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Double Major in Physics and Medical Sciences

  1. Mar 6, 2014 #1
    Hi everyone,

    So I'm currently in first year and have taken introductory biology, calculus, chemistry, physics and psychology. Ever since I've started University, I've known that I enjoy Physics and this year has helped solidify this notion for me. I also know though that I really enjoy Medical Sciences. My school offers the streams of honours specializations, specializations, majors and minors for different modules. I am actually planning on doing a double major in both Physics and Medical Sciences, but there are a few things I'd like to consider first...

    As of now, My second year would consist of me taking (I'm taking a basic Statistics course in the summer as well):

    Intermediate Calculus (2nd Year level) (1.0)
    Biochemistry (2nd Year level) (0.5)
    Genetics (2nd Year level) (0.5)
    Cell Biology (2nd Year level) (0.5)
    Human Physiology (3rd Year level) (1.0)
    Organic Chemistry (2nd Year level) (1.0)
    Linear Algebra I (1st Year level) (0.5)
    Physics Seminar Course (non-credit)

    As you can see, I will have taken no actual Physics courses in 2nd year, yet it is still possible to complete a major or even specialization if I take this route. I would have to take all the courses listed by the end of April of my second year, besides Calculus, Linear Algebra and Human Physiology, if I want to remain in Medical Sciences though. I would also have to finish the Calculus and Linear Algebra by the end of my 2nd year as well to remain eligible for the Physics module. My main problem with this is: I won't have a good grasp of what exactly to expect in future upper year Physics courses and I will be committing to either a major/specialization that I'm not quite sure about even. I'll only be exposed to a bit more of the math behind it (I'm actually thinking about a Specialization in Applied Mathematics as a back-up possibly as well, instead of Physics, but I highly doubt it).

    So after all this, my main question is: from your experience and personal opinion, do you think it is a good idea to commit to a Physics major or specialization only after taking an introductory Physics course and a few math courses? I know I'm really interested in the field, I just don't know if my expectations are different from reality of upper year courses. Does anyone mind commenting on how they found their upper year Physics courses and their enjoyment level during the course? :)

    Also, another thing that is important is future career paths. At the moment, I am really interested in pursuing veterinary medicine. Taking the Physics major is really out of pure interest, but I'm also open to exploring any opportunities in this field as well. So this brings me to my next question: how important is a thesis or research experience in general for entry into a graduate program? The Honours Specialization and Specialization in Physics are essentially the same thing (i.e. same number and type of courses taken), they require 2 different courses to be taken that I have not taken so I am restricted to the normal Specialization (not that big of a deal). Now, the difference b/w a major and specialization is 6 half courses, and this is what I have to determine. Will having limited research experience and a specialization in Physics really be that advantageous compared to a major when applying and completing a graduate degree in Physics?

    Also, before I forget to mention, I have looked into Medical Physics as an option but must say I am not particularly interested in it. It is definitely a huge field that's essential to advancements in medicine, but it just isn't exactly the side of Physics I am exactly interested in. I've been doing research in Diagnostic Imaging and although the work is important and is necessary, I just don't have a particular interest for it. If I'm not mistaken, a major component of it is Imaging and Computer Science. These are two crucial aspects of research but I cannot say that I truly enjoy them. Just wondering, is there a lot of work and research done in Physics that doesn't involve much Computer Science? I realize it's a very helpful tool and it's not like I hate it or anything, I just find it rather mundane, but that's just me.

    I know this is rather personal but I was just wondering if any of you had any input on this. Also, for practical reasons, are fields in Medical Sciences like Immunology, Pathology or Biochemistry easier to find positions in academia compared to Physics? Having back-up options is always nice and although I know I'll be taking Physics courses, I'm not sure if it will be purely out of enjoyment or for a future career in the field. Any help would be greatly appreciated!
  2. jcsd
  3. Mar 6, 2014 #2
    Also, is there any type of work/research in Medical Physics that does not require imaging? Specifically anything that combines specific knowledge from fields like Cell Biology and Biochemistry for purposes like drug therapy and understanding of disease mechanisms? Is there any Physics applications in these areas? Sorry if my questions seem a bit misinformed. I'm just trying to gain a better grasp of future opportunities and any advice or anecdotes would be amazing!
  4. Mar 6, 2014 #3


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    There are of course a lot of research problems in medical physics that don't involve imaging. These might include quality and error analysis problems, radiobiology problems, radiation measurement, nanomaterial dose-enhancement, etc., which might be the kinds of things you're looking for.

