Biological Sciences at UCI: Just as Hard as Other Majors

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UCI students studying biological sciences like to complain a lot about their major. My professor is confusing. The curve isn’t fair. Being a bio major is so hard. No one knows what it’s like. I should have chosen something easier.

As someone in the major, I understand the struggles and the moments of stress that bring about these complaints. I myself am guilty of making some of them. But in hindsight, I always realize that the complaints are unreasonable and over-dramatic, and that majoring in biology is not that much harder than majoring in something else.

Take, for example, the general notion that the major is difficult because of the professors and curriculum. As someone who has taken a fair amount of both science and humanities classes, I have realized that biology courses are quite straightforward. Yes, there is a hefty amount of material to memorize and understand, but at the end of the day, everything you need to know is given in lecture or on practice quizzes and homework. Some people complain about the amount of reading some professors assign, but as far as lower division courses go, most people will purchase their $200 textbook and not open it the entire quarter.

Sometimes exams will go beyond what is taught in class and discussion and (God forbid) make students think critically about a problem, but it’s not like students are being asked to cure cancer by the end of their biochemistry courses. And yet, when students see something unfamiliar on a test, they tend to say things like, “That had nothing to do with what we learned in class!” In reality, the question was exactly the same as the one in class, except the professor changed the oxygen atom to a nitrogen atom. It’s pretty crazy, until you read the part that says that for the purposes of that question, nitrogen functions the same way as oxygen does.

This is why a lot of biological sciences majors hate the humanities: the answers are not short and simple, and are rarely a regurgitation of what was said in class. But if bio majors supposedly work so much longer and harder than people in other majors, then why is it so difficult to write out what they have internalized and formulate new ideas about it? Isn’t that what humanities majors have to do all the time when they write essays or hold discussions?
The most ironic part is that after listing all the reasons why being a bio major is difficult, people will say that majoring in something like English would have been easier. They imagine that life is so much better on the other side of campus. They seem to forget that they don’t read their textbook and fear writing, two skills that are necessary to make it through many humanities courses.

Bio majors don’t just say this about the humanities — they say this about most majors. To be honest, people in the School of Social Sciences probably have a lot of memorizing and critical thinking to do too, and UCI’s engineers and math majors are probably doing more critical thinking than all of us when they build robots and code programs. I’ve heard of psychology majors putting in hours of reading to learn their material, and computer science majors taking days to finish up a code.

The only reason why I can see biology being a slightly more difficult major than others is because of the competitive environment. Most bio graduates are looking to go to medical school, or get into some other health profession. To ensure that UCI only has the most qualified individuals applying, the higher-ups will weed out bio students who they don’t think can make it that far. You really are always competing against that kid sitting next to you in lecture, even if that kid is your best friend.

Even though this is the case, I’m not trying to sabotage my friends so that I get higher grades than them, or even that random person sitting across from me in office hours. The constant competition stresses people out because they let it stress them out. It fuels them to perform better, but also makes them anxious all the time and worried that they are not good enough. I can’t say whether the insecurities that people have arise from the environment in the major, or whether the insecurities themselves contribute to the competitive environment. In any case, the stress on individual success is what makes the major so cut-throat sometimes. It’s very different from engineering, where you work on teams to finish a project, or English, where you share ideas in class and edit each other’s writing.

At the end of the day, being a good biological sciences major takes time, patience, and a steady work ethic, characteristics that are likely required to succeed in most other fields, too. It shouldn’t matter whether or not being a biological sciences major is actually that hard. Anyone who is pursuing a major that they’re truly interested in should not be worried about the prestige or reputation it may have.

Michelle Bui is a second-year biological sciences major. She can be reached at mkbui@uci.edu.

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