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Jemma

Skills required for entomology and other biology related fields

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Feel a little silly writing this, but wanted opinions from an outside source

Have been considering studying but am unsure whether I'm actually smart enough to follow the topics I'm interested in.  In my mid-twenties and never thought I would study. I did well in school until about 10th grade when I had to get a job to support my siblings. After that, school was downhill. I completed grade 12 but my OP wasn't great. I did well on the exams but failed several classes due to unfinished assignments. Grades came second to feeding us and I stopped caring.

I've always had an interest in insects and reptiles, they absolutely fascinate me and I would love to study either of them but I lean more towards the bugs. I have pet snakes so that love is indulged already at home. 

Problem is I know math and chemistry are required and I have little experience with either,  am unsure whether I'm actually capable of studying such subjects at uni. I'm willing to put in the effort but I'm not sure that will be enough to get me through a degree.

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I wouldn’t worry too much about OP, really what matters is your commitment to studying and doing the work. I’ve known plenty of middle of the road OP students do very well once they hit uni. I don’t know where in QLD you are, but QUT and UQ in Brisbane both have bridging courses you could look at doing to help fill the gap in your knowledge and tick off any pre requisite boxes you haven’t ticked. They can be fast paced, but my experience tutoring students in it is that if you spend enough time practicing questions and going over the content, you’ll come out of it fine. Speak to the universities and see what they say. There are a lot of resources available if you are struggling, including access to free counselling if you need it. 

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Thanks, I am in Brisbane but soon to move down to the gold coast for a year.

Going to an open night next week so I can get a better idea of some courses available and whether its something I want to pursue

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At least from what I have seen myself, a lot of fields within biology use little to no chemistry and only a little math. Of course, during your studies you will probably have courses that focus on these two topics, but in my experience, if you aren't planning on doing something that specifically uses concepts from chemistry/math to solve certain problems, then you just need to get through some courses and after that you won't encounter it too much.

Definitely don't think that you wouldn't be smart enough for biology, I think biology is in a lot of ways like history. There's a lot of jargon and specific details that are handy to know, but the general concepts of almost every detail are not too difficult and most of the time can be translated to some analogy that is easy to understand. Just be interested, curious and study a lot and all will be well (oh of course do follow hypervalent's advice, just wanting to point out that I really think everyone can learn biology;p). 

-Dagl

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7 hours ago, Dagl1 said:

Definitely don't think that you wouldn't be smart enough for biology, I think biology is in a lot of ways like history. There's a lot of jargon and specific details that are handy to know, but the general concepts of almost every detail are not too difficult and most of the time can be translated to some analogy that is easy to understand.

I'd be careful with these generalizations as beyond the first semesters or so it will be increasingly difficult if one goes down that route. Let me put it differently: physics, mathematics and chemistry are often easier to learn as the concepts are generally more structured. Biology on the other hand has a lot of incomplete concepts, which means that one can only derive so much. The deeper you go into a given topic the more (sometimes wildly) different concepts you have to learn and apply. If you try to use superficial analogies you will get stranded at some point. On that specific note, if one does not build up at least some basics in chemistry, the whole area of molecular and cell biology will be extremely difficult to understand and work in. While I see folks get by in other disciplines without it, it is not a good area of study to neglect. It is like going through (academic) life while denying yourself useful tools. To make an analogy (heh), it is like not getting a driver's license since you think engines are difficult. You may not need it, but there are likely to be times when you wished you had it.

 

That being said, I think hyper's suggestion are sound. One should not worry to much about school performance, uni is rather different and relies more on self-study. Using bridge courses it is quite possible to catch up and develop a working knowledge on given subjects. In my experience, folks that are putting in an honest effort (including identifying their knowledge gaps and making serious efforts to close them) tend to perform quite well. Folks relying solely on highschool experience/performance, not so much. In fact, over the last decade or so I found anecdotally that high high-school grades are getting worse as an indicator of knowledge in a given subject. In the end, it depends a lot on the attitude and work ethics of the students. Some excellent high-school students rely too much on the teachers telling them what to learn for example and assume that it will continue in uni (and despite some efforts to make it so, it is luckily still not the norm).

In short, if you are willing to put the hours in and get the assistance you may need (such as bridge courses, perhaps a good study group) I do not see a fundamental issue regardless of your previous grades.

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1 hour ago, CharonY said:

I'd be careful with these generalizations as beyond the first semesters or so it will be increasingly difficult if one goes down that route. Let me put it differently: physics, mathematics and chemistry are often easier to learn as the concepts are generally more structured. Biology on the other hand has a lot of incomplete concepts, which means that one can only derive so much. The deeper you go into a given topic the more (sometimes wildly) different concepts you have to learn and apply. If you try to use superficial analogies you will get stranded at some point. On that specific note, if one does not build up at least some basics in chemistry, the whole area of molecular and cell biology will be extremely difficult to understand and work in. While I see folks get by in other disciplines without it, it is not a good area of study to neglect. It is like going through (academic) life while denying yourself useful tools. To make an analogy (heh), it is like not getting a driver's license since you think engines are difficult. You may not need it, but there are likely to be times when you wished you had it.

