Biology and English: Making a Combined Major Work

duel major

This guest post was written by Sarah Sherman, a combined English and Biology major here at NU. 

Choosing a major is a unique experience for everyone. For a lucky few, it is barely a choice at all. There are those who have wanted to be doctors or teachers or business managers since they were young, and who understand what academic roadways they want to travel to get there.  However, for many people, (including myself) the journey is rarely straightforward.

I entered Northeastern as an Undeclared student, and although I wasn’t sure exactly what I wanted, I knew that I was fascinated by  Biology and English.  For a while my thought process alternated between trying to figure out which one I wanted to focus on and trying to figure out if it was possible to double major in Biology and English.  I soon found out that the latter wasn’t feasible without overloading classes for at least one semester or by taking classes for more than eight semesters, neither of which appealed to me. Despite this realization, I still felt no closer to making a decision.  This brings me to my first bit of advice-never underestimate the value of figuring out what it is you don’t want to do.  Sometimes a decision doesn’t come in a flash of inspiration or from a deep inner knowledge of what it is you want.  Sometimes it’s as simple as exploring around and figuring out the things you don’t want to do, until you hit on something that ignites your enthusiasm.

My first breakthrough came when I was attending an Undeclared event, and I had the opportunity to talk to the head of the English Department. I mentioned how I’d been struggling to decide whether I wanted to study Biology or English. She replied, “Why not do a combined major with the two?”  “I can do that?” I asked.  “I don’t see why not” she said.  I would later learn that a combined major was different from a double major in some important ways.  A double major is two degrees, and involves completing all of the courses for each one.  A combined major is one degree, and some of the courses from each discipline are removed to make a more compact curriculum. It also includes an interdisciplinary “bridge” course, making it easier for the student to understand how their two fields of study connect and interact. This brings me to my second piece of advice-don’t be afraid to talk to anyone and everyone at the university about what it is you’re interested in or looking for.  They are likely to be much more familiar with the resources and opportunities that are available than you are.  You may end up learning about possibilities that you didn’t even know existed!

This five minute exchange started me on an almost two year journey to pursue the education that I was passionate about. Although the combined major I wanted did not yet exist, I knew there was a process in place for creating it.  This process included countless meetings, paperwork, curriculum revisions, and several roadblocks.  This brings me to my third piece of advice.  When you find what it is you’re looking for, pursue it with persistence, patience, and passion. The idea that I was so excited about-a new major combining English and Biology-often came across to others as strange and sometimes even nonsensical.  However, I knew it was what I wanted.  I stood my ground even when I could sense disapproval from others.  I may have been met with skepticism at first, but I wasn’t met with a “no” or “we simply can’t do that”.  So I kept pushing forward. The journey was long and sometimes discouraging, but it was worth it because I had found my passion.

Your own journey to declaring a major might be more conventional than mine, or perhaps even less so.  No matter what the case, it is important to keep in mind one overall truth-there is no one “right way” to land yourself a certain future.  In talking with professors and with other adults in the working world, I have learned that there are multiple paths that lead to the same destination.  The important thing is to do something that you get excited about, and to do it well.

Sarah is a third year student at Northeastern University pursuing a Combined Degree in Biology and English. She has completed one co-op at the Boston Center for Physical Therapy and Sports Medicine. She traveled to Italy in the summer of 2013 for a Dialogue of Civilizations, and is looking forward to traveling again during an ASB trip to the Dominican Republic this March.  Contact Sarah for more information about her combined major or her experiences at sherman.sa@husky.neu.edu.

Image Source: Carol Simpson Cartoon Work and Illustration; I want to graduate with a dual major…fiction writing and corporate accounting.

Living Proof…that finding a co-op is not impossible

frustrated student head down

This guest post was written by Samantha Palmer, a 3rd biology student who just completed her first co-op at the cosmetic company, Living Proof, Inc.

Finals were approaching and anxiety of acquiring my first co-op job was growing. It was mid-December, and I was distracted by the consuming thought of not receiving a co-op offer. Checking my emails became an obsession and every email I received unrelated to co-op was a bothersome. Even more upsetting was that no one had told me getting a co-op could be this difficult, it seemed as if they were just handed to you. Sure, I had a few interviews, all of which I thought went rather well. It’s just that I applied to SO many jobs that I thought at least one would work out. I had good grades, and I aced my co-op class…why on earth had I still not received an offer? While many students had already accepted jobs, I did have a few friends in the same position as me. We were all a bit confused and frustrated, forced to register for classes the following semester.

As a Biology major I applied to many positions, mostly in research labs. Clinical opportunities were usually limited to health science majors. I would have loved a clinical experience, something I should have pushed for earlier in the co-op process. However, I did come to terms with myself that a lab experience would be beneficial for my studies, that is if I could get one.

I kept my thoughts positive while also accepting the possibility of being in classes next semester. Then one evening, I was having dinner with a few friends, one of which mentioned she was finishing up her chemical engineering co-op at a cosmetic company. It sounded cool and aligned with my interests. The idea of working with a science that is relevant to my feminine life was intriguing. She continued to tell me that she had sought out the position herself, and that they would definitely need someone to takeover for her. I was a little nervous since I was not a chemical engineering major, but why not try something new?

I ended up going in for an interview, learning about the position, and meeting the four members of the product development team. By the time I finished my last final, I had accepted the job offer and would officially begin working at Living Proof, Inc. for my first co-op. Looking back, it was as if all those other jobs didn’t work out for this very purpose. My experience at Living Proof was everything I could have asked for and more. I consider myself lucky to have had such an amazing opportunity.

