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Math From medicine to mathematics

  1. Jun 10, 2009 #1
    Hi everyone,

    I'm looking for any advice about the possibility of abandoning my medical studies to study mathematics and mathematical sciences (my passion, I believe).

    Here is the background of my situation:

    Mathematics, physics, programming etc have always come quickly to me. I've worked on big programming projects in my spare time which have brought me great enjoyment and am very interested in many fields in mathematics, physics, computers etc. At the end of high school I went into medicine (an undergraduate degree in Australia). I wasn't sure I wanted to do it but my idea was to try it and transfer if I didn't like it. From there on things have been tough.

    At the end of my first year in medicine I started to have doubts. I felt uncomfortable spending so much time rote learning biology, firstly because it didn't enthrall me, and secondly because I didn't see it contributing to my intellectual development. At that point it was too late to apply for a transfer, so I stayed.

    At the end of my second year, I felt very bad about medicine. I started gathering information about career prospects in science. However, all the older academics I spoke to told me the same thing: 'Stay in medicine'. They said careers in science were so tough, and unrewarding compared to medicine, that I shouldn't do it. In spite of this, I followed my heart and applied to transfer to science, majoring in mathematics and physics and enrolled (but stayed enrolled in medicine). For a while I attended both science and medicine, and when I had to make I final decision I ended up staying in medicine.

    Dis-enrolling from science was a deeply painful moment and it marked the beginning of an ongoing depression. I continued attending the science classes, and finished the semester of medicine with worse grades. Since then (for the past 1.5 years) I've been studying mathematics and physics as hard as I can, while keeping up my with medical work. I've had no problems covering many subjects (linear algebra, multi-variable calculus, real & complex analysis, probability & statistics, quantum mechanics, electrodynamics, relativity) and am getting into higher stuff (measure theory, algebraic structures). Something compels me to work and work on those subjects.

    So the situation now is:

    I've completed 3.5 out of 6 years of medicine, and many unofficial math/physics subjects. I have another opportunity to transfer, so now is the time to try to make a decision, again. The things keeping me in medicine are:

    -Some societal pressure; plenty of people have already started calling me 'Doctor'. I can get over this.

    -Fear that I will regret transferring. Whenever I speak to older people they express a great appreciation for medicine (the nobility and usefulness and so on), and I worry this is an appreciation that comes with age, and that will come to me with age, causing me to regret my decision, especially if I don't achieve a very successful career in science

    -Fear that my attraction to a science career is based on fantasies. That I may be overestimating my talents and my ability to succeed

    -Fear that I am slightly too old (I just turned 21) to be able to become a really great mathematician/physicist

    -Some appreciation of the virtues of medicine; helping people directly on a daily basis is appealing (although it doesn't excite me like science does)

    -Thinking I am throwing away the responsible, safe career choice for something unpredictable

    -The fact that I start clinicals for the first time next semester, which I should perhaps get a taste of before I decide to leave

    Ok, sorry for the overly long post, it's complex, and I've been trying to deal with it for a long time. I'd really appreciate your thoughts. In summary, I think my heart is in mathematical sciences, but to remove myself from medicine will take more guts than I have had up til this point, having been told many times by people much more experienced than me that it's a bad career move.

    Thanks again for any input.
  2. jcsd
  3. Jun 10, 2009 #2
    You have obviously thought a lot about this. I wouldn't think you are rash in changing career track now. Spending the rest of your life doing the safe thing may just make you regret your whole life.

    Do something you love, not something that everyone else thinks you should do.
  4. Jun 12, 2009 #3


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    Since your scientific interests are in math and physics, and nothing biological, I have to agree with Sankaku. You've really given it much consideration already, and plenty of time to make sure medicine isn't going to get better for you, that I think you already know the decision you want to make and should go for it. If your interests were more aligned with the biological sciences, I'd encourage you to hang on with medicine and then go for a PhD in your interest area only because biomedical research is a lot easier in today's world if you have a good understanding of the clinical relevance of whatever you're working on and can do clinical trials. But, if that's not the direction you plan to head, you're only torturing yourself by forcing yourself to finish a degree in a field you don't enjoy.
  5. Jun 13, 2009 #4


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    I think you'd be surprised at what you can achieve even in a small time.

