Biophysics vs Physics Grad Schools

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Biophysics vs Physics Grad Schools

Postby Physwimic » Sun Jan 09, 2011 1:19 am

So in researching grad schools, I came across the dilemma of going to a biophysics grad program (ie a separate biophysics department) vs. going to a physics grad program and concentrating in biophysics. While I know this was briefly talked about in another thread, I was wondering if anyone had further insight into this issue. I do not currently know what I am interested in researching exactly, although I know it is going to lie somewhere in the vague subject area of biophysics. I am really intrigued by my physics classes and see myself being more interested in a physics program. However, I wonder how schools judge applications to grad programs. I feel like there is probably a bias at top name schools to accept more traditional physics grad students who are interested in particle physics or some other big name area. Is this the case?

Thanks for your help.

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Re: Biophysics vs Physics Grad Schools

Postby sunkist7 » Sun Jan 09, 2011 8:31 pm

Hmmmmmm good questions. I too am interested in biophysics and I applied to some biophysics programs, some molecular biology programs, and some physics programs. If you apply to a biophysics program, I think they embrace people of many different backgrounds. For example, check out Berkeley's biophysics students. I would say that half have backgrounds in biology/biochemistry and half have backgrounds in physics/mathematics/engineering/chemistry ( If you are interested in straight physics programs, I would assume most programs have the majority of their funding in condensed matter. However, I would assume that more students are applying for condensed matter as well. It may be that 50 students apply for 5 spots in biophysics and 200 people apply for 20 spots in condensed matter (I'm just making numbers up here), so that the acceptance rates would be the same. So my take on the whole thing is that you should apply to the field that you are most interested in, and not worry about the numbers.

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Re: Biophysics vs Physics Grad Schools

Postby HappyQuark » Sun Jan 09, 2011 9:05 pm

From what little I know about biology inspired physics and biophysics programs, the difference seems to be that biology applications in physics are still, in every way I could tell, still strictly physics that happens to have some use in biology. Your advisors and/or research groups will be composed almost exclusively of physicists. In biophysics, there is a lot of overlap and interdisciplinary work, usually with biologists, chemists/biochemists and, depending on what you do research in, med students. The same kind of interdisciplinary work will also be true of your research advisor, i.e. you might be working with someone with a primary focus outside of physics.

Additionally, it generally seems to be the case that good biophysics programs are a bit easier to get into and in some cases they don't even require the physics GRE, which would be kinda nice to forgo.

Another physics major that graduated the same year as me went to graduate school for biomedical engineering and she seems to really enjoy it.

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Re: Biophysics vs Physics Grad Schools

Postby BiomedOldTimer » Wed Feb 09, 2011 11:12 pm

When thinking about which program to go into do consider what you plan to do with the degree after you have it.

If you plean to teach, there are far more positions in Physics. And, I am curious how Physics Departments will react to filling an Asst Professor position with a PhD BioPhysics as apposed to a PhD Physics? Or with an EE??
***Can anyone help with this question?

As far as industry, I have 20 years of experience as a BioMedical Engineed (technically I was a Physic/MSEE who work for Medical Device Companies). In industry, a BioPhysics degree will definitely help in the emerging fields of BioTechnology and a BioMedical Engineering PhD will help in Medical Devices. Right now BioTechnology is hotter. There is not quite as much innovation in devices -- though work is still available, there are not as many hot start-ups. If your goal is industry, choosing a thesis in an emerging hot area will land you job offers with good growth and salary potential. You will find that when you present posters at scientific meetings, you will meet the people who will be searching for people just like you!

But don't forget .. you have to do what you love, or all else is a waste!

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Re: Biophysics vs Physics Grad Schools

Postby joofbro » Wed Apr 10, 2013 12:48 am

WARNING: If you are applying to Stanford and you want to do biophysics, APPLY TO BIOPHYSICS! The funding situation is much better than for applied physics (I just learned this, after having been accepted into Stanford app phys with the intention of doing biophys). Basically the biophys program funds all your costs for your first year (app phys foists it all on your advisor), so biophys faculty would much rather take biophys program kids as they are less expensive by a lot. Also, you have more flexible class requirements, so you can take however much physics you need to do your research well. Of course, you are limited to biophysics research, so you can't decide you want to do CME or AMO after you get accepted.

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Re: Biophysics vs Physics Grad Schools

Postby jeffreyweee » Sat May 18, 2013 6:18 pm

Does anyone have any idea how much biology / chemistry a straight biophysics program might expect? I'm looking to do biophysics research as well but I find some biophysics programs are very heavy on these non-physics classes and that lead me to believe it'd be easier for a physics major to get into the physics program and not the biophysics program?

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