Its time once again for my yearly forced vacation.
So I have some time to read/respond to some great emails from readers!
I am just a random reader of your blog and several other science blogs. I’m sorry to bother you with this, but your contact me page was written in lolcat so I figured you couldn’t be too bad, right? Feel free to pose this to your readers, forward it, or garbage it- I’m sure your busy but really I’m just kinda lost right now…
So, brief about me..I’m in my late 20s and having a “mid-20s crisis” a few years too late. When I was a teenager right out of high school money was tight and I was left by myself to care for a severely disabled mother (no other family). I sort of wanted to get into science, biology was always my favorite, but for reasons I will explain in a minute, lost out to computer science/ web programming. But I didn’t even get time to study that until 4 years ago, when I finally put my mother in a nursing home and concentrated on bettering myself. So for these last 4 years I’ve just blindly been studying computers and doing IT work. I’m finally going to get my associates degree (a 2 year takes a while 2 classes at a time..) and I’m scheduled to go start work on my bachelors in comp sci with a minor in biology. The school I’ve picked out is almost completely online but they only offer minors in biology, not majors.
Sometimes I feel like I should be majoring in biology at an “in person” college instead of minoring online. But:
1- I’ve got this computer degree. Should I just completely throw it away and have wasted these years?
2- I’m afraid to go to an in-person school because if I lose my current night job then I’ll have trouble finding another job I can do while going to school. And I want to get off night shift anyway.
3- I hear research positions pay low and aren’t good for people who want to start a family. (That’s another thing..I’m married, husband has a low paying job, and we want kids but I grew up poor and will not have them until I am sure I can afford them. And my biological clock is ticking louder now.) But I don’t really even know enough about biology careers to know where to go to figure all this out.
The short version of all this is is that I think I want to change to biology, but I don’t want to start over just to find out I picked a bad major again or will end up poor. The last thing I should mention is why I originally did not pick biology as my major (besides the money thing) : I could never kill an animal. I know that genetics researchers are doing wonderful things and that often the only way to do that is to sacrifice animals for research, but I just couldn’t do it. If it’s already dead, sure, I can dissect it. But anything that requires euthanasia (Vet school) or killing an animal for research is out.
Again, I know I should probably be asking someone else this, but I really don’t know who “someone else” is. And I’d just go to the biology dept. at my community college or ask an advisor at my comm. coll, but the advising dept is not very good at my comm college and I don’t know the biology faculty. Any links, advice, anything you could provide would be so appreciated. Thank you very much for taking the time to read this.
The only comp sci experience I have is when I learned BASIC in 3rd grade. BUT, I dont really see a reason you need to change anything. A biology/comp science duo is pretty much one of the best academic combos possible. Its the peanut butter and chocolate of academic combos. Bill Gates once called biology and comp science ‘sister sciences‘ because they fit together so perfectly in todays research world.
I dont think you should be worried about specializing in comp science and ‘only’ having online bio courses. Those bio courses still teach you the basics of biology– terms and ideas that will make it easier to pick up whatever project you work on at a future job. I dont think ‘real life’ bio courses would be absolutely necessary to get into biology from a comp science angle. I dont think you need to ‘start over’ and get a bio degree at a four-year-uni.
There are soooooo many labs out there that mesh computer science with genetics and evolution and protein structures and such– we have an entire field for this called ‘bioinformatics‘. They will want you for your computer skillz, not your mouse dissecting skillz, and will make sure you know the bio you need to get the job done. Jobs in research arent particularly well paid, considering the education and work hours (if youre getting a PhD in biology for the money, youre an idiot), but tech positions really arent that bad if you dont want to get a Masters/PhD. I was a tech for a couple of years after college, and sure you arent raking it in, but youre paid okay and have great health care and such.
There are alternatives to straight research, too. EVERYTHING I do in the lab requires a piece of equipment with specialized software for analyzing the data that comes out of the equipment. Someone has to make those computer programs. Someone has to improve those computer programs after users bitch about the layout or features we need. Someone has to help ar tards like me use the programs when our go-to-method of ‘mashing keys’ and ‘randomly clicking shit’ doesnt work. And these companies would offer more of the ‘traditional’ job normal people get.
So, actually, I think you are in a perfectly fine position, you just need someone to point you towards the cool shit you can do with computer science in biology! Youre right, Im not the best person to ask about this, but maybe readers have some ideas/links?