Biochemistry BSc is taught in most UK universities nowadays and focuses on giving students knowledge about biological macromolecules, and how they can undergo chemical and biophysical changes, enabling the body to function properly.
This includes learning the basics of core organic and physical chemistry, physiology, and metabolic pathways that occur inside cells.
A typical Biochemistry student can expect to spend 3 years at university, learning specific content about the human body with a specific focus on biochemical molecules and their reactive pathways.
Optional modules include neurobiology, immunology and ecology.
This makes biochemistry a challenging course for even the smartest chemistry students because of this interdisciplinary combination with biology.
What to expect from a biochemistry degree?
In the first year of the degree, you will most likely be spending both semesters on all aspects of modern biology, and getting everyone up to speed on basic chemistry principles.
The majority of your lecture units will be assessed by multiple-choice exams at the end of each semester, and your coursework will mostly consist of written reports and essays.
Usually, the first year only contributes a small percentage (0-10%) towards your final degree classification.
In the second year, expect the content and exams to be slightly more rigorous and challenging.
You will develop on your knowledge of biology and chemistry when you learn about topics such as biomolecular science, microbiology, DNA technology, and various aspects of bioinformatics in relation to biomolecules like proteins.
Assessments and exams will mostly be essay based as opposed to multiple choice-based, and will usually contribute around 30% towards your final degree classification.
In the third year, you may have elective modules which you get to choose. In theory, you have done the majority of learning in the first and second years, and now all you have to do is keep up the momentum and finish strong.
Lecture units will usually be assessed via essays, and students must write a dissertation as part of their final year project.
All in all the final year contributes the most towards your final degree classification, usually around 60%.
Misconceptions about studying biochemistry
There are numerous misconceptions that lead students to study biochemistry for the wrong reason. They will all be debunked once and for all in this article.
1.You can start doing research immediately you finish the degree
With a degree like biochemistry, the attraction may be that aspiring researchers would like to use it as a stepping stone into the world of conducting experiments and writing papers.
This is a very reasonable utilisation of the degree, as the course content and lab experience gives students a reasonable enough amount of experience to go on to work in labs.
The only issue is many other graduates will have the same certificate as you after the 3 years of study.
You will need to stand out, and to do this you must already have an impressive track record in academia as reflected on your transcripts.
You must also undertake extra activities such as volunteering in labs and finding a way to associate yourself with a scientific environment.
This might sound difficult but if you do decide to study biochemistry, you will be amongst a sea of academics who conduct lots of research for companies while they lecture.
These academics often need students to help around in labs if they ever want to stay on top of all their lecturing duties.
In only the second year of my degree, my personal tutor asked me if he could write a grant for funding so I could come and work in his lab over the summer doing research.
A brilliant experience which will boost any CV or research job position, and you get the added benefit of getting paid!
2.You can easily use it to study other courses afterwards
Biochemistry is a very solid degree. You learn a broad range of subjects and in the end, you will have a deeper understanding of the inner working of the human body.
In theory, it is a more powerful degree than biomedical sciences as you learn more core principles of biology and chemistry!
However, you must ask yourself what the purpose of studying the degree was.
If you want to use it to get onto an MSc program or a PhD, this will be an amazing choice of a degree as it works well with many postgraduate qualifications.
You will fortify your knowledge and give credibility to your understanding of science, whether you choose the vocational route, i.e studying an allied healthcare profession, or you choose the academic route where you study MSc programs like molecular genetics and bioinformatics.
These are all good options. The only bad option would be using this degree to try and do another undergraduate degree such as medicine. This goes for both the graduate and undergraduate pathways for medicine.
You are better off applying the following year with better A-level grades if this is the reason you want to study biochemistry.
Not only is it difficult to study 3 years at university just to study for another 4/5 year undergraduate degree, but also what happens if you lose motivation along the way?
You might end up being stuck with a biochemistry degree, or even worse, dropping out before you finish.
Think carefully about your degree motivations and if you really want to use this degree as a stepping stone into another degree, because in the grand scheme of things 7/8 years at uni isn’t much, but committing to such a time frame must be done with utmost assuredness.
3.The content isn’t too challenging
The number of people who think studying a biochemistry degree is easy probably isn’t a lot, but for those who do, it’s not.
The amount of content you will be exposed to is extremely vast, and the number of pathways and biochemical reactions and molecular structures you will be expected to memorise are almost mind-numbing.
The stuff you were thankful not to have to remember in high school, you now have to remember and learn in uni!
Not to mention the biology content that you must memorise and master as well. The degree is almost comparable to merging the non-clinical aspect of a medical degree, with a pure chemistry degree.
It is truly insane how much information they expect a student to take in over just 3 years, but that is what students sign up for every time they enrol on a biochemistry degree.
4.There is plenty of biochemistry jobs
Biochemistry jobs are far and few. Simple as that. You need a bit of ingenuity to reinvent yourself and use your knowledge base to your advantage.
You may try working in the private sector however you often need connections and prior expertise to land such gigs. A very good way of getting this is through internships.
Many companies offer paid summer internships to aspiring students to come and work for them. This may even lead to a job further down the line with the company.
The only issue is these internships are quite hard to find, and also usually pretty competitive.
This is where you can leverage your contacts at the university and see which academics are currently doing any business with big brands.
For example, many of my lecturers had funding grants with cosmetic companies to test and develop new products, and often hired alumni as lab technicians.
biochemistry is an amazing degree which offers students the chance to combine their interests in chemistry with their love for biology.
It is a shame that for the work put in to get the degree, you have to put in much more work to actually land a job, or do anything of value.
This often means finding further study in master’s programs or landing a very sought-after internship at a big cosmetic or chemical company either during or after your studies.
If you are still unsure about which courses to study, consider checking out my short course where I walk you through several life sciences courses and which ones to study in the future!
Good luck to all.