Internships/Career Advice

My Internship

By Victoria Shuster

My internship was at Our Companions Animal Rescue and Sanctuary located in Ashford, CT, about twenty minutes from campus. I have always known that I wanted to work with animals, and when this opportunity came up, I knew I had to do it. While some students have to actively hunt down a place to intern (see From Puppies to Skinks: How Internships Shaped My Career Path), my process for getting this internship was pretty straightforward.  After receiving an email from the Animal Science Department, which forwards relevant opportunities to their majors, I contacted the owner of the rescue stating my interest. I was invited to fill out an application and schedule an interview. That day, I met with Lindsey, the volunteer and intern coordinator, took a tour of the facility, and landed the internship! Then I met with Dr. Milvae, one of the faculty members who coordinates internship credits in Animal Science, and set up my requirements so that I could receive college credit. Here’s my advice when it comes to finding and applying for an internship:

  1. Remember that transportation is key. Don’t let it discourage you, but if you don’t have reliable transportation, look for something nearby or wait until you can bring a car to campus. Also, remember to factor in transportation time — you don’t want to be late to an exam because roads were slippery or traffic was slow!
  2. Be professional. This should go without saying, but think of an internship like a job. Paid or unpaid, you still should make a good impression as an internship could lead to a job or at least a great recommendation one day.
  3. Find something you love or, at the very least, are interested in learning about. UConn requires at least two hours a week to receive one credit, so even though two hours doesn’t seem like a lot, it will if you hate the job you’re doing.
  4. Make sure you have the time. I originally signed up to do six hours a week, and then I remembered I was taking Organic Chemistry II and very promptly cut my hours. I was lucky to have a boss who didn’t mind me switching my hours around, but you may not be so lucky. Make sure you have thoroughly thought about the time commitment you are about to make before you sign on.

Our Companions Animal Rescue is  a unique facility. Each animal has its own personal room to create a home environment, allowing  animals that would never make it in a traditional shelter to thrive. I was an intern for the cat sanctuary. A lot of the job was cleaning and assisting staff with their daily duties, but once I was finished, I got to work very hands on with the cats. My main task was dealing with behavior. For the friendlier cats, this meant getting them used to having their paws touched, being loaded into carriers and getting wrapped in towels. For more skittish cats, my job was to socialize them and get them used to human touch. I was also able to help medicate the cats and shadow the vet when she came to the shelter once a week.

The internship taught me about shelter life, even though OC is different from typical shelters. I learned a lot about behavior and how to create positive, corrective experiences. It will be useful for me in the future as I plan to attend vet school in the fall of 2021. I enjoyed all of my time there and encourage everyone to visit/donate/volunteer or even follow in my footsteps and become an intern there.

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.

From Puppies to Skinks: How Internships Shaped my Career Path

by Apurva Gangakhedkar

I know you are most likely expected to get some kind of internship and/or volunteer position over the summer; however, it can be quite hard for students interested in animals to find a position that they love that also gives them relevant experience. As someone looking ahead to veterinary school, I want to share the different types of internships that I did to step out of my comfort zone, learn a lot and still enjoy my summer.

            Of course, I started off contacting many veterinary clinics to ask about any type of volunteer position, internship, or shadowing that might be available, but it wasn’t easy to find one willing to take me on. Persistence paid off because I finally received a position at a vet clinic as a clinic assistant, helping both technicians and veterinarians. It was a great hands-on experience, learning about vaccines, where they’re injected, bloodwork, and how each exam is given based on the current problem. I was even allowed to watch surgeries from when pets would become anesthetized to when they got to go home. My routine was very similar every day, depending on the time I would come in and leave. My day in the morning would start off with getting all the equipment turned on, looking ahead to the next patients coming in and admitting any surgery patients we had that morning. From there, I would assist the technicians in the exam room and equip the veterinarians with any tools or equipment needed during surgery. One of the best experiences I had working at the clinic was when I assisted with an emergency c-section on a dog. The experience was so thrilling. Being able to see little puppies coming out of the womb, warming them up and seeing them healthy and alive, really excited me to continue on to veterinary medicine. Alongside that, I was able to develop my communication skills with clients and get to know them personally while working at the front desk. Here I could learn all the office management skills in case they needed some extra help in the front as well. Lastly, I made valuable connections with all my co-workers and the veterinarians who taught me so well and gave me the motivation to continue my journey to vet school.

