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What the heck should I study?

  1. Mar 14, 2010 #1
    Right now, I'm in my second term at the University of Waterloo in Ontario.

    I don't like my program (CS with the bioinformatics option). I'm doing pretty good, though (3.9 GPA). I really enjoy all my science based classes (chem, bio, etc...). I enjoy my math classes (mostly, I really like calculus and linear algebra is a breeze, but me and my intro to algebra course did not get along at all; it was my lowest mark). I did not enjoy my chem lab; boring and repeatative with such huge margins of error that in all you could say in the lab reports was that the results were inconclusive at best (in a copper synthesis lab, my partner and I "recovered" 200% more copper than we physically should have). I just hope this is because it was a first year lab with crappy equipment and simple experiments. I'm hating CS (yet I'm somehow rocking a 95 in it); it wasn't what I imagined at all. Everything we're doing is very low-level, abstract, and frustrating (ugghh, an error that I could pin down in a second in Python takes me two hours to pin down in C). Moreover, I realized I don't have any personal interest in the material (while other students here seem to really, really love it).

    My ultimate goal is med school. This is something I've strongly considered, looked into, and researched. I do not need to be told that it is a tough path in which I'll need to maintain my grades (along with a good MCAT score) and really beef up my ECs.

    However, I have academic interests that lie outside the realm of medicine. For my undergrad, I'd like to focus on these interests. Since I was child, I've very much liked astrophysics and quantum mechanics. Now, as a child I barely understood a lot of what I read and watched, so most of what I took away were metaphors, analogies, and visualitions. I also like technology, and building and tinkering with things. I also like writing (fiction), filming and editing movies, and designing things.

    These are the other majors I've considered: a physics degree with astrophysics specialty, an applied math degree with an phsyics specialty, a nanotech engineering degree (I think this would be great to couple with an MD, what with nanomedicine being such a new and uncharted field), and a biomed degree with a biotech specialty.

    These are my strengths:

    1) Creativity. I've always felt that I'm very good at designing things, writing stories, and jumping to accurate conclusions in class before the teacher breaches the next topic.
    2) Visualization. I can picture concepts and objects accurately in my head. I can envision 3D objects, rotate them, manipulate them, etc...
    3) I can eventually solve any problem thrown my way.
    4) Memory. Although I don't have an eidetic memory, I can usually retain about 90% of what I've read (only once, though I read slowly and refresh concepts constantly) for a few weeks.

    These are my weaknesses:

    1) Computation. I'm very slow and inaccurate, despite desperate attempts to improve (i.e. practice, reading help books, etc...). If I ever row-reduce a matrix properly on my first or second try, it'll be time to pop open the champagne.

    2) It takes me a while to set up a solution to a calculation problem. I don't feel confident in starting a solution unless I've carefully considered the concepts involved, refreshed my memory as to why certain things are true, worked out my own proof as to why some property I memorized is true, etc... Even if I memorize the exact question, I don't feel right answering it unless I know exactly why my solution is right. However, I'm rarely if ever wrong once I do get it set-up.

    3) Word-based proofs. 'Nuff said.

    Now, my weaknesses usually lead to problems on primarily calculation based tests. I always finish, but just barely. There are lots of simple arithmetic errors that I miss because I don't have time to re-read my paper. I was reamed for these in high school, but university markers seem to be a little more forgiving as long as I've set the solution up properly. My math marks have actually improved since high school.

    On the other hand, I can absolutely slaughter tests asking me to explain science concepts or spit back information. As you can probably tell, I'm not interested in the math and numbers itself; I'm interested in the implications.

    Some things to consider:

    1) I'd like to keep my GPA up for med school, so I'm leaning away from the engineering courses (sheer courseload would cut into my ECs and probably damage my grades; I also couldn't take my bio courses as electives).

    2) I'd very much like to study something like astrophysics or quantum mechanics; however, I'm wary that the math will get more abstract and difficult for me to comprehend. Right, now it's moving at a fast pace but is fairly easy to understand (only first year). Should I expect my grades to drop in the quantum mechanics and relativity (a great interest of mine) courses? Or are the class averages comparable to the other science courses?

    3) The one math course I hated was intro to algebra. A lot of algorithms, awkward and unintuitive proofs, and the profs seemed to really enjoy making ten hour weekly assignments (no kidding, every problem was unlike anything we'd seen before).

    Any advice would be welcome. I've talked to many profs and counsellors, and I'm still lost.

    EDIT: I've been reading and watching a lot of Carl Sagan lately; I feel super inspired to basically learn any science that I can (especially astronomy).
    Last edited: Mar 14, 2010
  2. jcsd
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