1. Not finding help here? Sign up for a free 30min tutor trial with Chegg Tutors
    Dismiss Notice
Dismiss Notice
Join Physics Forums Today!
The friendliest, high quality science and math community on the planet! Everyone who loves science is here!

Fallback Major

  1. Jun 14, 2008 #1
    My main interest is Computer Science but I'm afraid my Mathematical skills are average (not blessed with good genes). I've heard Biology is an easy science where all you need is good memory skills. Would this be a good fallback major? Thanks.

    Jordan Joab.
  2. jcsd
  3. Jun 14, 2008 #2


    User Avatar
    Staff Emeritus
    Science Advisor

    I wouldn't think that any sciences are "easy"; I imagine it is just a different way of learning and studying. I don't know where the idea that Biology is just memory work came from, but I can't see that this will be correct. Perhaps you're speaking from high school experience (I remember that the only Biology I ever did in school was basically memorising things), but then you should note that university level study in almost any subject is nothing like the high school level.
  4. Jun 14, 2008 #3


    User Avatar
    Homework Helper
    Gold Member

    Biology is most certainly not an "easy" science, involving just memory. A lot of biology uses detailed statistics, mathematical analysis and models.

    If you're not good at Math, practice. Since most scientific fields involve heavy usage of mathematics, it'd be worth the effort.
  5. Jun 14, 2008 #4
    Hey i remember you from last week's thread..hope it wasnt too much of a downer on your CS aspirations.

    What do you plan to do with biology? Go into healthcare?

    Yeah theres lots of memorization in bio, but theres also alot of thinking too. So you can imagine for a given midterm, you will memorize alot and think about it on exams. Memoirzation might actually be the easy part if you're really into this stuff. If not..then it could get very boring! Bio courses are indeed tough and challenging. Do you like biology?? DOn't fall back on something you think might be easy yet you won't enjoy. What kind of biology are you interested in? Bacteria? Plants? Ecology? Marine? lots of fields you might be interested in. Do you plan to take your bio degree for a particular career?

    so bottom line:there is lots of memorization and THINKING (as with all college majors).
  6. Jun 14, 2008 #5
    I'm going to have to go with the consensus on this one. If any Science were rooted purely in memorization, then there would be very little advancement. Plus, biology won't save you from doing mathematics. Predator/prey models, population dynamics, and evolutionary game theory are all biological applications of mathematics. A lot of these applications have lead to very interesting innovations in biology.

    If you are serious about becoming a scientist, I suggest you work on your mathematics. Just remember that math is not innate, and that you are going to have to put some serious effort into learning it. However, as long as you are willing to work hard, you should be fine.
  7. Jun 14, 2008 #6


    User Avatar
    Homework Helper

    What is a fallback major? You have to pick a major, so unless you have 2 majors you have nothing on which to fall back to.
  8. Jun 14, 2008 #7
    Alright, good answers. Thank you. I simply don't think hard work is going to help me learn math. I believe a person's math skills are tied to their genes. For example, recently I confused .10% for ten percent and I could not comprehend how anyone could argue .10% = 0.001. Needless to say, I made a fool of myself. I see people my age working on complex math problems and I can't even force myself to understand it as if it was an alien language. The majority of my close friends are engineers or business-types and here I am without no degree feeling dumb.

    So, no, no one will convince me that learning math is all about self-choice. It seems my IQ is at around 108. Average. But apparently my wife recommends I become a journalist because "I am good with words" yet my mother is an economist and my father a doctor. Suffice to say I am angry and frustrated. I apologize for the rant. Have a good day.

    Jordan Joab.
  9. Jun 14, 2008 #8

    Ivan Seeking

    User Avatar
    Staff Emeritus
    Science Advisor
    Gold Member

    How much math have you had?
  10. Jun 14, 2008 #9


    User Avatar
    Homework Helper
    Education Advisor
    Gold Member

    Jordan_Joab - You are seriously misjudging yourself. New things happen when you seriously study. Genes are not everything; and Biology is not such an easy science either.
  11. Jun 14, 2008 #10
    Last year I could barely solve for x or add fractions. Now I am currently taking Linear Algebra and doing well. I worked hard everyday ... read as much math books as possible. I pushed to become a tutor at a community college, taking advantage of every opportunity possible to improve my math skills. It's not all about the genes, when desire overcomes fear ... anything is possible.

    Also, don't compare yourself to other people.
  12. Jun 14, 2008 #11
    Getting a PhD in biology would certainly be difficult, but if we're restricting ourselves to undergraduate studies, there is no comparison between the conceptual difficulty of biology and, say, math or physics.

    It's true that some areas of biology are challenging mathematically, like predator-prey systems. But in order to do that rigorously in undergrad, you would need Differential Equations as a prerequisite, and no biology program I've ever seen requires that. If you're not going to do it rigorously, you would just need to memorize a bunch of formulas, which is not challenging mathematically.
  13. Jun 15, 2008 #12
    I definitely agree with you that biology does not require a very rigorous preparation in mathematics (students only have to reach Calc II at my school). However, I find that the people I know who are actually passionate about learning biology, go above and beyond and have a pretty good mathematical understanding of things like the predator-prey models even though they can't talk about it with the rigor of a mathematician.

