1. Limited time only! Sign up for a free 30min personal tutor trial with Chegg Tutors
    Dismiss Notice
Dismiss Notice
Join Physics Forums Today!
The friendliest, high quality science and math community on the planet! Everyone who loves science is here!

Physics Combining Physics with Evolutionary Biology

  1. Jul 10, 2012 #1
    Hi all

    I'm a physics undergrad (rising year) and trying to find some kind of creative outlet for my studies in physics. I'm sort of fed up with the research academic world (at least in SS physics (solar cells) where I am now), I'm not sure if I'd want to go into other standard physics fields, but I do really enjoy physics, math, programming, etc.

    I'd like to know if anyone has heard of any crossroads between physics/math and ecology/evolutionary biology? I have pretty much decided that whatever I do for a job, I'd like to be outdoors a good amount, and doing a mix of field work and analysis. I've thought about geophysics, but don't really want to work for an oil company. Dream job would have something to do with biology field work and analysis using network theory/nonlinear dynamics/computational simulation.

    Seems like sort of a stretch, and I haven't found many resources, but does anyone have any suggestions as to how to get the most of both worlds:
    outdoors/nature and quantitative analysis? Or green job suggestions? (quantitative green architecture?)

  2. jcsd
  3. Jul 10, 2012 #2
  4. Jul 10, 2012 #3


    User Avatar
    Homework Helper

    Hi gweilo (鬼佬?),

    There are certainly a lot of theoretical physicists and mathematicians doing theoretical biology/ecology, but I don't know if many of them actually do field work! Perhaps the more appropriate question is whether or not there are any field biologists/ecologists who play around with models as part of the analysis of their data. There's probably a few. Keep in mind, though, these jobs aren't plentiful in academia and may not even be plentiful outside of academia.

    You'll have to look into it further, but I would guess that even your standard, run-of-the-mill ecologist has to use a lot of statistics in their line of work. They might even use some simple population models. That might not be quite as creative as you want, but odds are you won't find a non-academic position doing cutting-edge mathematical/theoretical biology/ecology outside of academia. Well, at least not many. The guy in the video on this webpage works at AT&T labs and does conservation biology, but again, that's a job that's probably harder to get than a regular academic job! (And who knows if he actually does field work?) I guess you could try emailing that guy and asking about what he does and if he knows of any similar jobs in industry.
  5. Oct 15, 2012 #4
    I know this thread is kind of old but I am in the same situation right now so I thought that I would just revive this instead of making a new thread.

    I'm considering geophysics as well, though my plan is to try to stay in academia. I don't think going into geophysics necessarily means that you HAVE to work for an oil company. Field work is a huge motivating factor for me as well, but unfortunately I don't think theoretical ecologists get to do much of that.

    I've been searching around for "complex systems" programs and they seem to fit the bill quite well. Lots of ecology and evolution research going on as well as some geodynamics and even social science stuff.

    I guess I just don't want to be limited to one topic but would like to study all different types of problems. I find dynamic systems and processes fascinating in general.
  6. Oct 15, 2012 #5
    Have you looked into evolutionary algorithms? I think it's a good path since you say you enjoy math, physics, programming, and biology. I haven't heard of some application to actually biological systems, only seen it geared towards engineering optimization but I don't know much about the subject. You could look into that.
  7. Oct 15, 2012 #6
    Has anyone actually gone down the path of theoretical ecology or the like? It seems as though information is very scarce on the topic as far as the appropriate path to take. From what I can gather, most people working in theoretical ecology are in math departments. I'd definitely like to find a program that is more interdisciplinary... It seems there would be a greater chance of doing some field work.
  8. Feb 20, 2013 #7
    Funny for me to stumble across this post: I have been in your position exactly, and I felt the same things you're describing.

    In my junior year of undergraduate physics studies, I picked up a second major in evolutionary biology and ecology. I started working in a lab working with biofuels and got some field experience through some odd biology internships. It was a great relief from the physics world, and I have to add, very, very interesting. So interesting that I am planning on going to graduate school in evolutionary biology and ecology.

    There is certainly some crossover between the fields when it comes to ecoinformatics, which is all about modeling ecosystems and populations. A crossover that I have found really cool is in the physical mechanisms that plant and animals have developed over time; looking at flight, limb shape, jaw structure, and seed dispersal and how it aids in survival. There are also a lot of light/electricity interactions that plants and animals have that are all about physics. These are the only places where I have seen a really obvious physics/bio connection.

    Regardless, I've gotta say that a physics background will be an asset to you anywhere you go. If you plan on doing a complete path switch, you're going to come to your new field with a perspective that most others don't share. This is a what good science is all about.

    My advice is to follow your bliss and allow yourself to go explore your other sides. Not everyone feels satisfied by only doing physics, math, programming- I'm one of those people. I think it's important to feed your whole self and go see what else is out there.

    Good luck!
    Last edited: Feb 20, 2013
Share this great discussion with others via Reddit, Google+, Twitter, or Facebook