Biology majors take on diverse career paths

Biology students pursue futures in a wide range of fields, including medicine, research and law

hs-BioCareers-CourtesyWikimediaCommons

Biology majors enter a wide variety of careers, from the laboratory to the courtroom to the emergency room

Courtesy Wikimedia Commons

Biology is a typical major for students in undergraduate universities seeking bachelor’s degrees. According to the National Center for Education Statistics, of the 1.72 million bachelor’s degrees granted in the 2010-11 academic year, around 90,000 were biology degrees — accounting for around 5.25 percent of college graduates in the United States.

Among these students majoring in biology, many plan to attend medical school or physician assistant school.

Second-year College student Priya Manohar plans to major in biology and anticipates a career the medical field. 

“The biology major will allow me to take courses that correspond to many of the MCAT prerequisites for the test, and some of the courses under the major might influence some of my decisions on what to specialize in under the medical field in the future,” Manohar said. 

Manohar said she also believes that a biology major will aid her in the medical field by enhancing her knowledge on processes that affect diseases and her ability to think on the spot.

“A biology major will give me skills that can broaden my understanding of biological mechanisms that affect patients in healthcare today,” Manohar said. 

Although many students do plan to go into medicine after achieving a degree in biology, there are other biology majors who wish to immerse themselves in fields outside of medicine.

“Honestly, it is always kind of funny to see the initial reaction of surprise and confusion when I tell people that I am a biology and art history major who does not want to be a doctor,” fourth-year College student Zach Tauscher said in an email to The Cavalier Daily. “Often the next reaction is ‘So what are you going to do with that?’ or ‘Well, that’s an interesting choice.’” 

Like many other majors, biology encapsulates and improves diverse skills such as critical thinking and problem solving.

“Biology gives you many practical, analytical skills that are attractive in many fields, so I think it is a great investment during your college career,” Tauscher said. “Biology can often feel very narrow and specific, but don’t let it fool you into thinking you have to follow all of your classmates on to medical school.”

Biology majors may plan to attend law school and believe the skills acquired from studying the science allows them to achieve expertise in various subfields of law, according to Tauscher.

For instance, Tauscher said he hopes to go to law school. 

Tauscher came to the University knowing he would become a biology major, and he had initially thought that he would be premed. However, he did not feel an immediate connection to the medical profession and decided to widen his horizons by taking classes in other subjects. After taking an art history seminar that focused on topics of cultural property, Tauscher considered going to law school to study intellectual property rights.

He intends to use his majors in the legal fields of intellectual property, patent and copyright — issues that especially affect scientists and artists. Tauscher also said his expertise in both art history and biology will aid him in helping his clients as a lawyer. 

“Personally, I have always thought that clients would be more comfortable and trusting of someone who they see as knowledgeable about their issue,” Tauscher said. “It will make me a much more successful advocate — being able to work within the intricacies of each subject — [topics] which law school doesn’t cover.” 

Other biology majors wish to expand their knowledge of biology after graduation through master’s and doctorate programs that would enable them to become research scientists. 

Third-year College student Amanda Briegel plans on using her biology major degree to go to graduate school and eventually conduct research on immunotherapies for cancer treatment. 

Early in elementary school, Briegel wanted to become a veterinarian. However, after watching a video about scientists at Duke University who cured a 22-year-old girl with late-stage glioblastoma — a malignant tumor that affects the brain — through immunotherapy, Brigel had a change of heart. 

“Immediately after watching that video, I knew that's what I wanted to do with my life,” Briegel said. 

The University houses a number of research facilities, especially at the School of Medicine, which enable students to discover their interests in scientific research.

“Research is such a valuable and potential experience for students if they are interested,” Asst. Biology Prof. David Kittlesen said. “Some students will do research because it looks good on their resume, and that may not be a good experience for them or their mentor.”

At times, biology majors may pursue other careers that are not directly related to the biological sciences at all. Kittlesen’s wife, for example, majored in biology, but went to law school where she did not use her biology knowledge directly.

Tauscher, Briegel and Manohar all stress the importance of choosing a career choice that caters to students’ passions, whether that is in medicine, research, law or business. 

“My best advice to potential biology majors — and really any undecided students — is to follow what you're passionate about,” Briegel said. “Pick a career that you are excited about.” 

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