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Science Majors and Potential Jobs

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Short of being a stunt car driver, the most exciting real-life careers may just lie in the sciences. From studying the earth we live in to the skies above us, the sciences are all about exploration and delving into the unknown. Also of note, many of these fields are among the most stable and lucrative available.

Astronomy

The major in astronomy examines the motion and nature of the sun, moon, starts, planets, and other celestial bodies. Astronomy brings to bear the knowledge of the mathematician, the chemist, and the physicist. Astronomy has evolved through recent centuries from an observational science, relying on data gathered from peering through a telescope, to an experimental science, including space exploration.

Education

Some colleges offer astronomy as an individual major. More frequently, program offerings are titled “Physics and Astronomy,” “Astronomy/Planetary Sciences,” or “Astrophysics.” This underscores the close alliance of astronomy with physics in today’s colleges and emphasizes the extensive grounding in physics required of astronomers. The plan of study consists of courses in general physics with lab, chemistry, electromagnetics, and core courses in astronomy. A close working relationship with a faculty advisor is important when pursuing a major in astronomy. Classes include physics, basic mechanics, electricity and magnetism, relativity seminar, astronomy, astrophysics, chemistry, advanced mathematics.

Possible careers

  • astronomer
  • astrophysicist
  • climatologist
  • college professor
  • computer science
  • freelance writer
  • government researcher
  • meteorologist
  • physicist
  • research scientist
  • secondary school teacher
  • museum planetarium director
  • technical writer

Astrophysics

Astrophysics focuses on the more theoretical aspects of astronomy and is devoted to the exploration of laws of physics that affect astronomical bodies, their relationships with one another, and the discovery of clues to the origin and development of the universe. Students will receive scientific and technological training in the space sciences, including advanced work in mathematics and physical sciences. (Not every college distinguishes between the astronomy and astrophysics majors.)

Education

The plan of study is a challenging one and suitable only for students strong in math and physics. At the undergraduate level, the focus is on the in-depth study of topics in physics, with particular emphasis on such areas as mechanics, quantum theory, electromagnetism, and electricity. This is supplemented with a heavy concentration in advanced mathematics and electives in astronomy. A B.A. degree can be offered, but B.S. is preferred, especially for students intending to pursue a Ph.D. in astrophysics.

Possible careers

  • astronomer
  • astrophysicist
  • climatologist
  • college professor
  • computer specialist
  • freelance writer
  • government researcher
  • meteorologist
  • physicist
  • research scientist
  • technical writer

Atmospheric Science/Meteorology

Atmospheric science covers a wide range of activities all having to do with the processes related to the Earth’s atmosphere. The atmospheric science major can sometimes be linked closely to oceanic and space studies, since these three environments interact with one another. The atmospheric scientist wants to solve problems related to weather forecasting, air pollution, the impact of the location of industrial plants and their processes, and all aspects of wind power and erosion. This is a complex field in which many people choose to go on to graduate school in their particular area of interest. Though the studies are demanding, job prospects are good for students who successfully complete an atmospheric course of study.

Education

Students will begin with introductory courses in weather and earth systems, in addition to basic work in calculus, physics, and chemistry. Further course work will center on the study of the interaction of the dynamic systems that define and impact upon the atmosphere, including more advanced course work in the student’s area of interest. In many programs, research assistantships are plentiful, in addition to the research expectations of the major. Co-op or internship opportunities may also be available or required. Classes include weather systems; forecast modeling; geophysics; physics; chemistry; atmospheric chemistry; calculus and advanced calculus; Earth systems; evolution, dynamics, and analysis; electromagnetics; and kinetics.

Possible careers

  • atmospheric researchers
  • climate researcher
  • environmental consultant
  • environmentalist
  • meteorologist
  • policy analyst
  • pollution control consultant
  • power company manager
  • wind power developer

Bacteriology

Bacteriology studies a branch of microbiology that concerns the examination of bacteria and their classification by type, as well as the analysis of their physiological and biochemical properties. The bacteriologist researches bacteria that are suspect in causing human disease and studies the ecological significance of bacteria in the cycle of matter.

