Health and Nutrition

Experimenting with Undergraduate Research

by Olivia Corvino

I began my undergraduate career at the University of Rhode Island (URI), and it seemed that from day one I was told of the importance of joining a research lab. The advice I received sounded daunting. I was told to look up the research labs in my major and see if any of the descriptions match my interests, but as a freshman in college I did not yet know my interests.

I began with the professors who were right in front of me. They were an amazing resource not only for the research that they are doing in their labs, but they were also aware of the types of research that other professors were engaged in. I started the conversations by asking if they were taking undergraduate students to work in their labs. I would then ask them to explain what their research was like and if I would be able to shadow a member of the lab for a day. I got a good understanding of the overarching topic that the lab was researching, but was not always told what my responsibilities would be once I became a member. So, before shadowing I would prepare a list of questions to ask the student, including: “What would a typical day in the lab look like for me if I were to join this lab?” This gave me a better idea of what I would be doing each day and if it fit my interests and skillset. After this, I signed up for an independent study for the fall of my sophomore year.

In the meantime, I got an email from my department head at URI about a summer research opportunity run by the UConn Department of Nutritional Science and funded by the USDA called Bridging the Gap. I applied and was accepted, and spent the summer after my freshman year learning how to write a literature review, while many other members of the program got to be in labs with more hands-on work. It wasn’t until two years later that I realized how valuable learning that how to do a lit. review would be!

Returning to URI in my sophomore year, I joined a community-based nutrition lab. There, I met with a weekly focus group for people who had acquired neurological impairments, whether they were from a stroke, car accidents, Parkinson’s disease, etc. I delivered nutrition education to them through fun and interactive games and by providing a healthy snack. I would then draw their blood to measure their plasma lipids. As much as I loved participating in this weekly group, I knew that community nutrition was not what I was passionate about, and after my second semester in that lab I began looking elsewhere.

Over the next summer, I went home to the New Haven area and decided to see what local research opportunities I could find. I went online and looked up research labs at Yale University and sent out emails with my resume to the principal investigator (PI) of lab that captured my growing interests. After sending about ten emails, I finally received a “yes” reply! I spent that summer in a food science-based nutrition lab working with food, people, blood samples, and Excel, and learned to screen patients for research studies. Being in a food science lab only confirmed that community nutrition was not for me — I wanted something more hands on. However, food science didn’t completely fit either, so I continued looking.

Having decided by this time to transfer to UConn, I began emailing research labs at UConn during the summer, hoping to join one in the fall semester. Unfortunately, every PI had a full lab. Initially, I found having to take a break from research upsetting, but the right research experience is sometimes a matter of timing. That fall, I found a PI who would be my professor the following semester who had an opening in his lab. We met and I asked my role in the lab and he ensured me that I would be putting in minimal time and that undergraduate students do not do very much hands on work. This was not ideal, but I felt that any exposure was better than no exposure. Soon after meeting with that PI, Dr. Ji-Young Lee gave a guest lecture in one of my classes, and at the end of her presentation she mentioned that she was looking for undergraduate students for her bench-based research lab for the first time in years. Since I was still looking for a lab, I approached her at the end of her lecture to tell her that I was interested, and after meeting to go over what her lab entailed, I had to make a decision. I asked the opinions of peers, professors and advisors whether I should enroll in a labor-relaxed lab where I would still expand my knowledge or join a lab with a reputation of being intense. After some deliberation, I enrolled in an independent study with the more demanding lab for the following spring.

Dr. Lee’s lab surpassed my expectations for what being an undergraduate student in a research lab could mean, and I am happy to still be there today. Every day I am doing hands-on experiments, culturing my own cell line and performing real-time PCRs (Polymerase chain reactions). I have worked my way through six, nine and now twelve hours a week in the lab and even have my own lab bench and set of equipment. Since I was able to experience other forms of research, I can be confident in my love for this lab and have now made the decision to stay in this lab for a master’s degree.

If I were able to give advice to anyone currently looking to get involved in research, I would say, don’t worry about choosing the wrong lab! You never know until you try. Professors are very understanding and empathetic that you are looking for your best match. I was always uncomfortable telling my PIs that I was leaving their lab, especially future professors of mine, and each time I was met with encouragement and compassion. There is no wrong lab to spend time in because every research lab that you join gives you a new set of skills and a better understanding of the field as a whole. I have been a member of four research labs in my undergraduate career and it has not only expanded my breadth of knowledge, but also given me insight into my goals for the future.

