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This post is really for students in year 12 (or 11) who are still finalising their subject choices. While I’m talking about Biology here, the same applies to other disciplines. Deciding at the last minute (ie when applying for uni) that you want to be an engineer is not ideal if you’ve never studied maths or physics. Not an unsurmountable problem, but the solution – additional, preliminary papers – will add to the length of time you’ll be studying.

… as the ancient knight said to Indiana Jones **. Okay, I’m talking about choice of subjects, so the outcomes won’t be as life-threatening as the choice Indy faced, but these decisions can still have a big impact on your future study courses.

(& I’m aware that if you’re considering Scholarship this year, you’ve most likely made those choices, so this one’s really aimed at students who aren’t so far through the system.)

What put me on to this topic is the fact that at the moment I’m involved in approving enrolments in my School for 2009. Most of the applications I see are fairly straightforward, but there are still quite a few students who can’t get into some of the subjects they’ve chosen because they don’t have the pre-requisites. And in some of those cases, they haven’t actually studied the necessary subjects at school.

For example, biotechnology’s a growing area in this country, as in many others. So for anyone wanting to take this as a major at uni, biology’s an obvious subject to take at school. But so’s chemistry. And you need maths, as well as physics, if you’re wanting to take physics papers as part of a physics or engineering degree.

Now, of course there are ways round all this. At Waikato, for example, we’ve got a set of Foundation Science papers, in February,  that I’ve been steering people into where necessary, to help bring them up to speed. (They’re good for people who have UE but might not have all the required credits in a particular subject.)  Or we might advise that you take what’s called Certificate of University Preparation papers in the A semester, & pass those before moving on to degree-level study. But having to take the CUP papers, in particular, means that your degree may end up taking rather longer than you’d first planned. And costing a bit more too. Better to keep your options open for as long as possible, & choose wisely :-)

Oh yes, did I mention statistics? Statistics is a really useful subject to take if you’re planning on a science career; I’d certainly recommend it to aspiring biologists. When I was an undergraduate stats was a compulsory paper for anyone doing science. I will confess that it wasn’t my strongest subject & there were times when I wondered what I was doing. I mean, did I really need to be able to work out how many lightbulbs in a consignment were likely to be faulty?? But then I got into doing research & it all made sense :-) So do give it some thought.

** Harrison Ford and Sean Connery, in one film. My idea of movie heaven!!