Education

The plan of study involves research in experimental biology, molecular biology, and selected topics in the causes of human disease. It also includes ecological virus research, independent research in a particular area under the direct supervision of a faculty member, the study of cell analysis, and differentiation and development of cells.

Classes include biology with lab, biochemistry, bacteriology, microbial physiology, organic chemistry, genetics, probability and statistics, and calculus.

Possible careers

  • bacteriologist
  • biochemist
  • biologist
  • college professor
  • embryologist
  • government technician
  • medical sales representative
  • microbiologist
  • parasitologist
  • physician
  • researcher
  • textbook writer
  • veterinarian
  • zoologist

Biochemistry

Biochemistry is a major that combines the study of biology and chemistry in order to understand biological phenomena in molecular terms. The subdivisions within this field include metabolism, the study of the chemical changes through which organisms obtain energy to develop and reproduce, DNA, human physiology, and biotechnology.

Education

The plan of study requires strong preparation in biology, chemistry, and mathematics during the first two years of college. Students will also take classes in physics and psychology. Many courses will require major research projects. Given its rigor, at many colleges biochemistry is a limited-enrollment program. Classes include lab-based biology and advanced biology; general, organic, and physical chemistry; physics with lab; calculus and advanced calculus.

Possible careers

  • assayer
  • biochemist
  • biologist
  • chemist
  • college professor
  • consultant
  • government researcher
  • laboratory technician
  • microbiologist
  • pharmacist
  • pharmacologist
  • physician
  • research scientist
  • technical writer

Biology, General

Biology examines the nature, structure, function, and behavior of living organisms. Biology is inherently interdisciplinary, requiring knowledge of a variety of physical sciences and mathematics. As an undergraduate major, biology or its companion field, biological science, is appropriate preparation for the study of medicine or other health-related professions.

Education

The plan of study involves extensive work in laboratory biology, chemistry, and physics, as well as mathematics through advanced calculus. In addition, supplemental work may be included in specialized subject such as microbiology, cell biology, and plant biology, depending on the area of emphasis in which the college’s biology department is strongest. Extensive laboratory work will be required. Classes include biology and advanced biology, physical chemistry, organic chemistry, physics, calculus, advanced calculus, statistics, anatomy and physiology.

Possible careers

  • biologist
  • chemist
  • college professor
  • ecologist
  • health care professional
  • lab technician
  • lawyer
  • marine biologist
  • microbiologist
  • naturalist
  • physician
  • physicist
  • secondary school teacher
  • veterinarian
  • zoologist

Cell Biology/Histology/Anatomical Science

Cell biology is the science of the microscopic anatomy, physiology, and biochemistry of microbial, plant, and animal cells. Topics under study include how cells respond to external stimuli, how cancer cells differ from normal cells, and how cells are structured. Sophisticated techniques of biochemistry, biophysics, microscopy (electron and optical), molecular genetics, staining, and laser beam technology are some of the tools the student uses in researching the world of the cell.

Education

Two separate plans of study, cell physiology or cell biology, are usually offered. Both require intensive course work in biology, as well as a background in such specialized areas as virology, immunology, toxicology, genetics, and cell structure and function. Expect also to take advanced courses in microscopy and anatomy. Independent research in topics of current interest will take a significant portion the junior and senior years.

Classes include biology, molecular biology, structural biology, calculus and advanced calculus, statistics, physics, botany, hematology, cell biology research, physics, organic chemistry, electron microscopy, immunology.

Possible careers

  • bacteriologist
  • biologist
  • cell biologist
  • college professor
  • corporate researcher
  • laboratory technician
  • parasitologist
  • research scientist
  • technical editor
  • technical writer

Chemistry, General

Chemistry is the study of the composition, structure, and properties of matter, and the changes which is undergoes. The study of chemistry is important in such fields as medicine, engineering, scientific research, and the environment. As an autonomous science, it is divided into several subspecialties including analytical, inorganic, organic, and physical chemistry; each is described as a major field of study elsewhere in this book.

