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Deciding Double Major with Mathematics and Microbiology

  1. Sep 12, 2014 #1
    Hello! I am a sophomore with a major in microbiology; my future goal is to attend the graduate school with virology/medical microbiology program and become a virologist specialized in the influenza & VHF viruses. Currently, I am taking the Organic Chemistry I, Immunology (graduate-level), and Biostatistics with R (graduate-level); I also have been working as an undergraduate researcher to the virology lab specialized in the influenza viruses.

    I wrote this post because I have been debating whether I should double major in microbiology and mathematics. I found out that I am really interested in the mathematics, particularly the number theory and mathematical biology (modeling and differential equations). I talked with my adviser, and he recommended me take start all over with the Honors single-variable calculus sequence that focuses on the proof and analysis; on my freshman year, I took the Calculus I, which is just a first semester of year-long single-variable calculus. If I double major in microbiology and math, I am looking for five years before I graduate and apply for the graduate schools. Although it seems that I should just major in a microbiology and graduate in 4 years, I have been slowly realizing the importance of mathematics and statistics in the biological science (quite many biologists are not familiar with the mathematics). Should I double major in the microbiology and math? Is it advantageous to double major in a natural science and math for the graduate programs? Also is five-year plan not looked favorably by the graduate schools? I was thinking about major in microbiology and minor in math, but I think minor in math will not really train me well in the mathematics as much as major in terms of applications and depth. One other option is to just take the math&statistics&computer science courses that are important for my research, but I feel like such way is not good for having a firm grasp in mathematics.

    I apologize for this long post, and I look forward to your great advice!


  2. jcsd
  3. Sep 12, 2014 #2
    Could you opt to just use the calculus courses you already took instead of taking the honor's levels? Would that allow for the 4 year plan to stay? If so it may be worth it to just do that.
  4. Sep 13, 2014 #3


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    Graduate school admissions committees do not care about four vs five year plans in general -particularly not if you add on that extra year for a second major. (A flag might be some one who has a reduced course load, under some circumstances.)

    The second major would give you the option of attending graduate school in math. But if you have no intention of this, then it's not necessary. Taking the minor gives you the flexibility to take the courses you want without having to take any you don't.

    You may want to write out the courses required for the different options, research the syllabuses of each, and then make your decision based on what material you would be taking rather than just the labels.
  5. Sep 13, 2014 #4


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    Is it possible to complete it in 4 years? As Choppy said, graduate schools shouldn't care about the amount of years it took you, but if it creates a hassle for you, try considering a minor in math or just taking courses in math (without being enrolled in a degree program).

    As far as I know, unless you go into something like bioinfomatics, a math/computer science degree isn't really needed to succeed in research.
  6. Sep 13, 2014 #5
    What Rocket said, the math is only helpful if you intend to use it for research.

    Incidentally there are some very cool areas of research in biology which do leverage quite a bit of math, but if you're not planning on entering one of those I'm not sure why you'd take the extra course work over just doing more research.
  7. Sep 13, 2014 #6


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    Sounds like you're wanting to get into bioinformatics, biostatistics, and/or systems/computational biology for graduate research. For bioinformatics the most important thing you can do is develop strong programming skills. That's one of the primary things graduate schools in bioinformatics look for.

    Don't know much about Biostatistics. There is a stats guy that posts here that does biostatistics, so I'll let him talk about that.

    Dynamical modeling for systems biology is going to be one of the most math heavy, implementing ordinary and partial differential equations and stochastic techniques for developing numerical models. If you're thinking about something like that then a strong math background and a strong background in numerical analysis will be important.
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