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Following your gut feeling when making deciding on a major?

  1. Aug 17, 2012 #1
    Hey, I'm having trouble deciding on my major. I wonder how you guys knew that the major you chose was the one for you. Did you rely on your "gut feeling"? Is it reliable? Or is logic better, in terms of knowing that you are good in that particular subject, there are good job prospects with that degree, etc.?

    I failed college miserably my freshmen year. I majored in Engineering, which I knew I wouldn't be good at, but i did it anyways because I thought it was wise to have an Engineering degree in my back pocket, which is one of the few degrees that would land me a job at the undergraduate level.

    But I love science. People tell me that perhaps I failed because I'm not a "sciency" person, that I may be more of a communications person. But I have this gut feeling that I am a "sciency" person. Is that gut feeling reliable?
  2. jcsd
  3. Aug 17, 2012 #2
    I was just "ok" in math when I was in high school. I made the wrong choice of degree at university too, twice actually, for the same reason you described.

    Then I went into physics which was what I had always wanted to do and have done fairly well so far.

    Gut feeling is reliable only if you're disciplined enough to put in enough hard work to back up your "dreams".
  4. Aug 17, 2012 #3
    Neither your "gut feeling" or nor logic can tell you which path to follow. That's more the purview of your heart. What do you like? If you like something enough, you'll never fail it.
  5. Aug 17, 2012 #4
    Follow your gut instincts. I've made bad decisions before.

    However note that though you might be a science and math person, engineering is also about brute forcing through the homework, which there's alot of, and heavy courseloads of up to 4 hard upper division classes and/or labs per quarter. Can you take that? 8 hours of homework or lab per class, for 4 classes, plus course time? Straight physical sciences has lower courseloads.
  6. Aug 17, 2012 #5


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    It depends entirely on whether you have reason to trust your "gut instincts". For some people "gut instincts" just means an emotional reaction (which is not necessarily in and of itself bad but it can be a bit shallow) but for many, particularly more experienced people, "gut instincts" really mean a choice made based on a not yet fully consciously articularted mix of sub-consciously considered things including a significant range of emotional, practical, and intellectual ones.
  7. Aug 18, 2012 #6
    Chill-factor, good points and thanks for the heads up. I've realized that engineering doesn't suit me. The long hours of hw scares me, but what scares me even more are the group projects and presentations. Now, I'm considering neuroscience. My university doesn't offer it as a major, so I think I'm going to major in biochemistry. Do you think biochemistry is less rigorous than engineering?
  8. Aug 18, 2012 #7
    Phinds,thanks for clearing it up for me.
  9. Aug 18, 2012 #8
    Take note whether the biochemistry major is in the chemistry or biology departments. In the chemistry department you'll still take the standard physics and math classes for engineers, and you'll have to apply those in physical chemistry and analytical chemistry. Bio departments have less math requirements, often just calculus, and sometimes have special physics classes with lower requirements.

    Some physics departments offer a biophysics major. I think that might be most useful to go into neuroscience. You might also consider biomedical engineering, which is less rigorous in terms of hardcore math than other engineering disciplines.
  10. Aug 18, 2012 #9
    Chillfactor, ahhh good points. I got dismissed from my university and must complete lower division science courses before being readmitted. At the cc I'm going to attend, they don't offer the special calc and physics for biosciences, as they do at my university. My university does hold the biochemistry major under the college of biological sciences, though. I hope community college courses have a better curve. I don't think or hope that the material at community colleges will be easier though. Am I right?

    Why do you think that biophysics would be most useful to go into neuroscience? Isn't there more chemistry to do with the brain than there is physics? Thank you so much for your help, chill factor!
  11. Aug 18, 2012 #10


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    How do you know that the amount of homework is really going to be much, much less in a science major compared to engineering? Science is still a lot of work. And why do you think there will be no group projects or presentations in a science major? There certainly will be - labs, research presentations, etc. Presentations are certainly not a skill you should be trying to avoid, especially if you are considering a career in science.

    This is not to discourage you from going into science, but you should be going into it with the awareness that it's going to be a lot of work still, and it's not going to be easy - although it may be easier than engineering and some majors may be easier than others. However, you shouldn't pick a major just because it's easy. You should find something that you really like - something that you like so much it makes you willing to work hard and get better at the things you're presently not good at. You sound like you didn't really like engineering much to begin with. Choosing a "useful" major you don't like is a good way to not do well in your classes because you won't be inspired to work at the aspects that you find difficult.

    That said, I suppose in all fairness it's possible that you're simply not good at this or that and you want to find a major where you don't have to deal with it, but I find that thinking that you can't do something is a good way to set yourself up to fail at it because you've already convinced yourself you can't.

    So, I guess that's a long-winded way of saying that you should go into science if you think that's what you'll like enough to excel at it, but don't go into it expecting it to be easy, and don't going into it telling yourself this or that is too hard and you're just not good at it. You might surprise yourself and find that you are good at it if you stop telling yourself you aren't!

    Well, one might argue that chemistry is a subset of physics, so that would imply that physics has at least as much to do with the brain as chemistry does. The former part of that sentence is perhaps debatable, but I would say the latter part is true.

    The real question is, what aspect of neuroscience interests you the most? That might dictate which major would be better.

    Both chemists and physicists will have their own ways of looking at the brain, and find different problems interesting (there is of course some overlap). A biochemist might be more interested in the chemical activity between dendrites and axons in neurons, or the ion channels in the cell membranes of axons, for example, while a physicist might be more interested in studying the properties of neuronal network firings.

    Check your university's biology, chemistry/biochem and physics department webpages to see if there is anyone doing neuroscience research.

    You might also check to see if your university has a cognitive science department or program. At my undergrad there wasn't a neuroscience department, but there was a inter-disciplinary cogsci program which involved several aspects of brain research, including psychology, biology (even philosophy, I think). That might give you some ideas too.
  12. Aug 20, 2012 #11
    Thanks Mute. That was very helpful.
  13. Aug 20, 2012 #12
    here is why i say that physics is more useful than chemistry for neuroscience.

    there's 2 types of neuroscience done in chemistry departments (if at all!): quantitative/computational biology, and neurochemistry.

    Neurochemistry is about the chemistry of compounds with psychological effects. That has nothing to do with the brain itself, just the compounds.

    Quantitative/computational biology, which is about things like neural networks, computational genetics and modeling biosystems, is also done in physics, and physics provides a better background because its more mathematical.

    Also, I say science is less work than engineering because the schedule is usually more flexible and the prerequisites for upper level classes are less rigid so if you fall behind, you can catch up more easily. There's also less homework in terms of number of problems and the pace is slower; they'll split hard classes up into 2-3 quarters instead of making you go through a phonebook sized textbook in a single quarter which has happened to me before. The total credit requirements and number of required core classes is usually the same for all science/engineering majors.

    It might be different by engineering discipline, especially for non-ABET majors and non-traditional engineering. My school's biomedical engineering and materials science majors were more flexible than ME, EE and ChemE in terms of prerequisites but at other schools they might be more rigorous so you have to check your school catalog.
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