything he doesn't, but he should make sure they know that he knows the principles.

The biggest need in biotech and pharmaceuticals today is medicinal chemistry. This is synthetic organic chemistry to make drugs. Again, there is such a great need, that it is possible that a strong chemist could get a position and learn while on the job.

He should get his resume together, make clear that he is willing to learn something new, hit the Internet and see what shows up. I think he'll be surprised. Anonymous