Choosing From The Sciences

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For as long as I can remember, I've wanted to be a scientist. What kind of scientist has varied, but always tended towards biologist or paleontologist. However, I don't feel too "tied down" to any particular field – I just want to be a scientist of some sort.

I am a high school senior right now. When I go to university next year, I plan on pursuing a dual major in biology and mathematics. However, despite my love of mollusks, I feel some nervousness about dedicating myself to biology. What if I want to become a mathematician? A chemist? Will it be too late to back out?

I have no desire to be a physicist – that was killed by a horrendous textbook and high school class. However, I enjoy reading about upper level physics, and would like to be interested in physics. My recent reading about Oppenheimer's lack of low level physics education has given me hope (though it was noted in my book that he was very self-conscious about this), as has my discovery of how fun is mathematics is (I despised it in high school classes, but now that I have been taking math classes at the local college it is much more fun).

I am not seeking advice (though it would, of course, be welcomed), just reassurance. Has anyone else felt a desire to become a scientist, as well as uncertainty about what kind? How did that work out in the end? Has anyone else had the same feelings I have about physics, but gone on to become a physicist?
 

Answers and Replies

  • #2
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i was in the exact same position as you, and working in a lab doing research, all of my friends and coworkers were engineers, so i chose engineering.
 
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  • #3
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I'm in a somewhat similar situation. During my childhood I'd always wanted to become a biologist of some kind. First an ornithologist, then an ethologist, then an ecologist. High school just about eliminated any interests that I had besides passing tests and getting into college. Then during my first year of college I went on medical leave and realized once away from an academic setting that I love math and logic and biology. I don't know yet if I want to study bio engineering, computer science, or biology. All I know is that I want to get an advanced degree and work in comp/synthetic bio or bio-informatics. So no, I don't think you're alone.
 
  • #4
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I'm in a somewhat similar situation. During my childhood I'd always wanted to become a biologist of some kind. First an ornithologist, then an ethologist, then an ecologist. High school just about eliminated any interests that I had besides passing tests and getting into college. Then during my first year of college I went on medical leave and realized once away from an academic setting that I love math and logic and biology. I don't know yet if I want to study bio engineering, computer science, or biology. All I know is that I want to get an advanced degree and work in comp/synthetic bio or bio-informatics. So no, I don't think you're alone.

same here, i went ChE, and took a lot of compsci classes on the side.
 
  • #5
turbo
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Where do you want to live and work? Chemical Engineering looked very good to me, since Maine had a lot of pulp and paper mills at the time (dwindling now). ChE would also be a good choice if you want to live and work in Louisiana or East Texas...

Wanting to "become a scientist" leaves you with poorly-defined goals. You don't have to refine those goals right now, because when you get into college in a technical track you'll probably share core courses with all other freshmen in your track, and probably won't be required to declare a major until you approach your second year, and will have to start choosing more specialized courses applicable to your major.
Has anyone else had the same feelings I have about physics, but gone on to become a physicist?
I switched from ChE to a double major in English Lit and Philosophy, and left school for a while to earn money, working construction jobs, mostly. Then, I applied for a job at a local pulp mill (hoping to get an "outside" job working in the wood-yard), and ended up being hired as a process chemist. That was a very roundabout route to a career that I hadn't seriously pursued. You can make plans, but then life happens.
 
  • #6
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You may want to consider at least starting out as a Biochemistry major if your school offers it. At my school at least, Biochem majors spend their first two years taking Bio I and II, General Chemistry I, Organic Chemistry I and II, Inorganic Chemistry, Physics I and II, and Calculus I and II in addition to required electives. It seems to me that this type of program would give you a good basis in many different sciences and math. If you find yourself absolutely passionate about physics or math after the first two years, you wouldn't have an impossible time switching (but it probably wouldn't be "easy"). And if you find that you like biology or chemistry, you could just continue in the biochem major and take whatever upper level electives are appropriate to your interests. (I'm a biology major that wished I had decided on biochemistry earlier, as I'm stuck taking required biology courses that are outside my interests and tried to cram a chemistry minor in at the last minute, leading to a much more demanding course-load than most of my peers.)
 
  • #7
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same here, i went ChE, and took a lot of compsci classes on the side.

I've considered doing just that. As a straight-up biology major I'd be worried about not having the technical background, but as a comp sci major I'd be worried about ending up writing code in a company office for the rest of my life, which is something that I don't really see myself enjoying. So Bio-engineering seems like a good halfway point.
 
  • #8
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I've considered doing just that. As a straight-up biology major I'd be worried about not having the technical background, but as a comp sci major I'd be worried about ending up writing code in a company office for the rest of my life, which is something that I don't really see myself enjoying. So Bio-engineering seems like a good halfway point.

yeah, but you cant get a "real job" as a bioe that pays as well as other engineering fields, so that's why i went with chemical -- it's employable in industry, and 100% backwards compatible with everything bioe.
 
