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I'd like to do PhD in COMPLETELY different area. Switch now? (Junior)

Discussion in 'Physician Scientists' started by Tetraoxygen, Aug 7, 2011.

  1. Tetraoxygen

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    Short version: I'm a junior BME major aiming for MD/PhD, with the PhD component in BME. My undergraduate research so far (since freshman year) is in biophysics. I can switch labs, but then I might not finish my project. Should I switch?

    Long version: In a month, I will be a junior in Biomedical Engineering. Our school no longer has tracks, but I will end up following the Bioelectrical track course list. I would like to continue my education by pursuing a PhD in Biomedical Engineering, in biomechatronics research (Neuroscience + Robotics). I want to work on prosthetics and human-computer interactions.

    However, I may have made a blunder in choosing my undergraduate lab. When I first started university, I figured this would be my last and only chance to do protein NMR. I'd read about it in high school, and I used to (and still do) think it's tremendously awesome. I work for an excellent PI, and in this lab, I have my own project, which is good (great opportunity to think) and bad (but this forces me to fix my own problems!). Unfortunately, this type of research is considered biophysics, maybe even biochemistry, and has absolutely nothing to do with what I want to do for the rest of life. I fear this will prevent me from getting into a strong MD/PhD program.

    Should I switch to another lab as soon as possible? I have a research fellowship, so I can do this relatively easily, but then I might not be able to wrap up my project.

    On the other hand, I am involved in a robotics club at school, and sort of in another brain computer interface group, so the field I want to go into is not completely new to me.

    I'm also thinking about doing a mechatronics minor. It would take a lot of work, and I'm not sure if taking extra classes is worth less research.

    Or are there other options? The only one I can think of is taking a gap year to do research in the area I want to do my PhD in.

    Thank you very kindly for your help!
     
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  3. Choculitis

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    This doesn't sound like a problem at all, especially given that you're a BME major and have coursework in the area you want to research. People change research areas all them time. As many people on this forum have noted, what you do your PhD in is often not very different from what you end up researching as a professor.

    More pragmatically, most MD/PhD programs don't require you to choose a graduate department until the end of 2nd year, so I don't see how this could factor into the admissions process at all. It sounds like you have tons of research experience, so at least in that regard you are well situated for getting into a good program.
     
  4. PfNO22

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    Stick with the NMR, seems like you really like it. It will only help you in the long run. Be prepared to answer questions about why you want to go into your new field. This is not an urgent problem like I am sensing you feel (although maybe the batteries of my biomechatronics device are non-functional).
     
  5. bd4727

    10+ Year Member

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    I switched from BME as an undergrad to neurogenetics. No one cared or asked a thing. People are not going to assume that you should have decided in high school what you wanted to do for the rest of your life. Don't worry about this at all. If you want to switch labs to get a new experience that would be fine too, if you have a decent amount of time remaining to work in that lab.
     
  6. MSTPlease

    7+ Year Member

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    I am by no means an expert, but it would seem to me that you should stay where you are. A good PI will be more valuable to you in the long run than a good project right now. As you said, your desired area of interest is not foreign given the rest of your app, so I think it would make perfect sense to present it that way. Since your current lab setup is so good, I think it might be better to stick with it and just say, if asked, "I really liked the relationship I had with my PI and even though I realized half way through school that this line of work was not what my future career would be, I didn't want to leave the environment I was in." As an MD/PhD student about to pick my lab, I am constantly being reminded to "pick the PI, not the project," so I am sure this advice would apply to you too. As long as you're enjoying where you are, I don't think it's worth taking the chance that you switch to a less productive environment.
     
  7. Lil Mick

    5+ Year Member

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    People switch research fairly often. Your NMR research sounds interesting, and, with a good PI who can teach you and recommend you, you will probably be better off staying in that lab. It's not terribly different from your major or your intended PhD area.

    Personally, I switched from social sciences and biology to math. It might be more work if you don't have all of the coursework, but it's worth it to do what you love. That being said, I wouldn't change my research experiences in the social sciences as an undergrad, as my PIs taught me so much about research during that period of time...
     

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