What Is The Difference Between Biology And Chemistry?

"I’m in the middle of Biology 101 right now, and I’m having a great time. I seem to have an aptitude, and I’m learning a lot. The thing I’ve noticed though is that it seems like a huge amount of the course is chemistry, as opposed to what I would’ve expected from biology. I’ve been thinking of switching majors to biology, but then I wondered if it wasn’t chemistry I actually have been enjoying so much. What is the difference between the two, and out of curiosity, which is harder?"

asked by Brian from Annapolis, MD

Biology and chemistry are closely related studies which overlap. Chemistry is more basic to existence-it is the study of the composition of matter and all associated structures, properties, and reactions. This includes, but is not limited to, biological matter. Biology meanwhile is focused entirely on biological organisms. Part of that includes the study of associated structures and properties-which is where all that chemistry comes in. But biologists also study evolution, growth, life cycles, ecological niches, and other aspects of life which are not simply the study of atomic and molecular structures.

As far as how that relates to your education, if you major in biology, you will be learning a lot of chemistry, and if you major in chemistry, you will be learning a fair bit of biology as well. A lot of people say that biology is “a lot of memorization” and that chemistry is easier than biology to major in, but these people generally have not taken higher-level biology classes.

In terms of difficulty, the choice is subjective, but at the upper levels, they may be comparably matched. There are also crossover topics (and sometimes majors) such as chemical biology and biochemistry (which are more different than they sound). Both however exist at an intersection between the two. So you should take some time to learn about these more specialized majors too.

You really should not choose a major based on which one is “easier” or “harder,” however. Rather you should base your decision on what kind of career you are interested in after college. Biologists and chemists go on to very different futures, and it is important to remember that college is just a few years. Your career is the rest of your life, so you want it to be something that makes you happy.

I would strongly recommend for that reason that you begin researching careers in biology and chemistry.

Find out about different job duties, salaries, and demand, and then decide which jobs would interest you the most. Look up what types of degrees professionals in those job roles have, and you will know whether to major in chemistry or biology.

You also should probably talk to an advisor at your school about your dilemma. That is an easy way to get a lot of immediate information. Your advisor is also familiar with the school’s curriculum, and will know which degree will best prepare you for a given job.

Career Spotlight: Chemist

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