A chemist by any other name

I just returned from a visit to China (and its WordPress blocking Great Firewall) so I figured now it’s a good time to make my first post on Chem-Blog. I am preparing to begin my graduate career in a PhD program entitled Chemical and Physical Biology. Over the course of the application season, I was often asked the difference between my program and other related fields of science. Frankly, I haven’t got a clue what the difference is.

I applied to over a dozen schools under program titles created from a permutation of chemistry, biology or physics with a modifier like molecular, structural and/or computational. My actual research interests are in the combination of wet-lab experiments with computational models to study protein structures and interractions, a topic with faculty dispersed in many departments. These field names are meaningless to me, especially with the increasing number of interdisciplinary and multi-disciplinary programs. Courses in engineering and computer science are constantly being integrated into traditional science programs. Yet, people around me often assume that I’m unclear about my focus and interest. I have no idea if the name on my diploma will ultimately affect me when I apply for my first post-PhD position in industry or academia. What do you guys think? Is there a really a distinction between biochemistry and chemical biology, or between molecular biophysics and biophysical chemistry? In the end, is a chemist by any other name just as good?

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