 

That being said, I think hyper's suggestion are sound. One should not worry to much about school performance, uni is rather different and relies more on self-study. Using bridge courses it is quite possible to catch up and develop a working knowledge on given subjects. In my experience, folks that are putting in an honest effort (including identifying their knowledge gaps and making serious efforts to close them) tend to perform quite well. Folks relying solely on highschool experience/performance, not so much. In fact, over the last decade or so I found anecdotally that high high-school grades are getting worse as an indicator of knowledge in a given subject. In the end, it depends a lot on the attitude and work ethics of the students. Some excellent high-school students rely too much on the teachers telling them what to learn for example and assume that it will continue in uni (and despite some efforts to make it so, it is luckily still not the norm).

In short, if you are willing to put the hours in and get the assistance you may need (such as bridge courses, perhaps a good study group) I do not see a fundamental issue regardless of your previous grades.

I think you are dead right. I've wanted to get into microbiological processes in commensal bacteria and how they interact with the body processes only to find myself  severely wanting in the necessary chemistry knowledge. Chemistry is to biology what maths is to physics.

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For OP, please ignore my ramblings as I didn't register that Hyper has gone to the universities you are looking for!: 

3 minutes ago, hypervalent_iodine said:

As the only one here with direct experience with where the OP is from and the universities she has access too, I can tell you that she will need chemistry just to get into the degree, and will almost certainly need to do one or both first year chemistry courses.

I find that we may either just disagree regarding how important chemistry knowledgde is or how much of that knowledge is needed. Especially if, such as the OP, you are interested in macro-biology (not sure if that is the correct term for entomology), when will you need to apply chemistry?

Even in molecular biology does it not seem to come up a lot (right? (not trying to assert, just wondering why we disagree on this @CharonYand @StringJunky)), with maybe the exception of: understanding protein function based on crystal structure, kinetics and... lab work (but even then, you don't NEED to know the chemistry, you just need to accept that certain stuff does something). 

Please not that I am not arguing that chemistry is not useful, I think that it brings a much deeper and fundamental understanding of certain things, but I don't feel like you need to know a lot of chemistry to understand biology (but again, here we may disagree on the type of 'understanding' one wants).

Let's take a look at cells, understanding the central dogma doesn't require chemistry, understanding what proteins do doesn't require chemistry. Understanding the mitochondria... doesn't really require chemistry (I think that last one will maybe clarify in what we mean 'need'). For  trouble shooting in lab conditions/experiments, it will definitely help, but by that time you are so far along that you can just learn it on the side.

Actually, now that I think of it, it is the point I think I wanted to make to OP: if right now chemistry is too abstract and strange, I don't believe it is necessary to understand it right now. By the time (based on my own experience), you come across chemistry knowledge that you will need or that would aid in understanding some biology stuff, you will probably have already some fundamental biological knowledge, so then it becomes easier to isolate the thing in chemistry that you need to understand. I think you can get quite far in biology without having much understanding of chemistry.

@Jemma Do note that CharonY and (sorry if I am mistaken here) StringJunky are much older than me and have at least 1, possibly multiple PhD's more than me (note, I have 0), so they are likely to know better than me!

Ps:

Even for things such as the cell membrane, you don't need to understand chemistry to understand what it does right: 2 layers, each made of a water-loving and water-hating part. Water is on both sides of the membrane so the water-loving parts will be on the outsides, with both the water-hating parts stuck together in the middle. The water-hating part doesn't mix well with water so you have a plasma membrane which keeps water in/outside? 

-Dagl

Edited by Dagl1

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15 minutes ago, Dagl1 said:

Actually, now that I think of it, it is the point I think I wanted to make to OP: if right now chemistry is too abstract and strange, I don't believe it is necessary to understand it right now

As the only one here with direct experience with where the OP is from and the universities she has access too, I can tell you that she will need chemistry just to get into the degree, and will almost certainly need to do one or both first year chemistry courses.

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3 minutes ago, hypervalent_iodine said:

As the only one here with direct experience with where the OP is from and the universities she has access too, I can tell you that she will need chemistry just to get into the degree, and will almost certainly need to do one or both first year chemistry courses.

My bad, I completely ignored the part where you actually know what she will do;p sorry! I edited my previous post to reflect your quote (but kept the rest as I still think for other instances its applicable). 

Sorry OP for bringing about misinformation...