Education

The plan of study begins with foundation courses in chemistry, physics, and advanced mathematics. At the upper-division level, students often focus on a specific concentration, culminating in supervised, independent research projects. The candidate for the B.S. degree may pursue a graduate degree in the concentration or move on to medicine, dentistry, or another health-related field. A student pursuing the B.A. in chemistry will be exposed to a more general background in the field, with a view toward secondary school teaching or careers such as law or medicine.

Possible careers

  • chemical engineer
  • chemical researcher
  • college professor
  • general chemist
  • geochemist
  • geologist
  • lawyer
  • pharmacist
  • physician or medical professional
  • teacher
  • technical writer

Forensic Science

The so-called “CSI” major was made popular by the several television shows of that title. However, TV has generated some misconceptions about forensic science. It is an interdisciplinary major, combining natural science with the analysis of evidence with the rules and procedures of the criminal justice system. Forensic scientists, evidence technicians, crime scene investigators, and detectives all have separate jobs. Television gives us the impression that one person does it all, from discovering vital evidence at the scene to “cracking the case.” Forensic scientists work in the laboratory and are only part of a criminal team. They perform a vital function in the criminal justice system, and they go about their business like scientists, though their lab work has direct, real-world effects. Graduate work will almost certainly be required.

Education

Students begin with work in natural and social sciences, including organic chemistry, biology, anthropology, and psychology. Students then move into study of human physiology, quantitative analysis, more chemistry, and then more specialized courses in forensic science. Some majors offer the chance for further specialization into tracks such as molecular biology, toxicology, and criminalistics. And some offer the chance for internships in the field.

Possible careers

  • college professor
  • crime scene consultant
  • evidentiary consultant
  • forensic scientist

Genetics

Genetics, a biological concentration, is the study of the chemical nature of genes, general principles governing their transmission, and mode of action of genes at the chemical level. Emphasis is placed on the study of the characteristics of inheritance, role of chromosomes in genetic inheritance, and analysis of ways to affect the process. The student also studies evolution, development, and disease in all living organisms and viruses.

Education

The plan of study begins with course work in biology, chemistry, and biochemistry. The student moves on to courses that concentrate on genetics. Time is devoted to such topics as cell biology, bacteriophages, protein secretion, kinetics, and mechanics of viral growth, chemotaxis, and DNA theory, as well as supervised independent research in current topics in genetics. Classes include biology and advanced biology, biochemistry, calculus and advanced calculus, chemistry, statistics, introduction to genetics, advanced genetics, virology, and experimental methods.

Possible careers

  • bacteriologist
  • biotechnology
  • college instructor
  • embryologist
  • genetic engineer
  • geneticist
  • lab assistant
  • medical or veterinary doctor
  • microbiologist
  • parasitologist
  • pathologist
  • research scientist
  • science writer
  • technical editor
  • technical writer
  • zoologist

Geophysics

Geophysics is the branch of earth sciences that uses the principle and technologies of physics to study the earth. It is distinguished from other earth sciences by the use of instruments to make direct or indirect measurements of parts of the Earth, as opposed to the direct examination of materials and samples more typical of specialties such as geology. Related branches of geophysics include seismology (the study of earthquakes), hydrology (the study of ground water), and aeronomy (the study of the upper atmosphere above 100 km).

Education

The plan of study begins with a solid foundation in chemistry, physics, and advanced mathematics at the lower-division level. Theoretical and applied study in seismology, earth dynamics, marine geophysics, and the Earth’s gravitational and magnetic fields occupy the upper-division years. Supervised independent research seminars in specialized topics of current interest and internship experiences complete the program. For those seeking graduate study in the field B.S. is the appropriate degree. Classes include chemistry with lab, physics with lab, calculus, applied mathematics, mineralogy, reflection seismology, solid earth geophysics, thermodynamics, and sedimentation and sedimentary rocks.

