Monday, August 23, 2010

Perhaps I should flip a coin?

I'm working out my class schedule for the upcoming semester, and I've run into a bit of a dilemma. Two classes are at the exact same time. Both clamor for my attention. Both are only offered in the fall, and this is my last year. They are as mutually exclusive as it is possible for two classes to be.

  • 7.32 Systems Biology: This field is a sister to synthetic biology. I'm interested in to the point of wanting to pursue it in grad school. The Silver lab, where I'm working, is a systems biology lab in more than just name (although it's certainly not typical, being focused on engineering). Networks! Switches! Stochastic behavior! Dynamics! Oscillators! Pattern formation!

  • 21A.212 Myth, Religion, and Symbolism: This class looks like it's going to hit one of my biggest avocational buttons. Despite being atheist/agnostic/nonreligious (damn labels), I've always had a fascination with the power of ritual and storytelling -- the roles they play in our lives and how they adapt to non-religious contexts. How did I manage to not notice this class existed before?


I want to study systems biology in grad school. Therefore, I should get started. Taking this class may help me with my continuing work in the Silver lab, and might even help me get into a good grad program.


I will have plenty of time to study systems biology in grad school. (And if I really get an itch, I can always pick up Uri Alon's book.) I should take this chance to explore a humanities topic that I'm really interested in, while I'm still an undergrad, because time is short.


So, what do I do? Both of these arguments are fairly convincing to me. Which one wins? Or, are there other arguments I've missed?


  1. I'd take the HASS class. One extra biology class is not going to have a huge impact on your prospects in grad school, and you definitely won't have the opportunity for breadth then that you do now, so take advantage of it while you do have it. Or something like that. :-)

    More importantly, undergrad is not just preparation for grad school; you should enjoy it in its own right. Plenty of time for putting your nose further to the biological grindstone later.


  2. I'm somewhat biased towards 7.32 personally, but to be perfectly honest, the only reason you'd want to take it would be to get to know the professor, Jeff Gore. Grad Schools will see that you've had experience working in a sysbio lab, and unless Gore plans on completely revamping the syllabus, a decent set of lecture notes for the course is online:

    It does look to be a very cool class though, and I've heard nothing but positive reviews from both grad students and undergrads. Even my postdoc at the med school, who sat in on the class last year, said he liked it.

  3. If it were me, I would take the bio figuring that I could very easily pick up the myth and religion material on my own, and I'm not sure there's much value in having credit for it.

    But of course I am not and have never been a biologist of any stripe, and you may feel much better about picking sys bio up from a book.