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Major in mathematics of statistics

  1. Jul 20, 2011 #1
    Hello, this is my first post in physics forum and I need some help in my future major selection. I plan to go into research in biology, and would like to go into computational biology in grad/med school (MD/PhD programs). I plan to double major in biochem and either math/statistics, and I will be a freshman in UGA next year. Either way, I will double major in biochem and math, minor in stats, or double major biochem and stats and minor in math.
    Does anyone here have some expert opinions, or some knowledge for which math/stats will be more useful for me as a research tool later as a bio researcher?
    I felt that math is a great option, but the UGA curriculum is too theoretical http://bulletin.uga.edu/MajorSpecific.aspx?MajorId=113
    Here is the major req for stats

    Any opinions, comments will be greatly appreciated
  2. jcsd
  3. Jul 20, 2011 #2
    bump anyone.....?
  4. Jul 20, 2011 #3


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    You will find many math courses to be useless for biology. So I'd take the major in stats if I were you.

    Math courses that should be interesting for you are the calculus sequence, linear algeba and differential equations. Courses like real analysis and abstract algebra have no applicability in biology (as far as I'm aware). So take a lot of stats!
  5. Jul 20, 2011 #4
    Thank you, anyone else?
    How will stats help me in bio research, I feel like math is a more powerful tool, using de, my father specializes in this, can anyone shed some light on stats?
  6. Jul 21, 2011 #5
    Just some general thoughts, because I admit I know very little about computational biology.

    Firstly double majoring in biochemistry and maths or stats will not be easy, and you want a minor on top of that.

    Stats should be useful if you're interested in something like demography (I'm guessing computational biology is quite a large area, so you need to specifiy what part of it you are interested in).

    It sounds to me like computer science and applied maths would be very useful to you, and even a bit of physics.
    Computer science for programming, of course.
    Applied maths is very much about modelling, very useful.
    Physics is generally useful to a biologists, knowing about energy, for example, is necessary.
    I think micromass is quite right about the maths you need, and anyhow, if you need more maths you can always pick it up later on your own.

    Certainly major in biochem, but try to take maths, stats, physics, applied maths and computer science courses. More importantly, if you can find someone who does research in computational biology at your university you should ask them for some time to ask all the questions you have, they should be able to give the best advice.
  7. Jul 21, 2011 #6
    Thank you. I'm into molecular and biochemistry, and I don't really know if some classes like applied exp design etc will be useful. The bioinformatics class seems very interesting. It seems like modeling is a very powerful tool: I'm leaning toward math major because it's more interesting, even the more theoretically based classes like abstract algebra and real analysis and and taking some stats course for minor.
    Perhaps I should take some physics course? I really want to have a deeper foundation in math, and I really think programming is useful, most of the stuff I will use later in research are already packaged programs made by others, so I think I would rather specialize a bit in math.
  8. Jul 21, 2011 #7
    Like I said, I really don't know much about computational biology, but I did take an applied maths minor with my pure maths degree.

    Another thing that just occured to me, is I remember a biology grad student in my measure theory class who said he wanted to understand some biology papers that used measure theory, so I suspect biology can get quite mathematical.

    I think for physics a one year course is usually required for biology majors, but it's at a lower level than the physics courses for physics and engineering students, but if you wish you can always take the more advanced course. Beyond that I can't see how more physics classes will be important, perhaps quantum mechanics for chemistry, and maybe statistical physics/thermodynamics, but the appropriate courses will be given by the chemistry or biology departments, those in the physics department being probably not as applicable.

    Definitely take some courses like numerical analysis, ODEs, PDEs, mathematical modelling, a programming course or two. I am tempted to say take whatever courses grab your interest, but you must keep in mind applications for graduate school, and the prospects of getting a job.

    Really, the correct people to speak to would be the academic advisors in the biology and chemistry departments, I really cannot claim to know much about those fields.
  9. Jul 21, 2011 #8
    Let me explain to you why a combined math and biochem with a stats minor going to be extraordinarily difficult. My university doesn't have a math and biochem combined major, but they do have a physics and biochem combined major and I'll tell you how many credits you need for that + a stats minor.

    Each semester course gives you 1.5 credits. This is assuming you want an honors combined major and not just a combined major (which you do if you want a good chance of getting into grad school)

    Year 1:
    15 credits which include 1.5 credits in electives
    + 1.5 credits for minor
    + 1.5 credits to meet english requirement

    Year 2:
    15 credits
    +1.5 credits for minor

    Year 3:
    16.5 credits
    +1.5 credits for minor

    Year 4:
    18.0 credits including 4.5 credits in electives and including 3.0 credits for your honors labratory and honors thesis.
    + 4.5 credits

    Keep in mind that their is a rule with overlapping minor and honors/majors courses. 4.5 of your units will overlap into both categories so you'll actually have to take higher level courses (because of the narrowness of stats courses offered) to meet the stats minor requirements.

    So assuming with all given electives you put them towards your minor degree. then your schedule will look like this for each semester:

    Year 1: 5 classes, 6 classes
    Year 2: 5 classes, 6 classes
    Year 3: 6 classes, 6 classes
    Year 4: 6 classes, 6 classes

    The standard course load is 5 classes per year and by no means does standard mean easy, this is university not high school.

    Your schedule means zero electives for your entire university undergrad, labs for more than half your courses which take 3 hours to do each week and a lab report that takes at least 3 hours, and you need to produce a graduating thesis and labratory project for your final year while juggling 10 of some of the most difficult courses you can take as an undergrad. I'm not telling you this to discourage you, but I am telling you to open your eyes and really try and be realistic about what is achievable. Summer school is an option but my dad is an academic advisor who says that people just get burned out doing school non-stop after 2-3 years. Not to mention how are you going to fund this educational rampage?

    Anyways, I guess my point is you can't have it all. Go for a combined honors major and you will be tested to your limits.
  10. Jul 21, 2011 #9
    ^ thank you, you have a good point.
    Unlike Caltech, Cornell and Duke, which were under my college consideration in May, UGA offers generous credits, so I'll come in having roughly 40-50 credits hrs. So essentially I exempted most of core courses, especially in humanity. There is only elective a few college-required electives that I'm required to take. The req. for stats minor is this
    I'm quite iffy about applied exp design course, and perhaps may need further consideration with my advisors/profs.
    As for funding, our state has HOPE scholarship that exempt our tuition, and the most of my other funding is covered by full scholarships and stipend, so I don't think funding is an issue.
    I guess I may just take a few courses in stats, and 1-2 more courses in physics; I can't say what I'm going to do exactly, but I will likely get things settled out by consulting w/ advisors/professors
    Last edited: Jul 21, 2011
  11. Jul 21, 2011 #10


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    Applied Math Degrees are useful in Biology. Have you heard of the discrete and continuum models? There are commonplace in many papers on motility of cells.
  12. Jul 21, 2011 #11
    Thank you all
    I fully know math isn't a walk in the park. However, coming in as one of the stronger students, I'm confident that I'll do well if I put in the work. I just need more information about which direction to wallow myself in that would help me the most as a researcher. UGA workload, even double major,is much lighter than many other schools. Many have done it, and most said it's not a significant workload, especially comiong with credits

    Yes, I am very well aware, an interesting note: my research during junior and senior year was modelling myosin head interaction in the crossbridge cycle using discrete models.

    I suppose the taking real analysis and abstract algebra won't hurt me, I not a fan of it and would take it because they only satisfiy the math major req. Real analysis might help because it'll provide a much deeper and rigorous understanding of calculus and the foundation of math. I feel like stats courses are more shallow in the materials presented.
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