    The clinical practice of medical physics (in just about any of its branches) is going to involve imaging to some extent - now and through the foreseeable future. So in order to work as a medical physicist, you need to be able to at least "tolerate" a fair amount of imaging and signal processing.

    You may want to look up "biophysics" as an alternative that might be more in line with what you're looking for. This is a diverse field that involves things like protein folding, pharmacokinetics and pharmacodynamics, and even modelling of large scale ecosystems.

    As to your other questions... I decided on a major after my first year so all I had was a first year course to go by and it worked out well for me. (That was how my school worked. It worked out well for most of my classmates as well.) The issue is that at some point you have to make a decision. A lot of students make this before they even start university. So having a couple of years under your belt - with intermediate courses or not is working to your advantage.

    One thing you might try is just to visit your local undergraduate physics society group. This will give you an opportunity to talke with some upper year students and learn what their experience has been like.

    As to research experience as an undergrad... it's a good idea, but not imperative. I think the biggest advantage that it gives you is a taste of what graduate school will be like, allowing you to make some informed decisions. It also helps to develop relationships for references and develop skills that you won't get from courses.
  5. Mar 6, 2014 #4
    Thank you! I'll definitely keep these points in mind!
  6. Mar 6, 2014 #5
    Just wondering, did you take any CS courses throughout your studies specifically? Did you learn programming by yourself? I feel like this is one area that I am lacking in, and as far as I've heard, it would help tremendously in the future. Biophysics definitely seems like something I am interested in (i.e. protein folding, cellular interactions), maybe if I could understand more about that mechanism of imaging first though...
  7. Mar 6, 2014 #6


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    I took a first year introduction to programming course that covered fortran 90 and then in my fourth year I took a computational physics course that was very project oriented.

    If you're going to become a physicist in any capacity, learning the basics of programming is an extremely valuable tool to have.

    Something to keep in mind is that the problems become more interesting the further you go and the more you can do. Of course a first year programming course is going to be mundane. So are inclined planes with given coefficients of friction.
  8. Mar 6, 2014 #7
    Haha well put. Yes, there's actually a computation physics project course in upper years at my school and I may end up taking it....besides those courses, did you not take any other courses in the subject or extra learning by yourself? Sorry for the personal questions, it's just nice to have someone to compare to even though we all have different paths.
  9. Mar 7, 2014 #8


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    Indeed. Everything is fascinating if you go deep enough. I spent several months going down the rabbit hole studying how to make improved switches for a project I'm working on. It just was incredibly interesting.
  10. Mar 7, 2014 #9


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    Well, I learned a lot over the course of my MSc and PhD - not formally, but through working on various projects. I have found that coding is one of those things that you can learn by doing once you've mastered the basics. The down side to that is that uncorrected bad habits tend to propagate.
  11. Mar 7, 2014 #10
    Definitely. On a slightly unrelated note, is there anyone here who's gone down the Biophysics route and could possibly shed a bit of light perhaps on the field in terms of employment, types of work and specific courses you enjoyed and ones you would highly recommend? I am still highly keen on pursuing professional school (primarily vet) but am certainly not strictly focusing on this and am open to new and different suggestions.

    As of now, I have looked into a Biophysics program offered by my school and it has a clinical concentration, so there will be quite a bit of imaging involved. I guess it would probably be best to get more experience in the field rather than shutting doors since besides a few courses, all these courses are ones I truly enjoy. I would be taking pure Physics and Math courses, among a few Biology, Chemistry, and some Biophysics and imaging courses. My main concern is that the program does not require much math past 2nd year Calculus (it doesn't even require 1st year Linear Algebra) and it involves no computer science courses at all. I know courses vary among schools, but are there any in particular in both Math and Computer Science that you would recommend? I am planning on taking Linear Algebra, but only in 3rd year, and I have looked at a few courses and may take an introductory one to MATLAB, but this is all tentative. Just trying to get a grasp on things. :)

    Thank you for the replies btw. I've definitely been doing some independent research on topics you guys have mentioned and they've been helpful to say the least!
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