Me, Myself and My Major

by Shawn Perry

In high school, I was asked constantly what career path I wanted to take. I needed to choose so that I could figure out which AP exams to take, what schools to apply to, and what extracurriculars I should be participating in. At 17-years-old, I was being asked to choose what I wanted to do for the “rest of my life.” It felt overwhelming.  Under this pressure and from everyone telling me I was good at science and math, I chose to major in engineering. This might have been a good fit for my skill sets, but I soon realized that my interests did not align with engineering. My freshman year classes seemed a bore, and I struggled to maintain interest in them. This made it really difficult to get good grades; still, I squeezed by.

When I told people that I was an engineering major they would often comment on how great it was that I was a girl in a male-dominated field or what a great career choice it was since I would make “good money” someday. I was scared to ever mention that I hated it. I noticed that the classes my nursing or pre-med friends were taking seemed so interesting to me, while I was stuck taking statistics and physics. My friends from other fields would tell me about the interesting facts they had learned about healthcare or the human body and these things would stick in my head. Meanwhile, I couldn’t manage to recall the Bernoulli Principle or Newton’s Laws no matter how many times I studied them.

When I finally decided to change my major, there was push-back — just as I had feared. While my parents were supportive of my choice, there were others who contradicted them. My advisor asked me a hundred times if I was sure, because if I switched out of engineering I could not come back. My friends, mainly engineering students, couldn’t understand why I would want to leave the field when they found it so interesting. Even random strangers would constantly remind me that engineering was a great field. Engineering is a great field. I couldn’t deny that. My doubts surrounded me, but I was drawn to something different.

The day I received my acceptance into the allied health sciences major, I felt a wave of relief. I knew then that this was the right choice. Yet even when I made it to the right major, my decision on a specific career was still up in the air. I wandered between optometry, physician assistant, nursing, physical therapy, among others. However, at this point I had at least found classes that got me excited, and school became easier as studying no longer felt like pulling teeth. I shadowed people in each area of interest. When I went to any doctor’s appointment, I would ask everyone I met how they liked their jobs. When I settled on nursing, I chose to become a nursing assistant. From here my doubts subsided as I encountered role models every day, including my mom as she switched between numerous nursing jobs within her career. I noticed the flexibility and range of opportunities that nursing provided her, and realized that this was a profession I felt excited to pursue.

The author with her big sister at work with Mom.

Now, when people ask about my major, many still remember when I was an engineering student. Some still ask why I would dare switch out of such a great major. Most of them, though, just tell me that nursing is also a great field. They tell me I am cut out for the profession and will do great following in my mom’s footsteps. While it has been a long journey, and I am still on the path to success in nursing, I feel that I am in the right place, finally. I am glad that I trusted my gut and didn’t allow the doubts of others and myself from letting me pursue the career for me.

A Journey through Pathobiology

by Krysten Rose Holland

Sigma Alpha Sisters and I representing UConn’s chapter at a professional development Leadership Seminar.

Attending a large university was a great change for me, coming from a small all-girls high school. There were so many new opportunities available to me at UConn, particularly in the College of Agriculture, Health & Natural Resources (CAHNR), which is a smaller college within the very large university with a lot of academic and extracurricular support. Starting off pre-veterinary in animal science, I knew that I would have nothing short of excellent academic and professional preparation. Outside of the classroom, I decided to join a professional agriculturally-based sorority, Sigma Alpha. Through this organization, I became connected with many other students and was able to enhance my journey as a first-year university student in a field that I knew little about but wanted to explore–agriculture! Through the encouragement of my peers and advisors, I was able to try new things and discover different opportunities within the college. For example, I was encouraged to try participating in the annual Dairy Show and learn about dairy showmanship. To my surprise, I placed top in my showman class and among the top overall for fitting, which includes presentation of the animal!

Before entering college, I thought I was certain in what I wanted to do and what I wanted to study: animal science. My freshman year was a difficult transition, however, and I knew I wanted to explore my options. Through one of the Sigma Alpha sisters who was heavily involved in CAHNR activities, I was directed to talk to different academic advisors, one of which was Dr. Sandra Bushmich in Pathobiology and Veterinary Sciences (PVS). I wanted to switch my major to something that would involve laboratory preparation and focus on disease studies in order to broaden my experience in case I decided not to go into veterinary medicine. I learned that in studying PVS, I could change my concentration if I my interests changed and stay on track to graduate.

