Hi everyone! My name is Megan Carhart ’20, and I’m a senior undergraduate biomolecular science major here at Clarkson University. Today I’ll be sharing with you some of my favorite things about my academic experience.
Before I dive in, I’m sure many of you are wondering, “What exactly is biomolecular science?” Similar to biochemistry, biomolecular science essentially combines biology and chemistry. One of our faculty, the famous Dr. Jim, describes it as “biology from the cell down.” You might think based on this that there isn’t a lot to cover, but there’s more than you could imagine!
Due to it being such a unique major, many high school students haven’t heard about the program. When I was in high school, biology and chemistry were my favorite subjects, and I wanted to pursue a major related to them. Instead of having to choose between the two, biomolecular science gave me the best of both worlds!
I’m about to graduate, and as I look back on my last four years in the Department of Chemistry & Biomolecular Science at Clarkson, I realize how much I’ve loved my time here and all the experiences and opportunities that I’ve had. So now I’m sharing the five things I love about my major, the Department of Chemistry & Biomolecular Science and the great times I’ve had simply by getting to be an undergrad at Clarkson.
1. Lots of Research Opportunities
The number one reason I chose Clarkson was because of all the individualized undergraduate research experiences that are available here. The big selling point for me was the idea of being a big fish in a small pond.
Going to a smaller school with a lively research community, there’s an ample supply of opportunities with plenty of demand for undergraduate research assistants. You don’t have to compete with other students for a limited number of research opportunities, because there is room for any student who wants to participate. You don’t have to wait to get involved either; by the end of my freshman year, I was involved with Professor Silvana Andreescu’s lab group! My project with Dr. Silvana was developing inexpensive paper strips that use the breath to determine alcohol levels in the blood.
After my freshman year, I was able to spend the summer working in the lab with Dr. Silvana. It is a completely normal thing for students to stay at school for the summer and continue their research projects with their professors to work toward undergraduate publications! Spending a summer doing bench research really helped me start to understand how important it is to try everything to find out what I like and don’t like as career options.
Dr. Silvana allowed me to go to a bunch of local, regional and even international conferences with my lab team where I had so many awesome experiences, including presenting! I was able to dive into everything this field has to offer so I could really see if it was something I wanted to do.
I do research for credit, which is really cool, because it contributes to our professional development requirements at Clarkson. It’s also a really good talking point for when you’re trying to apply for internships, co-ops and things like that. Which leads me to my next point …
2. Experience Leads to More Opportunities
My lab experience helped me get an awesome internship at The Estée Lauder Companies, where I worked in skin physiology and pharmacology. I’m not really allowed to talk about my project due to confidentiality, but what I can tell you is that I had the best experience ever, and I don’t think I would have gotten to do this internship if not for the lab experience I already had and Clarkson’s openness to giving me so much lab experience so early on in my college career.
Not only was I able to work on cutting-edge and important research for Clinique, but I was also able to experience all that moving to a big place like Long Island has to offer! I went to the beach after work almost every day, and I was even able to get my makeup professionally done and hold a balloon for M·A·C in the Pride parade!
Since then, I’ve also done an internship at Albany Medical Center, working in trauma, in preparation for applying to medical schools. It was also a really amazing experience for both my personal and professional growth. All of these opportunities and experiences have led me to build a giant network of professionals who mentor and support me.
Oftentimes, having internships and co-ops is not only good for helping you realize what you like doing, but also what you don’t like doing. I feel extra lucky that I loved both of my internships. Clarkson puts a lot of effort into career fairs in both the spring and the fall, so definitely don’t miss them — you’ll find lots of internship and co-op opportunities!
3. Students: We’re All on the Same Team
At Clarkson, you get the sense that you aren’t here to compete with other students, but rather to work together and come out stronger for it. I’ve had lots of opportunities to collaborate, and in many cases, help fellow students.
I’m an undergraduate teaching assistant for Chem I, or general chemistry, so I get to help teach a lab and hold office hours and discussion sessions. I helped Professor Galina Melman grade organic chemistry assignments last year, I was a peer mentor for the chemistry majors lab during my sophomore year and I tutored for four different classes during my freshman year.
