Ideal Undergrad Preparation for Biophysics Ph.D.

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I'm looking at colleges right now. I'm really interested in biophysics, so I've been planning out what I biophysics curriculum would look like at various schools. However, most schools do not have a biophysics major, so I've had a hard time planning out what classes to take in addition to the standard physics major.

What classes should an undergrad take to prepare for a biophysics Ph.D. program? I'm not sure if I would want to do theoretical or experimental work or what specific research area I would like to go into, but protein folding sounds the most interesting at the moment.

So far, it seems that the standard courses in a physics major are:

Calc I
Calc II
Calc III
Differential Equations
Linear Algebra
Introductory Mechanics
Introductory Electricity and Magnetism
Two Semesters of Quantum Mechanics
Advanced Classical Mechanics
Advanced Electricity and Magnetism
Statistical Mechanics

Are any of these classes not important to biophysics? Which grad classes would be good to take as an undergrad?

Most biophysics majors include two semesters of organic chemistry and one of biochemistry. Is it important that I take these classes?

Is physical chemistry important? Wouldn't it cover the same material as quantum and statistical physics?

How many biology courses do I need? Would I be fine with just an introductory course. As additional courses, should I take Genetics or Cell Biology or both?

How much additional math/stats is helpful? It seems that I should definitely take a calc-based statistics course, but should I take Probability? Real Analysis? Complex Analysis? Partial Differential Equations? Would Abstract Algebra have no applications? I really like math, so I'd enjoy taking these classes regardless of whether or not they are necessary; however, I would prefer to prefer classes that are more likely to be useful.

How applicable is computer science? Should I take more than two semesters?

Does it matter whether or not a school has a dedicated biophysics major? I know that research is essential, but how important is it that my undergrad has a grad program in biophysics? (I know that you generally go to different schools for undergrad and grad).
 

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  • #2
Vanadium 50
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You should start with schools that offer a PhD in waht you are interested in, and see what they say they are looking for in applicants' undergraduate coursework.
 
  • #3
Choppy
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In my experience, the admission requirement for most biophysics graduate streams is an undergraduate degree in physics. Try not to specialize too much, too early. In most cases, having taken a biophysics-specific degree will not convey any advantage over someone who took a regular physics degree in terms of graduate school admission. But it may close some doors - particularly if towards the end you discover that you have interests that lie elsewhere.

As you pursue a physics degree, you'll have options to add in courses from other faculties. There are a lot of courses that will be helpful to you - probably more than you actually have room to take. Yes it's good to know more biology. Yes it's good to know more chemistry. Yes, it's good to know computer science and how to program. Yes, the more math you know the better. I find the best way to make these kinds of choices is to go with what you enjoy, and balance that with a backup plan for a career if biophysics doesn't work out.
 
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Andy Resnick
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What classes should an undergrad take to prepare for a biophysics Ph.D. program? I'm not sure if I would want to do theoretical or experimental work or what specific research area I would like to go into, but protein folding sounds the most interesting at the moment.

Biophysics is a broad field, but I recommend having a strong background in statistical mechanics and condensed matter (a solid state elective may be ok, but a 'soft matter' elective would be better), and don't neglect organic chemistry, biochemistry and cell biology. Well-chosen elective courses could help you stand out over other applicants.
 
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but protein folding sounds the most interesting at the moment.

Most biophysics majors include two semesters of organic chemistry and one of biochemistry. Is it important that I take these classes?

Is physical chemistry important? Wouldn't it cover the same material as quantum and statistical physics?

How many biology courses do I need? Would I be fine with just an introductory course. As additional courses, should I take Genetics or Cell Biology or both?

How much additional math/stats is helpful? It seems that I should definitely take a calc-based statistics course, but should I take Probability? Real Analysis? Complex Analysis? Partial Differential Equations? Would Abstract Algebra have no applications? I really like math, so I'd enjoy taking these classes regardless of whether or not they are necessary; however, I would prefer to prefer classes that are more likely to be useful.

How applicable is computer science? Should I take more than two semesters?

I volunteered in a biophysics lab and the vast majority of their work was based on statistical analysis. So I recommend a lot of statistics and data science kind of stuff. The biophysics professor I volunteered under often joked about how little biology he really knows.
I think biochemistry and physical chemistry are pretty essential for protein folding but yea that's about all the knowledge I can provide yup.
 
  • #6
Vanadium 50
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Traviata, it's a good idea to look at the posting history of people giving you advice, so you can see their attainment and background.
 
  • #7
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Yea I'm just a bachelor's degree. I'm not going to know as much as a PhD or a college professor so just to be clear.
 
  • #8
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Depends on the lab. It is going to be a combination of having some core physics very relevant to biology and having a background that complements the other skills in the lab, and your specific project.

Some biophysics labs will only have physicists. Others will have people with many different backgrounds. In such a case, being a biologist, a chemist or a bioinformatician/data scientist can also be the right background.
 

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