I would like to know if disciplines such as cell biology and genetics or research areas such as cancer need physicists. I am getting a PhD in biophysics, however, it did not involve biology directly. It involved spectroscopic methods on biological samples without regard to their biology.

I know those areas are broad and it also depends on my CV and publication records, however, I would like to know how likely and possible it is for a physicist to get a postdoc in biology.

While I am able to do mathematical modeling, I would like to do wet lab experiments rather than just doing math and using computer. What concerns me is that because the positions are competitive and I do not have prior experience in biology experiments I either will not have be able to enter this field or I have to enter it to do mathematical modeling.

I would like mainly to know about personal experience or the point of view of a principle investigator.

  • First, I think this question isn't appropriate for the site -- it seems to fall into the "The content of your research, rather than the process of doing research" category. Second, since you're getting a PhD in biophysics I would hope you would have interacted with physicists and biologists, and would have explored these fields yourself, to have a sense of the answers to your question. Third, it's unclear whether you're asking about finding a postdoc position, or a faculty position, etc. It's not hard to change fields quite drastically as a postdoc, for example. – Raghu Parthasarathy Jul 15 '17 at 23:58
  • To clarify: I do think it's a good question, just one that isn't good for this site. Good luck! – Raghu Parthasarathy Jul 16 '17 at 0:09
  • I think this is actually a pretty reasonable question for this site - look at all the "related" questions showing up! This might be a bit more field-specific than those, but career-related questions just don't fly on the other stackexchange sites. – AJK Jul 16 '17 at 2:43

There is absolutely a need for physical scientists in cell and developmental biology as well as cancer. Take a look at, e.g. this story: https://www.aps.org/publications/apsnews/201003/nih.cfm

I know many, many physicists who have moved into experimental biology, and PhD to postdoc is a natural time to do this. However, if you are going to need to be trained in a wet lab, you need to ensure you are moving into a group that values the other skills you bring - rigorous quantitative thinking, computational skills, spectroscopy or microscopy - enough to train you in the biological part.

How do you find these people? First, I'd suggest reading deeply in the field you'd like to go into, and seeing when people use ideas from physics (e.g. groups studying phase transitions in RNA granules, or collective behavior of cells, or entropy and information in developmental biology), or look at mechanics in detail. Those groups are more likely to be receptive to someone with your background. Other tell-tale signs are groups who are listed in "quantitative biology" programs or who are housed in Physics, Mechanical Engineering, Bioengineering, etc. If you are interested in cancer, places with Physical Sciences in Oncology centers are natural fits.

My impression is that, though there is a lot of competition for postdocs in biology, students with strong quantitative backgrounds who want to work in wet labs are hard to find.

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