Education and Training Requirements
In high school, take at least one year each of biology, chemistry, physics, algebra, geometry, and trigonometry. Introductory calculus is also a good idea. English and speech classes will help you to convey your results both verbally and in writing. Many colleges also require several years of a foreign language. Language skills are useful because scientists frequently exchange information with researchers from other countries.
Only a few colleges offer degree programs in biophysics. The Biophysical Society offers a list of undergraduate and graduate programs in biophysics at its Web site, https://www.biophysics.org/biophysics-degree-programs. Most students prepare for the field by earning a degree in physics, chemistry, or mathematics with supplementary courses in biology. Students who plan to pursue an advanced education typically earn degrees in the physical sciences or mathematics. According to the Biophysics Society, an ideal educational program would include classes in biology (introductory biology, cell biology, molecular biology, and genetics), physics (mechanics, electricity and magnetism, optics, and atomic and molecular physics), chemistry (general chemistry, organic chemistry, and physical chemistry), and mathematics (calculus, differential equations, linear algebra, numerical analysis and statistics, and computer programming). Students should also take courses in the humanities and social sciences to ensure that they achieve a well-rounded education.
You will need a master’s degree and preferably a doctorate or Ph.D. degree, to teach at the college level or direct scientific research at a university, a government laboratory, or a commercial company. Most Ph.D.’s go for more research experience (postdoctoral research) before they enter the workplace. As a “postdoc,” you would not take course work, earn a degree, or teach; you would likely work full time on a high-level research project in the laboratory of an established scientist. Typically, this postdoctoral period lasts two to three years, during which time you would get a salary or be supported by a fellowship. Though not essential for many industry research jobs, postdoctoral research is generally expected of those wishing to become professors. Also, because biophysics and medicine are interrelated, some Ph.D. recipients also earn their medical degrees, or M.D.’s, as a physician does. This is to get the broadest possible base for a career in medical research.
Other Education or Training
The Biophysical Society provides symposia, workshops, lectures, and other professional development opportunities at its annual meeting. Other organizations that offer continuing education opportunities include the American Association for Clinical Chemistry, American Chemical Society, American Institute of Biological Sciences, American Society for Biochemistry and Molecular Biology, and the Biotechnology Industry Organization. Contact these organizations for more information.
Certification, Licensing, and Special Requirements
Certification or Licensing
There are no certification or licensing requirements for Biophysicists.
Experience, Skills, and Personality Traits
Any experience one can obtain in the field of biophysics—such as an internship, volunteering, or a part-time job—will be useful.
Individuals interested in biophysics must have the patience to work for long periods of time on a project without necessarily getting the desired results. They must be able to work well and cooperate with others. Successful biophysicists are continually learning and increasing their skills. In addition, they have strong critical thinking skills and are adept at complex problem solving and reviewing related information to develop and weigh options and implement solutions. Other important traits include a detail-oriented personality, strong communication skills, and a strong interest in and aptitude for science.