Biochemistry delves into the chemical processes of living organisms. In other words, biochemists apply their knowledge of chemicals and perform different chemical techniques and experiments to decipher biological problems.
People who thrive on finding solutions to problems and are science-minded are a good fit for this profession. One of those people is Bruce Alberts, who grew up reading Sinclair Lewis' "Arrowsmith," a novel about a rags-to-riches American doctor who makes a great scientific discovery. "Everybody in my generation who became a scientist read 'Arrowsmith,'" Alberts laughs. "It provided an idealistic view of what our future could be like as a scientist." However, similar to the protagonist in the novel, Alberts first set out to be a doctor.
Alberts got into Harvard University and started down the premed track. He enjoyed his courses, especially physical chemistry, but he loathed the formulaic laboratory portions that accompanied them. He likened these labs more to cooking classes than to science. But one of those boring labs would forever change the course of his career.
The labs were "not even vaguely interesting," Alberts says, so during his junior year he petitioned the school to get out of all of the course labs. The school administrators rejected his petition, but they said Alberts could switch into a research lab instead. And there, among the doctoral students and post-docs who were performing experiments and completing exciting research, he found his true calling. The summer between his junior and senior year at Harvard, he worked 100-hour weeks in the research lab. And instead of applying to medical schools, he applied to Ph.D. programs.
Today, Alberts' resume could cover just about as many pages as the novel he read as a kid. Alberts' research has centered on "the functions of a set of proteins that form the protein machine that carries out chromosomal replication." He has also taught at Princeton and the University of California-San Francisco. He's co-written several iterations of well-regarded textbooks, including "Molecular Biology of the Cell" and "Essential Cell Biology." He has served as the editor-in-chief of "Science" magazine and as the president of the National Academy of Sciences. He also served as a United States Science Envoy. In 2014, President Obama awarded him the National Medal of Science.
But after all these years of important positions and accolades, his favorite part of his career is finding solutions to problems.
"Like all scientists, I get pleasure out of solving problems," Alberts says. But these days, he's concentrating on getting kids to understand and develop an interest in science. "The chemistry of life is incredibly complex. A living cell is the most amazing thing in the universe," he says. And he hopes that by creating a new curriculum, built on inquiry-based learning, which is basically getting children to ask questions of the world and answer them on their own, kids too will see the wonder and magic of science.
The Bureau of Labor Statistics projects 6.3 percent employment growth for biochemists between 2018 and 2028. In that period, an estimated 1,900 jobs should open up.
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