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Should I switch my major to Molecular Genetics?

  1. Nov 9, 2018 #1
    Hi, currently I am a freshman who is majoring in Biosystems Engineering. I selected this major because I did a lot of research into biology undergrads and I didn't like what I saw. I got the notion that these majors did not emphasize the technical skills necessary to do well in a science oriented career. They seemed more focused on memorization, but I may of been mistaken. I do really enjoy calculus and physics, and I feel that if I put effort forth programming probably won't be difficult to learn either. Biology majors didn't put a lot of focus on CS, calculus, and physics. I haven't found my core classes that hard.

    However, I've gotten into a few engineering design seminars and they aren't really that exciting to me. I feel as if I've run into a lot of business and computer work so far along with learning about structures. A lot of alumni from my major seem to work on cost analysis, drafting, attend meetings, and oversee project management. The idea of getting out of school after my undergrad seemed really exciting, but I can't see myself working in a desk job like that. Research sounds more appealing to me and I know that you often times need to go to graduate school for that.

    I take around 9 biology classes with this major. (7 of them I select myself..) I want to try to figure this out as soon as possible because I don't want to fall behind if I were to switch. I guess double majoring could be an option as well, but I'm not sure if that will help me. My school does not do minors in Bio/Chem/Physics.

    If I stay in this major or switch to Molecular Genetics, then it seems like I'd have to go graduate school either way. Would there be any advantages to stay in BE or will I have some catching up to do?

    The first year advisers at my university are pretty bad, so that's why I am going here for advice.
  2. jcsd
  3. Nov 11, 2018 #2


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    Modern biomedical research is interdisciplinary and requires people with a wide variety of skills. I have worked with people with training in fields encompassing medicine, biology, chemistry, physics, engineering, mathematics, and computer science. My PhD advisor has a PhD in physics, is a professor in the department of chemistry, and basically does research in biology. So, there are many paths one can take towards a career in biomedical research.

    I agree with you that traditional undergraduate programs in biology seem more focused on training future doctors and do not give great training in many of the skills required for modern biomedical research (in particular, skills in quantitative data analysis). Although I may be biased (as someone with a BS in biochemistry and a PhD in biophysics), I think that majoring in one of the physical sciences or engineering provides a very nice skill set for someone who wishes to enter into biomedical research. However, such training could also be available to one in a more traditional biology program with smart choice of elective courses.

    While knowledge of the basics of cell and molecular biology is certainly useful in graduate school, a lot of advanced knowledge of biology is not strictly required. Knowledge and techniques in biology change quickly enough that some of what you would learn in undergrad may be obsolete by the time you finish graduate school. Biology is also quite specialized, so even biology majors will typically have a lot to learn about their specific research topic when they are just starting out in graduate school. Furthermore, there are many graduate programs aimed at integrating students with training in non-biology fields into biology research (e.g. graduate programs in biophysics, systems biology, biomedical engineering, chemical biology, etc.). Some of my classmates in my biophysics graduate program majored in physics and had limited knowledge of biology before going into graduate school. While they faced a steep learning curve in some of their introductory classes, they were all able to pick things up quickly.

    If your eventual goal is to go to graduate school and pursue a career in research, you should definitely get involved in research as an undergraduate. Most universities should have opportunities for undergraduates to work in labs and help out on research projects. If these opportunities are limited at your school, there are many summer Research Experience for Undergraduate (REU) programs to give students the opportunity to work in labs at major research universities. The research does not necessarily need to be related to the research you intend to pursue in graduate school. Participating in research gives one many skills that are generally applicable to research in any field and, more importantly, teaches one whether they actually like to do research and are willing to spend 4+ years of hard work to earn a PhD. As one thinks about applying to graduate schools, it can also be helpful to begin reading scientific journals to see what types of research people are doing and what types of research techniques and research questions interest you most.
  4. Nov 15, 2018 #3
    If you can fund it, the double major would be great background. I doubled majored in Chemistry and Biology; it was very useful in grad school and has been very
    useful in industry.
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