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Eng. Physics or Biotech program for research in between?

  1. Jul 22, 2005 #1

    I will be 22 at the start of term and I need help in deciding if I should pursue a (3 + 2 years) masters degree in Biotechnology or Engineering Physics. Both programs sound very interesting and they are at reputable schools in Scandinavia, but I am worried about the amount of mathematics. I am afraid that the Biotich program does not offer enough courses in mathematics (and physics) to do research like this: http://www.theochem.kth.se/research/ (where most researchers are physicists, yet they belong to the Department of Biotechnology). On the other hand, I am no genius in mathematics and the amount of it in the Eng. Phys. program honestly intimidates me.

    So, I wonder how math and physics intensive are topics like molecular modeling, biophysics, bio- and nanomaterial development, various NMR and MRI methods, and other topics between the two fields? Am I correct in assuming that it will be easier to learn the required molecular biology and biochemistry on my own with a background in math and physics than vise versa?

    If I where right out of high school I think I'd pick Eng. Physics, but as it is, my dream is an academic career and I don't think I can afford to change program and loose another year anymore, where I not to succeed in the math courses. Simply put, I see the biotech option as a safe alternative and the eng. phys. program as an win-much-loose-much option.

    I will be very gratefully for any comments or new perspectives! Thank you very much in advance.

    Links to the programs:

    Bio. Tech: http://www.kth.se/eng/education/programmes/master_engineering/biotechnology_180.html

    Eng. Phys: http://www.tkk.fi/Units/EngineeringPhysics/studies.html (Only a short description, no course list easily available in English).

    Last edited by a moderator: Apr 21, 2017
  2. jcsd
  3. Jul 25, 2005 #2


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    Hi Joel !

    Interesting times you got going .... I'm drooling over my keys in particular when reading about the engineering physics programme, which nowadays being on the 'other side of the road' from my office is somewhat expectable.

    First of all I think I'd want to congratulate you no matter what specific field(s) you're going to select from these, both and their majors enabling career paths of the future and more so (as sticky as it sounds :biggrin: ), extremely interesting and challenging stuff to work with.

    But on to the "opinion" part - I'd say you've identified the fundamental differences between these programmes and what they're aiming at very well, my own perspective & experiences support the interpretations of theoretical and applied as you've laid them out with respect to the engineering physics and biotech. Here comes the hard part - the engineering physics programme at HUT is tough (it's the best this country has to offer IMHO), but it also translates as extremely rewarding, and for anyone around here aiming towards an academic career that would be the programme I'd be pointing them towards.

    Why I'm inclined towards this recommendation is that if you're looking for a career in science, where you really want to go as deep as possible and give it your all (supported by your KTH link), the physics department at HUT is one of those places that can give you the tools to do it. IMO it's much easier to learn the "applied side" of things along the way, such as specifics related to e.g. biotechnology, but a near impossibility to attain a similar math & physics background as you can attain within the engineering physics program. Having being in the working life for a couple of years we've plenty of "applied" people, but the "real" physicists are always rare and in high demand. This applies well if you're into stuff like multiscale modeling, ab initio methods, material physics, nanomaterials, etc. where IMO the trend seems to be that physicists do the real work and are responsible for the 'action', whilst specialists from other fields are to "give them scientific field related pointers". So, working e.g. with topics as given in KTH's page in my mind is difficult if you don't have a very solid math & physics background, and I've yet to see such displayed elsewhere except at Physics departments near our 'hood' (the KTH program does look like a 'biology' program, at least I'm not identifying the elements of a physics oriented program from it).

    So I'm personally very inclined to advise you to not let your possible fears guide your decision making ... physicists are "nearly" as human as everyone else, and the long term benefits of taking a slightly harder route can be way superior when not directly pursuing an 'applied side' of science. Besides, the math of first years can be tough, but if you can get in to, say, HUT in the first place, it is certainly doable and can even be aced with a pretty tolerable effort (...and it's easier to switch from physics to everywhere else if the worst were to happen, it's far harder to go the otherway around - and although 1 year may be a long time for you now, in the long run, it's just one year :biggrin: ). And within engineering physics there are some fields that are more "practical" than others when choosing your major.

    Since I'm "pretty" close especially to HUT I'm happy to give you (and perhaps even can) any further insiders info or further details++.
  4. Jul 27, 2005 #3
    Right. I don't know what to say, except thank you very, very, VERY much for your considerate answer! You touched all of the relevant things and put them in perspective.

    First, let me clarify the Eng physics option; I have not been admitted to that department (I've been admitted to computer science), but I will probably have the option of reading a kind of 'honours program' in mathematics and physics, which means that I will have the exact same curriculum the first and second year as the Eng physics students. It leaves me two entrance exams and 'in house changes' to get into the program, so I say my chances are good if I succeed in the courses. I hope you understand that I did not want to complicate my already long initial message.

    I'm also very glad to hear that you interpret my options in a similar manner than I do, and I don't feel so insecure about my facts anymore. I think I have a good grasp of what the programs have to offer and how much effort they require. I guess the Eng physics program will require slightly more to pass than the biotech program, but since I anyway want to do more than pass I suppose there won't be much of a different in the amount of work,; I just give it all I got, no less.