During my sophomore year, I decided to look into careers in human healthcare and public health. Although a veterinary path could be enormously rewarding, I did not necessarily know if I wanted to commit a large portion of my life and finances to a professional program when I did not know enough about the profession. Veterinary schools are among the most competitive graduate programs to get into, so the preparation in pre-veterinary studies requires a lot of dedication. I already faced a lot of stress adjusting to a new environment out of my home state.

Ultimately, I decided to pursue human healthcare. For that, I would need patient care experience. I enrolled in certified nurse’s aide programs in Massachusetts in the Greater Boston area and took night classes to earn a certificate to gain experience and make some money. Although during that time I considered myself on a pre-physician assistant route, I discovered that I loved the nursing model! From there, I decided to look into ABSN programs. Throughout the journey of navigating the healthcare field, I have worked in a wide variety of environments such as zebrafish research in Longwood Medical Center, personal care in client homes as a personal aide, managing medications at an assisted living facility, assisting doctors in facilitating patient appointments at a globally-renowned hospital, and then being promoted to a medical assistant in a private practice.  Although my experience in the field were out-of-state by my own initiation and ambition, my classes in PVS (and Allied Health Sciences [AHS], another department within CAHNR) put my experiences into perspective. I took a diagnostic medical techniques class within PVS where we extracted DNA and RNA and processed diagnostic tests, histological structure and function, which is basically anatomy and physiology based on slides, and a seminar in which various guest speakers from all over the world presented their research. In AHS, courses in medical terminology and counseling and teaching for the health professions helped enhance my knowledge and further my skills.

Pathobiology and Veterinary Science is a small, close-knit department and has a variety of classes and opportunities for research for undergraduates.  Due to the variety of interests that PVS can accommodate and great academic advisors willing to help me navigate the unknowns of career preparation, I did not fall behind in my studies and fulfilled requirements for programs that I explored throughout the my years as a PVS major.

 

 

How to Achieve that Healthy Balance Between School, Work, and Life!

by Jordan Kennedy

All of us are in the same boat once we get to college. We all have to get the hang of juggling the new load that has just been sent our way: lots and lots of school work. While juggling the heavy weight of school, some of us will add work into the mix – all while trying to keep ourselves happy and fulfilled by extracurricular activities and, of course, social events! Here are some tips that have helped me to balance those three things throughout my time at UConn:

Here’s my planner from the bookstore — I’m not sure how I would live without it!

Time Management

I cannot stress enough just how important it is to manage your time wisely, especially in college. I would strongly suggest making a trip to the bookstore and purchasing yourself one of their many planners. Writing down important dates and planning out your schedule ahead of time also plays a successful part in reducing stress. Doing this will allow you to map out when you have free time, as well. Make sure to prioritize your schoolwork and do not procrastinate. You really don’t want to fall behind, especially with a work schedule added into the mix.

Allow Your Body to Rest

It is so incredibly important to get a good night’s sleep while under the pressure of school and work. All of the added stress combined with a lack of sleep will cause you to become run down and therefore unable to work to your potential. It’s much more challenging to pay attention in class or during activities when all you can focus on is how tired you are – not to mention the brain fog that comes along with it. So, definitely make sure you are getting adequate amounts of sleep each night to help you achieve success in your college career. It’s a myth that you can make up for lost sleep on the weekends or during breaks – once it’s gone, it’s gone!

Maintain Healthy Eating Habits

Eating healthy in college can sometimes be a challenge, especially when there is so little time to prepare meals. With that being said, it is still essential to make sure you are benefitting from your diet. What you put in your mouth has a huge impact on both your mind and body – this will assist greatly in allowing you to accomplish everything that you want to throughout the day. Healthy choice foods can improve focus, provide natural energy, and boost your immune system: all of which is crucial to successfully balancing a hectic college lifestyle. I find that it is beneficial to plan my meals each week and prepare them ahead of time, instead of reaching for more available unhealthy food options. A helpful resource that allows you to explore more of what you should be eating is https://www.choosemyplate.gov/.

