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Biology or Physics?

  1. Dec 30, 2007 #1
    I'm now a senior in high school and realize it's a bit early to decide for sure but I'm trying to weigh (and know!) my options. I have always been interested in the sciences and for the last 4-5 years I've thought I wanted to be a physicist. I've realized that I'm also very interested in biology mostly on a conceptual basis - i.e. I would probably fall asleep in a human anatomy class. I find life to be an incredibly fascinating idea. Another thing that appeals to me about biology as opposed to physics is that biology seems to me to be a more exciting field. Not because it is more interesting, just because it seems like there is more to be discovered in biology - this might be very wrong, please correct me if it is.

    Here are a few things from both field I'm interested in:
    Quantum Mechanics
    Particle Physics

    Neuroscience - Particularly consciousness
    Genetics/Cell Biology

    I don't know if this means biophysics would be good for me? I don't really know much about biophysics so I'm not sure if it applys to my interests. Is a double major a viable option? I don't know if this is easy with biology/physics they both are rather large disciplines and it seems like any expertise in one would cause a deficiancy in the other.

    Obviously these interests are all based on my knowledge at pre-university levels (probably just the tip of the iceberg in both fields) so they subject to change.

    I think I'm the type of person who could go to college for my entire life; I'm just interested in too many things. Any advise would be great, I realizethis isn't really a biology forum so there might not be as much information on it.
  2. jcsd
  3. Dec 30, 2007 #2
    I was also in a very similar position as you are when I began my college education. I was interested in many different things, from philosophy to astronomy to economics. What I did was I took some introductory courses, fullfilling some Gen Ed Requirements. I realized my interest for physics during the "Overview to the Universe" class. However, the mistake I made was that I didn't take physics my first semester, so I ended up having to wait until the following year to begin. I'm currently a sophomore and I'm probably going to graduate a year late because of this. So I guess what I'm saying is that it's good that you have these interests, and maybe you should take courses in both of the majors before making your final decision. This way, if you don't like what your doing in your bio class, you won't end up having to wait until the next year to do physics, and vice-versa. Also, I personally felt like university level courses were so much better taught and so much more enlightening than high school courses that I would wait until actually taking some of these (introductory level) courses to make the decision.
  4. Dec 31, 2007 #3


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    In my opinion, advanced biology is organic chemistry in disguise. Those biology concepts you seek to learn will be memorization without the understanding of the underlying chemical reactions. Chemistry itself finds stable grounding in physics and I consider a theoretical chemist to be synonymous to a theoretical nuclear physicist. So Biology may give you a reason to learn chemistry and physics would fill in the missing blanks.

    If you enjoy learning physics and biology then you might take classes in all three areas. Three science classes with three labs in a semester can be rough though. I will give some general definitions of the sciences if you don't already know and maybe it will help you decide what you consider the place of each science for you.

    Physics studies fundamentally how the universe works. Chemistry studies the effects of electrons. Biology studies organic equilibrium systems.
  5. Dec 31, 2007 #4


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    You may have to listen to phsysusc11's experience and just go into college expecting you might need to tack on an extra year to give yourself a year to sample different courses to make an informed choice about your major.

    This is, unfortunately, a limitation of any science major. The credit requirements for science majors are usually much higher than for other majors (often as much as double the courseload), and often organized in a way that all the courses need to be taken in a set sequence. This means that even taking another intro science course can set you back a year. But, my opinion is that it's worth the risk of spending an extra year in college if you get the benefit of assuring you've chosen the right major for yourself.

    The obstacle is that both Biology and Physics majors have some hefty courses you'd need to get started on in your first year that each major alone can consume your schedule in addition to things like English expository writing that is also often a first-year requirement.

    For example, Bio majors in their first year will usually take Gen Biology with labs, Gen Chemistry with labs, and Calc I and II, plus some core requirements (i.e., English). Bio majors can put off a physics course until sophomore or junior year, and even then, it's a much simplified version of physics compared to what the physics and engineering majors will take. Physics majors take Introductory Physics with labs, plus Calc I and II (others can jump in, because I don't remember whether my friends who were physics majors in college also took linear algebra contemporary with Calc II to get ahead on the math sequence, or if everyone waited until after multivariable calc to start with linear algebra).

    The calc requirements overlap, but as Jax pointed out, taking three science courses with labs, plus Calculus, especially if your school requires squishing English into that first year too, would make you the most miserable student on campus. You might think you can skip the chem requirement your first year and just sample biology and physics first, but if you end up choosing the bio major, you're going to need to follow Gen. Chem with Organic Chemistry BEFORE you can start taking more upper level bio courses, so waiting a year to start the chemistry sequence would set you back in your advanced bio courses.

    So, your best plan might be to anticipate needing an extra year for college so you aren't completely overwhelmed and can actually enjoy your college experience and spread out the intro courses over two years while interspersing some of the lighter core requirements with them and giving yourself time to make a decision. A year extra now, when you're still young, is nothing compared to spending several years in a career and realizing later you wish you had done the other major and have to start over from scratch, or be unhappy with your choice.
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