From physics to biology?

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Tibbz
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I am going into the final year of my Physics with Theoretical Physics degree (in the UK) and have been thinking about moving on afterwards to a PhD. The thing is I have always had an interest in biology (i have only been able to take one biology-related module in my course) so I was wondering if it is possible to move into a PhD that has more of a focus on biology, where I can use my theoretical/computational physics skills and apply them to biology/medicine? Or is this just a silly fantasy?

Thanks
 

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Ygggdrasil
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I have a PhD in biophysics, and I know many people with undergraduate physics degrees who have moved into biology for their graduate work. It is definitely possible, even with a limited background in biology (though be prepared to work really hard in your first year of graduate classwork to catch up on the biology). Many graduate programs are aimed at taking students from the physical sciences and teaching them biology, such as programs in biophysics, systems biology, or computational biology/bioinformatics. This can also apply to more specialized areas like computational neuroscience.

Modern biomedical science is desperately in need of students with strong backgrounds in quantitative data analysis. In the lab I am currently working in, everyone generates RNA and DNA sequencing data, but there are only a handful of people who really understand how to analyze our these data. People with training in physics have the right preparation to know how to tackle problems quantitatively, that many students with traditional training in biology lack.

Let me know if you have any additional questions.
 
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  • #3
Tibbz
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I have a PhD in biophysics, and I know many people with undergraduate physics degrees who have moved into biology for their graduate work. It is definitely possible, even with a limited background in biology (though be prepared to work really hard in your first year of graduate classwork to catch up on the biology). Many graduate programs are aimed at taking students from the physical sciences and teaching them biology, such as programs in biophysics, systems biology, or computational biology/bioinformatics. This can also apply to more specialized areas like computational neuroscience.

Modern biomedical science is desperately in need of students with strong backgrounds in quantitative data analysis. In the lab I am currently working in, everyone generates RNA and DNA sequencing data, but there are only a handful of people who really understand how to analyze our these data. People with training in physics have the right preparation to know how to tackle problems quantitatively, that many students with traditional training in biology lack.

Let me know if you have any additional questions.

Thank you very much for the reply! It's great to hear it's a realistic path for me to take :)

Is there anything in particular that I could do now to improve myself for applying for such PhDs? I feel like I have decent quantitative skills doing a physics degree (well, i'd like to hope I do anyway), and I have competence in MATLAB and Python which I assume will be helpful... I'm not sure what else I would have going for me!
 
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Ygggdrasil
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Probably the most important thing that graduate schools will look for in their applicants is research experience. For biophysics or related fields, this does not necessarily mean research in biology; some of my classmates in my biophysics program did their undergraduate research in plasma physics or nanotechnology. An applicant with research experience will have some idea of how to perform research (that can be applicable across fields) and will have some knowledge of what grad school will be like.

For a pure physics student who wants to move into biology, it may also be worth having something that shows your interest in transitioning to biology, whether that is through coursework or through research.

Competence in MATLAB and Python will definitely be helpful skills in graduate school.
 
  • #5
Tibbz
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Probably the most important thing that graduate schools will look for in their applicants is research experience. For biophysics or related fields, this does not necessarily mean research in biology; some of my classmates in my biophysics program did their undergraduate research in plasma physics or nanotechnology. An applicant with research experience will have some idea of how to perform research (that can be applicable across fields) and will have some knowledge of what grad school will be like.

For a pure physics student who wants to move into biology, it may also be worth having something that shows your interest in transitioning to biology, whether that is through coursework or through research.

Competence in MATLAB and Python will definitely be helpful skills in graduate school.

That's good to hear, I did some voluntary work in our school's MRI centre last summer and I have an internship in the condensed matter department this summer so hopefully those help!

Thanks again :)
 

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