Devote Time to Yourself

Most importantly, setting aside time for yourself will help with your overall well-being. Sometimes, we get so caught up in what is going on around us that we forget to take care of ourselves and do what makes us happy – whether that be going for a jog, meditating, or even doing artwork. Throughout your time in college, you will grow so, SO much. It is vital to take the time to keep up with your growing self while you are busy keeping up with everything else in your life!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Destined to Travel

by Isabela Blackwell

Cusco, Peru!

There are so many feelings that come along with having too many options; you might feel overwhelmed, excited, intimidated or most importantly, that you’ll choose the wrong destination. What if I told you that there was no such thing as a wrong choice? Whether you’re only comfortable traveling a few hours away or you want to go halfway across the world, UConn offers an abundance of travel experiences suitable for all students! Yes, this takes into account your financial worries, preferred duration of travel, foreign language preferences, and personal travel goals. The best part is, you don’t even have to be certain of your study abroad plans upon your arrival to UConn.

The Education Abroad team offers so many programs that you can learn more about here. I strongly encourage anyone to browse through the options, and attend an Education Abroad 101 session—if there is a will to travel, there’s a way! The opportunities range from UConn faculty-led semester long programs, to service learning trips that last only a few weeks. There are opportunities available for all majors, and course credits can be applied towards electives, minors, or General Education requirements. If thisis something that interests you, make sure to talk to your academic advisor to keep yourself on track for graduation. UConn also provides wonderful opportunities through community outreach that allow students to do alternative breaks and weekend service trips either locally or internationally.

Machu Picchu, Peru – photo taken by me!

Last year, I decided to go out on a limb and apply for a UConn MedLife community outreach trip. I had never been out of the country before, but I was looking for something exciting to deepen my college experience and broaden my horizons. I spent about two weeks of my winter break participating in mobile medical clinics in impoverished areas of Lima, Peru. Aside from the clinical experience, I was able to explore Lima, travel to Cusco, and visit one of the amazing wonders of the world—Machu Picchu! As an Allied Health student with a minor in Spanish, this trip suited me perfectly and left me desiring more excursions. Next semester, I will be participating in UConn’s Allied Health/Pre-Med abroad program in Granada, Spain, where I will spend six months taking Spanish classes and completing an internship shadowing physicians at the Hospital de la Inmaculada. I’m so excited to explore a new country, work on my language skills and do some much-needed soul searching.

Anyone considering taking advantage of these opportunities should check out these 5 scientifically proven health benefits of traveling abroad!

Studying the Food Chain in Italy

by Martina (Mengtian) Zhu

Italy, well known as the birthplace of the Renaissance, is famous for its art and different styles of architecture. Last year, I spent four months in Florence as part of UConn’s Sustainable Food and Environmental Systems program to explore this beautiful city and local customs and experience an unforgettable food adventure.

When we talk about Italy, the foods that come to my mind are pizza and pasta. There are many different kinds of pasta common in Italy; they enjoy spaghetti, but they also cook fusillini, farfalle, pipe rigate, rigatoni, and gnocchi on a regular basis. These pastas are available in the U.S., but we tend not to cook them as often as the Italians do. In addition, rice lovers can’t miss the risotto here. It is not like risotto at most American restaurants: Italian risotto is filled with local mellow cheese, fish, mushrooms and barolo. Meat is also essential in Italy. In Florence, having “Bistecca alla Fiorentina” should be on everybody’s to do list. That is the Florentine steak that comes from Chianina. The ingredients are of a high quality, so Italians use the original recipe to keep its fresh flavor. The meat is frozen for two weeks, then grilled on both sides with charcoal and olive oil until there is no blood. Because the steak is very thick, the middle part is usually raw, but it is definitely soft and flavorful.

There are some food rules in Italy. For instance, there is no chicken pasta dish in Italy, because pasta is the main course rather than a side dish. The typical Italian meal structure usually consists of an appetizer, first course and a second course with a side dish. The first course contains staple food, such as risotto, pasta, gnocchi or polenta. Second course includes different meats and types of fish, like chicken, turkey, sausage, steak, salmon or salt cod. Salad is always considered as side dish. Italians don’t have any special dressings on salad, just olive oil and vinegar. There is no take away coffee in Italy, since Italian people drink freshly brewed espresso in actual espresso cups while sitting down, rather than any latte or venti sized macchiatos. Food is intended to be enjoyed and not mindlessly consumed.

