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Doing research for dissertation outside of the home department?

  1. Oct 29, 2014 #1
    Looking at different graduate programs to apply to for physics focusing on biological physics. Very different research going on from school to school in the field so most of the criteria I'm basing where I apply is what kind of research is listed. My understanding of the process at your given physics program is you find an adviser and then ask around to see who's research seems the most interesting to you and then the two of you develop a solid thesis project. So far I've been looking at school's with the idea that I could only do research with professors in the home department of physics. With biological physics being wildly interdisciplinary, the thought occurred of what if I did research with a professor in say bioengineering or biology/biochemistry.

    Is this typically allowed in PhD programs or would it vary from school to school?

    I've already seen that some schools such as SUNY Stony Brook or UCLA have institutes or centers for quantitative biological research. My guess is that places with these centers would allow the interdepartmental thesis work but that's just a guess.
  2. jcsd
  3. Oct 30, 2014 #2
    You might want to check out Michigan's Applied Physics program. Your degree name would say Applied Physics and the core courses you take are going to be the standard E&M, QM, Thermodynamics, Statistical Mechanics, etc but your research is not tied to the physics department. I know people in this program doing research work in the electrical engineering department and in the medical school, this program is very interdisciplinary. http://www-applied.physics.lsa.umich.edu/ [Broken]
    Last edited by a moderator: May 7, 2017
  4. Oct 30, 2014 #3


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    Generally speaking, if you're accepted into a department, in most cases someone from that department will be your primary supervisor - at least on paper. One of the reasons for this is administrative. The department agrees to take you on as a student and then sets aside a certain amount of money and other resources (such as office space, computing resources etc.) to support you.

    That said, it's not uncommon for students, particularly those with inter-disciplinary interests to cross over into other departments or even reside completely in other departments once they are accepted into a program. You could end up with a co-supervisor in another department, for example. Or you could have supervisory committee members from other departments. A lot can depent on how you set your project up. Most departments should be open to the idea of inter-disciplinary work, although it might be beneficial as an incoming student, to look for departments that already have successful cross-disciplinary programs.
  5. Oct 31, 2014 #4

    Andy Resnick

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    The rules vary from institution to institution. Here, because I have secondary academic appointments in Biology and Biomedical Engineering, I can serve as primary dissertation advisor for students from those departments. Those students graduate with a PhD in (say) Biology, even though their research was through the Physics Department.
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