Biology is the largest major in my school's College of Natural Sciences, comprising 35% of students in the class of 2015. But the logistics of being a biology major baffle everyone else. You'll likely meet a biology major between now and the time you graduate. And when you do, you probably shouldn't say the following things.
1. "So you want to be a teacher...?"
I normally hear this from people who never actually attended college. They can't find a single practical application for biology in real life. To them, I'm just studying biology because it's fun, and the only real job for my major is teaching it to other people who find it fun. This isn't the only option. Here is a short list of different biology jobs: medicine and/or pharmaceuticals, synthetic biology, ecology, marine biology, botany, nutrition, neuroscience, genetics, environmental research and, of course, teaching.
2. "So you want to be a doctor?"
People who have actually attended college tend to assume all bio majors are going the pre-med route. Granted, most bio majors I know are pre-med, and the majority of pre-med students I know are bio or biochemistry majors, there are other options! Bio is just the most relevant undergraduate subject when it comes to medicine, and there are a lot of future doctors out there. But that in no way means biology is only useful for becoming a doctor or a (cough) teacher!
3. "I prefer the hard sciences."
This one is mainly from "hard" or physical science majors who are still a little too insecure about their self-worth. Mature adults and successful professors in the hard sciences, such as chemistry or physics, often say that they respect and admire biologists for being able to handle systems as complex, unpredictable and large as a cell (so incredibly large!). The physical sciences have a much easier time creating controlled experiments and using basic mathematical principles to get expected results. Biology, on the other hand, is more complicated and unpredictable.
4. "Eww! I hate thinking about the human body."
Biological reductionism is using biology to explain complex human behavior, including brain function and emotions. It scares many people to think that inside their skin are thousands of tiny mitochondrias (powerhouse of the cell!), or that the emotions they feel are "just" products of hormones. But most biologists feel the exact opposite. To take the emotion/hormone example further, I find the concept of hormones beautiful. I've encountered many pessimists who think emotions are worthless, but there's a principle in biology and evolution they forget: anything that's useless and costs a lot of energy gets weeded out of the gene pool. What better, definitive proof can we have that emotions like love are important? Humans spend enormous amounts of energy producing hormones so you can experience the colorful emotional world around you! Biology opens up all kinds of little insights like that because it's the study of the wonderful, crazy thing called life.
5. "Ew, I hate dissecting things! I can't imagine doing that for my whole life."
I'd list all of the fields of biology that don't involve dissection, but I'm pretty sure my editors wouldn't tolerate 10 full pages of names like "biophysics," "cytology" and "bioinformatics." I may only be a freshman, but I haven't performed a single dissection in college, nor do I see any in my future.
6. "Evolution isn't real, it's just a 'theory.'"
Evolution is indeed a theory. But a "theory" in science is different than the way most people use the word. In normal terms, a "theory" is something you suspect is true without any proof. In scientific terms, an educated guess is a hypothesis, but a theory is a hypothesis supported by copious amounts of proof. Like the Big Bang Theory, the Theory of Gravity or the Heliocentric Theory, all of which you likely agree with. Scientists only use the word "fact" for things like "the sky is blue" — something that everyone can see in everyday life.
7. "Men/women are X because of Y concept I misunderstood from biology class."
"Women are picky because in nature the females are picky" or "men are promiscuous because that's their best evolutionary strategy." First, a cultural anthropology class will show you that other societies have different gender stereotypes. Second, the video above explains how different species have different sex strategies: the first few non-human species conform to the two stereotypes above because they aren't humans. Third, if you read the differences between Bonobos and the Common Chimpanzee, our closest relatives, you'll see stark sexual and cultural differences. It's not wise to compare human sex behavior to that of lions, because we're not closely related.
8. "GMOs cause cancer!"
GMO = Genetically Modified Organism. We've modified food ever since we learned to grow it. Above is a wild tomato next to a domesticated tomato bred larger and larger over thousands of years. In fact, before we had GMO technology, we bombarded plants with radiation to mutate them favorably. It's called Mutation Breeding or Radiation Breeding. GMO safety is all a matter of what you make the DNA do. Making fish glow won't cause cancer, and they're safe to eat. But Monsanto, the agribusiness that makes the GM soybeans used in most soy products in the US, made corn resistant to an herbicide called RoundUp. They used RoundUp to kill the weeds around the corn before finding out that RoundUp was toxic to humans. Even then, it was the herbicide that was linked to cancer, not the GMO corn itself. If you add sprinkles to your Doritos, the health effects don't change much. But if you spray your Cheetos with toxic pesticides, you're in trouble. GMOs should be carefully monitored by the FDA, just like adding carboxymethyl cellulose to ice cream or high-fructose corn syrup to granola bars. While "natural" does not necessarily equate to "better"/"healthy," many GMOs employ genes that naturally occur in other creatures, whereas "unnatural" chemical additives are common in your food.
Some of these points involved pretty heavy stuff, which I think demonstrates the versatility and importance of biological research. So please, when you meet a biology major, do not belittle them or question their hard work dedicating their lives to society. Just like every other science, biology is important and constantly striving to better everyone's lives.
Lead Image Credit: Pexels