-Dagl

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11 minutes ago, Dagl1 said:

My bad, I completely ignored the part where you actually know what she will do;p sorry! I edited my previous post to reflect your quote (but kept the rest as I still think for other instances its applicable). 

I should have added the caveat of if she chooses to do it in Brisbane. I don’t actually know if the Gold Coast campuses offer science, but UQ requires high school chemistry or physics in addition to a particular stream of math to get in. My understanding of the OP was that she either didn’t meet those requirements or it’s been so long that any knowledge that was there is gone now. It’s very common. As I mentioned, the major unis offer bridging courses in the case that the entry requirements aren’t met. If they have been, then I know at least at UQ they offer a high school equivalent chemistry course as a first year offering, which is a great course for people in her position taught by excellent staff (no points for guessing which uni I went to). I’m sure QUT would have something similar, and probably Griffith as well. They all have academic advisors available who can help her figure it out. 

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5 hours ago, Dagl1 said:

Let's take a look at cells, understanding the central dogma doesn't require chemistry, understanding what proteins do doesn't require chemistry. Understanding the mitochondria... doesn't really require chemistry (I think that last one will maybe clarify in what we mean 'need').

I disagree, you will only get a superficial idea of what is going on. The dogma is such a superficial narrative that is not really helpful other to grasp the concept that there is information flow. Even though I would argue that by now it is omitting too many elements to be really useful. Grasping the concept does not really provide a level of understanding that is useful to conduct research. Understanding mitochondria requires quite a significant amount of biochemistry to understand nutrient flows and redox reactions. If you start manipulating the system you need those tools in order to predict what is going to happen. It is getting far more complicated once you move away from mitochondria and go into the generalities of respiration among other organisms, too.

 

5 hours ago, Dagl1 said:

Even for things such as the cell membrane, you don't need to understand chemistry to understand what it does right: 2 layers, each made of a water-loving and water-hating part. Water is on both sides of the membrane so the water-loving parts will be on the outsides, with both the water-hating parts stuck together in the middle. The water-hating part doesn't mix well with water so you have a plasma membrane which keeps water in/outside? 

Again, that his high-school knowledge. If you go higher upper semesters that won't get you far. And rather obviously if one wants to do some research or analytics on lipids it would be rather hopeless.

I will state that much of my opinion is based on higher level biology. If you aim for a Bachelor's one could get by with just fulfilling the prerequisites (which nonetheless often do requires basic level maths/chemistry/physics as mentioned above, depending on institution). 

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5 hours ago, Dagl1 said:

For OP, please ignore my ramblings as I didn't register that Hyper has gone to the universities you are looking for!: 

I find that we may either just disagree regarding how important chemistry knowledgde is or how much of that knowledge is needed. Especially if, such as the OP, you are interested in macro-biology (not sure if that is the correct term for entomology), when will you need to apply chemistry?

Even in molecular biology does it not seem to come up a lot (right? (not trying to assert, just wondering why we disagree on this @CharonYand @StringJunky)), with maybe the exception of: understanding protein function based on crystal structure, kinetics and... lab work (but even then, you don't NEED to know the chemistry, you just need to accept that certain stuff does something). 

Please not that I am not arguing that chemistry is not useful, I think that it brings a much deeper and fundamental understanding of certain things, but I don't feel like you need to know a lot of chemistry to understand biology (but again, here we may disagree on the type of 'understanding' one wants).

Let's take a look at cells, understanding the central dogma doesn't require chemistry, understanding what proteins do doesn't require chemistry. Understanding the mitochondria... doesn't really require chemistry (I think that last one will maybe clarify in what we mean 'need'). For  trouble shooting in lab conditions/experiments, it will definitely help, but by that time you are so far along that you can just learn it on the side.

Actually, now that I think of it, it is the point I think I wanted to make to OP: if right now chemistry is too abstract and strange, I don't believe it is necessary to understand it right now. By the time (based on my own experience), you come across chemistry knowledge that you will need or that would aid in understanding some biology stuff, you will probably have already some fundamental biological knowledge, so then it becomes easier to isolate the thing in chemistry that you need to understand. I think you can get quite far in biology without having much understanding of chemistry.

@Jemma Do note that CharonY and (sorry if I am mistaken here) StringJunky are much older than me and have at least 1, possibly multiple PhD's more than me (note, I have 0), so they are likely to know better than me!

Ps:

Even for things such as the cell membrane, you don't need to understand chemistry to understand what it does right: 2 layers, each made of a water-loving and water-hating part. Water is on both sides of the membrane so the water-loving parts will be on the outsides, with both the water-hating parts stuck together in the middle. The water-hating part doesn't mix well with water so you have a plasma membrane which keeps water in/outside? 

-Dagl

Just a FYI. I'm just a person interested in science and learned up to 17-18 year old exam level science in school.

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Agreed Charon, I was talking about the lower end of the degrees.

Ahh Okay String

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