We also participated in community service during the semester. There is a very impressive community garden called Orti Dipinti, which is a sustainable garden. We helped to weed, water and clean, and our group also tried to find a problem in the garden and solve it. When I first walked in, I saw a shelf on the left-hand side, which had a postcard, tea bags, and instructions on how to make a tea bag. The garden is not large, and it was rebuilt from a waste playground. I was surprised that this small garden has so many different types of plants and vegetables in wooden containers. It is possible to pick eggplants and tomato in the city! There are also lots of unique design elements in the garden, like a bottle wall that used recycled waste wine bottles as plants’ containers. Lingering in the garden is a wonderful restorative moment during a busy day.

The program also offered me the opportunity to volunteer at a local restaurant and supermarket, which was the best experience for me to get familiar with this country. I went to La Spada, a restaurant that serves traditional Italian food, and helped to grill steak and place plates. I also went to Sant’Ambrogio market and worked in the seafood section to clean the fish and sell the products. Studying how cook Italian food with the resident chef was impressive. Eleven of us were divided into three groups, and each group created their own menu through research for the final cooking show. The chef, Francesco, made specific recipes for us to memorize and practice. My group made cabbage soup with cannellini as antipesto, pappardelle with white truffle sauce as primo, peposo stew with polenta as secondo, and cream puff balls as dolce. Cabbage soup is a healthy appetizer from a nutritional view since our other courses didn’t have any vegetables. Tuscana is a truffle-growing region, so we could buy the good-quality truffle sauce to make with pappardelle. Peposo stew is a traditional tuscan pepper beef stew, which was invented by the furnace workers who baked the terracotta tiles for the Brunelleschi’s famous Duomo in Florence. Our dessert, cream puff balls, is called bongo fiorentino in Italian, and it was recommended by Francesco. Bongo fiorentino is very popular in Florence. We made the cream puffs first, and dipped them in the chocolate sauce. It was the best dessert I’ve ever had!

Staying in Italy is very different from living in the U.S. I purchased the most fresh fruits and vegetable in the local market everyday, and cooked everyday. The lifestyle in Italy was slow and enjoyable. By comparison, in the U.S., there are more fast food restaurants and takeaway coffee. People focus more on working instead of cooking. Each lifestyle has its own characteristics. I enjoy cooking everyday like Italians, but when I have a lot of work to do, it’s nice to buy a cup of coffee at Starbucks since I don’t have time to wait for fresh espresso. I appreciated this study abroad program because I could experience different cultures. For a snapshot of my time in Italy, check out my video!

Easy Ways to Stay Healthy at School

by Annie Schindler

College is stressful. It’s stressful on your mind and on your body, and for me, keeping my physical health in check has been very helpful way for me to keep my mental health where it should be. I personally try go to the gym four times a week, try to keep my eating as clean as possible, and try to get as much sleep as I can.  These might all seem like massive lifestyle challenges to some people.  If the thought of going to the gym is dreadful, or you spend too many late nights at the library or just having fun, remember that the key word here is try.  College is a roller coaster in so many ways, but I think that as long as you are always trying your hardest, you are succeeding.

Going to the gym on a regular basis is a big time commitment; I won’t try to sugar coat that, but the effort definitely pays off.  Getting to the gym and using your body feels so good, especially when you spend so much of your time sitting.  Staying in shape not only makes you feel good, but it helps keep your immune system stay strong, which is so important on a college campus where it feels like there is always someone coughing or sneezing.  I personally like going to the gym in-between classes because it is a guaranteed time you will be on campus, and it is a good way to productively pass time between those classes.  Another good way to make sure you get to the gym is to sign up for BodyWise classes or schedule a time to go with friends because it will keep you accountable.

As a student living off-campus, I’m no longer reliant on the dining hall for my food.  This is both a blessing and a curse, a blessing because I’m no longer at the mercy of the dining hall menu, and a curse because I actually have to cook for myself.  This “curse,” however, is also one of the easy ways I stay healthy.  Because I have to buy my own groceries, I can choose to buy healthy ingredients.  Although the dining hall might have healthy options, it’s hard not to see past the mac and cheese staring me in the face.  I also tell myself that it is more worth it for me to buy healthier ingredients, because I know they will fuel me better than unhealthy foods.

