Passionate About Bio Chem

March 04, 2019

Phillip An ’19 loves biological chemistry. “We have this thing called DNA, this chain of instructions made of carbons and nitrogens and hydrogens, that quite frankly, affects nearly every aspect of ourselves. Isn’t that crazy?” 

An committed to the biological chemistry major his first semester at Grinnell, but even for a student as enthusiastic as he, the second year proved difficult. That year, “I was suddenly acutely aware of the knowledge gap between students and professors,” he says.

To push through, An suggests that intended biological chemistry majors “find ways to stay passionate” about the subject. “I recommend that emerging biological chemistry majors try to enjoy the ride. Really reflect about what you are learning in class.”

Following his own advice, An has stayed passionate about the subject by viewing challenges as opportunities. Bioorganic chemistry, for example, was his favorite class because it held students to a high standard. “I would say that the most rewarding experience from that class was whenever confusion evolved into understanding,” he says. “I felt like I could physically feel my brain absorbing and digesting information.”

Convergence of Humanities, Social Sciences, and STEM

He also recommends that intended majors take advantage of Grinnell’s individually advised curriculum to connect biological chemistry to other disciplines. “While you’re studying atoms and chemicals and cells, there are other students studying the society, the mind, the past, and everything else in between. Don’t be afraid of double-majoring or taking on a concentration just because you’re majoring in biological chemistry.”

An himself pursued Grinnell’s opportunities for mentored research, spending the summer after his second year studying the human protein RNF4 with Yee Mon Thu, visiting assistant professor of biology. “The science division at Grinnell focuses on training students to think scientifically. This makes the transition from student to researcher very comfortable,” An says. “Although it may take some time to familiarize yourself with the research topic, the tools needed to conduct research at a professional level will always be there with you.”

After graduating, An plans to work at a research lab before applying to M.D./Ph.D. programs. “I think being a Grinnell student and experiencing research firsthand encouraged me to stick with it. Although there are times when research can be tiring or feel insignificant, the idea that through research, we are able to pursue and extend upon the known truths of this universe has really stuck with me.”

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