    1. Thinking you're throwing away the safe career for an unpredictable one.

    We all thrive on challenges. Its our nature to choose whats safe and secure so much that we pigeonhole ourselves. You're facing a decision nearly all of us face in our lives: take the safe option or take a risk. Usually in most cases the risk bears more rewards but requires you to take a somewhat "leap of faith" and trust your inner judgement. My advice is to take a calculated risk (which by the sounds of it you're doing anyway) and take the plunge.

    2. Fear that I am slightly too old.

    Brother, 21 is not old. 50 might be getting there, 70 as well, but 21 is not old. Age is no barrier when willpower triumphs. It might be corny, but your willpower will help you through to become the best if that is what you so desire. Of course take advice of people around you, ask questions, be curious, and don't forget the lessons you learn't along the way. Also if you do reach the top of the pile (sounds like you may with your motivation), then remember good ethical judgement and to help people in your situation now.

    3. Societal pressure - People call me 'Doctor'

    It probably would be addictive to be called doc because of the perks. But remember this -
    Your reputation is on the line and if you decide to change you have to be honest with
    those around you. If they place their faith in you and trust that you do have the answers
    when you don't then it becomes hairy both for you and for people and your reputation is
    smeared. So my advice is 1) don't let it get to you or your head and 2) be honest about what you really want to do and if people are in doubt tell them your true situation. Sometimes that alone can save you a heap of trouble in the long run.

    4. Fear that my attraction to science is based on fantasies.

    Its a funny thing but a lot of peoples ambitions start from fantasies. You hear of sports people going to a baseball game as children and dreaming of being the next Babe ruth. We have our young scientists dream of becoming the next Albert Einstein. We have people that dream of solving problems of the world and I imagine everyone from many different disciplines and areas of human endeavour started out exactly the same way. As long as you don't tread on other things in the process of your dream, then its safe to say that it should be all well to research. If you think its too much of a fantasy you should refer to science that already exists and maybe discuss your ambitions with a scientist. If you're still unconvinced you could keep working at it, but my advice is to use the mathematical principles and conventions that are basically universally accepted amongst the scientific community. Things like notation and so forth. Your ideas may be extensions of these in some form or even new, but if you plan on making your ideas public, make sure you do your research and make it accessible for your intended audience. I think thats a big mistake is that people can get caught up in fantasies and they might actually be too fantastic for the real world right now. Sometimes its a fine line between the two (fantasy and reality) but if you do your research well and show a logical concise and consistent argument that still pertains to real scientific research, then I think you will do well.

    5. Misceallaneous things to do with the image of doing medicine/career choice/nobility etc

    If you pursue medicine, then like any endeavour of power, you will have to put yourself out there for people to judge you. Your decisions will annoy some, please others, and perhaps
    at times confuse yourself and drain you. So all the nobility and image of doing medicine will
    soon be the same every day as you face challenge after challenge which will either be
    excruciating or rewarding depending on you are underneath. I applaud you if you take this route because its easy to get by doing nothing but its really hard to stand up for what you
    believe in when you know something is right and everyone is against you.

    Science in a respect will probably be no different. You too will be judged, scrutinized in
    a brutal and unfriendly manner. It has its culture and you can be completely ostracized (sp?) for unfair reasons in some cases and unless other people have the guts to show support, you can be left alone in an isolated world fending for yourself.

    But don't despair. There is light at the end of the tunnel and the end can be a rewarding one. No matter what you choose you will always be at the forefront of your own personal discovery.

