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Advice on Choosing Appropriate Department


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Hey Guys,

I have recently run into a little bit of a dilemma when it comes choosing exactly what department I will be applying to at a specific school. To give you a little bit of background, I am a chemical engineering graduate interested in applying bio-engineering PhD programs with a specific focus on synthetic biology.

My main dilemma is that synthetic is a very broad field of study that intersects with more than just bio-engineering it has researchers in the fields of cell biology, structural biology, chemistry, physics and many more. The boundaries which define it are quite blurred. My dilemma is that in one school I am applying to, there are multiple bio-engineering professors with research interests that align with mine quite well. The complicating factor is that there is one professor that I found in the department of Chemistry whose research interests read like a line for line paraphrase of my statement of purpose. Obviously that lab would be the best fit for me by far on a 1-for-1 basis, yet I hear over and over again that you should never apply to a program for just one professor.

What do you guys recommend, should I apply for bioengineering and go for a relatively good fit? or apply to the Chemistry department listing that professor in particular as my interest. Or is there a way better third option that I haven't considered.

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You can also talk to the departments involved to see what they might suggest. Maybe their students commonly work with profs in different departments etc. or they might have kind of unofficial or official joint program/partnership.

Outside of that advice, I think you should apply to the program whose academic fit is best for you. That is, it might be easier to get into a Chem. Engineering program given that is your undergrad training. Or you can consider the academic requirements of both departments (coursework, electives, orals/quals etc.) and pick the curriculum that fits you best. If you know that you will be able to work with people in other departments, then in multi-disciplinary fields, you might want to just choose the "home department" to be the one that is most convenient for you in terms of logistics/academics/etc. This was the advice I got from a prof when considering applying between an Astronomy vs. Planetary Science department at his school.

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