  • #9
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yeah, but you cant get a "real job" as a bioe that pays as well as other engineering fields, so that's why i went with chemical -- it's employable in industry, and 100% backwards compatible with everything bioe.

Right, though at my university they're in the same dept, called CBE, Chemical and Biological Engineering. A good thing, I guess, based on what you say about employment.
 
  • #10
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Right, though at my university they're in the same dept, called CBE, Chemical and Biological Engineering. A good thing, I guess, based on what you say about employment.

yeah, i'd def get that degree fo show . . .
 
  • #11
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I think if you want to have a career in sciences, majoring in physics as an undergrad isn't a very bad choice, I'd even say you can't go wrong with it. You get a significant knowledge in science (physics), mathematics, and even some programming. Whereas, if you major in biology for your undergrad, you might see it lacking some technical skill/knowledge that you can develop. When you pursue your phd/masters and you still want to work in biological research, then I think it's easier to self study certain areas in biology than in physics in mathematics.
 
  • #12
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I think if you want to have a career in sciences, majoring in physics as an undergrad isn't a very bad choice, I'd even say you can't go wrong with it. You get a significant knowledge in science (physics), mathematics, and even some programming. Whereas, if you major in biology for your undergrad, you might see it lacking some technical skill/knowledge that you can develop. When you pursue your phd/masters and you still want to work in biological research, then I think it's easier to self study certain areas in biology than in physics in mathematics.

it's funny, because there are 9999999999 posts about not being able to readily get a job with a math/physics degree in these forurms . . .
 
  • #13
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I think if you want to have a career in sciences, majoring in physics as an undergrad isn't a very bad choice, I'd even say you can't go wrong with it. You get a significant knowledge in science (physics), mathematics, and even some programming. Whereas, if you major in biology for your undergrad, you might see it lacking some technical skill/knowledge that you can develop. When you pursue your phd/masters and you still want to work in biological research, then I think it's easier to self study certain areas in biology than in physics in mathematics.

That's how I see it too. When I look at the people working in the bio labs that do the kind of work I'd like to do, they more often have chemistry, physics, engineering, or comp sci degrees than biology degrees. I'd love to major in physics, but unfortunately I'll be a sophomore in college before I can start taking physics beyond the classical physics I've already done, and I don't think I could pull of a physics course in the 3 years I'd have left. Hopefully chem/bio engineering won't be as bad since it overlaps more with classes I've already done.
 
  • #14
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it's funny, because there are 9999999999 posts about not being able to readily get a job with a math/physics degree in these forurms . . .

From what I've seen you can't readily get a job with anything, at least not these days. It is depressing, though, to read these posts you're talking about. I don't even have a B.A. yet.
 
  • #15
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it's funny, because there are 9999999999 posts about not being able to readily get a job with a math/physics degree in these forurms . . .

Well, If he's serious with being a 'scientist', he'd probably be stuck in academia teaching and doing research. But if you'll ask me I'm fine with that.
 
  • #16
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Well, If he's serious with being a 'scientist', he'd probably be stuck in academia teaching and doing research. But if you'll ask me I'm fine with that.

That's what I plan on.

I think if you want to have a career in sciences, majoring in physics as an undergrad isn't a very bad choice, I'd even say you can't go wrong with it. You get a significant knowledge in science (physics), mathematics, and even some programming. Whereas, if you major in biology for your undergrad, you might see it lacking some technical skill/knowledge that you can develop. When you pursue your phd/masters and you still want to work in biological research, then I think it's easier to self study certain areas in biology than in physics in mathematics.

I plan on doing a biology-mathematics dual degree. Will this have the same effect?

Wanting to "become a scientist" leaves you with poorly-defined goals. You don't have to refine those goals right now, because when you get into college in a technical track you'll probably share core courses with all other freshmen in your track, and probably won't be required to declare a major until you approach your second year, and will have to start choosing more specialized courses applicable to your major.

Well, my tentative plan is to become a malacologist and study snails/slugs/cephalopods. My concern is that I'm also attracted to other sciences, and I don't want to find out that I really want to do something else, but am stuck with a biology degree. Engineering holds no appeal.

I'm in a somewhat similar situation. During my childhood I'd always wanted to become a biologist of some kind. First an ornithologist, then an ethologist, then an ecologist. High school just about eliminated any interests that I had besides passing tests and getting into college. Then during my first year of college I went on medical leave and realized once away from an academic setting that I love math and logic and biology. I don't know yet if I want to study bio engineering, computer science, or biology. All I know is that I want to get an advanced degree and work in comp/synthetic bio or bio-informatics. So no, I don't think you're alone.

