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I am confused and I need help I think

  1. Jul 25, 2009 #1
    Well, first off, the subjects I take at school are

    English Literature

    I hate english, I only take it because I don't want to do anything else.

    Maths + 3 sciences are the only thing that interest me. Oh and also, I am very, very competitive, I don't show it, but when someone beats me at something I care about, i.e. math, bio, chem, physics, and other stuff like games, badminton etc... I die a little bit inside... Basically, I want to be the top at everything. However, In university, you only major one thing, and I want to major all four (Math + 3 sci). It seriously saddens me that I would not be able to be the best at these things. My parents are pushing me to become a doctor... and I'll probably end up as one, but that means I'd be giving up math, chem and physics...
    Is it possible to get like a PhD/doctorate in everything? Am I just completely nuts? Any advice would be appreciated...
  2. jcsd
  3. Jul 25, 2009 #2
    Well before asking whether it is possible you should ask if it has any value. If you get a PhD in X there is no reason once oh ever why you can't keep up in the fields of Y and Z (the great Feynman for example also did research in bio and studied the mayans). PhD's require SIGNIFICANT dedications of time for LITTLE pay, in addition almost all schools have a rule about not taking a second PhD at the same school. So to get a PhD in all of them you'd have to invest 12ish years at $20,000-$30,000 a year. By the time you got out you'd be poor and old. If you're really commited pick a specialization and self-study the rest. Anyone who actually has a PhD is not going to be impressed by someone who has 3 (in fact they're probably going to think they're a little feeble minded). You'd only be impressing those who don't. Furthermore, ultimately it is an extremely rare subset of a rare enough breed that is productive when juggling work in multiple, distinct, fields.

    Although I certainly understand the desire in you (I myself was initially in a program in my undergrad where I took physics, chemistry and geology plus scientific computation techniques (the idea of the program being to create scientists who specialized in computational techniques independent of the field of study) but half way through second year I switched into a physics specialization (plus scientific computation) because it just "spoke to me" more. Later in my undergrad career I got stuck working a string of medical physics jobs and I realized that I should probably learn myself some bio (since I'd never done it in high school) so I took bio courses on the side. So being well versed in a number of fields is ENTIRELY different than having a PhD in multiple fields. One is a healthy result of intellectual curiosity, the other is ultimately pointless.
  4. Jul 25, 2009 #3
    Are you from the UK? Taking GCSE? I had a similar attitude to the sciences at that age, which led to my biggest mistake in life. Taking a combined science degree so I could get a degree "in everything". Instead I ended up "not knowing enough about anything". At A level time you can still do math, chem and physics, but at degree time it's best to specialise in one (or become a medic!). If you do physics then you need to begin to think about specialising in one area of physics, so by the end of your degree you are equiped to specialise even further in that one area of physics (solid state, particle, medical...) You can of course, like everyone, keep up with all areas of science by reading popular science books. Biologists can read Brian Greene, physicists can read Dawkins... But that's the only way to keep in touch with "everything". By the way, nothing is more universal than literature. So to really keep in touch with "everything", keep studying Literature! For instance, try "Ward 6 and other stories" by Chekhov (a medical student who became a truly great writer). That will give you a good impression of life as a medical doctor. (Summary -- it'll drive you nuts!)
  5. Jul 25, 2009 #4

    Call it physicists arogance but I've never had a problem going through actual bio stuff. It's just the quantity of it and the lack of overlap (where I'd imagine for a bio person trying to read a phys text it is the other way around, the "quality" of it, in other words the math and concepts are the barrier). Your average bio undergrad does animal physiology, microbiology, histology, zoology, cell biology, genetics, (plus organic and bio chemistry) etc. which is all very accesible material there is just so much of it and not a ton of it caries over (i.e. being a microbiology expert is not going to help you when they make you (ABSOLUTELY POINTLESSLY) memorize 100s of histology slides and recognize them in a histology course) I think it is absolutely possible to pursue a specialization in physics or applied math and read your way through an undergraduate level amount of biology or geology (chemistry is more difficult) as long as you are commited to put in the hours. I'm sure it is also possible the other way but I can't imagine it being as easy.
  6. Jul 25, 2009 #5


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    I think a lot of people finishing high school are in a similar situation to the original poster. The thing is, at that level it is possible to perform well and enjoy all of your classes, but as others have already pointed out, the further you go, the more difficult it becomes.

    My advice would be, first off, to shed the competative side that makes you "die a little" each time someone beats you. Otherwise you're going to experience a whole lot of death and unhappiness in your life. The trick really, is chanelling this energy into a competative edge that will keep you motivated and make you pay attention to details in the work you do take on.

    Secondly, I suggest looking into a general science program for your first year or two of university. The science subjects all become different animals at that level and you're very likely to discover strengths and weaknesses that you didn't know you had. Once you have some more experience under your belt, you'll be in a better decision to choose the path for you. There are some people who believe this is a waste of time, since it's less efficient than choosing a path right out of high school, but in the grand scheme of your life, even if it does take you an extra year or two to figure out what you want to do, you'll be glad you did it while you were young, rather than wasting a decade or more on a path you're not happy with.

