Answered on Quora: What advice would you give to someone who can’t decide whether to major in biology or law?

What advice would you give to someone who can’t decide whether to major in biology or law?

Daniel Becker, Patent Attorney and Early-stage Engineering (2013-present)

Answered 19h ago

“major in law.” Do you mean do a pre-law program of some kind, or just pursue going into the law, via an avenue that gets you there, after undergraduate education?

As a literal requirement… law requires two degrees (ignore some of those wacky rules about being under lawyer supervision for some arbitrary amount of time and being able to skip getting a law degree in some states. Almost all lawyers get an undergraduate degree and then go to law school. It’s what is expected, too).

So, to go into the law, if you really don’t know what part of the law you want to do… but you DO know that law is the only thing you want to do… then I would recommend picking a degree that is a natural lead-in for law, such as political science or history or public policy, and get a B.A. Just get through it as quickly as possible. This avenue allows you to make law less of a jarring experience, and gets you into the job market more quickly.

For Biology… Biology is a legitimate science curriculum, like any other of the many other undergraduate science programs. However, it’s a field where it is DOMINATED by getting a second degree. We are living in a time where it is becoming more and more valuable and popular to get an advanced (master’s/ PhD) degree in many fields, but biology, is somewhat distinct from many other sciences because it is a research science where there is not necessarily a direct PRODUCT to be made (biology is about discovery, and techniques that make other processes possible, but those ultimately tend to be carried out by OTHER disciplines… chemists, engineers, pharmaceutical companies, medical practices, etc.). As a result, the density of biologists with advanced degrees is very very high. Note that I am presuming that your interest in biology is for the purpose of going INTO the professional fields most directly related to biology, and not some other field which may benefit from that background.

My point is that… Biology is therefore a commitment of many many years, of living in an increasingly sophisticated but less-occupied corner, and I don’t think of it as a field where a long career fosters crossing fields. That IS just my opinion, however. I am not a biologist, but I have known many. My wife has a PhD in biology. I think the decision to go into Biology, with a goal of a career IN biology, should be perceived as similar to the years of commitment necessary to become a medical doctor.

I generally think of a plan to be a lawyer and a plan to be a biologist are distinct life goals, and it would only injure either or both to not be dedicated to only one.

There IS an exception, however. Patent law. I am a patent attorney. Being a patent lawyer requires a science background and a law degree. You COULD do it by getting a degree in Biology, and then going to law school, and then not have to worry about getting a masters or a phd in order to be successful in biology-directly. HOWEVER… because biologists ARE so densely populated with masters and phd holders, and because it IS a research science (high science people with laser focus in their field often take for granted that they know about lots of things outside their expertise, and can mistake their credentials in their own field to mean that they only have true peers among people with similar credentials in OTHER fields), they typically PREFER to work with patent attorneys who ALSO have a masters or a phd.

Which is silly. But it is real. Google patent law practices in your area, browse the profiles of attorney working in the biosciences, and count the ones with an advanced degree. It is a surprisingly high percentage.

So THOSE attorneys, even without going into biology for their lifetime careers, basically needed, for competitive purposes, to go through the whole shebang IN biology. Which strikes me as a MASSIVE level of difficulty and commitment.

It has to be pointed out, though: there sure are a lot of people who do it. MAYBE the people who pull this off are not such a rare breed, and maybe it makes sense for you.

You are young, though, presumably. Now is the time to explore you options. It may make sense to try both. If there isn’t an easy way to take both curriculums in undergraduate college, ask your school’s administration if they would allow you to try courses in some quantity in each. Plenty of people double-major, and it may be feasible to get a B.A. in a law-relevant field while at least starting out a B.S. in Biology.

If you do both, though, don’t expect to finish college in 4 years.

… hope that helped.