Success Series: What Can I Do With a Major In BIOLOGY

Left to Right: Tom Rounsville, Mary Jahada, Maria Menegus, Richard Abrams, Vicky Schaller Photo Credit / Rebecca Jasulevicz
Left to Right: Tom Rounsville, Mary Jahada, Maria Menegus, Richard Abrams, Vicky Schaller Photo Credit / Rebecca Jasulevicz
Left to Right: Tom Rounsville, Mary Jahada, Maria Menegus, Richard Abrams, Vicky Schaller
Photo Credit / Rebecca Jasulevicz

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On September 24, 2013, the Career Development Center organized an event entitled “What Can I Do with a Major in Biology?”

The event focused on helping students interested in the sciences see careers that are available to them, as well as introduce students to successful alumni and members of the community.

The Career Development Center organized this event in conjunction with ESU’s Biology Department.

There were five guest speakers present. The ESU alumni that spoke were Tom Rounsville, Vicky Schaller, and Richard Abrams. Mary Jahada represented Sanofi Pasteur and Maria Menegus spoke about her career with the Pocono Medical Center.

Jan Hoffman, Assistant Director of the Career Development Center, gave insight to the difficulties of finding a career you love along with advice on how to succeed.

Tom Rounsville, 2012 ESU graduate, is the laboratory manager of the Northeast Wildlife DNA Lab Department of Biological Sciences. When asked what can be done with a major in biology, he said, “The possibilities are enormous.”

Exploring the possibilities is a process that students can start as soon as possible. According to Rounsville, “Taking a specialty course will show you whether or not you really are interested in that field.”

In addition to volunteering, internships, networking, and talking to professors, Rounsville also suggested learning about the job market and what kinds of positions are available.

There is a 10-30% projected increase in the need for individuals schooled in biotechnology, biomedical studies, pharmaceuticals, and bioinformatics. However, competition will be fierce for those interested in wildlife, marine biology, ecology, and teaching.

With a bachelor’s degree, students should expect jobs on a level similar to that of bench-work scientist, technician, forensic technician, and environmental educator. A few examples of graduate level jobs include project supervisors, wildlife biologists, and scientists. Those who obtain their doctorate can expect openings like college professor, surgeon, physician, and principle investigator.

Rounsville advised, “Don’t over qualify yourself for your true love.” Getting a higher degree than necessary can cause plausible employers to turn down applicants.

If you do plan on attending graduate school, Rounsville suggested finding a professor whose interests match your own, and pay for graduate school with graduate assistantships and teaching assistantships.

“They should pay for your degree,” said Rounsville.

As advice for students hoping to join the biology field, Rounsville said, “Stand out and get noticed.”

Vicky Schaller, a 33 year-old 2012 ESU alumunus, told the story of the path she took to reach her dream job with an architectural and engineering firm. Schaller is a first generation college student, meaning that no other members of her immediate family have ever graduated college. She even studied a bit of marine science and has helped design some marine essentials. You can go here to check them out.

During her sophomore year of college, she was able to get an internship with Sanofi Pasteur, where she helped with the development and distribution of meningitis vaccinations. During her senior year, she obtained an internship with the Brodhead Watershed Association where she studied local invasive plant species.

After graduating, Schaller worked with Sanofi Pasteur in environmental monitoring, where it was her duty to ensure that the company was abiding by FDA regulations. Coincidentally, this was during the time when H1N1, also known as Swine Flu, was an epidemic.

After her work with Sanofi Pasteur, Schaller decided to go to graduate school, and returned to ESU. For her graduate research, she worked with phragmites, a type of reed that has a native species as well as an invasive species. She extracted the DNA of the phragmites and sampled the soil of the areas where it could be found in order to examine how the soil had changed after the invasive species occupied the area.

Schaller reported having trouble with replicating the plant’s DNA, which caused a great deal of difficulty in her study. Schaller said, “It’s not always as easy as you think.”

Vicky Schaller now works with an architectural and environmental firm that allows her to act as a consultant for those who wish to build and develop land, such as to construct roads or housing complexes.

She studies the areas where endangered species live and will either prohibit building or suggest types of remediation that would have to occur for building to happen in the areas where these species are present.

While speaking about her current career, Schaller became emotional and said, “Even coming here today is a realization. I actually did it.”

As advice for students still working toward a career in biology, she suggested, “As long as you have passion or curiosity, that will push you through. If you just stick with it, you can get to where you want to be.”

“The closer you can get your career, to what you love, the happier you’re going to be,” Hoffman added.

Another alumnus who presented on his life in the field of biology was Richard Abrams.

Abrams graduated from ESU in 1993. While at ESU, he was an officer of the Biology Club and the Marine Science Club.

“When you’re an undergraduate student, take classes that you may not have an interest in. You never know what you could get interested in,” said Abrams.

After graduating, Abrams decided he wanted to work seasonal positions. He ended up in a myriad of jobs, including teaching classes at Wallops Island (where every ESU marine science major is required to take classes as a part of their graduation requirements), conducting research in Connecticut, and working as a conservation officer for a fishery in Alaska.

According to Hoffman, “You never know if you like a job or career unless you’ve done it before.”

At one point, Abrams decided to return to ESU to complete his master’s degree. However, before completing his graduation requirements, he was offered a job in Puerto Rico, where he was able to work with sea anemones in a salt-water fish hatchery.

Abrams’ seasonal jobs allow him to experience many different environments and opportunities within the field of biology. Abrams said, “I just like animals. I like nature. I like being out there.”

Abrams now supervises aquatic education and outreach programs for the entire state of Florida.

“Take classes in any interest you have,” Abrams said as advice to students.

Another presenter was Mary Jahada, a Training Coordinator for Sanofi Pasteur, who told her personal story of how she was able to reach this position.

Jahada grew up in Buffalo, New York, where high school students need to select a major that will sculpt their high school careers. Jahada chose engineering, and was then offered a position in the pharmaceuticals program of the State University of New York (SUNY).

In 1998, Jahada moved to Pennsylvania. For five years, she worked with Lucent Technologies, and some of her time there was spent assisting in inventing Bluetooth. When she lost her job with Lucent Technologies, she was eligible to go back to school.

Deciding to utilize her biology background, Jahada became a part of the first class to graduate from Northampton Community College with a degree in biotechnology.

Because of her persistence, she was able to obtain a job with Sanofi Pasteur about a year after graduating. She attested that Sanofi Pasteur provides its employees with the option to go back to school for a four-year degree whenever they desire, and more than 2,000 employees work in just one of Sanofi’s locations.

According to ESU’s Professor Aldras, “We have hundreds of people from the biotechnology program working in Sanofi.”

The final presenter of “What Can I Do with a Degree in Biology?” was Maria Menegus, a Medical Technologist at Pocono Medical Center.

Menegus graduated high school half a year early and was able to start studying biotechnology immediately afterward. In college, she was able to take classes in subjects like biology, chemistry, histology, hematology, and microbiology.

“I really liked all the sciences I was exposed to,” said Menegus.

Menegus became involved in medical technology, and so acquired a yearlong internship at Muhlenberg Hospital. According to Menegus, “That year changed my life.”

A week after graduating, she took the registry exam and was offered a job. Throughout her time working at Pocono Medical Center, she has headed many programs that teach other medical professionals how to become better at their jobs, as well as how to inflict less pain on their patients.

Menegus suggested learning as much as possible and enveloping oneself in his or her chosen field. She said, “You never know what the next patient’s going to have.”

According to Jan Hoffman, “There’s room for a lot of different personality types in biology. Things will work out if you’re proactive.”

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