Pitt Bio Blog
Write something about yourself. No need to be fancy, just an overview.
Write something about yourself. No need to be fancy, just an overview.
Junior Biological Sciences Major and Asian History Minor
When I was applying to Pitt, I had a decent idea of what I wanted to study. I wanted to study biology, but I didn’t know if I should take a more specific path, like molecular biology. I had even less of an idea of what sort of area I wanted to minor in. If at all. Some time has passed since then, and I am now a Biological Sciences major with an Asian History minor. This minor isn’t exactly something that connects all too well to my biology courses, and certainly surprises some people when I let them know that I minor in a discipline with a clear disconnect from my major. I thought for this Pitt Bio Blog I would explain what made me choose my minor, and give some general advice along the way.
The first step to choosing a minor is to consider what you’re interested in. In my case, I was exposed to this minor by accident, in a way. When I was enrolling for my fall courses of sophomore year, I was struggling to find a class to fill the last slot in my schedule; I was desperately searching for a class that would fill a Gen-Ed requirement. After searching for a class for what seemed like forever, I found a class called East Asian Civilization up to 1800 (HIST 0400). It filled a Gen-Ed requirement (HIST 0400 = IFN + (HS or REG)) and fit my schedule, which was a relief. I enrolled for the class and mostly forgot about it over the summer. School started up again and I began my fall semester of my sophomore year. Very quickly, I began to realize how much I enjoyed this class. What I was expecting to be an average course turned out to be one of my favorites for that semester. The course material was rich, the history was new to me and really interesting, and the professor was super engaging. I will note that the professor I had for this course has left the University, so I cannot comment on the current HIST 0400 professor and or course material. Anyways, my time in this class was really cool, so I decided to take the next part in the East Asian Civilization history courses, HIST 0401: Modern East Asian Civilization . This course was just as interesting and engaging as HIST 0400. After taking two really rewarding courses, I decided to seriously consider minoring in Asian History.
The next step of choosing a minor is to do some research into the requirements of the program. There are a number of resources to do this. The major and minors fair is a great resource to get a face-to-face information session about all the minors available through the Arts & Sciences School. Department websites offer a very concise description of the minor requirements as well, which can give you a brief snapshot of scope of the minor and the courses. And of course, you can always go to department advisors to get a very detailed run-down of every requirement there may be in the minor. I chose to talk to the History Department advisors. I was told everything I needed to know about the minor and had a very positive experience. In the case of all history minors, not just Asian History, to complete the minor the student must complete two “survey courses”, which are very broad spectrum courses like Western Civilization 1 (HIST 0100), United States to 1877 (HIST 0600), etc. Then, the student must complete three upper level courses (1000+) in the same geographic area as one of the survey courses.
The requirements for this minor are not too demanding, which gives you a lot of flexibility in scheduling and choice of course, but other minors may require a larger number of classes and/or very specific classes. For instance, the CS minor does require a few more credits (16) than other minors, while the Chemistry minor can take 17-19 credits depending on what courses the student takes. With all of this in mind, you should take the time to assess the course load of the minor. In my case, I was able to declare myself as an Asian History minor the first semester of my junior year without having to catch up on any classes to complete the minor in time for graduation. For me this minor is a very convenient option.
It goes without saying that I have learned a lot about Asian history in my progress through this minor, but I have also gotten the pleasure of finding a new discipline that I really enjoy. Minors are a great way to have exposure to new, fresh material aside from your normal coursework. So, I encourage you to give some thought to minoring in something; you may find something you absolutely love.
Senior Bio and German Double Major
Pitt in Berlin, Pitt in Sydney, Pitt in Florence, Pitt in Tanzania, Pitt in the Himalayas, Pitt in Buenos Aires, Pitt in South Africa, Pitt in Shanghai… any of these destinations sound interesting to you? If not, chances are that one of the cities out of the 75+ countries Pitt’s Study Abroad Office has to offer will capture your attention. For those with even the most specific of international tastes, there is most likely a way that you can fit studying in your dream city into your academic agenda.
Unfortunately, however, many of us STEM majors are under the common misconception (as was I) that studying abroad as a science major is simply not a practical dream… that there is no time for it between research, internships, work, demanding course loads and pre-health/graduate school requirements. Well, as a Biological Sciences and German major in pursuit of a third long-term adventure abroad (and graduating on time, mind you), I hope to dispel this myth through my own personal experiences.
After an Ochem exam sophomore year, I walked into my Bio Advising appointment anticipating to be shut down when expressing my interest in Study Abroad for the summer. I was surprised by the nonchalance, as well as support, in my advisor’s voice when she said, “Oh sure… We have a lot of students do that.” Apparently, I was not in uncharted territory. Although I did have the additional motivation to study abroad in Germany as a German major, studying abroad does not require foreign language knowledge. It also does not require you to take your hard sciences while abroad. My advisor encouraged me to work with the Study Abroad Office and German department to maximize the credits I could transfer back as Gen Eds and German major requirements.
