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What can you tell me about biophysics?

  1. Jun 26, 2016 #1
    I'm about to be a junior and I'm majoring in physics. My problem is the money though. I'm going to be broke I think if I do this, but I don't want to do engineering at all. I was thinking of maybe later getting a masters in biophysics. I think I will get a better salary this way. I want to work on problems such as brain enhancements or living forever. I don't care how stupid that sounds either. I feel like we're getting close to being able to do these things now. There are classes offered in college specifically tailored to the biology of aging - I mean come on! I'm sure there is a way to, say, modify the brain to create super high intelligence/excellent memory or modify cells to keep them from dying. Maybe modify genes to create a new organism. I would say biomedical engineering but they only design devices and not tweak biology, right? I just really don't want to be in debt forever and I want to pursue something amazing at the same time...
  2. jcsd
  3. Jun 27, 2016 #2


    Staff: Mentor

    You have a real dilemma here:

    You've majored in Physics and now can't decide between one field with good pay and another with an unknown pay potential.

    Briefly then engineering while being very practical and well paying is mundane whereas biophysics is very exciting but with unknown/uncertain pay potential.

    You are interested in working in fields such as brain enhancement and longevity but these fields are still in their infancy which means the only positions available are ones in academia to folks who are strong in the disciplines of investigative research. Based on that your pay potential depends greatly on how well you battle to get into these academic circles and how strong you are in research. At some uncertain point in the future which could be decades away you will be sought after by industry but that's not here today and its not certain when.

    Perhaps your best bet would be to get into proteomics, genomics or epigenetics where you can begin to explore the communication channels of cells and how they could be enhanced. Job potential would be private pharmaceuticals, genomic research companies or academia with the private sector paying much better. Your physics would more likely help in proteomics research although you'd need a lot of biology and chemistry to go along with it.

    This is just my opinion and I'm sure others here at PF can advise you better.
  4. Jun 27, 2016 #3
    Biophysics is all about explaining current problems in biology using the tools from physics.

    Currently I am doing a project in theoretical biophysics and so far, I haven't done much physics yet. I'll say that biophysics is for you if you like biology and are interested in problems in that area. Which seems like you are! Most of my work involves coding and simulating experiments.
  5. Jun 27, 2016 #4
    I worked with biophysicists as a grad student in a lab one summer. I measured the permeability of bone to saline solution. It was thought that a electrical potential difference could be put across a fracture using a saline solution, and this would promote healing in a fracture, This is as mundane as anything you are likely to encounter in engineering, but looking back at it, it was very rewarding working with a great team of people. It was one of the best times of my life. I later specialized in a different research area, but if I had to do it over, I might have stuck with this lab. My experience in this lab would have prepared me for aspects of biophysics that would have been more interesting.
    Try not to stereotype all engineering as mundane. Most physicists I know that transferred to engineering find it interesting. As a rising junior, no matter how much you have been paying attention, you cannot know the level of interest involved in many fields of engineering, I certainly know I didn't know this as a rising junior, and I listened to all kinds of erroneous advice from my friends.
    However, when it comes to money, the faculty I know in biophysics have pay on par with the other physics faculty. No more, no less.
    I would not say your chance of finding work after graduation will not be any easier. Biophysics may be as much or more competitive than condensed matter, nuclear or astrophysics. Biologists generally do not have a better job outlook than physicists.
    Swingging for the fences and find the fountain of youth or instant IQ is not practical, but you may be fortunate to work with a good team and conduct rewarding but incremental and important research in, for example, fracture healing, or understanding photosynthesis. What can be wrong with that?
  6. Jun 27, 2016 #5
    I worked in a biophysics lab and I have the exact same experience. It was mostly biology and then a little bit of physics thrown in at the end. And the physics was mostly just computer programming and data analysis, statistical modeling kind of stuff. Basically from a pure physics point of view it's super boring.
  7. Jun 28, 2016 #6
    I agree! Biophysics is not for everyone, and it's definitely not for me. I never had much of an interest in bio to begin with, I went in rather naively. It's definitely geared towards people with a more interest in biology, instead of people interested in getting a deeper understanding of physics (me).

    The field itself is relatively young and growing. I think many opportunities will rise in this field for people that are interested! A lot of funding seems to be going into research regarding DNA sequencing now.

    Edit: You definitely have to pay for a Master's program, but not a PhD program. If you really like research, PhD is the better option. If you decide to pursue biophysics theory, then you learn a lot of useful programming skills and you most likely will not have trouble getting a job ( even with a Master's) in industry. I can't speak about experiment, since that's not what I am doing.

    Data Science is big these days (healthcare etc.)
    Last edited: Jun 28, 2016
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