@OHMomof2 I just want to echo some of what @nanotechnology conveyed in post #11. As someone who majored in neuroscience myself (technically, at Stanford it was a “BS in Biology with a concentration in Neurobiology” since we lack a standalone neuro major), it’s probably not surprising that I don’t think there’s anything wrong with getting what people on this thread might call a “specialized” degree. There is obviously benefit to having a breadth of knowledge–for instance, every organ system in the body is both affected and affects the nervous system–but most there is also much to be said about starting to explore a few particular areas in greater depth in undergrad.
My main advice? The most important thing is that she should major in something she loves, for a few reasons:
-College is not just four years of classes, it’s four years of life. You should be enjoying that as best you can. As a former Frosh dorm RA, I saw many students enter school thinking they wanted to do nothing but study all day, and major in something that would offer them “good job prospects.” They learn quite quickly that this is not the formula for happiness, and the smart ones soon open up to the social scene in their dorm and switch to a major that they actually enjoy. As a current medical student, I saw 200 of my peers attend the pre-med meeting during New Student Orientation–many of them there because they were pressured by their parents or lured in by the median physician salary–but only 100 made it through to medical school with me; this 50% attrition rate is typical of Stanford pre-meds, as well as prospective computer science majors to a lesser extent. Sooner or later, everyone will recognize that they want to do what they want to do, and nothing else. Better that they figure that out during or before college and be able to enjoy it.
-In psychological terms, it’s all about framing. The minute someone is told that something is “required,” it immediately becomes less attractive. I’m sure everyone can recognize such examples in everyday life. As an example, she may have run into this with test-prep courses/books: Many people buy more Kaplan or TPR prep books than they will ever have time to read, but if all of those books became a requirement, then suddenly, “Ugh, why do I have to spend all of this time and money on this stuff?” If she loves seeing how from the chaos of nature can rise the beauty of a Gaussian distribution, she should major in stats; if she loves the “hard science” of biology and all of its subdisciplines, she should consider being an “un-specialized” biology major; if she loves examining the brain and the mind from both a bottom-up and top-down perspective, maybe neuro is for her. Point is, she should choose freely, and believe that she chose what she wanted to do, not what someone on College Confidential told her she had to do.
-If she happens to end up wanting a PhD, then it helps a lot if her undergrad classes and research match up to the grad classes and research of whatever program she is applying for. Hopefully, she would be going for a PhD in whatever field she loves most, since, you know, it’s going to become her life. She should be able to convey why she has a passion for a given field to the adcoms, as graduate school, postdoctoral fellowships, and running a lab as a PI are no simple tasks. The other piece of it is that, interviewers will ask you about your undergrad research as well as your goals for grad research. Switching to bronchiectasis research from synaptotagmin research is one thing; switching from leaf resorption efficiency is quite another, and may leave some interviewers scratching their heads. This is especially true of the combined MSTP (MD + PhD) programs, where they make specific effort to match you up with interviewers who have expertise in whatever undergrad research you listed on your app.
-If she happens to end up wanting an MD, then we couldn’t care less what she majors in, so long as she fulfilled all of our institution’s prerequisites as well. Many interviewers and adcoms look favorably upon someone who majored in a non-science field, for they had the maturity to recognize that undergrad would be the last chance (until retirement) that they had to explore that passion before dedicating their life to medicine. There is some interesting data published by the AAMC that non-science majors tend to do better than biology majors in many measures, including average MCAT score and acceptance rates; there are obviously lots of confounding factors here, including how many pre-meds who aren’t sure what they want to do simply major in bio “by default,” but it’s still interesting data.
-I don’t mean to imply that MD, PhD, and MD PhD are the only possible routes out of a life sciences undergrad major; they just happen to be the paths with which I am most familiar. Perhaps other posters can weigh in on the various other career/professional school paths.
I don’t know if your D is considering a specific career/post-undergrad path–and it’s obviously completely fine if she hasn’t at this age–so the specific advice may vary from field to field. I’d be happy to talk more about how all of this fits in to an MD. (Spoiler alert: The theory of special relativity that I learned in the required pre-med class of PHYSICS 25? Knowing it or not knowing it will never affect my patients’ outcomes, patient satisfaction scores, or any other quality of care measures. It might allow me to strike up some small talk with a pt who happens to have a physics background, though. Even things like quantum numbers/orbitals/dipole moment from CHEM 31x, which apologists like to say are pertinent to radiology? Sure, it can be helpful some of the fundamental theory behind how an MRI is obtained, but anyone who has so much as shadowed a radiologist knows that you don’t need to remember your carbon and hydrogen electronegativities to differentiate between, say, a astrocytoma and a microglioma.)
[/gets off soapbox]