Choosing Your Major

Around 40% of incoming students at Rice express an interest in medicine. Like many of them, you may initially gravitate toward the major that you think is "best" for premed students. Don't restrict yourself to a major because your premed friends recommend it. Not every premed student at Rice is the same — your constellation of interests is likely different from those of your health-related friends, and you should enjoy and share in your diversity.

While there are critical courses to take your freshman and sophomore years that can keep you on track with the requirements for admission to medical school, it is important first to unpack your interests relating to medicine, expose yourself to the many fields with tools to address the questions that interest you, and then explore faculty research in those areas.

What questions in health and medicine do you find most interesting? Here are a few to help start your exploration. (Note: this list is not intended be exhaustive.)

  • How can we understand the spread and evolution of an infectious disease?

Consider: Ecology, evolutionary biology, sociology
Ecology and evolutionary biology address the interaction of an organism with its environment, host-parasite interactions, natural selection, and evolution; sociology addresses the interpersonal interactions and networks through which the disease is spread.

  • How do we understand the workings of the mind and mental illness? How do we build assistive devices that interface with the mind?

Consider: neuroscience, philosophy, linguistics, applied math, computer science, cell biology, chemistry, electrical engineering, psychology, cognitive science, and more.
Neuroscience offers a multidisciplinary exploration of the brain encompassing all of the disciplines mentioned above.

  • How can we explore the structural causes of misfolded-protein diseases such as Parkinson's disease?

Consider: physics, chemistry, chemical/biomolecular engineering, biophysics, biochemistry
These areas address the chemical and physical interactions and forces between molecules and atoms.

  • How can we use nanoparticles to target cells for diagnostics and treatment?

Consider: physics, chemistry, chemical engineering, materials science, nano engineering
Nanoparticle research spans these disciplines and more.

  • How do we determine genetic risk factors for a particular disease?

Consider: computer science, applied math, genetics
All of these areas offer tools to analyze genomic data.

  • How do I design and test new drugs?

Consider: chemistry, chemical engineering, cell biology
Chemistry and chemical engineering can address issues such as rational drug design and organic synthesis, product extraction and purification; cell biology can view the effects that a particular compound has on cellular and molecular physiology.

  • How do we understand the effect of a person's living environment on their wellbeing?

Consider: environmental science, earth science, ecology, civil and environmental engineering, social science, history, anthropology, architecture
Earth science can reveal and predict the causes and effects of global climate change and pollution and can assist in our assessment of water, carbon energy sources and other natural resources. Ecology can address the environmental effects on a species. Environmental science can combine the tools of earth science and ecology. Environmental engineering can use earth science and ecology data to devise best practices and remediation plans. Social sciences can address social and political forces affecting how we address environmental problems. History and anthropology can describe effects of place on a culture. Architecture and civil engineering, with the help of sociology and psychology, can be used to design human-centered buildings, cities, parks and transportation infrastructure.

  • How do we build artificial organs, prostheses and assistive devices?

Consider: bioengineering, mechanical engineering, materials science, kinesiology
Bioengineering can combine biological knowledge and engineering skills to determine the best conditions for growing new organs. Mechanical engineering, bioengineering and materials science can explore the mechanics, biomechanics and material properties necessary for prosthetics and device design. Kinesiology can evaluate an assistive device's capacity to improve human performance.

  • How do we make meaning of illness? How do we talk/write about disease? How can we communicate public health messages?

Consider: English, history, art, drama, cultural studies, medical humanities.
These and other humanities fields allow us to process, record and communicate the human experience.

  • How do racial and economic disparities affect access to healthcare?

Consider: sociology, economics
Sociology examines social relationships and institutions and can identify systemic social problems. Economics can measure market forces and their impact on affordability of care.

  • How does social stigma in particular cultures affect use of disease-testing facilities or treatments?

Consider: anthropology, social psychology
Anthropology can address cultural differences. Social psychology can address stigma, stereotypes and stereotype threat.

  • How do we determine appropriate end-of-life care? What protocol is most humane for patients and families?

Consider: philosophy, religious studies
These areas are particularly equipped to ask ethical questions and to give moral assessments of problems.

  • How do we rapidly scan Twitter and Facebook to find trends that may be indicators of emerging disease or public health problems?

Consider: linguistics, computer science
Linguistics and computer science combined can produce tools to rapidly identify linguistic signatures of emerging disease before doctors see a physical pattern.

Thank you to Dereth Phillips, Department of Biosciences for this content.