So, how did I choose my first Study Abroad program? I started by visiting the Study Abroad website. Here you can narrow your search for programs based on location, area of study, term or program type. With my heart set on Berlin and planning for the summer, two programs caught my interest. I explored their websites and the courses they offered, printed out syllabi for classes which I thought could count as Gen Eds or towards my German major, and I took my options to the Study Abroad Office and German department to be confirmed. I settled on a 6-week program at the Freie Universität Berlin, where I would be taking a German language course and a history course taught in German using film, art and literature. I received credit for two German major requirements and an “Arts” Gen Ed (MA) — not a bad deal! Remember to check with departments for your certificates and minors as well!
Needless to say, my time in Berlin was one of the best experiences of my life, as probably any person who has studied abroad will say. I returned to the U.S. with new friends and memories, new skills, a new perspective, a refreshed mind, and the determination to return for a longer period of time. My junior year, I began looking into summer research internships abroad, and I was reminded of the DAAD RISE program (German Academic Exchange Service- Research Internships in Science and Engineering) through the University Honors College newsletter. DAAD RISE is a wonderful program for science majors that offers summer research internships in Germany for undergraduate students from North America, Great Britain and Ireland, and while convenient, German language knowledge is not necessary!
Inexperienced with such an application process, I made appointments with the National Scholarship advisors to help edit my essays and resume, and they were extremely helpful. After not making the smartest move by placing all my eggs in one basket, I, fortunately, heard back that I had received the three-month research internship in Munich. I was overjoyed to be able to combine both my science and German knowledge into one cohesive, interdisciplinary and international experience. Not only did I gain new, practical laboratory expertise for the future, but it was extremely gratifying to develop a sense of place alone in a foreign city. Onto the next adventure!
Questions about my experiences or studying abroad? Come to office hours in Langley Lobby on Wednesdays at 11am!
Biological Sciences Senior
“Your written thesis should be about the length of a Master’s degree thesis,” my principal investigator told me at a meeting earlier this semester. I’m sure my face said it all – how was I ever supposed to accomplish such a task, plus prepare a full defense for a committee, all on top of taking a full course load, balancing extracurricular activities, studying for the MCAT, and enjoying senior year? It seemed impossible at the time. Now, as I am approaching less than a month until my defense date with a 30-page draft in hand, I can confidently look back at the start of the semester and say, “Grace, you highly underestimated yourself!” Here’s the tough, but rewarding experience I have had with writing and preparing my thesis on Alzheimer’s Disease (more specific details about this project are in my previous blog).
Pitt is only one of a few universities in the world to offer the Bachelor of Philosophy degree (BPhil for short!), with the University of Oxford being the first. The BPhil is offered through the University Honors College (UHC), which is accessible to any student at Pitt. If you are working on an independent research project and have an advisor who is overseeing your project, you may be eligible to pursue this degree! The BPhil requires you to write a complete thesis, select a committee of qualified Pitt faculty + an external committee member from another university, and to prepare and present a full defense for the committee. If the defense is successfully prepared, and the thesis is submitted to the UHC, you will graduate with a Bachelor of Philosophy in your prospective major, as opposed to graduating with a Bachelor of Arts or Bachelor of Science.
So how exactly did I tackle this project? After calming myself down upon realizing just how much work I had to do, I first set up deadlines with my PI that would keep me on track to finish the thesis in time. This consisted of finishing my lab bench work, setting dates for when the working draft would be completed, when editing would take place, when the draft would be sent to the rest of my committee members, and dates for practice presentations for members of the Pitt community. Not going to lie, I severely underestimated how long the writing process would take – I spent many nights poring over my ginormous spreadsheets of compiled data and reading countless scientific articles that would supplement my findings. Some days I would even think about giving up the BPhil because of how frustrated I was on writing the draft. Luckily, with guidance from my thesis advisor, other members in my lab, and skills I developed from the bio writing courses necessary for my major (BIOSC 1010: Communicating in the Biological Sciences), I had lots of resources that made the writing process less intimidating.
With perseverance and determination, I’m proud (and relieved!) to say that yesterday, I finished the 30-page working draft. This thesis is the longest document I have ever written in my life. It is by no means perfect, and there is still a lot of work to do done with editing and formatting, not to mention putting together and practicing my defense. But, I still consider it a huge personal feat. I often get asked, “Grace, WHY would you ever want to pursue this degree, especially during your last semester at Pitt? Don’t you want a chill and fun semester? It’s not even for a grade!” In response to these questions (which, to be fair, are valid questions), I say something along these lines: “You know, sometimes I ask myself these questions too. Actually, not just sometimes. I ask myself this all the time. But, it’s a personal challenge I wanted to see if I could do it. I wanted to make my research project tangible, since I have put in so much work and energy into it. I also wanted to get the most out of my four years here at Pitt. The BPhil is one of the ways in which I am doing this!”
If I can offer any advice for students who are/will be doing research in the future and are looking to pursue this degree, here is what it would be: DON’T BE INITMIDATED BY IT, AND DO IT!
Pitt Bio Blog
The Pitt Bio Blog is maintained by the Department of Biological Sciences Advising Office. Posts are authored by our students