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Advice about college

  1. Nov 26, 2012 #1
    Hello everyone,

    My name is Jacob. I am currently a sophomore in high school in America, so I will start applying to colleges in about a year (scary!). Anyways, I was wondering about what I should study in college and grad school. Right now, I am planning on taking lots of biology and chem courses as an undergrad and then going to med school. However, math is truly my strong subject. Here are a few of my questions, please try to answer a few:

    1. What degrees would I need to get, or what would I have to study in order to pursue medicine?

    2. Do you think it would be manageable to get those degrees and also get a degree in math?

    3. What kind of jobs can you do with a doctorate in math (besides teaching math and doing statistics projects)?

    4. Is it manageable to get two different doctorates?

    5. If I did get a doctorate in medicine as well as a doctorate in math, would I be able to teach math once I was older (around 60), just because I love it (obviously a teaching position would pay much less than a surgeon's salary)?

    These are all my questions for now, if I think of any more I'll edit this post.
  2. jcsd
  3. Nov 26, 2012 #2
    Getting two doctorates is not really a good idea. In particular if they are is such a diverse fields such as medicine and mathematics. Do you have any idea how much work you will have to do and how much money it is going to demand of you?
    Doing a double major in math and biology-chem is already nontrivial, but certainly possible. In general, I would only recommend double majors in degrees which are quite close, such as math-computer science or math-physics. A lot of those classes overlap so a double major is doable. But math and biology would take some more effort.

    But doing both med school and mathematics really is very hard. What are you going to do? First med school and then a doctorate in mathematics? By that time, you will already have forgotten very much of med school. Not really very good if you're going to be a surgeon, no?

    And you want to teach mathematics when you're 60. First of all, you will likely have forgotten most of math since you didn't do it in years. But also, do you want to teach in high school or university? If you want to teach high school, then you don't need a doctorate at all. If you want to teach in university, then you will need to do research and you will need to be hired as professor or post-doc. I don't know why anybody would hire a 60 year old post-doc who hasn't done mathematics is years and who is only interested in teaching... I doubt it's going to happen.

    Just focus on either medicine or mathematics, it's much easier.
  4. Nov 26, 2012 #3
    Depending on the college you go to, you'll probably major in either biology or pre-med (or a biology with a pre-med track). If you're planning on becoming a surgeon, your plate is going to be extremely full with very little time for a math degree (going by someone I know who's currently in her residency).

    If you REALLY wanted to get a degree in math, my guess is that you would have to essnetially do it for fun, and if you're planning on taking out loans for undergrad and med school, I don't know if the extra money would be worth it for the classes required for a math degree. (The doctor I know has over $100,000 out in student loans right now, and she hasn't started paying them off yet 10 years later because she's not technically "finished", even though she's officially a doctor now.)

    I would say if you want to essentially retire into math, you might consider doing the math degree after you've retired from medicine. The time and effort required for just a doctorate in medicine will burn you out before you can get to the math phd if you try to do them around the same time. You'll be taking days-long shifts once you reach residency, and assuming you'll want a personal life, I don't think pursuing math at the same time would be prudent. If you find yourself in a practice down the line that gives you enough time to do another degree, you might be able to do it while you're a doctor, but even that seems iffy.

    Depending on the state, you can teach high school math with just a BA/BS in it, and some states don't even require that. If you want to teach at the college level, you would need a grad degree.

    So, tl;dr: You'll want to focus on just medicine, I think, if you're serious about becoming a surgeon.
  5. Nov 26, 2012 #4
    OK, I see that pursuing both medicine and math would be pretty difficult. What kind of work could I be doing if I double majored in math and physics? And would I get a doctorate in physics after grad school?

    What do you mean by research? Do you mean that I would have to create some of my own theorems?
  6. Nov 26, 2012 #5
    The kind of work you can do is very diverse. You can go into research, you can go into teaching, you can do statistics or economic work. Or you can do some kind of engineering job.

    If you're going to grad school in physics and if you succeed, then yes: you would get a doctorate in physics.

    Yes. You will have to discovering new things. Research in math means that you want to find proofs of conjectures that you make or that other people have made. Research in physics can be either experimental, where you conduct experiments and interpret them. It can also be theoretical, where you should work out new and original theories.

    For a high schooler, it seems like something impossible. But your undergrad and grad education (should) prepare you for the moment you do your own research.
  7. Nov 26, 2012 #6
    Thanks again for the reply. What kind of work could I do if I got a doctorate in physics and I did a few successful years of research?
  8. Nov 26, 2012 #7
    While I agree with your post, I would have to say that this is a very hard thing to do. It is very hard for a person of 50 or 60 years old to get involved in mathematics. Learning mathematics is easy when you're young, but gets harder when you're older. I don't think it is certainly not impossible to learn mathematics at a later age, but you should know that it is quite challenging.
  9. Nov 26, 2012 #8
    You sure?
  10. Nov 26, 2012 #9


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    Only AFTER 3 decades since struggling with beginning and intermediate Calculus and College Algebra, I have finally been able to understand some proofs by induction, the proofs of the derivative of the exponential and natural logarithm functions, and the proofs of the Chain Rule and Fundamental Theorem of Calculus. I still have not reached much math course work beyond those three semesters of Calculus after all this time. NOT easy when you're young! Only better with continued or repeated review and searching for alternative (and sometimes better) materials.
  11. Nov 26, 2012 #10
    I'm in high school and I know all that stuff (besides proof of chain rule)
  12. Nov 26, 2012 #11
    Yeah, I was thinking along the lines of a BA for fun, or something.
  13. Nov 26, 2012 #12


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    Pre-med is not a major, it is just the set of required courses for medical school. As long as you take these courses before you apply, you can major in whatever you want. For example, right now of the people i know interested in medical school, one is a physics major and one is a history major. You could most certainly major in math.
  14. Nov 27, 2012 #13


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    My post was not composed as organized as it should have been. I was responding to micromass's statement about Math being easy while one is young. I found some topics and concepts very difficult while a student and only very recently learned adequately learned some of them, after many, many, many years since graduation. I have reviewed at various times since graduating.

    You are about one step ahead of me mathematically where I was when I was still in high school, and you'll likely be two more steps ahead when you finish your undergraduate degree in whatever you choose.
  15. Nov 27, 2012 #14
    I of course didn't want to say that mathematics is easy when you're young. It can be very hard and challenging at times. I just meant that it is easier now than when you are older and have never touched math for a long time. I should have made this clearer. Sorry for the confusion.
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