  6. Jun 13, 2009 #5
    Ask yourself where you would truly like to be in say 20 years. What do you imagine yourself doing under ideal conditions for money and pleasure? Which path is more likely to get you there?

    Would you like to go to work to "make a living" and come back home to your hobbies, interests, and family or got work for your hobbies and interests?

    Are you aware that what you are doing in medical school may not be indicative of what a career as a doctor is like? Same with studying math at the undergrad level and an actual career in research,academia or industry.

    The grass may not be greener on the other side...
  7. Jun 14, 2009 #6
    You should do what will make you happy. You have a good backround of mathematics and biology. Which do you prefer? Which class would you rather be in? Would you rather be memorizing some trivial medical jargon they tell you to or would you rather learn to understand logic, understand how the world works and the concepts themselves that make the world go round? I know someone who had a photographic memory they had A's in every subject except for math. Why? because you cannot memorize math you must understand it and it takes a true intellect to understand the language of mathematics. If your passion or gift is memorization then be a doctor, if your passion is a better understanding, then switch immidiately to math/physics. I agree in part of what you said about studying biology, it feels all you are doing is memorizing alot of material that they tell you to do which sucks if you don't like or have a bad memory like i do. You can always switch back to medicine if you really want to later in life , also 21 is just a number, time is relative thus age is irrelevant and has no intrinsic value in this situation. Remember this.
    Last edited: Jun 14, 2009
  8. Jun 14, 2009 #7
    I hate those people. Give me a chance to burn out, will you?
  9. Jun 16, 2009 #8


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    :rofl: Ask some physicians how rewarding medicine really is. I suppose it's very rewarding if you love filling out insurance paperwork and fighting with the idiots who answer their phones. I think it's a case of the grass being greener on the other side. Sure, it has its rewards, but so does any field you enjoy. The important thing is that the more you enjoy a field, the easier it is to tolerate all the other days when it's routine, or worse, the days when it's downright disappointing. I decided a long time ago that as far as bad days go, I'd rather find out a grant proposal hasn't been funded, or deal with a student sitting in my office crying because they aren't going to pass my class, than be the one responsible for treating the patient who dies in spite of all my efforts.
  10. Jun 16, 2009 #9
    As I read your post, it seems clear to me that you have thought this through pretty well and know that you really ought to make the switch; it is what you want to do with your life. The last thing in the world you want to do is spend years preparing for a great career you don't want. Screw up your courage and make the switch now. Age 21 is definitely not too old; that is just starting life.

    But get over the idea that you have to become a great anything, whether it be a physician, mathematician, physicist, or bar tender. You have to do a good job of whatever you do, but that does not mean you have to be stellar. Things will come your way in life over which you have no control that will affect how things turn out for you. No amount of hard work or will power will change that, and you cannot say that you have failed if you are not a great XXX when those things happen. We do the best we can and live with it.
  11. Jun 17, 2009 #10
    I've just started watching "House" lately. If being a doctor is really that exciting I should switch to med now.

    Unfortunately I think "House" is to being a doctor as "Numb3rs" is to being a mathematician (or FBI agent, for that matter). I wish it were that exciting.
  12. Jun 17, 2009 #11
    physician is not worth it imo it has waaaay too much education u need 4 years bachelor to apply to med school mcat which is impossible, get in then it's like another 4 years then a residency training clinical where you earn a garbagety salary until you graduate with hands on experience for 1 year where you live at the hospital before u can finally get your 100grand a year which is all you really cared about in the 1st place. obviously but you just used 9 years of your life plus if you want to be a specialist doctor thats another 2 years, so 11 years lol. and also i hear it's really hard work still which makes you really work for your money and did i mention it's really expensive? 2-3grand per course, so you're in debt untill your 12th year til you pay it off and then in your 13th year you can finally get your $$$ and finally enjoy life as an old person lol good luck and most likely there will be some deaths that are your responsibility so you will have their death on your concious which really sucks if you fail so you have to work extra hard cuz slacking off could be like murder
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