Another way that I stay healthy at school, is to separate my work time and my relaxation time.  On my average days, I try to get all of my school work done by 5 PM, so I can focus on myself.  This is when I will go to the gym, clean, hangout with my friends, really just anything that I know will make me happy.  I also try to keep my work outside of my bedroom.  Studies have shown that doing work in bed can hinder your ability to fall asleep at night.  I personally do my work either in my kitchen or in the library, to keep my room as a kind of sanctuary.  Sleep is incredibly important when it comes to college because it not only helps with your immune system, but it also makes you more alert in classes, and in general boosts your mood.

There are so many ways to be healthy in this day and age.  The things I have listed above are really just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to staying healthy in school. The variety is amazing: weight lifting, running, kickboxing, and yoga; eating a vegetarian, vegan, or gluten free diet; going to sleep early and waking up early or taking small naps throughout the day, the options are endless!  Since there is no clear cut way to stay healthy, it means everyone can find their own path to wellness.

Clubs You Should Know About

By Noah Freeman

As the second consecutive CAHNR ambassador from the UConn Men’s Crew Team, I can’t help but feel that I have big shoes to fill.  My predecessor, “Pistol” Pete Apicella, wrote a blog post about the irresistible draw of the 5am practices, which can be read here: https://collegeambassadors.uconn.edu/2018/04/26/mens-crew/  However, rowing isn’t the only club activity that encompasses the spirit of CAHNR.

While there is a whole list of clubs available on the college website (https://grow.uconn.edu/clubs/), I have found that two I most enjoyed in my time at UConn are not included in this list.  Both are involved in many ways with various CAHNR majors, but are not formally linked to the college.  I feel, therefore, that these clubs deserve more time in the spotlight, and I would like to pay due respect to the UConn Woodsmen team and the UConn Exercise is Medicine club, respectively.

As a rower, I spend a good amount of my winters training with my teammates in the Ratcliffe-Hicks arena, and through that time I was lucky enough to be able to catch the UConn Woodsmen in action.  As a good amount of the Agriculture students have been active in 4-H clubs or simply in chores back home, there is nothing quite as rewarding as seeing some clean log cuts and neatly stacked wood. The Woodsmen excel in a wide array of different athletic feats, and were able to entice enough attention at practice to bring out several members of the UConn Men’s Crew to spectate at the spring invitational. If you are interested in learning more about the Woodsmen team, please check their RSO page here; https://uconnwoodsmen.rso.uconn.edu/

 

Next, the UConn Exercise is Medicine Club (EIM).  In my time at UConn I have been closely involved with EIM as a member, Director of Membership, and Vice President. This club has been incredibly active in the development of new university protocol over the past two years, especially in earning UConn a gold status from the national Exercise is Medicine Council. This standing is earned by instituting campus wide initiatives such as more active daily lifestyles (walking instead of bussing to class, accomplish by the “Everybody Walk!” campaign), as well as including activity levels in the Health Center vital measurements. For any student interested in the health majors offered through CAHNR, EIM provides a great way to get hands on experience in real world policy changes. Check out the EIM UConntact page to find out more about how to get involved! https://uconntact.uconn.edu/organization/uconneim

 

Being a Pre-Med in the College of Ag, Health & Natural Resources

By Kathleen Renna

Believe it or not, the amount of times I am sitting in a pre-med heavy course (organic chemistry, microbiology, you name it) and someone asks me why I have a CAHNR sticker on my laptop is more than I can count. People often assume that if you are considering a career in medicine, you are a PNB, MCB, or really any hard sciences major in CLAS. In reality, yes – those majors set you up for every course you need for medical school. So why on earth would I not just follow the pack?

I think this dilemma comes from a lack of understanding of two critical pieces of information. Firstly, CAHNR stands for the College of Agriculture, ​Health​, and Natural Resources. Allied health sciences (AHS) and its associated majors is a very real plan of study that prepares students for careers in various health professions, such as physical therapy, occupational therapy, or mental health counseling. You can find out more about these and other potential career options for AHS students on The Major Experience ​website​.

