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I have a biology bachelors degree and have been working in a lab for over a year now. My PI is moving universities and recently asked me to join her new lab as a computer science student (I’m interested in bioinformatics but that university doesn’t have that). I have one non-first author papers where I did data analysis work. I am also doing a data science certificate, though it will be from the university she’s coming from and half way completed by the time I apply. I’ve taken python and have research experience using R.

Is it worth applying?

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I can speak with some direct experience, having applied to a PhD in one field but having a background in another (a little closer than biology vs computer science, but similar enough that the experience is relevant.)

In the context of a United States school, I think it is worth applying. I applied to an R1 school, was accepted, and completed the program.

When applying, my advice is to be open and transparent about your experience, and that you understand the challenge you are setting yourself up for. It's not terribly unusual to move from one field to a related one at this stage, and if your desire is to do research at the intersection of your old field and your new field, that is something to mention in any application statement, essay, etc.

My personal advice to you is this: You will have to pass whatever breadth requirement (often referred to as the qualifying exams, although they are not always exams, anymore) your chosen institute has, in your new field, and on their timetable.

These requirements are usually published, so you should absolutely take a look through those for your institute of choice, and make a plan for how you pass those requirements. It is not impossible. Anyone with the drive and intellect to complete a PhD can probably self-train up through those qualifying requirements. But it is significantly harder than just taking those equivalent courses during an undergraduate experience.

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  • (a little closer than biology vs computer science, but similar enough that the experience is relevant.) --- Probably better would be to use "different" in place of "similar", since I assume the intended meaning is that while your two fields are closer (i.e. more similar) than biology and computer science, your two fields are still a bit different -- different enough that your experience is relevant to the OP's situation. Jun 18, 2023 at 12:14
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Based on what you've shared, it sounds like you've got a pretty solid background in biology and some experience in data analysis and programming. Moving from a biology lab to a computer science-focused lab can be a big leap, but you've got a lot of subject matter experience, and maybe you just need to boost your data science skills a bit more?

It's a chance to combine your biology knowledge with some cool computational techniques and there's huge demand for people who can bridge the gap between biology and computers.

Another cool thing about this opportunity is the chance to network and find mentors. Joining your PI's new lab means you'll be working closely with an experienced researcher, and you might get the chance to collaborate with new people at the new university. Having a solid network and mentors who can guide you in your research and career can make a world of difference, trust me. Also these people can give you feedback on whether or not to do a phd. i think getting feedback from multiple people is important because most will be all positive and supportive, but you need to get a variety of perspectives. get a professor to review your application/cv well in advance to see if there's anything you can improve on. e.g. extra courses ahead of time that might help and be short? I once had a professor go on about how he loved my machine learning experience even though it was only a day course, and he ignored my masters degree for some reason. Even the small stuff can count.

Ultimately, it's your call. Think about your goals, interests, and what this new lab can offer you. Don't forget if you really want to pursue this apply to several places. Don't hesitate to have a chat with your PI and get their insights. They'll know more about the new lab and can give you some solid advice based on your skills and aspirations.

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    Okay thanks! My main concern was if the admissions committee would admit me. But I already have guarantee funding so I wasn’t sure.
    – User
    Jun 16, 2023 at 20:05

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