:smile:


Thanks for the responses everyone.
 
  • #17
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Well, my tentative plan is to become a malacologist and study snails/slugs/cephalopods. My concern is that I'm also attracted to other sciences, and I don't want to find out that I really want to do something else, but am stuck with a biology degree. Engineering holds no appeal.

I recommend going straight to the source and looking at labs where you think you'd like to work as a grad student and postdoc. Then look at what degrees most people have in those labs. In the case of malacology, my guess is that most have biology degrees, but I may be wrong about this. Always consider that it's much easier to switch from math/physics to biology than the other way around. Lots of people working in bio labs don't have undergrad bio degrees. Systematic biology and population modelling requires a lot of math and statistics, and I'm sure that if you're working in a bio lab you pick up most of the necessary slug factoids.
 
  • #18
901
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i am just going to say this: the only pure sciences worth doing in my opinion at the BS level are Applied Math, Physics, and Computer Science.

i am getting my BS in Chemistry and the job market in chemistry is dismal. i also felt that other than the year of general chemistry, year of physical chemistry, the 2 quarters of instrumental analysis and 1 quarter of materials science lab, i've learned nothing useful that could not have been learned in physics, applied math or compsci.

i am serious, inorganic chemistry, biochemistry and organic chemistry are worthless, and that's 5 quarters of 2x classes (lab and lecture). That's almost 2 years of classes wasted for things you will never use in your life. i worked in pharmaceuticals and you will never carry out a new chemical synthesis by hand, its the giant reactors that do it all (by the way, chemical kinetics and reactor design is a pain too, but useful, though an elective; you won't really get to use it though because the Chemical Engineers do it).

the only useful chemistry classes in industry are statistics, physical chemistry, and instrumental analysis.

do not think about what you "like" because no one "likes" anything after it makes them unemployed.

and do not do bio. All of my bio classmates are flipping burgers, being waitresses, tutoring high school or unemployed.
 
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  • #19
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do not think about what you "like" because no one "likes" anything after it makes them unemployed.

This should be engraved in stone and displayed in every college campus.
 
  • #20
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I am fairly similar insofar as I too have a variety of interests which span the sciences (well not all of them of course). Does your school have any interdisciplinary undergraduate majors? For instance, at my university they offer a Biomathematics program and to solve this problem I may double major in Physics and Biomathematics. The Biomaths program is basically an applied math degree geared towards bio with bio electives. So you need the standard Calc I-III, Diffy Eq, Partial Diffy Eq and you need stats,probability, Differential equations in Bio and Discrete systemes in Bio as well as Gen Bio I&II. Electives include Neurobiology courses, Genetics courses, systems physiology courses, comp. bio courses and sensory proccess classes offered from the Biomedical Engineering Dept. This would provide you with a fairly wide background including technical skills like programming and math skills and the like as well as bio knowledge
 
  • #21
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I think if you want to have a career in sciences, majoring in physics as an undergrad isn't a very bad choice, I'd even say you can't go wrong with it. You get a significant knowledge in science (physics), mathematics, and even some programming. Whereas, if you major in biology for your undergrad, you might see it lacking some technical skill/knowledge that you can develop. When you pursue your phd/masters and you still want to work in biological research, then I think it's easier to self study certain areas in biology than in physics in mathematics.
I always think about it. I am currently in college second year, molecular biology and I feel like I am not learning enough technical knowledge from my school program. I am currently considering to switch into chemistry. Physics seems to me way off-line for a prospective biologist, whereas chemistry is very convertible to either way.
 
  • #22
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I always think about it. I am currently in college second year, molecular biology and I feel like I am not learning enough technical knowledge from my school program. I am currently considering to switch into chemistry. Physics seems to me way off-line for a prospective biologist, whereas chemistry is very convertible to either way.

Well yeah, I think chemistry is a pretty safe option since it can net you industry jobs just in case you want to put your higher education on hold after getting the degree. Also, it complements biology, especially molecular biology (it's like biochemistry if I'm not mistaken).
 
  • #23
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take it from a chemistry major, you don't learn too much hardcore technical stuff here either. you will have 5 technical classes. programming (which everyone takes), analytical chemistry, 3 classes of physical chemistry and lab.

yes, chemistry can net you industry jobs, so can physics.

the difference is chemistry jobs are 8 dollars an hour lab serf jobs. How do I know? I worked in a pharmaceutical plant as an intern and that's what the guys next to me made. any physics major could do the exact same job. one of the analysts there got his degree in geology and was doing the same analytical crap we were, so that shows how little actual chemistry you need beyond general chemistry, as long as you have a technical background.

there are more applications of physics to biology than there is of chemistry. it is hard to truly understand modern biological analysis or protein dynamics without physics, while chemistry applied to biology is just memorization.
 

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