Personally, I am a diagnostic genetic sciences (DGS) major. So, even if people have heard of AHS, they look at me as if I have ten heads when I throw ​that​ doozy of a major out there. DGS is a professional degree program in the AHS department that students apply into their sophomore year. The program sets students up for ​careers​ as lab technologists, genetic counselors, and clinical geneticists, the latter being the one I am pursuing and which requires a medical degree. I decided on clinical genetics because I have always been interested in the genetic basis of disease; however, I have found out over time that I could not spend my whole life working in a lab. I spent a lot of time searching for a career that would meet my needs and stumbled upon clinical genetics. After some careful thought of whether medical school was for me, I decided that it was worth a shot. I enjoy engaging with people and like the fact that this is one of the few professions where you never stop learning because there are always things being discovered, so becoming a physician seemed like the right choice for me. Therefore by choosing to be in CAHNR, I made a choice to take classes more tailored to my individual interests!

Ultimately, I chose DGS because clinical genetics is a specialty I am not likely to encounter in medical school. In fact, doctors don’t typically get involved with clinical genetics until potentially the third or fourth year of ​residency.​ For me, that seemed like a long time (eight or nine years from right now) to wait and see if I was actually content with my career choice. Instead, I chose to pick an undergraduate school that gave me the opportunity to study exactly what I was interested in instead of waiting ten years and spending copious amounts of money on medical school just to find out I didn’t make the right decision. Even though I am only a few weeks into my DGS major, I am really enjoying the concepts that I am learning and am very excited to see what I learn next.

The second critical piece of information that people don’t fully understand is the one that I consider the most important: you can be ANY major and still get into medical school as long as you complete the required coursework for the schools you are applying to. So yes, being a PNB or MCB major is great because you are taking all of the typically required classes and then some, and I commend anyone who chooses to do this because they enjoy this plan of study. However, sometimes I feel as though students choose these majors because they feel as though this is what medical schools want to see rather than taking courses that genuinely spark their interests.

Truth be told, medical schools want to see a diversity of majors and interests. If you are taking only science classes and participating in solely medically-oriented organizations, you are not showing the admissions committee a diversity of interests. And, for your own sake, doesn’t taking all science classes get a little overwhelming or, some would even go as far to say, boring? Some of the most interesting courses that I have taken, like Sociology of Gender and Anglophone Literature, are not directly related to human cells or tissues, but they are intimately connected with the human condition. They sparked my interest in contemporary topics like gender fluidity and race while also providing me with a background that I wholeheartedly believe will make me a better physician.

One of my good friends, who is also pre-med and in CAHNR, works with animals and shows cows in her free time because it is something she has enjoyed doing since she was 5 years old and in FFA. She makes sure that she is accomplishing all of her medical school requirements but also sets aside time for recreational activities that truly make her who she is! Now, I don’t show cows, but that doesn’t mean I only do science. I have always seen the value in volunteering so here at UConn I made it a point to participate in community service days for Special Olympics Connecticut and for a 4-H program at an elementary school in Rockville. These activities have taught me a lot about working with diverse groups of people and how to empathize more with those who don’t share the same background as me. I also work for the cafes here on campus and for a bakery back at home, so I have been able to learn how to communicate effectively with others, especially in high-stress situations. One of the clubs I am involved in on campus has even allowed me the opportunity to volunteer at a homeless shelter, which both humbled and educated me on privilege and what it means to different people. Because of this, I can truly say that some of my most formative experiences, the ones that make a good doctor into a great one, have not been through science-related activities.

Therefore, who’s to say that a student in CAHNR majoring in environmental studies or natural resources is not qualified for medical school, especially as we increasingly recognize the intimate connections between the environment and our health? You should absolutely focus on your academics with a goal in mind, but you should also explore other areas of interest throughout your coursework and extracurricular activities that will help to shape you as a whole person. College is about doing what is most enjoyable for ​you,​ so make the most of it!

It Takes a Herd to Make A Difference

Vaccines are considered to be one of the greatest achievements in the history of public health. Smallpox was officially declared to be an eradicated disease in 1980 (the last recorded case was in Somalia in 1979) (1). Cases of poliomyelitis (polio) have dropped to only 22 reported cases in 2017 from nearly 350,000 cases in 1988 (2). These landmark achievements can be attributed to the success of modern vaccines.  Despite these huge successes, anti-vaccination movements have been around since Edward Jenner created the first smallpox vaccine in the early 1800s. Although times have changed, anti-vaccination movements have remained relatively consistent (3). Vaccine critics have expressed a wide variety of concerns, most of which are with regards to safety and efficacy (3,4).

“If vaccines are so effective, why are there so many people that refuse vaccines?”

The modern anti-vaccination movement can be Continue reading