One of my most favorite and proudest accomplishments in college thus far has been working with my lab mentor, Fatima (she’s a PhD student in chemistry), to put together a special event involving women in chemistry. Fatima and I are both passionate about empowering young women to step into the fields of chemistry and biomolecular science, which are still male-dominated.
We were able to bring the International Union of Pure and Applied Chemistry’s Global Women’s Breakfast to our Clarkson campus not once, but twice! The event was so successful that we have approval to do it again in the future! During the Global Women’s Breakfast, we invited many local K-12 students and Clarkson students to participate. We had keynote speakers from across the U.S., and I was even asked by the event committee to be a keynote speaker for both events. It felt great to share my experiences in chemistry and biomolecular science with the next generation!
4. Changing Your Mind Is Okay Here
If I have any advice for high school students, it’s that you don’t have to know exactly what you want to do with your life when you’re applying to colleges. College is more about the journey and finding out more about yourself than the destination of landing a job. Follow your interests and find something that makes you feel fulfilled.
I was able to change my interests and career goals many times while at Clarkson. I’m a very social person, and having so much lab experience, I realized that my interests were shifting from the bench to the field. So, I switched gears last year and decided that I wanted to try to see what pre-medical and health classes I could take.
I ended up taking many healthcare-related classes that Clarkson offers, including Health Coaches. This is a really neat yearlong class that involves meeting many working health professionals and administrators for mentorship, as well as actually working with patients in the field. I learned a ton about patient care and communication. The class also put me in the position of being able to mentor other students doing pre-health at Clarkson.
On top of this, Clarkson actually gave me a scholarship to get my EMT certification, and now I volunteer at the local Potsdam Volunteer Rescue Squad. I finally found what career path is most fulfilling to me: I’m currently in the process of applying to medical schools.
5. Caring Faculty and Staff
It’s just so easy to form individual professional relationships with your professors, and you get to work one-on-one with them. I cannot even tell you how many hours I have spent sitting in Dr. Ryan Brown’s office talking about physical chemistry and recent breakthroughs in his field of expertise.
I am also extremely appreciative of the time that Dr. Costel Darie has spent with me pursuing my own individual research questions after my biochem and biotech lab. There was even one time when I went to Dr. Melman’s office after having a rough day and she made me tea in a beaker mug!
The halls at Clarkson are specifically designed for integration between the students and faculty. On one side are the classrooms and lecture halls, and then on the other side are the professors’ offices. Before COVID-19, the professors would leave their doors open whenever they were around so that students could come in and chat. I’m sure they will again when this is over.
Honestly, I think that my favorite and most meaningful faculty/staff connection is with my research advisor, Dr. Silvana. I have never met a woman that I look up to more. She takes her job seriously, but runs our lab group like a family where nobody gets forgotten and left behind. I was one of her first undergraduate students at the time I joined, and she treated me just as respectfully as everyone else. The high standard she set for me has helped me grow tremendously. She pushes me further and further but surrounds me with love and support. I owe a lot of my success to her mentorship. I will never forget the potlucks that she would host in her backyard or the festive birthday party celebrations during weekly lab meetings.
Dr. Silvana also paired me up with one of my absolute best friends, Fatima. Fatima is my graduate student mentor, and I like to think of her as my general life mentor. So prospective students out there, you not only have opportunities to make lifelong friends with fellow students, but graduate students as well. Fatima surprises me with lunch and desserts randomly and always checks in on me to make sure that I am doing well away from home.
So there you have it readers — my top five favorite things about being in the Department of Chemistry & Biomolecular Science at Clarkson. I hope this post has helped you understand better what it’s like to be a student here at Clarkson, and what opportunities and experiences are available to you if you choose to major in chemistry or biomolecular science. I wouldn’t trade my time at Clarkson for anything, and I’m really excited to see where life takes me after graduation!
If you have any questions or want to talk about anything related to this post, please feel free to leave a comment, and I’ll do my best to get back to you!