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Can a biochemist become a physicist?

  1. Aug 13, 2014 #1
    I am currently 22 years old, I graduated in Biochemistry and am now finishing my Master's in Bioengineering and Nanosystems, both with high grades. I've been thinking of leaving life sciences since I've rediscovered my passion for Physics (and Philosophy). Having some background on classical mechanics, physical-chemistry and electronics, how can I start a career in Physics?

    I'm thinking about applying abroad for a 1/2 year Master's in Physics (in UK), for which I need some background in electricity and magnetism, classical mechanics and introduction to QM; after the Master's, I would be apt to apply for a phD.

    -Is there any other way to shorten this path? I've read in this thread that to apply for phD in USA I only needed to be successful in GRE tests, but I don't feel like I should ingress before I am sure that I will complete it successfully without wasting years acquiring background.

    -Given economic limitations I was thinking of preparing the background needed for the MSc independently. Are there ways to refer this study such that it'd be recognized by an educational institution (e.g. online courses)?
  2. jcsd
  3. Aug 13, 2014 #2


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    Staff: Mentor

    Have you looked into the Open University, since you're apparently in the UK?
  4. Aug 13, 2014 #3
    Actually I'm from Portugal, but the Master's that I wanted to apply is in the UK.
  5. Aug 14, 2014 #4
    Many biophysicists were originally biochemists. If you are interested in that subdiscipline of physics/biochemistry, it would by far be your easiest route, since there are biochemistry PhD programs in biophysics; biophysics is never really clear on what department it should fall under which is why sometimes this is possible.

    Although you would still be in the life sciences, the perspective of biophysics is that a system such as a membrane protein is a physical system; the biological results arise from the underlying laws of physics. At least my group very much has the culture of physicists; it doesn't really feel like working in a biology/biochemistry lab.
  6. Aug 14, 2014 #5
    Actually, I'm already enrolled in a Membrane Biophysics project. However, what if I chose to go further into physics, not necessarily having to do with biology?
  7. Aug 14, 2014 #6
    Hm, that's not entirely out of the question, for instance Molecular Dynamics is becoming increasingly widespread in physical chemistry and condensed matter (for instance surface science). There are groups of physical chemists/physicists who work on the nuts and bolts underlying software such as MD.

    The field of non-equilibrium statistical mechanics is in active development and contains some very high-octane theory if that's what you want, and it's "conceivably" reachable from work in MD. But I'm starting to speculate here so don't take my word for it.

    Getting from biophysics to quantum gravity would be pretty challenging. I guess if you want to do path integral molecular dynamics of neutron gases and crank up the state variables and see how it breaks down as you approach a black hole :rofl:
  8. Aug 14, 2014 #7
    Thank you very much!

    Actually yes, I wished to be able to work on pure physics, like you said, QM or Relativity, without having necessarily to do with biophysics. If I was able to study independently to enter a Master's in Physics, I would then be surely able to do a phD in physics, or do you think it too hard?
  9. Aug 14, 2014 #8
    I mean, it's hard even if you're a physics major to get a career in relativity. If you want to work with QM there are a wide range of applications such as physical chemistry. But working on fundamental QFT with regards to gravity (there's other work to do too) is not an easy gig to get from my understanding. I mean, I guess I could say that it is in principle possible for you to succeed going your route but what you really want to know is whether or not it is probable. Given that it is apparently improbable even for physics majors your odds are as bad as theirs or worse.

    But it's not about becoming a professor I've been told, getting 5-7 years in a PhD program to tiddle with QG might be worth it to you.
  10. Aug 14, 2014 #9
    Thank you for your help! Really appreciated it.

    I feel unsatisfied with the kind of work that is done in biology/biochemistry; it is just not for me. It depends too much on luck and laboratory, and less on thinking. What I really like to do is work on theoretical problems, and I've always loved physics - actually, when applying to university, I sought a bachelor degree with both biology and physics, but since I couldn't enter Biomedical Engineering, I ingressed in biochemistry. But right now, what I am sure that I want to do is study physics, and I don't want to exclude the possibility that it has nothing to biology (even though it would be nice to do some works on biophysics). But I know that an academical career in physics is pretty hard...

    Again, thank you for your suggestions and sincerity.
  11. Aug 14, 2014 #10
    Try computational biophysics if you would like to approach things more theoretically in biology. Note that physical chemistry allows you to approach more practical problems from a theoretical point of view; even QM gets involved.
  12. Aug 14, 2014 #11
    Do you have any idea about jobs in physical chemistry? I've already thought about that and it's perhaps, along with biophysics, the shorter path from biochemistry to physics.
  13. Aug 14, 2014 #12
    Well I've been told that academic jobs anywhere are challenging. I would hazardously guess that there is more grant money to be had in chemistry and therefore a higher likelihood of obtaining a professorship, but whether these increased odds are significant or real is subject to question.
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