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B.S. in physics. Interested in biochemistry/genetics research

  1. Oct 17, 2012 #1
    I'm a first time poster, long-time lurker on these forums, and I'm seeking advice on how best to prepare myself to be a strong candidate for graduate studies in biochemistry. Here goes, another person putting their life story in a thread hoping for answers. Bear with me if you're interested in giving constructive advice...

    My situation is that I have a B.S. in physics (3.4 gpa in major) from a liberal arts school which is well known regionally, but not so much nationally. I graduated in 2008- I'm 26- and did undergrad research but have no publications to show for it. I worked hard in physics and my undergrad professors liked me a lot, but that's not where my academic story ends...

    I started a PhD program in EE in 2009 at a small technical school and really disliked it, and entered for the wrong reasons (didn't know what to do with myself, path of least resistance, etc). I was thoroughly dissatisfied with the program and with myself for choosing it. My grades sucked (2.5 or so) in my grad courses.
    I quit that program after 3 semesters feeling that I had done more harm than good, having not built any good relationships with professors or my fellow students. I felt like a train that went down the wrong switching tracks on to some siding, if that makes sense, and I realized this at the end of my first year, but felt trapped (still wasn't taking ownership of my decisions).

    I made mistakes, but I'm trying to move forward.

    I know what tracks I want to be on, but not how to get to them. I am very interested in cell metabolism, how it relates to genetics and is regulated by that. Epigenetics, the idea that genes are a two-way street, fascinates me. I am fascinated by how different metabolic pathways in cells can be activated by diet, exercise, etc. I have a molec bio text I've been reading to help me better understand research papers. In short, there is a whole nexus of deep interests I have in the life sciences realm.

    I would be very grateful to anyone who could help answer/elucidate some of the following questions I have:

    How can I gain experience. which would help me build an application for research programs in biochemistry. I feel caught in the catch-22 of needing a publication to gain admittance, but needing to be in school to get something published. Surely there's a resolution to this?

    Various people suggest to me that I finish my EE degree. That's 1 more year of school- unfunded because I went AWOL, in a discipline that I have no interest in. I think I'd rather spend my days shovelling cow ****, which is actually what I've been doing recently, since I work on a farm. So if going back whence I came is the only way to go in the direction I wish to go, I think I am prepared to write off the whole endeavour. I do not, at this point however, believe that. Is it so?

    I know publications are important to graduate programs, and in my case, I think it's especially important that I do work in the next year that gives me some credibility when I apply in about a year's time. Also, even though my undergrad profs liked me and I keep in touch with them, I really think I would be much better off having someone whom I have worked under more recently writing one of my recs, and hopefully in an area more in line with my actual interests. One thing is, even as an undergrad I felt very uninterested in most physics research, and bio is something I opened my eyes to only gradually in the last two years or so. In my own mind I have a continuous narrative of how my interest developed, but I know that on paper my transition looks more like a step function than a logistic curve.

    I emphasize that I would like to develop more of a chemist's or biologist's point of view on molecular processes in the body. I am well aware of biophysics research and know that that's the "natural place" for a physics person interested in life science research, but I don't want to be excluded from the conversations going on in genetics because I'm over in biophyiscs studying fluid dynamics of blood vessels, or something like that. I want to get myself more in that biochem-genetics realm of research. Questions that drive are ones like, "what are the 'conversations' an organism has with its environment that shape its phenotype?" and "how do habits, behaviors and enivronmental factors affect an organisms expression of its genome, and possibly its gametes as well?"

    So like, when I heard that the grandchildren of famine survivors have much higher incidences of type II diabetes than control groups. There is clearly some kind of gene flipping going on there related to environmental stresses, and it's getting passed on to progeny. I thought that was super fascinating ****, and I want to expand knowledge in that area. Ya dig?

    I'm not someone who is super-obsessed with getting into a top 20 or top 10 school. Hey, maybe that'd be great, but really I just want a chance to devote my full energies to these topics. After I'm done, I'll teach community college for all I care. I just want advice on how best to spend the next year to get in to some schools with funding.

    Thanks in advance to all who read through this rant, and especially to those who can offer some guidance.
    Last edited: Oct 17, 2012
  2. jcsd
  3. Oct 17, 2012 #2
    you know, from the chemist's viewpoint, it is still not possible to predict protein folding dynamics. Another interesting example is that modeling 2 proteins interacting with each other is a total nightmare, since you have very different size scales: the quantum scale of the reaction sites, and the hydrodynamic scale of the big protein and its solvation shell diffusing through the solvent, yet one influences the other in say, crystallization and precipitation processes.

    your area of research is very interesting from a biological point of view, but i do not think that chemical or physical experiments will do much to enlighten them since there's just way too much stuff to keep track of and chemistry/physics is more on the single molecule/few molecules track.

    think about systems biology or computational genetics. your area of research needs biological wet experiments, no doubt, but the real question is in putting the data together and seeing correlations. That needs math.
  4. Oct 17, 2012 #3
    Systems biology, eh? I've been looking into that area on various department websites, and that's pretty much the direction I would like to go in, but god will I ever have to step up my programming skills and knowledge of advanced math. I have a strong basis in probability and statistics, but a long way to go still. Thanks for the insight.

    You wouldn't happen to know anything about how to better position myself for such programs while working full time?

    I suppose I could apply for fall 2013, but it's getting late in the current cycle, considering I haven't contacted any professors. Maybe I should go to my old graduate program with my tail between my legs and see if I can do some work that is somewhat related to computational biology. Kids are coming out of undergrad with publications now, and I feel I'm at a disadvantage.

    This is the part of the problem though; my institution has an undergrad chem E dept, but no real systems biology research, or any life science research, for that matter. I guess it couldn't hurt to apply this year, and do another round next year when I'm better prepared in the likely event that becomes necessary.
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