While biology and biochemistry majors generally start with many of the same basic core classes, and have some of the same career opportunities, there are key differences that make it necessary for someone selecting either major to consider. Biology is a more generalized field that encompasses a wide variety of topics. In fact, according to Kerry F. Chessman et al, in their study report published in BioScience in 2007, it would be impossible for any four-year undergraduate degree to include all the knowledge within the field of biology. Therefore even biology majors must specialize when selecting upper-level courses. Biochemistry is such a specialization, but because of its relationship to chemistry, it is also considered an interdisciplinary specialization.
Similarities in Course of Study
Because no outside accrediting agency oversees the curriculum in biology, there is no standard curriculum. There is, however, a great deal of commonality between institutions with regard to what biological science topics students should be taught. These core classes originally included genetics, ecology, physiology, cell biology, general chemistry, organic chemistry, and physics. More recently, departments have added microbiology, biochemistry, calculus and statistics. These topics are covered by both biology and biochemistry majors.
Differences Between Courses of Study
Biochemistry focuses on the cellular components of living organisms, including biomolecules like proteins, carbohydrates, lipids and nucleic acids. Biochemistry majors can expect to learn chemistry, biology, life science, bioscience and physiology. Some institutions have specific biochemistry departments or departments that fuse biochemistry with either biophysics or molecular and cellular biology. Because of its interdisciplinary nature and relationship to chemistry, there are more specific standards, particularly for students who are educated through chemistry departments overseen by the American Chemical Society. In addition to the core biology courses, students would take both analytical and physical chemistry classes, additional mathematics, and bioethics classes. Biology majors would take courses such as immunology, microbiology, genomics or molecular biology.
Mutual Career Options
Both biochemistry and biology majors have a great many options available to them in research, education, health and human services and industry. Many work for universities and split research and teaching responsibilities. Some are teachers at the secondary level. Others work in museums, zoos or aquariums. Some work for biotechnology companies, pharmaceutical companies or hospitals. Some become doctors, dentists or other health professionals.
Biochemists most often work as researchers in laboratories operated by local, state and federal governments. Because they have more options open in their specializations, biology majors sometimes find work as educational television producers, science writers, morticians, coroners, game wardens, foresters, conservationists, health department workers, agriculture professionals, bio reclamation and remediation, as chemical company sales reps, quality control reps or even as brewery laboratory technicians.
Biology and biochemistry majors often use their majors as a way to study premed. The advantage of doing so is that these majors offer the prerequisite coursework required for entry into medical school as part of their major studies. According to the Association for American Medical Colleges, more students from the biological sciences are accepted into medical school than all of the other listed majors combined. That isn't to say biological science is a guarantee. When you compare the statistics of those accepted vs. those who apply, you would be better off with an undergraduate major in physical science, mathematics or humanities.
- BioScience: Is There any Common Curriculum for Undergraduate Biology Majors in the 21st Century?; Kerry F. Chessman et al.
- Fairleigh Dickinson University: Biochemistry-What Can I Do With This Major?
- Biochemical Education: The Integrative Nature of Biochemistry-Challenges of Biochemical Education in the U.S.A.
- Fairleigh Dickinson University: What Can I Do With a Major in Biology?
- Fairleigh Dickinson University: Biochemistry-What Can I Do With This Major?-pdf.
- Association for American Medical Colleges: MCAT and GPAs for Applicants and Matriculants to U.S. Medical Schools by Primary Undergraduate Major, 2012
- George Doyle/Stockbyte/Getty Images