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Learning Experiences: For those who like chemicals and organisms

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I am not going to come out here waving the struggles of being a biology major in relation to everyone else as a trophy. Those who spend their days with zebrafish embryos and micropipettes do, however, get quite friendly with 800-person lectures, professors who do not know their name, and a nice 2.6 average GPA (looking at you, chemistry department).

It is not unexpected for those going into the research or medical fields to experience impersonal tendencies from professors who have the charisma of their zebrafish embryos. UW is not unique in having many students who feel a lack of community within the discipline. If “Grey’s Anatomy” has taught us anything, it is the cutthroat competition and intensity that pre-med students bring to the table.

Without incriminating any of my fellow students, I will say it’s not uncommon for individuals to wish failure upon those in their classes to bring that sweet curve lower. Why else would natural selection be a staple of the curriculum?

In this ecosystem, research opportunities enable students to gain an advantage over other students if they use persistence and determination, but this natural resource is not abundant in comparison to the demand.

“While there are opportunities for undergraduates to gain first-hand experience in their field of study, through lab work within the department,” molecular, cellular, and developmental biology senior Alec Meyers said, “there are by far more undergraduates seeking jobs in a lab or in medicine than there are positions available.”

Once again, this is expected for most entering this path. Therefore, taking classes that remove undergraduates from the competitive arena, such as the humanities or arts, allows variety that is essential in letting some room to breathe.

As far as day to day work, students in the life sciences are comparable to other hard sciences departments.

“I'd say the workload is intense but bearable,” Meyers continued. “I mean it's challenging for sure, balancing labs with work, homework, and lecture, but it's doable. There's been quarters where I've had exams every week, but it's not something I can't handle.”

Balancing these responsibilities with extraneous activities like working out, cooking, having friends, or taking up a hobby is quite difficult. Many students, myself included, find it increasingly so in upper divisions where research jobs are expected.

But this is not to say other majors do not experience such commitment, this is to only reflect my and others’ experiences in the biology and chemistry departments.

We are excluding the creme de la creme of life science programs: neurobiology. There, a couple dozen of admitted students enjoy small classes and foster a tight-knit community with their peers over two years as they look down on the plethora of biology major fighting for the top of the food chain. That may sound like a person bitter over their rejection from said coveted program but, I assure you, I cannot say whether that is the case.

Reach staff writer Charlie Kappes at Twitter: @cjkapp

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Just a guy getting to the bottom of it.

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