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citrus00

Biomedical Engineering/Bioengineering MS or PhD from Biological Sciences

Question

Hello! I recently decided to go to a graduate school in bioengineering/biomedical engineering field.
I've been doing some research past couple weeks on schools and programs but I'm still pretty lost.
Not sure how much of things (stats and experiences) are required for PhD or MS in engineering especially someone like me, who only has biology background... 

Here are some info about me so that you can provide me better advice: 

Undergrad: top 5 public school in the U.S. 
Major: Molecular Biology
GPA: 3.74 (do not remember but my science gpa is higher)
GRE: started studying just today!
Research experiences:
Pathology lab (summer during undergrad years)
2 years at medical device company R&D lab (related to bioconjugates and nanotechnology, but not really hard-core engineering.. more of biological sciences area)

AND here are the questions:
1) Do I need to have a specific research area that I'm interested in before applying to schools? I'm sure of some things that I don't want to pursue such as tissue engineering and regenerative medicine, but I am not entirely sure of what I want yet (currently, I am interested in biosensors (bio-MEMs), medical informatics, or biomechanics but I haven't had enough exposure to decide which to pursue) Will I be at a big disadvantage in application if i don't state my interest specifically? Or is it okay to have a general area?
2) And since I'm not entirely sure of the research area, would it be better to go for MS instead before deciding to go on with PhD?
3) I do have 2 years of experience in working at a medical device company as a researcher, but these are more closely related to areas I am not really interested in anymore... the company I worked at produces biosensors, but I was not part of that division and was not exposed to such technologies. Should I join engineering labs for some experiences? (I am not working anymore and have plenty of time for some experiences now... not sure getting them now is gonna help though)
4) If I choose to apply for PhD but did not get accepted, am I automatically considered for MS admissions? Or does it not work that way?
5) I don't see a big difference between bioengineering and biomedical engineering. Is there a difference in how these majors are perceived in the industry? Or does it not matter?

Many of you might be wondering why i want to pursue bioengineering even when I don't really have specific research area that I am interested in. After being in an industry for a couple years, I figured that there are not many opportunities for a B.S. in biology to do. I've always thought that bioengineering was cool and I see a lot of potential in the field as I glimpsed a little bit of the industry through working in the company. And here I am! 

Any advices, comments, concerns, anything will be greatly appreciated!

Thanks!

Edited by citrus00

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1) I don't think you need a really specific research interest, but knowing the general area you want to work in is pretty necessary, especially for PhD. Note that the fields you mentioned (bio-MEMS, bioinformatics, biomechanics, etc) are those general areas and are very different from one another, though there is a lot of interdisciplinary research between those fields. If you go to any school's BME/BioE website you'll most likely see their research areas split into similar categories. You don't want to invest the time and effort (and money for MS) without being reasonably confident you want to be in that field.

2) Again, I think you want to be decently sure about the area of your research for MS as well as PhD. It's certainly not unheard of to switch fields between degrees, but you need a compelling reason to do so, and a MS may not give you the chance to explore all those different areas of research. MS is a great way to narrow down within one of those fields a more specific interest for a PhD and give you more engineering/math background to help you be a more competitive candidate.

3) I think joining a lab that does one of the things you might be interested in is the best idea. It would give a chance to actually see if it's something you want to do and give you more engineering-type experience and show schools that you're serious about BME/BioE and can handle yourself in the field even though you don't have an engineering background. You can also talk with researchers about the other fields you're interested in to help you narrow it down some more. You might also think about taking some classes in math and physics. Most BME/BioE programs require math through differential equations or linear algebra and at least some physics. Though it's also worth contacting schools directly to ask if you can take some of those upon enrollment to catch up.

4) This is very program-specific. Some schools, some won't. You need to check with the individual programs to see if they'll consider you for MS if you're not accepted to PhD.

5) Also school/program specific. They're pretty much the same.

Finally, I think when you consider these questions you need to think more about what you want to do with that degree. Do you want to pursue research, or do you want to stay in industry? Or do you want to do research in an industry environment? These are all different end goals, and one may be more suited to a PhD vs MS. I suggest researching jobs that you'd like to have with a BME/BioE degree and seeing what types and levels (senior researcher vs associate R&D engineer, etc) require a PhD vs MS.

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