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Options for a Biology/English major?

MethylamineMethylamine Registered User regular
edited July 2007 in Help / Advice Forum
‘Afternoon, H/A. 20 year old female here.

I need your help, because this is something I’m honestly terrified about. I’m afraid that I’ve wasted my years in college getting degrees that I have no idea what to do with, and now that I’m a senior this fall, I need to seriously start thinking about graduate school. But I really just don’t know where to begin. It seems like my hand was held all throughout the highschool -> college transition process (and even then, I hit way below my standards), and now it seems like I’m completely alone, and am surrounded by people who know exactly what they’re doing while I’m the only one who doesn’t. I know this is probably an exaggeration, but this is one of those situations where I’m just really scared to take the first step because I’m afraid I won’t make it, or something, which I realize is absolutely ludicrous and counterproductive, and that’s where I need your help.

A bit of background to let you know what I have to work with: I will be graduating in Spring ’08 at 21 years old with a B.S in Biology and a B.A in English. There’s also a slight chance I can obtain a minor in chemistry. Now, graduating a year early with two degrees is okay, I guess... but I just feel like they’re so useless. I STILL have no idea what I want to do. It feels like I want to do everything and like the grass is always greener on the other side of the fence (hence the two completely polar fields of study). At first, I was aiming for the pharmacy program in my college (the top in the nation), but didn’t get in because of something idiotic. So I started a bio/pre-med degree in hopes that I could transfer into pharmacy, or maybe get into medical school. For posterity: these medical paths were basically implanted into my head because my mother is a doctor, and all my life it’s been like “Oh, you’re going to be a doctor too, right?” And now, that’s completely burning me out because I feel guilty for NOT wanting to go to med school anymore. Even if I did, I have absolutely no chance of getting in, and/because I have no drive to do so.

The English degree is a relatively new development; I’m doing it basically because I can and it fits into my schedule. Literature and writing is truly something I like studying and doing. In fact, pretty much the only “career” I can see myself having with any amount of clarity is an editor. But apparently they don’t get paid shit, and I was raised to aim for a well-paying job that has prestige. And, of course, if I did something writing-oriented, you bet I will likely be clamoring back for the science field.

And it seems like I always want to do other stuff. Like, right now for instance, I’m enamored with engineering and am kicking myself for not going on the biomedical engineering track when I could. Another part of me really wants to go to film school. Basically, yeah, other-side-of-the-fence syndrome.

So, after all these grand hopes of med school and pharmacy school, I have what seems to me like a useless biology degree and a tacked on English degree, that I’m at least hoping will help me stand out/get a job. I really just feel like I screwed up.

My parents are not really helping, either. I’ve had very high standards imposed on me all my life. At this point, I don’t think they’re “proud” of me at all, and they do not want to hear that I don’t know what to do. Basically, I need to go to grad school right after college, there’s really no other option for me. Even if I did take a year off, what would I do? I have a part-time job as an office assistant, but doing that for an entire year is ridiculous, and I really don’t trust myself to get a job in the “field.” Besides, likely the only job I can get with a bio bachelor’s is like, a gofer in a microbiology lab. I’ve interned in one before, and if that’s what I have to look forward to for the rest of my life, well, no thanks.

Basically: What can I do that can integrate writing and science? What graduate school field should I take in order to follow it up? Because don’t get me wrong: I love science and I do enjoy healthcare and technology. But it seems I really can’t go very far with just a bachelor. How do I go about doing this and start doing research? I’d prefer to go to a school in my state, which is RI. How do I prepare for the GRE and when do I need to take it? What do I do about letters of recommendation? *sigh* This is really just so stressful. Part of my job involves processing a bunch of grad school applications, and I can’t even stand looking at them at this point, even though technically I have an “in” as to what’s required. I’m just terrified to take the first step.

I can be responsible and focused if a clear path is laid out for me and I have strict goals. But right now, that just isn’t the case. I honestly would like to be able to make these decisions for myself and not have my hand held through everything, as has been the case for the past twenty years. I realize you guys cannot make my decisions for me, but for now, I just need some guidance in the right direction.

I know this is long, but thanks so much for reading and for all your advice!

Tl;dr: Terrified about graduate school, need to make a decision fast.

Methylamine on


  • lifeincognitolifeincognito Registered User regular
    edited July 2007
    Lots of issues to tackled, but I can only help with the ones I know so I'll start with the GREs. I only took the general GREs to get into Engineering graduate school, but there is a subject specific Biology GRE which you may need for Biology graduate school. What you need to take will depend on the school you are applying to, but the regular GRE has a joke of a math section with a whooper of a Verbal section. Buy a book to crash course yourself and you should do just fine.

    As far as what to study in terms of Graduate school I really cannot advise too much. I do know that many people who go to get a Masters or PhD in Bio Engineering don't know anything about biology or chemistry when they start their degree. You are in the opposite in that you wouldn't know much about engineering, but you'd be great to have around because you can write and know things a typical engineer would not have covered in undergraduate. If you desire to do that I am sure you can find a BioEng grad school that will take you assuming you have lab work or something. If you want to stay with Biology you will need a PhD to not be a lab rat your whole life, or so I have been told by my friends.