After working at the clinic, I wanted a different experience with animals to see if this was the right path for sure. I contacted a nearby zoo and was able to get an internship there working with exotic animals. In this environment, I got to work with a wide variety of species on different days. I had to learn their diets and observe their behaviors in order to see if they had any changes on a daily basis. I was constantly on my toes, learning about new animals every day, ones that I have never heard of, and ones that I knew but got to know better.  It’s fascinating to see how each animal is so different but so similar in their own way. A new experience that the zoo added to the internship was assigning one animal that you would get to work with the entire summer, and for me it was a blue tongued skink. When I first saw this, I thought they made a typo and were giving me a skunk, but a blue tongued skink is really an animal!

Meet the skink!

I was able to look up facts about the skink and learn its behavior inside and outside of its home. For an hour a day we would let children come and pet the skink and answer any questions they had. It was really exciting to show people a  species that they haven’t seen before and were as interested in as I was. I never thought that working at the zoo would change my career path, but it did, and now I want to focus more on exotic animals.

New experiences can shape the course of your life. Working, volunteering, or interning is a great way to find this out. I recommend reaching out to try new things, even if it takes a while, and maybe it will change your path like it did mine.   

 

Shaping My Classes to Fit My Career in the Animal Science Major

by Heather Lopez

Throughout my childhood and into early adulthood, I had everything planned. I wanted to become a veterinarian, and did what I could to be successful in veterinary medicine. By the time I was thirteen, I was certified in pet first aid. At fourteen, I was accepted into Trumbull Regional Agriscience and Biotechnology Center, an agricultural education-based program that allowed high school students to navigate and explore the many fields of agriculture. While in the program, I majored in animal science and got to work with small exotics, such as corn snakes, and livestock, such as sheep. I began shadowing at a vet hospital, and couldn’t have been more in love with veterinary medicine. After graduating high school, I was asked by the technician manager at the vet hospital if I wanted a job there, and immediately began working as a veterinary assistant. 

I started my freshman year of college fully believing that becoming a veterinarian was the perfect career choice for me and that I could handle the academic pressure, but that started to change by the end of my first year at UConn. I met so many people with so many different perspectives on agriculture, veterinary medicine, and food production. It was then that I realized that not everyone had the same opportunity that I did when it came to being exposed to agricultural education and having experience in the various fields. I began to feel a deep interest in the education aspect, and by the fall semester of my sophomore year, I decided to change career goals and pursue teaching agricultural education instead of vet school. 

This was an easy decision to make, but I became very stressed because I was studying under the pre-vet concentration and had no idea what classes I should take not only to look good on my master’s application, but also to help me become a future agricultural educator. I still loved veterinary medicine, and I knew that if there was one subject I wanted to teach more than anything, it was animal science, but I had no clue how to formulate a pre-education class schedule in a STEM major. I didn’t want to double major or add a minor halfway through college because I still wanted to graduate in 2020. After meeting with my academic advisor, I found out that I can still study under the pre-vet concentration as an animal science major, but didn’t have to take all the courses required for that concentration area because I was no longer applying for vet school. He explained to me that I had a lot more leeway in my schedule, and can incorporate not only more animal science elective courses into my schedule, but also other classes offered in the College of Agriculture, Health, and Natural Resources (CAHNR), like those offered in Natural Resources and the Environment (NRE) and Sustainable Plant and Soil Systems (SPSS).

Since then, I have taken classes not only within animal science, but also in other CAHNR departments, such as a wetlands conservation and biology course and an introductory course in agricultural economics, among others. During this time, I’ve continued to work as a veterinary assistant because I still have a passion for veterinary medicine, but I’ve also taken courses and participated in CAHNR events that I never would have if it weren’t for being able to really mold and shape my class schedule to my particular career and personal interests within the animal science major. I’ve been able to take a lab animal science course where I learned about anesthesiology and got to perform a rat neuter under the supervision of a veterinarian, I competed in the annual dairy show, and I was able to attend the 2019 American Preveterinary Medicine Association symposium in Pennsylvania. The opportunities in the animal science major are endless, and I feel fortunate to be part of a program that caters to my interests and career goals, even as they have shifted over my college career. The wonderful thing about CAHNR and the animal science major is that even though there are concentrations to guide students towards the next steps in their pursuits, nothing is completely set in stone and every student has the ability to shape their classes and college experience to how they want it to be.     

 

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.

 

 

Why is Agriculture Education Important?

By Sarah Ammirato

Why is Agricultural Education important?

