Ride along: Compressing a biology undergrad into 1 year.


I’m interested in starting a company that solves the problem of aging in humans. Unfortunately, I studied nuclear engineering in my undergrad and quantum optics for my masters (I dropped out of my PhD — but that’s a story for another day).

I have not taken a single biology course since Grade 10 Science, other than a brief elective on human physiology in undergrad, so I’m a little behind.

What do I need to learn? Well, here’s an example of a biology undergrad curriculum at MIT. Also, a Computational Biology degree curriculum at MIT.

I only have so much money and time off to be able to undertake this knowledge infusion. So, I’ve decided to try to compress a 4 year biology undergrad into 1 year. Is this crazy / arrogant? Probably. But here is how that math works out:

  • A standard biology undergrad takes around 4 years to complete. But if you include summer breaks it actually only takes about 3 years to complete.
  • Engineers at my school took 20% more courses than science majors, so I assume I can shave the time to completion to 2.4 years if I just study at that rate.
  • I won’t be doing any lab work.
  • I won’t be taking any humanities electives.
  • I have already taken 1st year organic and inorganic chemistry courses.
  • I already know basic computer programming
  • I have taken thermodynamics and fluid dynamics courses.
  • I have taken calculus (no stats though….)
  • I will probably cut a certain courses out that are superfluous.
  • I won’t be doing most of the assignments. Mainly just doing the practice exams as a monitor of my knowledge.

After cutting out all the fat I think compressing a 4-year curriculum into 1 year could be done in theory. Even if I miss the mark, I think the effort will be net positive so long as I don’t over exert myself.

Rule #1: I will not sacrifice my health in order to study harder. I did way too many all-nighters in college and I am only now realizing how damaging that was to my health. Evolution has not engineered a solution for sleep deprivation like it has for food deprivation (fat storage).

Game Plan

  1. Take the first few weeks to get a general understanding of the basics of genetics and cell biology by studying Molecular Biology of the Cell by Alberts, et al. This textbook is used in a lot of 2nd or 3rd year cell bio courses apparently. It’s also the book that Laura Deming recommends first for people interested in longevity research.
  2. Decide on what curriculum I want to take. Most likely use MIT Open Courseware. I am tempted to lean towards computational biology, as this will also let me pick up more computing skills in the process.
  3. Cram, cram, cram.
  4. Test thyself. Gauge my own understanding by doing and grading my own practice exams.
  5. Teach others. One of the best ways to really understand a subject is to teach it to someone else*. Bonus points if you can teach it to children. I may make Youtube videos from my notes as a public resource.

*Funny little anecdote: I was struggling to make money during my holiday working visa stay in Australia and decided to pick up any private tutoring gig I could. This included a 2nd year electrical engineering student taking courses I was mostly familiar with, but some 20% of the course was new material to me. THAT was definitely an interesting way to learn.


  • It’s been 7 years since I finished my master’s degree. Subjectively, my mind does not feel as sharp as it once did.
  • These days, I am never really required to memorize large amounts of information. Studying physics was pretty light on that, too.

How much will it all cost?

  • There are a lot of free resources on the net. I plan to use MIT Opencourse ware, but some courses might not be available, or they are out of date. Other Open course ware from other universities or Coursera might serve as good substitutions.
  • Many textbooks have PDF versions which are cheap or free (google Libgen….)
  • I anticipate the cost of supplies will be roughly $0. Amazing times we live in.

The main cost will be the opportunity cost of not working during this time of study. While this cost is important, the main motivation to compress the curriculum is so I can get started on solving the problem of aging sooner.

Staying motivated

I didn’t have a hard time staying motivated in university. I studied hard because I was a stereotypical “good asian” on the mindless pursuit of good grades.

Things are different now (still asian though!). I am not looking to impress anyone. I just don’t want to watch all my friends and family get old, frail, fraught with debilitating disease, and then die before I also succumb to the same fate. This is a great motivator, incidentally.

The problem is sometimes we get so wrapped up in the banality of everyday life routines and forget how little time we have left if nothing is done about this problem of aging. People don’t like to think about death, so we will subtly ignore it and instead worry about where to go for dinner, office politics, career and retirement planning, etc.

If there is anyone else out there who feels as I do, and also wants to do a crash course in biology, please feel free to contact me. It would be great to discuss and learn with others.

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