    I know Drexel has an Interdepartmental Medical Science (IMS) Program which is designed to help you get into medical school as a post bac, but also affords you other skills that would help you land work in the other medicine related programs. Not sure how common it is, but it might be worth a look.

    lifeincognito on
    losers weepers. jawas keepers.
  • ElsinoreElsinore Registered User regular
    edited July 2007
    Basically: What can I do that can integrate writing and science?

    The one thing that came to my mind immediately is Medical Writing. I work in the biotech industry and although I am sure there are many different types of medical writers, I am specifically referring to working for a pharmaceutical company.

    The work, at a very basic level, involves generating protocols for clinical trials, writing Investigator's Brochures for clinical trial materials, Clinical Study Reports for when the trial is over, and Package Inserts for when the product makes it to market. As I'm not in a MW group, I can't offer more details, but from my interaction with folks from these groups, this is the basic gist of their job.

    I'm not sure what educational requirements you may need to meet to get a job as a writer, but I'd bet a bachelor's in science/english would get you pretty far!

    FYI if this is a path that interests you, keep in mind that it may be worthwhile to start at a smaller company that pharma companies hire to do work, be it in preclinical studies or at a CRO (contract research organization) which does work for clinical trials. Both of these venues tend to see a higher turnaround and you may have better luck finding an entry level position.

    Elsinore on
  • witch_iewitch_ie Registered User regular
    edited July 2007
    My situation was very similar to yours...majored in biology and minored (three classes and a senior comps short of majoring) in history. I also decided that I did not want to attend medical school. The great thing is that there are lots of different kinds of jobs that you can use the skills and knowledge that you've acquired - you can do writing on bioethics, actual research, or if you're interested in healthcare, public policy. I'm not certain how you would get into doing this, but my guess is you have to put in a lot of time to gain credibility first. This could be through research, which would require probably a Ph.D. or MD or some other means - had a professor writing on bioethics in grad school who had a JD. If you end up doing research, you'll be doing a lot of scientific writing for grants and publications.

    You just need to think about the work you want to do - what you want your everyday to be like. That's really a determining factor in what you should pursue. Then, take a look at the qualifications for jobs that fit what you want. Then you'll know if you need to go to grad school and which one if so.

    For the Biology GRE, I recommend getting a study book that will cover the areas you need to freshen up on as well as any that your coursework may not have touched on.

    witch_ie on
  • drhazarddrhazard Registered User regular
    edited July 2007
    Science writing? Are you kidding me? The world is your oyster. I've just got a degree in English, and I'm working in the NSF's grant approval system to get experience to become an independent grant writer. Beaucoup dollars, my friend.

    And who said editing doesn't get anything? I dunno where you heard that, but editors can make six figures in the Washington, DC area--believe me, I've looked. Especially for science agencies, and even moreso for government agencies.

    Don't be so hard on yourself. Believe me, it took one hair-pulling session of arguing with my parents to make them realize that, no, I wasn't going to stay sane as a comp sci major, and no, I wasn't going to starve, and no, I'm not a failure.

    drhazard on
  • grungeboxgrungebox Registered User regular
    edited July 2007
    Okay, I can try and chime in here. My gf has a BS in bio and a BA in this liberal arts honors program. She's getting a PhD in molecular biology, and intentionally avoided med school. I applaud you for not wanting to fall into that trap of convenience.

    You have lots of career options that I can think of. They aren't all easy, but they're out there. First things first, if you're taking a year off then yeah, lab tech is probably the way to go. Keep in mind that being a tech with a BS is fairly different from a tech in college. My gf did shitty gofer work during summers in college; when she teched the summer before starting grad school (in the same lab as during college, no less) she had quite a lot more responsibility and respect. So don't discount that, at least as a temporary job while you're sorting stuff out. Besides, you might even get nifty benefits like health insurance and a 401k if the lab you tech in is anything like my gf's lab.

    Obviously that shouldn't be your career choice, though, since there's little upward mobility. Everyone else's advice and suggestions are really good, especially science writing. Here are some others:
    -teaching college technical/scientific writing class. None of my technical writing profs (it's required for EE) had PhD's, only MA's in technical writing or scientific writing and so forth. I think Cornell has such a program.
    -public health policy grad school. I don't know what RI school has one, but one probably does. You can try to be an advisor to firms as a result.
    -Technical advisor in a law firm. I have a few EE friends that do that for a patent attorney. You might try as technical advisor to an environmental justice organization or law firm or oil/gas company.
    -HR in a biotech firm. Since you have written communication skills and technical know-how, you should be qualified. No grad school required.
    -Consulting firms hire anyone with intelligence. You obviously aren't stupid if you have a BS in anything. No grad school needed. My friend with a BA in social studies has a technical job at McKinsey, so I'm sure something with a BA and a BS can get something similar.
    -High school teacher. At least you could just do it for a year or two; you can go the Teach for America route or the traditional route.

    Also, if you're considering grad school remember to apply for fellowships. If you're doing something scientific remember the NSF and Hertz fellowships. Hertz deadline is October, NSF should be December. If you're a woman doing science the options are much more plentiful, especially via NSF. Just a heads up.

    grungebox on
    Quail is just hipster chicken
  • CraveonCraveon __BANNED USERS regular
    edited July 2007
    Basically: What can I do that can integrate writing and science?
    Write scripts for "House" or "Bones"?

    Craveon on
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