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Is a BS in Biology and MS in Biotechnology acceptable for a candidate pursuing astrophysics?

  1. Apr 13, 2015 #1


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    Hi, I am a new user :oldbiggrin:

    My name is Nicole and I am interested in the astrophysics PhD program. I have a bachelor's degree in biology (final GPA 3.68) and I'm currently doing my masters degree in biotechnology in Puerto Rico. I don't have research experience so far, but I have recently been given the opportunity to conduct one with undergraduate students and we are very excited to say we wish to take the steps necessary to publish, with the help of our department.

    Having previously been interested in medicine, most of my elective classes during my bs were health related, for example cellular physiology and embryology. I also have laboratory experience as voluntary work, where I have gained useful tools, such as knowledge working with inventory and the proper use of certain equipment. I also took required math courses up until calculus I (all A's)

    I realize being a biotechnology student, that my field experience may not be beneficial for a program in astrophysics, however, I consider myself a fast learner and, if required, could study any given topic in my own time at home.

    I realize my goal may be too optimistic and that I may very well be too late because I cannot pay for another bs degree, and I have heard that this field requires attention early on. But if there is a way, this may be the best forum to find out because much of the information available is intended for students within the field (naturally) and I am completely new to this academic field.

    So, my questions are:

    Is a bs degree in biology and a ms in biotechnology acceptable for candidates pursuing astrophysics?

    Is there any useful advice or tools for students out of the field who are very much interested in pursuing this path?
  2. jcsd
  3. Apr 13, 2015 #2


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    Hi Nicole,

    You probably already know the answer to this. If you want to get into graduate school for astrophysics you need a degree in physics. Programs will often accept people with majors that are closely related, such as astronomy, physical chemistry or engineering physics, maybe certain applied mathematics streams, but the probability of acceptance drops off rapidly the less relevant the material becomes. Unfortunately a master's degree in biotechnology is unlikely to qualify you.

    A good place to start reading for more detail is ZapperZ's thread:
  4. Apr 13, 2015 #3


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    Thank you so much for your time. And you are correct, I expected this answer but hoped that biology might serve as "closely related", and that the laboratoryear experience from biotechnology might be useful as well.

    Thanks again!
  5. Apr 13, 2015 #4
    You're going to have a lot of math to learn as well if you only took up to Calc 1. A typical physics undergrad needs to know the calc sequence (calc 1-3), linear algebra, ordinary and partial differential equations, and real and complex analysis. I would recommend either retaking calc 1 or self studying it to review and fill in any knowledge gaps/clarify things, since it sounds like you only really did the required math to get it done and didn't plan on using it or studying it further.
  6. Apr 13, 2015 #5


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    Hi, yes I did take the requirements for med school as it was my intention. Interestingly you mention self study, something I can do well, but after reading the last post I would think self study would'not take me far. Would you care to give an opinion towards how self studying could help given my degrees? meaning : if I know my topics, without a physics background, am I a potential competitor?

    Thank you so much for your advice, very useful!
  7. Apr 13, 2015 #6

    ZapperZ goes into detail here. Self Study for math is good, as it forces you to figure it out for yourself using only a textbook, but there will be many roadbumps depending on your math talent. The most important math classes to take formally I believe are Complex Analysis (real is first, complex is more difficult), Linear Algebra (very abstract, hard for most people to self study), and Ordinary Differential Equations (partial is more advanced, but imo it is not too hard to adapt ordinary to partial, pretty intuitive if you really think about it and have a good textbook). Obviously formal classes combined with self study are best, but prioritize those (being sure to go in the proper order). Consult this for math self study:

    https://www.physicsforums.com/threads/how-to-self-study-mathematics.804404/ [Broken]

    Last edited by a moderator: May 7, 2017
  8. Apr 13, 2015 #7


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    Excelent! I will look into these, and again thank you so much for the detailed answer, this gives me a solid idea of the challenges ahead!
    Last edited by a moderator: May 7, 2017
  9. Apr 14, 2015 #8
    No problem
  10. Apr 14, 2015 #9


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    As others have said, someone with a bachelor's in biology is significantly underprepared for a graduate degree in physics. Similarly, someone with a bachelor's in physics would be completely unprepared for a graduate degree in biology. They're very different fields. There are obviously elements of biology and physics that can overlap a great deal - this is why there's an entire field called biophysics. However, that doesn't mean that these fields are interchangeable.

    Physics majors take at least calculus 1, 2, and 3, plus differential equations and linear algebra, and often some other math electives like statistics and probability, partial differential equations, and various other courses. How much physics have you taken? Astrophysics is, first and foremost, a branch of physics. Someone intending to pursue a graduate degree in astrophysics is likely to major in physics, which requires a 3 semester introductory physics sequence, along with a couple semesters each of upper level classical mechanics, electricity & magnetism, and quantum mechanics, along with upper level courses in thermal and statistical physics, optics (sometimes), and usually a couple of upper level physics lab courses. One that intended to pursue graduate studies in astrophysics is likely to also declare an astronomy minor, which would include somewhere from 4-6 courses in astronomy. One would also take all of the relevant math and likely a course or two in computer programming.

    People that come in from similar majors like engineering or chemistry (majors that require many of these classes anyway) can often transition into grad school in physics a little more easily. Biology isn't really a similar major in most respects. It obviously overlaps with the field in some ways, but it's a fundamentally different type of scientific discipline.
  11. Apr 14, 2015 #10


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    Hi, thank you for your time! I understand what you are saying, and because getting another bs would be insane right now, what with all the expenses implied (all thought truth be told I wish I could go back and get a bs in physics). I guess like someone mentioned earlier I should have expected this, I got carried away because this is really something I would love to do.

    Thank you again for your time and valuable information.
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