Although I am not studying to be a chemical engineer, I gained great laboratory insight. As a science based hair product company, my main task consisted of batching. I followed recipes to produce shampoos, conditioners, styling products, hairsprays, etc. Overtime I became familiar with raw materials and how they contributed to each product. Sometimes I even got to take home a small sample of whatever I made that day. Batching was always satisfying because after a long day of measuring, mixing, heating, and cooling, you were left with a beautiful end product. Another fun task was tress work. This consisted of testing our hair products on hair strands to see how they performed, especially in relation to competitor products. Of course I also had to perform more tedious work. The stability of new possible formulas needed to be checked constantly. The color, odor, and consistency were measured to see how stable the product is over time. Keeping the lab clean is also important and a lot of my time was spent sanitizing equipment and organizing. My favorite part of my lab experience was helping with the actual formula for a new product. I got to test different raw materials and see how each performed in the salon. This was definitely frustrating, but now I can look forward to seeing a product on store shelves that I had a part in.

In addition to the lab experience, Living Proof has an awesome office environment. Due to the small size of the company, I sat among colleagues from various departments. I made friends in finance, marketing, and HR. We had an office kitchen where people could gather, and on Fridays the entire company came together for a group lunch. I got to see how the company ran as a whole, and it allowed me to make lifelong connections. Living Proof proved to be a place that had some of the smartest scientists, an amazing culture, and an exceptional learning environment. I looked forward to co-op every morning; my next one has a lot to live up to. What was my favorite part? I could say it was preparing for Jennifer Aniston’s visit, or the frequent product launch parties, or even the quiet, relaxing, lab atmosphere. However, every part of Living Proof seemed to make my experience worthwhile.

Make the job you want quoteThrough my first co-op process, I learned that acquiring a job or an internship is not just handed to you. You have to work hard for it. Don’t be afraid to step outside your comfort zone and use whatever connections you have. Once you get where you want to be, it’s important to continue to make connections, even if you’re not looking for your next co-op or internship for another year or so.

Samantha is a 3rd year student at Northeastern, originally from NY. She’s seeking a bachelors degree in biology, with minors in psychology and business and plans to pursue a career within the medical field. 

I’m moving to LA! Advice on Conducting a Long Distance Job Search

imagesource: moveacrosscountry.net

imagesource: moveacrosscountry.net

This post was written by Angela Vallillo, recent biology graduate on the pre-medical track. She is moving to LA in less than a week!

Hello again! I’m glad to be contributing to the blog for a second time. I thought I’d share some updates about my post-grad, job-searching, apartment hunting life. I graduated on May 2, but I don’t technically finish with my degree until August. Until then, I’m taking some classes online. But, I’m also in the process of moving to Los Angeles! My boyfriend and I have been in a long distance relationship for over two and a half years, and this was the perfect opportunity for us to finally be together. My flight is in the afternoon on June 5th, and I couldn’t be more excited to check out another city! This whole relocation thing has had a lot of moving parts, so take note!

Apartment searching: As of about thirty minutes ago, I am all locked in for an apartment. I thought I had one last week, but some things did not work out and everything seemed as if the whole move was falling apart. I’m looking in the Koreatown area of Los Angeles, which is right outside of downtown. It’s a cool area that is close to all the sights and restaurants downtown. It was a bit weird conducting searches over the phone and explaining my situation to landlords and property managers, but most of the time they were pretty cool about it. It also helps that my boyfriend is already there and he can go check buildings and apartments out before I get there. FaceTime has been really handy, he would go check out apartments and then FaceTime me so I could actually see it in real time. Right now I’m in the process of signing a lease over the internet, and thanks to technology, I’m able to do it over e-sign, which is great! Once I send a deposit and sign the lease, the apartment will be all mine when I step off the plane on June 5th. 

Job Hunting: So, I made a promise to myself that I wouldn’t be moving without a job. Well, that quickly went out the window as I hadn’t been having a lot of luck with companies wanting to hire me from out of town. If you’re looking to move, I wouldn’t take this as an “end all” statement because people have definitely done it. I’ve been doing a lot of searching on Craigslist for medical positions. When I send out replies to ads, I definitely don’t hide the fact that I am out of town. I explain in the body of my email and cover letter, in a basic and easy to understand few sentences exactly what my plan is and what I’m doing. I also explicitly say that I would love to phone or Skype interview if the company wants to interview me before I get there. Some have been receptive, while others, I assume, have gone with people that are in the area. I did get a few calls back, and a Skype interview with an orthopedic surgeon! Most of the time, they will want to meet you in person, and I will be heading to the office the day after my plane lands in order to formally interview. It definitely depends what field you’re looking for a job in order to figure out what kind of companies you’re dealing with.

General Moving Advice: So to throw another curveball into my moving plans, I also have a cat. This has limited which apartments that I am able to even look at. I also have to bring her on the plane with me, which is going to be an adventure within itself. I plan on bringing one large bag, and mailing the rest of my things. Since the apartment isn’t furnished, that’s another thing that I have to do. Starting with the necessities and moving on from there. If anybody has any advice about sending or moving stuff, definitely let me know, I’m always open to suggestions- just leave it in the comments!

It’s hard leaving a place you’ve grown to love and lived in for so long, but graduating is all about new opportunities and new adventures! Wish me luck!

Angela Vallillo is recent biology major on the pre-medical track. She is in the midst of moving cross country to LA. Follow her NU admissions blog to read more from Angela.