To answer that question, let me tell you a little bit about my experience.

I went to Wamogo Regional High School in Litchfield, CT where I was enrolled in the Agriculture Education program. This program, and 8,630 others across the United States focus on teaching students about all aspects of agriculture, food, natural resources and leadership.

An Ag Ed experience is nothing like the traditional high school experience. One of my favorite memories was during peak maple syrup season. It was February and there was about a foot of snow on the ground. That did not stop our class from getting bundled up and heading out into the woods to collect sap and repair lines. We then boiled the sap into syrup, bottled it and enjoyed it over pancakes on the last day of class.

My senior year, we traveled to Yellowstone National Park in Montana/Wyoming over Spring Break. We hiked the Yellowstone Canyon, visited the famous Old Faithful geyser and saw wildlife at every turn. We were immersed in nature in its purest form. It was truly a life changing experience, and I cannot wait to go back there one day.

Moreover, my experience at Wamogo would not have been what it was without my advisors. They are the reason I chose to pursue Agriculture Education.

I decided to continue my agriculture education at the University of Connecticut where my major is Agriculture and Natural Resources. Through the College of Agriculture, Health and Natural Resources, I have been given so many hands-on experiences both in and outside of class. Hands-on education remains a large part of the courses I have taken, from halter breaking an Angus heifer to touring local vegetable farms, there is no lack of agricultural experience here. As for leadership opportunities, I serve on the executive board for UConn Block and Bridle and as a College Ambassador, where I have been able to build my skills as a leader.

It is my dream to be a high school Ag teacher, so I can bring my students incredible experiences and give them an appreciation for the agriculture industry.

So back to the question, why is this so important?

To start, everyone relies on agriculture. Food, fiber and natural resources are things we need every day. Agriculture education programs not only teach students how to be farmers, but also train tomorrow’s scientists, nutritionists, teachers and so much more. A combination of classroom instruction and applied agriculture experiences outside of the classroom build the foundation for educated consumers and agriculturists.

Leadership is the final aspect of these programs, and the most universal. Public speaking, job interview techniques, professional skills and knowledge of parliamentary procedure. Students in agriculture education programs have the opportunity to serve as student leaders at the school, district, state and national level. High school students have the opportunity to attend leadership conferences, meet and converse with legislatures at the State Capitol, and achieve awards based on involvement.

So what does it look like in Connecticut? There are twenty high school programs, with about 3,350 students enrolled in agriculture education courses. The student to teacher ratio is one of the lowest in the country at 30:1 across the state. There are four post-secondary schools in the state that offer programs/certifications related to agriculture with undergraduate majors including all areas of agriculture except for education.

The opportunities within these programs, both secondary and post-secondary, are endless. Students who participate in agricultural education programs graduate with the skills necessary to become productive citizens who will succeed in postsecondary education or the workforce.

Why the Pre-Veterinary Track May Not Be for You

By Justyna Cieslik

Do you love animals and want to work with them on a daily basis? Do you  love Animal Planet and enjoy watching celebrity veterinarians do their jobs? Do you want to help animals and make sure they aren’t in pain? Even if you answered “yes” to all of these questions, that just means you sound like every animal-loving student out there. So how do you really know if you want to be a veterinarian? Well, here’s how I, a lifelong animal lover, learned that being a veterinarian may not be the job for me after all.

Like many students in high school with an interest in animals, I considered becoming a veterinarian. I loved working with animals and had a passion for the medical field. I initially thought that by combining my two passions, it only made sense to be a veterinarian. However, like many, I did not do the research and relied simply on Animal Planet to learn about the profession. As senior year hit in high school, I had to make a major decision (literally). What was I going to study at college? What colleges would help me towards my dream job? Who was going to provide better financial aid so that when I take out loans to veterinary school, so I will not have too much debt? All of these questions and their answers are the reason I came to UConn. UConn was going to help me towards my goal by providing good financial aid and having resources that allowed me to work hands-on with animals. I was, however, a little naive about the job itself and all the prerequisites, so I began college will a false sense of hope.