Possible careers

  • astrophysics
  • consultant
  • geologist
  • geophysicist
  • government scientist
  • petrologist
  • research scientist
  • seismologist
  • teacher
  • technical writer

Microbiology

This major is the scientific study of microscopic organisms, especially viruses, bacteria, fungi, unicellular algae, and protozoa. The use of tissue cultures is an important part of this field; they are analyzed using highly specialized techniques. The study of microbiology leads to professional research in plant, animal, and human diseases. Subspecialties in the area include industrial, agricultural, medical, and clinical microbiology, microbial genetics.

Education

The plan of study usually focuses on a concentration in general microbiology, biomedical sciences, or genetic engineering. Each requires a thorough grounding in biology, chemistry, statistics, physics, and biochemistry. Concentrated study within the specialty occupies the greater part of upper-division work, and may include opportunities for supervised research, independent study, or clinical experience in a hospital or research facility. Classes include medical microbiology, calculus, advanced calculus, recombinant DNA, cellular immunology, hematology, microbial physiology, botany, virology, genetics, biochemistry, organic and inorganic chemistry, biology, and advanced biology.

Possible careers

  • bacteriologist
  • college instructor
  • embryologist
  • hematologist
  • lecturer
  • microbiologist
  • physician
  • research scientist
  • research technician
  • technical writer
  • veterinarian
  • zoologist

Neuroscience

This major examines the neurological systems of human and animal organisms and the relationships of those systems with each other and with the central nervous system. Neuroscience is an interdisciplinary endeavor that draws upon several scientific disciplines, including molecular biology, biophysics, computational science, and engineering. This is a research-oriented major and is, therefore, excellent preparation for graduate programs in neuroscience, biology, or psychology, or for medical school. It is a ground-breaking field replete with opportunities for students who can meet its considerable demands.

Education

The plan of study focuses on basic biological sciences in the lower division. In the upper division, courses study the major systems that interact with the central nervous system within the human/animal organism. Students ordinarily elect to specialize in one system and, during the senior year, conduct supervised research on the area of interest. Classes include biology, organic chemistry, and physics with lab, calculus, differential geometry, neurobiology, introduction to psychology, anatomy and physiology, neuron growth, and neurotransmission.

Possible careers

  • anatomist
  • biomedical engineer
  • college instructor
  • geneticist
  • lab technician
  • neurologist
  • neuroscientist
  • physician
  • research scientist
  • surgeon
  • technical writer
  • veterinarian

Physics, General

Physics is the study of the way the natural world works. Its approach is essentially experimental and mathematical, seeking to understand a wide variety of phenomena as operating from a small number of basic principles. Physics encompasses knowledge of the fields of chemistry and biology, as well as a deep appreciation of mathematics. Physicists explore mechanics, sound, electricity, magnetism, optics, heat, quantum theory, and the exchange of energy. There are many directions to take a physics major, including research and development in the industry, theoretical and academic work at the college or university level, and secondary school teaching, where there is a chronic shortage of teachers of this subject. Strong aptitude in mathematics is necessary for this major.

Education

Programs of study provide several alternatives. The B.S. in physics is the key to graduate study, leading to the Ph.D. or, in combination with a mathematics emphasis, toward an engineering/physics or a mathematics/physics dual major. Some colleges offer a B.A. in physics, combining course work with secondary teaching certification. The plan of study requires courses in mechanics, atomic physics, kinetics, calculus, and computer science. Physics is becoming more and more interdisciplinary in approach, and is overlapping more and more with chemistry, biology, and engineering. Classes include physics, elementary and advanced mechanics, calculus, linear algebra, optica, electronics, thermal physics, electrodynamics, experimental physics, and quantum theory.

Possible careers

  • astrophysicist
  • biochemist
  • biologist
  • chemist
  • computer programmer
  • financial analyst
  • health physicist
  • health physicist assayer
  • laboratory technician
  • nuclear medical technician
  • secondary school teacher
  • statistician

Adapted from Major Decisions: A Guide to College Majors, by Terry Ward. Used with permission from Wintergreen Orchard House, 2012. For the full breakdown of these majors, check out the book, available in paperback and for the Kindle!

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