    I think my main point is that one should not select a "fallback major" on the basis that it might be easier than what they really want to study. If you are not actually enthusiastic about the study of biology then it will be hell. Jordan, if you really are passionate about computer science, then you should follow through with it. Don't be scared of the math. Math is not in the genes. No one plops out of their mother's womb with an intrinsic understanding of the Pythagorean Theorem or the ability to prove that prime numbers go on infinitely. Mathematics is like writing a beautiful poem. It looks easy to do, but it actually involves a deep, and often difficult, process. The only way to cultivate the skills to write the poetry of mathematics is through practice.
  14. Jun 18, 2008 #13

    Be wary of taking the easy path. If computer science is what fascinates you, stick with it and work through the hard stuff. I was in your situation as a college freshman, and I decided to go with my "easier" option, Business/IS over Computer Science because I got a C- in Calc II, and felt like it took much longer to understand concepts that many of my classmates seemed to understand innately. Years later, I've sat down with Maths books own and really understood those concepts I used to struggle so much with. I now wish I'd stuck with it and gotten a computer science degree, because I realize now I totally could have handled it.

    your .10%/10% issue is a common type of mistake that even super-smart people make. Don't let it discourage you.
  15. Jun 18, 2008 #14


    User Avatar
    Science Advisor
    Education Advisor

    This is why I think it's a good idea to take as wide a variety of subjects as you can in your first year or two of university. The type of thinking needed varies between different disciplines and its hard to know what you're really good at until you've done it and discovered your passion.
  16. Jun 19, 2008 #15
    The whole "I'm naturally bad at X" thing is a bunch of bull propagated by people who don't want to put in the real work it takes to become good, so that they can feel good about failing. I highly recommend you change your attitude, because it is going to hold you back at whatever you decide to do. Everyone has trouble with math from time to time, and the difference between those who are great and those who aren't is how they react when they encounter a difficulty.

    This is not just anecdotal. There has been a lot of research in the last 25 years on the topic of "the expert mind" - studies have been done on mathematicians, chess grandmasters, top musicians, world class athletes, etc - and found the following common themes among the experts: 1) they looked on problems as obstacles to be overcome rather than natural deficiencies, 2) they loved what they did, 3) they had worked really really hard for a long time (10+ years) with "directed training" with the goal of improvement (not just doing the same thing they have already mastered over and over again). The evidence overwhelmingly shows that expert talent is not innate.
  17. Jun 19, 2008 #16
    Er... you might want to stay away from biology. :smile:

    Seriously, you seem a reasonably intelligent sort. Go study something you think will interest you, not something you think will pay well, or that your wife/girlfriend/mother/uncle thinks would be a good career for you.

    A little ability never hurts, but 99% of success is hard work.
    Last edited: Jun 19, 2008
  18. Jun 19, 2008 #17
    I know that a large percentage of students that "Wash-Out" of the Engineering program at my school choose to continue in Business. Many of the students actually joke about it when they are feeling bogged down.

    I'm someone that believes you can do almost anything you want if you seek the right guidance and put forth the required effort. I know people moving on to Diff-EQ this year that started with remedial mathematics courses learning how to add fractions and do basic multiplication/division problems. I myself started in Pre-Calculus when I returned to school a year and a half ago. Now I've finished Calculus II and Linear Algebra, and plan to finish my mathematics sequence with Multivariate and Diff-EQ this year.

    Aim high, ask for help, and work your tail off.
    Last edited: Jun 19, 2008
  19. Jun 19, 2008 #18
    I'm going to have to say math skills can be learned by hard work, and I'm proof of it.

    I failed math in high school and most subjects. I went into a "special program" where I went to work in a near by factory for the first half of the day. There were 30 students or so in this program from 5 schools. You can probably guess we were not on the college track.

    So basically I learned tech math, lmao. How many parts in the bin, 16. LMAO. I'm not garbageting you.

    Then I joined the Navy and I very difficultly learned basic alebgra for my job. That I never understood really then.

    But I read part of a cool book towards the end of the Navy, and thanks to my officers advice that I should learn more math guided me to study it in college after the Navy.

    I took it a bit far though. I just got my bachelors in math, lol.

    I swear to you though, I studied 3 to 4 times as much as others. And the first courses I took in college algebra and precalculus in my freshman year kicked my ass something fierce. But I hung with it.

    So I say, anyone who says they can't are a coward and a weakling. (Please don't be those things, for your own sake.) If you want it and want to be good at it, don't be afraid of failure and pain. Otherwise you'll be severly limited in life. Because most everything worth having in life requires huge amounts of failure and pain.

    Good luck. I know you can learn the math if you put your mind and energy to it. So what it takes you so much longer to get. So what. At least you'll get it, and it'll be worth it. I promise.

    As a fallback major. I've always thought math with a minor in CS would be the perfect fallback major.
  20. Jun 19, 2008 #19


    User Avatar
    Science Advisor
    Education Advisor

    I agree that people can improve themselves with study and hard work. But in order to do so they have to be internally motivated. If it took me four times the effort put out by the average student in a subject just to keep up, I would probably start to consider other fields where I was stronger.
  21. Jun 19, 2008 #20
    I concur. It does take enormous amounts of internal motivation. I just happen to think math is awesome. But I know it is the hardest subject for me. To be totally honest. It's the only subject I couldn't guarantee an A in with hard work.

    One of the major reasons I stuck with math is because it really really challenged me. Call me a lover of pain, but I thought it was worth it to push myself like that.

    I have a really hard time accepting nature given limitations. I have a lifestyle of combating them.
Know someone interested in this topic? Share this thread via Reddit, Google+, Twitter, or Facebook

Have something to add?