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I am doing my Ph.D. in theoretical physics but want to switch to biomedical engineering (BME), especially tissue engineering and regenerative medicine.

Do Master's programs accept students without any background in BME?

If I have to meet the course requirements for BME, what are the options?

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  • In which country do you plan to study?
    – Buffy
    Feb 25 at 18:36
  • It’s a pretty big leap. Do you have any biology background, including labwork? Feb 26 at 0:12
  • @Buffy I'm studying in the United States but I'm international student
    – user184967
    Feb 26 at 0:29
  • @Aruralreader That is the problem. I have zero background on the field.
    – user184967
    Feb 26 at 0:31
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    @user184967, it might be useful to explore your motivations for pursuing biomedical engineering in light of your past decision to pursue physics. Likely something has changed for you. An occasional bit of reflection can be helpful. It’s possible you can contribute to tissue engineering as a physicist. Best of luck whatever you do! Feb 26 at 3:56

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In the US you are very likely qualified for an entry into a doctoral program in a different field. But it would be a long, hard, journey from there. I'm guessing it would be another six or seven years to complete it.

But here in the US a bachelors graduate can enter a doctoral program in most fields with a very general background. Having no biology at all would be an issue. You might need a few undergraduate biology courses to make a serious case, however. But you wouldn't need the equivalent of a masters.

Your physics background wouldn't do you a lot of good other than to show you are capable of learning. The research process in the two fields is, I suspect, vastly different.

Also, complicating the case, is that your prior education (undergraduate...) may not look at all like a general US education which is very broad. If your entire journey to now has been physics based it would be harder than if you had a more general background. You will also be competing with people better prepared in field.

I wonder why you would want to make such a great leap, however. But if you want it bad enough and can spend the time doing it you can probably make it work. Others in the application process will also have that question, I think.

The only way to know for sure, however, is to make application. If you are situated to do so you might want to visit an interesting department and talk with them about what you might need to get accepted. Your case is unusual.

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I know a surprising number of physicists (phds in physics) who are doing very well working on the computational side of biology. If you have experience with programming and analysing large datasets or handling large mathematical models, then these are skills which are very much in need within the biological sciences at the moment. If you have these skills, then sell yourself on those, and you will learn the biology you need as you work in the field.

Most of the people I know working in biology with a Physics background moved across after their PhD, so they got a postdoc in computational biology/bioinformatics, leaning on these skills and learning the new field as they went. Perhaps as the field matures and there are more students with a computational biology / bioinformatics background this pathway might get harder to get a foot in the door, but my feeling at the moment is that there are still a lot of positions and not so many people with the skills to take them. Lab biologists can generate enough data in a few weeks to keep a good data scientist busy for a year or more.

I would imagine getting a second PhD position would be harder - firstly, you will need to deal with any regulations that only first PhDs are funded (depends on funder). Secondly, if you're in the US then there will be coursework as well which will entail learning more biology than just the stuff that's necessary to do your job and competing in graded courses (especially if grading is on a curve) against people who have a lot more biology at undergraduate level.

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