As I met with my advisor at UConn, I came to the realization that the pre-vet track was much harder than I had ever expected. I knew being a vet was not a simple task, as they performed surgeries and were responsible for animals’ lives, but I was unaware of the realities of the preparation involved. When my advisor gave me a list of classes that I had to take in order to be considered for vet schools, and then the list of classes I had to take in order to graduate with a Bachelor’s of Science in Animal Science, I lost my breath. The amount of organic chemistry, the extra math classes, the extra English courses, and all the biology requirements were extremely overwhelming. I came from a high school where I was in the top 10%, so it was not as if I did not know how to work hard, but I felt completely unprepared. On top of all of these course requirements, vet schools also expect you to be engaged in extracurricular activities, and most definitely get you feet wet in the profession through internships or work. I could not comprehend how all of this could be possible in just four years.

Now, I’m not saying all of this to get students who want to be vets afraid of not succeeding. The reason I provide all this information is so that people realize that becoming a vet requires specific rigors, many of which you may not have considered. The work load starts early on and only goes up as you get closer to your goal.

A lot of people also do not realize how many jobs there are in the animal field. Many people think that the only animal-related job is a veterinarian. That is a complete misunderstanding; there are hundreds of career paths you can chose if you want to work with animals. SOME of these jobs include: pet grooming services, veterinary technician, zoo curator, animal trainer, animal behaviorist, animal nutritionist. You could also conduct research, become a professor, run your own farm, doggie daycare, dog kennels, and more.

Some of the things I hope you learn from this are:

  1. Be passionate about what you do.
  2. It’s ok to change your career path.
  3. You can always go to school again.
  4. There are MORE animal related jobs than you think.
  5. Being a vet is not for everyone.

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!

Changing Career Plans & Adding a Minor: Tracking the Ins and Outs

By: Tessa Marandola

High school is a stressful time, no matter how you spin it. Everything in your life is changing; you are growing up, potentially leaving home, maybe even starting the career of your choice. If you are someone who has decided on college, you now have one more thing to add to your to do list: choose your career. Choose your career?! At the age of 17-18?! Who do these people think you are?! But don’t worry, it does not have to be something you stick with forever. As someone who has changed her mind (again and again), it is definitely not impossible for you to change yours as well!

Many people coming into college believe that pre-professional tracks, such a pre-medical or pre-veterinary, are considered majors, but they are actually considered “paths” or “tracks” and can easily be changed throughout your college career! Tracks are just that, something you need to follow in order to reach a goal. In the case of pre-professional tracks, they are a set of coursework that needs to be completed throughout your undergraduate career in order to move on to your chosen post graduate program. If you decide to change your mind by either removing or adding a graduate program, all you do is either stop or start taking the new courses. Although it may be helpful to talk it through with an advisor, in the end it’s always your decision. Unlike a complete major change, tracks are not added to your transcript or anything, so there is no worry about that. It is a much calmer process than it seems to be, so if you are ever in a spot where something needs to be changed, do not fret!

My freshman year, I came into the college as an animal science major on the pre-veterinary track. I decided relatively quickly that I no longer wanted to be a veterinarian but wanted to pursue a graduate degree in animal science. Because I was not exactly sure about my future career, I decided to keep taking all of the same courses a pre-veterinary student would, just to be sure. After my sophomore year, I realized I did not want to work with animals anymore, but people instead! I am now a pre-medical animal science student (and hopefully will remain so until I graduate) and could not be happier. For me, the tracks had relatively similar coursework, which made things much easier as I switched around, but I found the switches to be extremely easy and not stressful at all and it could be the same for you.

Now onto minors. The university offers many minors and it is so easy to find one you are interested in. I am very interested in psychology so I started my psychology minor my second semester sophomore year, and it was a complete breeze! I met with my advisor to discuss minor requirements and enrolled in some psychology classes to start. My psychology minor requires 15 credits and because minors do not need to be declared until graduation, I am waiting until all of the courses are completed to put this on my transcript. Some of the minors’ coursework can also be used for general education requirements which makes them relatively easy to complete. If you do not realize until later in your academic career what you are interested in, a minor can still be added at any point. The earlier a minor is declared, however, the easier it is to finish on time.

Minors are great way to encompass many interests through coursework. Taking courses you are extremely interested in is helpful both for your happiness and for your resume. Minors demonstrate a well-rounded student more so than just fulfilling the general education requirements. A minor shows your drive to have a deeper understanding of a subject, which is helpful when applying for future jobs or graduate schools.

College is a whole new world and it can be tough for some people, but just know that your career choice is something you can always change. You are not required to stay with something you decided on in high school, so do not feel stuck! If you have any interests that are not directly related to your major, always keep a minor in mind. It is not as difficult to finish as a major but still allows you to take classes you are interested in. Most of all, have fun and just be happy with whatever you decide!

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!