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Physics Job/Academic Prosects After a Combined Biochem and Physics Degree

  1. Nov 7, 2011 #1
    I go to university of victoria, which offers a combined honors biochem and physics degree. I think this would be an awesome degree to have than includes all 3 physical sciences and would probably leave you open to a lot of opportunities. Because I switched from Biology to Physics, I have quite a few credits that pertain to the degree and could complete it in 5 years total (it would take me 5 years total to do my honors Physics anyways).

    However, I haven't really had a full taste of what biochemistry really is. I've only done a brief section of biochem in 1st year general Chemistry and it probably wasn't very representative of the the field. How much emphasis is on memorization? I am good at memorizing but I prefer conceptual learning. Is there a lot of math? I love math.

    How would this degree set me up for grad school in physics?
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  3. Nov 7, 2011 #2
    For graduate studies in pure physics I wouldn't think the biochem degree would be that useful, maybe others can give more insight though. If you are interested in doing some translational work into biology/chemistry fields then obviously it would be more useful than if you pursue physics alone.

    Knowing what I know now, if I had that degree and a well rounded application to go with it I would shoot for admission to the MEMP Ph.D. program at Harvard-MIT, with emphasis on neuroimaging. That's just where my own interests lie, however.
  4. Nov 7, 2011 #3
    Ya. I realize I'm diluting my physics ed by getting the combined but do you think that would significantly hinder me from getting into a physics grad school if I decided to? If I go the combined major, I miss out on these 400 level courses: "Topics in Mathematical Physics I", "Statistical Mechanics", "Electromagnetic Theory", "Quantum mechanics II" and 3 Physics electives at the 300 or 400 level. I can however, write an honors thesis.
  5. Nov 8, 2011 #4


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    We can't know how much memory constitutes 'a lot' for you. I think the best for you to do is get the syllabus, go to the library or bookshop, look through some of the recommended textbooks. See how it looks.

    The worst part of biochemistry for your fears is 'intermediary metabolism' - basically the pathways of small-molecule synthesis and degradation. You will not have to learn the entire lot which is immense, but you will have to learn as much of the main things as the course requires. It has a sort of semi-logic that makes it not terribly hard to remember. Unfortunately it is not often taught with deep chemical understanding that suggests why nature does things the way she does. Look at glycolysis, the Krebs (oxidation) cycle, the Calvin (photosynthesis) cycle which is about as bad as it gets, purine and pyrimidine nucleotide synthesis. Some people find them amusing, others a bore, but they are not really hard to master.

    Then there are things like electron transport and oxidative phosphorylation, more conceptual though not exactly predictable. Conceptual and frankly more interesting IMHO would be the part of +/- biochemistry called 'molecular biology' which I supposed is macromolecular metabolism, synthesis of DNA, RNA, and proteins which is quite systematic, and also linked to genetics, the control mechanisms of everything, then membranes and membrane biochemistry, you are getting into the area that brings you into the understanding that stretches from simple molecules through membrane proteins and enzymes to the most complex biological phenomena like smell and vision just for one example.

    Answer to your question about whether there is a lot of math - no! But the relatively little and elementary that there is you will sail through while your co-students will be stumbling and struggling. You can see them on this site if you look at the chemistry and biology sections, struggling hard with about the same three or four questions coming back all the time on buffers and pH! Then it comes in in enzyme kinetics and ligand binding and you will see them making heavy weather of it again. And then it comes in in all the physical methods.

    There is plenty of scope to employ your mathematical/physical interest on subspcialities towards the end of your course and in research, e.g. physical methods, protein folding and informatics, modelling, bioinformatics, evolution, genomics, data mining,... things with industrial application and opportunities.

    You should be prepared for a fairly heavy and time-consuming slab of lab work in your course.

    If all that is OK I think you are making a good, if somewhat arduous choice.
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