    Thirdly, I would caution against allowing your parents (or anyone else for that matter) define a career for you. Medicine, or anything else for that matter, can be a very rewarding career path, but they are not going to be the ones who have to fight for high marks through undergrad, pull all nighters in the science library, volunteer to clean bedpans in hospitals, pull 24 hours rotations as a resident, and live life on call until you're 45.
  7. Jul 25, 2009 #6
    There are some useful majors/specializations that would allow you to use all of the fields you listed. I recommend checking out either biophysics or medical physics.
  8. Jul 25, 2009 #7
    No offense to biophyicists/medical physicists but they are far from the "masters" of all the fields above.
  9. Jul 25, 2009 #8
    No, you're completely right. They are far from masters of all fields. The reason I suggested those areas is that they are some of the (I believe) relatively few areas that encompass all of the areas of his interest. However, becoming a true master of one field takes most of a lifetime, and to try to do it in four is pushing impossible.
  10. Jul 25, 2009 #9
    Well first of all, a lot of medical fields require extensive knowledge of chemistry. Second, I'd suggest you check out something called "biophysics." A lot of universities don't have it as a major yet but most universities have at least one physics or bio professor who's interested in it and is pushing for it. I know my university is currently considering it as a major, and it can be made a major through the "do it yourself" program two option (where you construct your own major). Biophysics looks at molecular bio/chemistry using physics based models which themselves are borne out of math. So you might like it!

    I think as you learn more about these subjects you'll find you like one more than the others. i.e. I bet your physics courses aren't yet calculus based, so you probably still haven't tasted much "real" physics. As you take it in uni you'll learn if you're into it or not.

    Even if in the end you like all of them, I don't understand why you can't continue to study them in your spare time. I'm a physics major, but I'm also intensely interested in the completely unrelated field of human rights. I'm not going to abandon either in this lifetime even though I'll only "work" or officially study in one of the two fields.
  11. Jul 25, 2009 #10
    Ok thanks for advice guys, but there's still 15 months before I finish high school so... maybe I'll make up my mind by then? :D

    Also at the poster asking if I lived in UK... no I live in New Zealand, I did IGCSEs last year and I'm doing AS for everything except maths, which was a year ahead.
  12. Jul 27, 2009 #11
    By the way, people like this make me want to achieve the best in every field... Even if I do end up a distinguished doctor or surgeon or whatever, there will be always people like this that go 'oh I'm better than you because physics is "harder" and I just didn't read the textbook hurr durr'

  13. Jul 27, 2009 #12


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    I think you should ignore such people. After all, a lot of people will think that their specialist is the most difficult!

    As for real advice: I think you should listen to what Choppy says. I agree with him that there are a lot of people in your situation when leaving high school. In fact, a lot of people I know were in a similar situation when choosing A levels: namely, they were good at pretty much everything! At least you've managed to narrow things down for A levels.

    It will definitely be worth looking around for a more general science undergrad degree. I know that Cambridge, for example, has a "natural sciences" undergrad degree, which would suit you to a tee, so it would be beneficial to look around in NZ and see if there are similar programmes out there.
  14. Jul 27, 2009 #13
    Your life is not subject to a time clock yet. Major in your first choice and minor in your second and hop scotch through all subjects you want to get into as long as you can afford the education. I would bet somewhere along the way you'll find that one subject you really have a talent for and want to pursue. Best of luck.
  15. Jul 27, 2009 #14
    *Might* be good advice for the US, but just doesn't work for the UK! You can't afford the luxury of taking a "general science" programme at university in the UK. I know, I took one, what a waste of time! In the US you can fix messing about in a general science programme by specialising in graduate school (or going to medical school). In the UK you *have to* decide on your specialisation during A levels. For instance, Choppy's account of fighting for high marks during undegrad bears no relation to the UK situation. Medical students in the UK don't do "undergrad". The equivalent is killing yourself to get the highest grades in A levels. This means UK students reaaly needt owork fast to find out what really interests them. Certainly volunteer to clean bedpans at the local hospital while you are doing your A levels! That should help you decide if medicine is for you...
  16. Jul 27, 2009 #15


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    Yes you can. As I said, Cambridge have a natural science degree! Besides, the OP isn't from the UK anyway.
  17. Jul 27, 2009 #16
    heh, I think mal4mac's point is that such degrees exist, and that they are a waste of time. Considering he has first hand experience with it...
  18. Jul 27, 2009 #17

    Well it's not a completely unfounded opinion. There are far more physicists who have made contributions to other fields of science than vice versa (I say "far more" but I actually have never heard of anyone who worked in anything other then chem (and math obviously) making a contribution to physics). Feynman, for example, did his share of bio research on the side. And let's not forget; MRI's, X-rays, Radiation Therapy, PET Scans all came from physics. I've never heard of anything in physics coming from someone in biology or medicine (although I'd love to hear an example if someone knows one). It's the way of the fields, mathematics gives mostly one-sidedly to physics, bio, chem and geo, physics gives to bio,chem and geo, etc. If you start in a more math heavy field and move to a less math heavy field you will find it a far easier transition then the other way around.
  19. Jul 27, 2009 #18
    Do you think Newton would have invented Calculus if he didn't want to use it for his physics?

    While physics couldn't be done without mathematics, I'm sure a lot of mathematics was inspired by the problems faced by their physicist counterparts.
  20. Jul 27, 2009 #19
    why dont u become an engineer and use all four. epecially engineering physics
  21. Jul 27, 2009 #20


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    Perhaps you'd like to tell that to Cambridge, whose undergraduate students read for a degree in natural sciences! I'm not sure that the graduates will agree with your comments that their degree was a "waste of time".

    http://www.phy.cam.ac.uk/admissions/undergrad/summary.php [Broken]

    Maybe some universities that offer general science degrees are a waste of time, but that does not hold for all universities. Extrapolating from one's negative experience is not a good way to give advice for upcoming students.
    Last edited by a moderator: May 4, 2017
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