When I first entered college freshman year, my so-called ‘plan’ was to double major in both mathematics and Spanish and to follow a pre-medicine track. Flash forward to almost three years later and I am now obviously a biochemistry and Spanish double major and my career goal is still to become a doctor. It’s fascinating for me to look back on how far I’ve grown over the past three years because to be completely honest, I don’t even think I knew what biochemistry really was nor would I have ever thought to study it. I was the type of student who had everything ‘planned’ out – a gap year and any grade below an ‘A’ was a devastating setback. Today, I have grades other than an ‘A’ on my transcript and I want to take at least a year off and go back to Spain. My decision to study biochemistry was a combination of many things, most importantly what would best fulfill my interests in science, but also what was reasonable enough to allow me to also complete a Spanish major and to study abroad in Spain for a semester.
ACS (American Chemical Society) defines biochemistry as the “study of the structure, composition, and chemical reactions of substances in living systems” (acs.org). Pretty fancy definition, huh. I personally define biochemistry as the study of chemical processes in living, biological systems through the integration of various different subfields of chemistry and biology, including pharmacology, physiology, microbiology, organic chemistry and more. I have always been fascinated and quite frankly puzzled as to how individual cells know how to work together as tissues, how tissues know how to work together as organs, etc. especially since we ourselves are unable to picture how little yet how powerful cells really are. How do cells recognize each other? How do organelles know what they are and which functions they possess? How do they respond to different macromolecules? How are all of the chemical pathways they undergo related and how do they know which pathway to follow at any given time? I have discovered that a lot of these answers are found through studying biochemistry, but I think over the past three years I have developed more questions rather than received more answers.
Although I do want to attend medical school, pursuing a biochemistry degree at Muhlenberg has absolutely everything to do with my career goals. I have interests in studying how organisms process and respond to medications and also in drug optimization and synthetic research. I am member of Dr. Young’s research lab here, and have been fortunate to gain a lot of experience with synthetic work, optimization and with stability studies, experiences that I both have enjoyed and am grateful for. Although I do not want to go into research, it’s evident that learning about these interests and having these experiences is only going to improve my knowledge about our bodies and how they work as a physician. In addition, I absolutely loved organic chemistry as it was one of my favorite classes at Muhlenberg, and I think I would have majored in organic chemistry if that was an option. Fortunately biochemistry is the next best thing!
I have realized that I have a lot more to study in terms of biochemistry here at Muhlenberg. My semester abroad without studying science and being only a junior in a class of seniors has put me somewhat behind in terms of the major, as I have yet to complete the other upper-level requirements after organic chemistry and regular biochemistry. I could easily decide to just major in Spanish since I have completed all of the pre-medicine requirements as I know how difficult it is going to be to finish out my studies in biochem. However, I know I don’t want to ‘take the easy way out’ and that I want to further grow and explore my interests as this will really only be the time I can before my gap year spent further studying Spanish and subsequent career in medicine. I am determined to work really hard this semester and integrate the knowledge that I already have with new insights from my professor, current and former classmates, alumni, and more.