    So, I it boils down to, 'what do I REALLY want?' (The toughest question of them all...) As you say, both programs will definitively give challenges for a life time and both are interesting fields. I am aware of the reputation Eng physics at HUT has and I'm a bit afraid that it will cloud my judgement. I don't want to choose it ONLY because it's tough, prestitious, good, etc - otherwise med school would have been the choice. On the same time, I do see the possibilities it gives to pursue other fields as well, which is a part of its strength.

    I also really appreciate your offer to give me further pointers. Many of my friends are in social sciences and I've really been lacking a 'natural science community' before I found PF. Now, PF in all honour, but it's not very Finnish, so I've still felt a bit lost. - So, when you say 'drool', am I to take it as you have been or would like to be affiliated with the Eng phys department in some way? Otherwise I'm sure Pavlo would be amazed. :biggrin:

    Now, one thing that I've been wondering about is how approachable the professors and assistants at HUT are. I'm very talkative, I like to discuss problems (not just personal one's like this) and I will probably need a hole lot of help. One pointer for Sweden has been than I've understood they put a lot of effort on the pedagogic side of the education, so I'm a bit afraid the 'cold Finns' at HUT. Do you have any experience of that?

    Well, what else? I'm writing an essay here... One more thing, I wonder if you can confirm or deny a rumour I've heard frequently. Is it true that you must have all fives (the highest grade) in all your honours math and physics courses to have any chance of getting a treinership at VTT (a national laboratory, for those not familiar)? :biggrin:

    Now, I better climb a mountain, like Moses, or otherwise just dedicate myself to quiet meditation to make up my mind. But I'm sure it will happen one way or another. :smile:

    Ps. I also want to say big thanks to all those people who gave me advice through PM, namely Arnildo, quasi426, Gokul and Alexandra. You've all basically said, 'pick what you like and don't let your fears decide'. I just seemed to need a bit of encouragement. :shy: I'll let you know how it turns out. And thank you!
    Last edited: Jul 27, 2005
  5. Jul 27, 2005 #4


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    Upon reading your thoughts you're pretty much bound not to screw this up :biggrin: .

    Yeah, and after 2 years of math the change is a no brainer if you take the exams, and you wouldn't be the first one being able to do the switch even without taking the exams .... I believe you have the linguistics it takes already :smile: .

    .... one small detail I can further emphasize (...and which for me personally weights quite a bit when talking about eng physics people) is that the guys there and from there are really those who can "paint the landscape while seeing the smallest drops of color and understand the brush strokes" .... for example at VTT we've eng physics people all over doing pretty much whatever in all research units that've absolutely nothing to do with the eng physics program itself ... ok, if I'll still add a leaflet to this post I've probably advertised enough.

    If I'll point you the mistakes that can be made ... :rofl: ... I started my studies from materials but quickly drifted towards physics (....and the computational side of it), and if I ever get this dissertation done it'll be "the real stuff".

    .... score for the Swedes (does them good to get one on occation) ... imho we've quite a bit to learn from them, the atmosphere we've at least in some of our departments & labs is a 'tad' ... well, call it "ancient". Then again, this depends (as usual) very much on the personnel & profs of a certain lab, but we don't have it as organized as should have and it's left as a personal responsibility of the staff to be active in this respect, which means that we're bit lower in average and have higher scatter.

    It's actually true .... but the "funny" thing about in my case for example was that they assumed that "of course I've those ... otherwise I wouldn't be applying in the first place" .... which left me pretty "miffed" since for once could've actually proved that I met the darn criterion. On the other hand, haven't heard anyone getting the "boot" due to this either. :rofl:

    Meditate and have a blast no matter what the outcome, which I'm sure you will (you can then start drafting the "drawing slates")!
  6. Jul 27, 2005 #5
    I'll sleep well (but shortly) tonight. I will get back to you later, but I just thought I'd say thanks again. G'night!
  7. Jul 30, 2005 #6


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    Just out of curiosity, can you switch majors after joining school, or are you bound to the major that you apply to ?
  8. Jul 30, 2005 #7


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    Yeah, it's possible ... they'll check your entrance points etc. and may force you to retake the exams if there is a huge gap between the programs but nothing preventing in principle. If you're "doing good" and can build a good case why you want the switch can be 'just' some paperwork, perhaps a word or two with a prof, dep head and so.
  9. Aug 26, 2005 #8
    So, I took my time, but I decided to stay here, start in the Computer Science program and applay to Eng. Physics again next year. I can't say what the deciding criterion was, but this feels like the right decission and that's what counts.

    I've been picking courses for the semester and I hope to manage some extra chemistry courses in addition to the scheduled math and physics. All in all I'm excited and I can't wait to get started!

    In thanks to everyone who helped me, here is a few pictures I think are rather beurifull: https://www.physicsforums.com/showthread.php?p=724891#post724891 - Thanks and enjoy!
  10. Aug 27, 2005 #9


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    Good luck Joel, 'see ya' around the campus !
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