North Central College biochemistry students at work in the lab.

A Breakdown on Molecular Biology vs Biochemistry

Reviewed by Jacob Imm

May 11, 2022

Molecular Biology vs. Biochemistry

If you’re unfamiliar with the differences between molecular biology and biochemistry, mixing them up is understandable. Both biological sciences conjure up images of microscopes, test tubes and lab coat-clad scientists.

But while molecular biology and biochemistry may appear similar from an outside perspective, the two fields are noticeably different (even if they overlap from time to time).

To clarify the divide between these two branches of science, we’ll be comparing them head to head. Join us as we contrast molecular biology vs biochemistry by examining the typical responsibilities, schooling requirements and post-college prospects of each one.

Dissecting Molecular Biology

As you might have guessed, molecular biology is a subset of biology. As such, the field involves unlocking the secrets of a living organism through cell biology and molecular genetics.

For a molecular biologist, those advanced molecular biology secrets can be found at the molecular scale, predominantly in two places­—proteins and genes.

By studying cellular biology and the way they interact with other substances, molecular biologists work to understand the modification and synthesis of molecules. These processes are integral to life and health science as we know it.

Dissecting Biochemistry

While molecular biology focuses on a narrower slice of biology and genetics, biochemistry combines knowledge from biology and chemistry. If you’re wondering, “What does a biochemist do?”, we’ve got you covered!

More specifically, biochemists are interested in the cellular macromolecules (made of chemical compounds) that organisms use in biological processes and chemical processes in order to survive. The four major categories of these biomolecules are:

  • Carbohydrates
  • Lipids
  • Nucleic acids
  • Proteins

People who study biochemistry dedicate their lives to understanding the makeup of these molecules and their role in sustaining life.

Because molecular biologists and biochemists rely on similar techniques and ask related questions, it’s no wonder that many people see them as the same thing. But they’re more than two sides of the same coin.

How are Molecular Biology and Biochemistry Different?

Aside from their primary areas of focus, the two fields differ in several other ways. In college and beyond, biochemistry and molecular biology part ways in a few key places.

Daily Responsibilities

In general, the day-to-day work of a molecular biologist will be quite similar to that of a biochemist. Both are likely to:

  • Design experiments
  • Conduct research in a laboratory 
  • Read and write academic papers

Their responsibilities mostly diverge when it comes to why they’re looking through the microscope.

As students and working professionals, molecular biologists work with DNA, RNA and various proteins to understand how cells act and react. They’re also interested in what happens when cells mutate.

On the other hand, biochemists research the chemistry of biological molecules more broadly. For example, depending on their industry, a biochemist may look at the effects of drugs or genetic engineering on life forms.

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Studying molecular biology or biochemistry in undergrad generally leads to a bachelor’s of science (B.S.), though the bachelor’s of arts (B.A.) is becoming increasingly common. If you’re wondering, “What is a biochemistry major?,” our blog can help you understand the answer to that question a little better. However, while the end product of your schooling will be comparable, the journey toward your degree (and beyond) is not the same.

Required Courses

Dedicated molecular biology programs are rare, so most molecular biology hopefuls will take courses in biology, chemistry and math. You’ll often see curricula with classes like:

  • Investigating Biology
  • Cells and Systems
  • Genes and Genomics
  • Molecular Biology of Cancer

Those looking for a future in biochemistry can gravitate toward specialized biochemistry programs. In a multi-disciplinary biochem program, you’ll explore biology and chemistry courses like:

  • General Chemistry
  • Organic Chemistry
  • Chemical Analysis
  • Principles of Biochemistry
  • Advances in Biomedical Research
  • Evolution
  • Animal Physiology

Educational Opportunities After Earning Your Bachelor’s

Students of both fields can—and often should—pursue advanced degrees. As per the Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM), master’s degrees are usually preferred for molecular biologists.

Biochemists looking to expand their horizons can also pursue a two-year master’s program. However, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), you’ll likely need a Ph.D. to work independently.

Further education can help you learn more, earn more and find a job that truly ignites your passion.

Careers and Salary Projections

The median salary for biologists of every stripe (including molecular biologists) is $65,000 per year according to the BLS. With that said, molecular biologists can often earn higher wages by working in high-profile industries, especially in the medical field.

For biochemists, the median wage is $94,270 per year according to the BLS. Scientists in the top 10% of earners (such as those with more experience) make more than $169,860 annually.

Recent graduates with degrees in either discipline may also find work in other biology-focused scientific roles, such as:

  • Biological technician
  • Medical scientist 
  • Microbiologist

Molecular Biology vs. Biochemistry: Which One is Right for You?

To summarize, molecular biology and biochemistry have a lot in common. Both involve a close-up look at the building blocks of life.

However, they are different, and if you hope to make a career out of either one, it’s worth choosing the field that appeals to you the most. If you’re more interested in life at the molecular scale, molecular biology may be for you. If you’re intrigued by the chemical reactions that create and influence life, consider looking into a biochemistry program.

Whichever branch you choose, it’s vital to study sciences at a school like North Central College, which offers high-tech, state-of-the-art facilities. The more time you have to work hands-on with advanced equipment, the better your understanding of these fields will be. Wondering how to become a biochemist? Contact us today to find out more.

Jacob Imm is the assistant director of communications in the North Central College Office of Marketing and Communications. He has 12 years of collegiate communications experience and has worked with hundreds of college students. He has a bachelor’s degree from the University of Notre Dame and a master’s degree from Northern Illinois University. 



Society for Human Resource Management. (n.d.). Molecular and Cellular Biologist. Retrieved February 18, 2022, from

U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. (2022, January 27). Biochemists and Biophysicists: Occupational Outlook Handbook. U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. Retrieved February 17, 2022, from

U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. (2021, December 3). Occupational Outlook Handbook. Field of Degree: Biology. U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. Retrieved February 17, 2022, from 

U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. (2022, January 27). Biochemists and Biophysicists: Occupational Outlook Handbook. U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. Retrieved February 17, 2022, from