1. Limited time only! Sign up for a free 30min personal 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!

Question about biophysics, mathematical biology etc.

  1. Nov 20, 2013 #1
    Right now I'm a 2nd year biology major, focusing on neurobiology. During my first year I noticed that biology outside neuroscience and some physiology doesn't really interest me that much. So I started taking some maths and programming already during my 1st year. Now I'm taking mostly maths and doing some bio courses on the side, and in the spring I'll have only physics and maths. Right now I'm taking Analysis I and a "physics maths" course on which we've gone through basics of all kinds of useful mathematical methods (calculus, some vector analysis, differential equations etc). I've been enjoying it all. My motivation to study has never been this high and I've gotten good results.

    The maths courses and some programming I did as a hobby made me realize that I really enjoy doing maths and programming. I'd like to do more theoretical stuff (mathematical modeling, maybe simulations etc.). I understand the importance of experiments, but I've always felt that I wouldn't enjoy being an experimentalist (doesn't mean that I absolutely want a fully non-lab job).

    All of this made me think that maybe I should take a second major from maths or physics. But I also have considered switching majors to maths or physics and doing minor in neurobiology. I don't yet really know if I'd like to focus more on (applied) mathematics or physics (trying to figure this out while taking the basic maths&physics courses). But it's very certain that I enjoy solving mathematical problems much much more than reading about biology.

    Now to the question: would a major in neurobiology benefit in the field of biophysics/theoretical neuroscience/something similar? I feel like the biology related to those fields is much easier to pick up than the maths and physics. If that's the case, I probably should drop the bio major rather than doing double major. Plus, if I fail to combine these subjects, I'd rather work on something maths/physics related than non-quantitative/experimental biology.

    I'd also like to mention that in my country the standard route to PhD is to go from BSc to MSc and then PhD. I'm in a BSc+MSc program, and it's possible to do one BSc and then two MSc degrees in two different majors.
    Last edited: Nov 20, 2013
  2. jcsd
  3. Nov 20, 2013 #2


    User Avatar
    Gold Member

    I am in a theoretical neuroscience program for my PhD, but it lies on top of a traditional department (math, in this case). My education started with a B.S. in Physics.

    Talking to the biologists who now make up half of my academic circle, they say that it seems much easier for me coming from physics than for them trying to understand math coming from biology. I think the point is that mathematical concepts really need to be developed rigorously at a basic level in undergrad, but biology you can learn much easier outside of the classroom.

    Of course, this is entirely anecdotal, so take it with a grain of salt.
  4. Nov 20, 2013 #3
    I don't think an absolute right answer exists to my question so experiences and thoughts from people who are working in this field is all I can ask for. Thanks.

    Basics of neurobiology can be easily learned by reading a couple of books. There really isn't much need for lectures, not to mention the lack of maths (I'm talking about the kind of neurobiology they teach in bio departments). This makes me feel that it might be a bit inefficient to have a bio major.
  5. Nov 20, 2013 #4


    User Avatar
    Gold Member

    I still think article discussions in a class with an experienced prof are important for neuro.
  6. Nov 20, 2013 #5
    That's probably true. I haven't really had journal clubs/seminars yet because I'm still an undergrad, but there are a few graduate level courses in neuro that are like that. Those are some of the bio courses that I'm really looking forward to and I'll most likely take them no matter what I end up majoring in.
  7. Nov 20, 2013 #6


    User Avatar
    Gold Member

    Ok. It's probably true that a lot of the basic stuff that you'd learn in a intro neuro course you can learn on our own (and then find out that half of it is wrong or irrelevant when you take grad seminar, haha!).

    Anyway, having the bio framework of the cell and genetic expression and all that is stuff I picked up along the way as I participated in seminars and researched things. My wife also has a B.S. in bio so I draw on her, too. I also picked a lot up from discussion on PF too, during my M.S.

    Biology is probably the most interesting subject to me in the world, so I have always been motivated to study it, and that could be a factor, too: maybe more bio majors have decided they don't want to see math, while more physics/math majors haven't (yet) been turned off by biology.
  8. Nov 21, 2013 #7
    Do you have any book recommendations? I've considered reading Foundations of Cellular Neurophysiology by Johnston at some point. Maybe Hille's Ion Channels of Excitable Membranes too. I'll later have courses based on those books but I'd like to begin reading them once I have the sufficient maths and neuroscience knowledge (might already have).
  9. Nov 21, 2013 #8


    User Avatar
    Gold Member

    It's a huge field with lots of directions to go. I went the dynamical systems direction and, in that regard, Dynamical Systems in Neuroscience by Izhikevich was a fun book. There's also "Spikes, Decisions, and Actions" which is now out of print, but the author has a free copy available:


    Some of the standard recognized books are Dyan and Abbot's "Theoretical Neuroscience" and Bard Ermentrout's "Mathematical Foundations in Neuroscience".

    I've really only poked at pieces of each of them as I needed it. Most of my learning was through doing my graduate research and, as I said before, seminars.
Share this great discussion with others via Reddit, Google+, Twitter, or Facebook