Field of Study: Physiology
Physiology programs teach people about life processes in plants and animals. Students learn about chemical and physical events at all levels within living things. For example, they learn how animals move and breathe, how plants grow, and how both reproduce.
Think of the cell as an industrial facility. Raw materials come in. Like a power plant, the cell may burn the materials for energy and dispose of the waste products. Many animal cells are like this. Or like a manufacturing plant, the cell may assemble the raw materials into useful products and ship these out. Many plant cells are like this. Physiology studies the biochemical processes that go on in cells. And it also looks at the processes of whole systems. Why do muscles get tired? What are brain cells doing when you're asleep? Why do some people develop more brittle bones than other people?
A few colleges offer a bachelor's degree program in physiology. Usually this takes four years of full-time study beyond high school. Like most biology majors, it includes several lab sciences. You study biology, chemistry, and organic chemistry. You may also study biochemistry, especially if your aim is graduate school. From these subjects you learn the basics of how to do scientific research. You learn laboratory skills and how to do experiments. You also study calculus and perhaps statistics.
You study the biochemical processes of the body right down to the molecular level. You learn about the various systems of the body and what functions they perform. You study the various kinds of tissues and the properties of their component cells. Your exploration of the cell includes learning about the various organelles and the role of genes.
With a bachelor's degree you may work as a research assistant. You may go on to professional study in medical, dental, or veterinary school. You may get a graduate degree in occupational or physical therapy, or in another branch of biology. If you want to teach biology in school, you may get a master's in education. But if you want to play a responsible role in physiology research or teach in college, you need a graduate degree.
Many universities and medical schools offer a master's program in physiology. This usually requires two years of full-time study beyond the bachelor's degree. This degree is not an option in a few graduate programs, which proceed directly to the doctorate. And probably most people who study this field aim for jobs for which it is useful to get a doctoral degree. That usually requires an additional three years beyond the master's. It may take longer if you take on part-time work teaching or assisting with research, but such work helps offset costs and advances your career. Over 100 schools offer a doctoral degree program.
In graduate school you study a variety of biochemical processes. You learn how hormones regulate body functions such as respiration, reproduction, and sleep. You study how cells burn energy, reproduce, and (in the case of nerves) transmit signals. You also study statistics so that you can draw meaningful conclusions from the data that you derive from experiments.
A graduate program in physiology is not just textbook-learning or lectures. The graduate program is designed to teach you research skills, so you do much of your learning in the lab. Usually you take several seminars, in which you do research and present it to the class. In many programs you are also expected to do a series of lab rotations. Working with different researchers exposes you to various topics and methods of research. Thus you decide where to focus your own master's or doctoral research projects and whom to choose as a faculty advisor. In a doctoral program, you undertake an original research project under the guidance of this advisor. Then, you write up your procedures and findings as your dissertation.