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Graduate specialization; synergy in life science

  1. Dec 28, 2014 #1
    I am a undergraduate in an interdisciplinary life science/biochem/mol.bio/physical.chem degree thinking about which optionals to take. For this I have to consider what specialization I want to pick in my major. The two I am leaning towards are biophysics and biochem. There is also medical research that is still in the back of my mind.

    There are really many ways to go and many things that interest me. But I do not have a good feel for what areas have synergy and what areas just spread me too thin.

    -I want to do research in life science or something very close to life science. Pure chemistry to too far out.
    -I want to do a PhD(80-90% of the people doing this degree go into a PhD) but I don't want to be strung around in postdoc positions and I don't see myself being a tenure researcher/professor. I feel the PhD -> private industry research/lab work is right for me.
    -I like to do calculations/work with math. I would have gone into physics over going into pure chemistry.

    I kind of want to take all the math classes I can, take a minor in some physics field, then go into the biophysics field with photonics/x-ray crystal/NMR and all these imaging methods used in mol.bio research. But it seems that public sector jobs in this area don't exist at all. At least not in my area. Same is true for research methods in molecular biology. I rarely see them asked for in job descriptions.

    Protein design/folding/enzymology interests me a lot as well. But the fact that armies of bioinformatic and CS people using supercomputers can't crack this problem kind of intimidates me a bit.
    Much more opportunities in the private sector in all kinds of protein methods, it seems. Seems much safer with many QC protein analysis jobs as well as proper MSc/PhD lvl research jobs.

    Then there is also synthetic biology/systems biology path as well as other optionals I can take from the biotech degree. Many life science companies are biotech companies. There are a lot of courses that allow you to work in projects in the lab and actually design and engineer stuff. Stuff that an be put on the market and that can be profitable; an important consideration for private sector world, I feel.
    Similarly, bionanotechnology is also an option for me and allows you to actually engineer stuff in a lab while it requires more of the skills I have but biotech graduates don't..

    I have no affinity with chemical engineering or process technology, which is the other core of the biotech graduate degree. I am glad I get to take all the spectroscopy/physical chemistry/QM courses instead.

    I kind of wonder how I can compete vs pure chemistry, pure biomedical research, physics->biophysics and pure biotech graduates with my very interdisciplinary degree. I feel I only have an advantage in biochem as my degree is like the closest thing to a pure biochem degree.

    While I like the math I don't feel like I belong in soft matter, colloid science, physical chemistry or thermodynamics.

    My main question is which of these things actually have the most synergy? I could be doing PDEs, advanced linear algebra, applied analysis or advanced E&M, physics major-lvl QM, and never use it again in my labwork/research. Same for my PhD research. It may have no relevance to whatever I end up doing in the private sector.
    I also could spread myself too thin on too many subjects. But even if it would be the right strategy, I don't have the guts to go all-in on one subject.

    Any insights or experiences shared would be helpful, thanks.
  2. jcsd
  3. Dec 28, 2014 #2


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    Time to look at internships, aka slave labor. The point will come when "you have to bet your money and take your chances," but most schools have some arrangements with industry, and in house for short-term "tastes" of particular research/development areas. It will probably take a fair amount of shoe leather and knocking on doors to find such things this day and age, but the opportunities to "try on" various specialties does still exist.
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