Why Biochemistry & Molecular Biology (BMB)?
Public Health. This was the major I was sure to pursue all throughout my senior year of high school up until the last few weeks prior to my first day of undergrad. I had Agnes Scott College, my now undergrad institution, on my radar since October of the year before I started college. I was impressed by how well established and stellar the public health program was (and is), especially with the campus being in Atlanta, home of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) Headquarters. Imagine conducting research or completing an internship at the CDC as an undergrad?! So, my mind had been made and I set out to pursue public health while on the pre-medical track.
During the summer before attending Agnes Scott, I was scheduled to meet with one of my advisors, so I took the time to review the public health major requirements. The courses were definitely interesting, but I was surprised to find it was not as STEM heavy as I had hoped. So, I set out to look through course requirements for all majors that piqued my interest. Now, my approach to selecting a major is one I definitely do not recommend, but, for me, it ended up working out quite well. I knew I did not want to major in biology because that seemed too traditional as a pre-medical student, and wanted to steer away from being a “cookie-cutter med school applicant” at all costs. Plus, I had other interests that I wanted to tap into while pursuing my major like math and chemistry. So, with this in mind, I looked at all STEM majors and thought to myself “Which of these do I find exciting and then which one is the hardest?” I boiled it all down to one: biochemistry and molecular biology (BMB). After all, the major requirements included genetics, biochemistry, and calculus-based physics – all courses I had heard to be some of the most difficult at Agnes Scott.
So, all throughout my first year I completed general requirements and the introductory courses for the BMB major, but I still couldn’t quite articulate why I chose BMB other than my inherent interest and the rigor. It was not until I travelled to the Galapagos Islands for my Journeys course when I knew BMB was for me. It is common knowledge amongst the scientific community that the Galapagos is the most diverse place in the world as there is an array of living species found all throughout the archipelago. While it is also considered to be one of the most beautiful and pristine places on earth, I was surprised to find heaps of trash scattered across the shores of every beach I visited while on my 10-day excursion to the islands. While there are four inhabited islands in the Galapagos, the amount of trash accumulating on the shores were not from the inhabitants. This trash wanders the ocean waters for decades and is the result of me and you. According to Condor Ferries, who gathered their information from Ecowatch, National Geographic, and OceanCrusaders, there are an estimated 5.25 trillion pieces of plastic waste in our oceans with 8.3 million tons being discarded in the oceans yearly. Approximately 236,000 tons of ingestible microplastics are consumed by marine life who mistake the trash for food. My classmates and I traveled to the main waste plant, Centro de Gestion – Residuos Solidos, on the San Cristobal island to witness the waste problem the once pristine Galapagos archipelago is now experiencing.
What does this have to do with BMB? Well, after my excursion to the Galapagos, my classmates and I were tasked with a final research project to address a problem encountered in the Galapagos that might impact the daily life of anyone on this planet. Many chose public health concerns such as lack of healthcare in rural areas or maladies that tend to impact primarily rural populations. While public health of Galapagos inhabitants and those living in rural areas was a topic at the top of my list, I couldn’t shake how disturbed I was by the masses of waste washing ashore on every beach in the Galapagos. Obviously, this was not healthy for marine life, but I was certain this waste problem was also a global health concern. So, with this, I became compelled to research The Role of Plastics in Nature as Endocrine-Disruptors.
This was my first time reading scientific articles, which was a challenge. Despite the long hours spent trying to understand what I was reading, though, I found myself enjoying every second of it. I suppose that was when I knew I had to pursue BMB, and not just for undergrad. While reading article after article trying to understand the structure of BPAs, steroid hormones, and how such molecules have epigenetic effects, I developed a newfound appreciation for life. So cliché, believe me, I know. Here, I get a bit more personal – entering this field of study, for me, is complimentary to my foundational beliefs. I have grown up Christian and I have chosen to be a Christian, so when I see just how beautifully designed all of these molecules are, the good and the bad, and the precision of their structure and function, I have to give credit where credit is due. NIH chief Francis Collins couldn’t have said it any better: