Beyond BUGS—life after a biochemistry degree, Part I

SAC I

By Chloe Nevitt

Paul Farkas Rami Hanna student Alex Magder retouched small

At a recent event organized by BUGS (McGill’s Biochemistry Undergraduate Society) alumni told undergrads about the different careers their biochemistry degrees had prepared them for. Left to right, Paul Farkas and Rami Hanna (alumni), Alex Magder (student), Georges Mitchell (alumnus).

 

At a recent event sponsored by McGill’s Biochemistry Undergraduate Society (BUGS), McGill biochemistry graduates shared their post-graduation experiences with an audience of undergraduates. The presentations engendered a unique feeling of community, because despite the very different paths taken by the speakers, they all had started in the same way: with a BSc in Biochemistry from McGill.

“In the late seventies, members of BUGS decided they needed an identity,” Paul Farkas (BSc’1978) told his audience. In response to this, they designed and produced their first t-shirt. He showed the audience one of the original shirts, faded but well preserved. “If you look closely, there are two errors in the chemical formula printed on it,” he joked.

Most important lessons are unexpected

Many of the most important lessons learned after graduating are unexpected, according to Donna Rindress (PhD’1988). “Many undergraduates hate courses like math, analytical courses and biostats — but those are the things that served me best over my career,” she said.

Rindress works in the field of health economics, examining the value of clinical decisions from a financial angle. This marriage of economics and science is not uncommon for scientists. While many end up working in industry positions, some, like Georges Mitchell (BSc’ 2005), choose different routes.

“When I went into biochemistry, I thought I could get some specific training and get into the pharmaceutical industry,” said Mitchell. “I quickly realized I wasn’t that interested in research, so I started taking courses in economics.” Mitchell combined his biochemistry degree with a minor in economics, then obtained an MBA and has been working in the travel industry ever since.

Wide range of skills acquired by taking a degree in biochemistry

Presenters may have taken very different career paths, but they all agreed on one point: the skills acquired by taking a McGill biochemistry degree are enough to do practically anything. By taking classes that cover topics ranging from biology to math, it’s easy for individuals to discover what works—and doesn’t—for themselves.

Daniel Marinescu (BSc’2009) discovered he was good at math — and when doing a summer research project, he found himself enjoying the technical aspect of his work more than the biochemical aspect. “By the end of my undergrad years, I was gravitating towards biotech and application technology,” explained Marinescu.

BUGS quoteAfter graduating, he pursued an MSc in McGill’s Department of Biomedical Engineering. By gaining exposure to an array of life science applications through his research project, Marinsecu learned what he wanted to do. He encourages students to do the same.

“Pursue a career that brings out your passion”

Many presenters noted that doing research helped them to better understand their own strengths and weaknesses, and discover what truly interested them. “Pursue a career that speaks to you and brings out your passion,” Frances Cote (BSc’1988) urged students. “There are many job possibilities, so it’s better to pick something that you’ll grow into and that will make you happy. We spend a lot of time in the work place, so why not enjoy it?”

A patent agent, Cote credits her success to the technical training she received during her biochemistry education. She deals with cases focusing on topics ranging from transgenic mice to polymerase chain reactions (PCR).

Entering the professional world can be intimidating, especially for those looking to pursue routes considered “untraditional.” However, the alumni presenting at this event were unanimous — the training and skills obtained when pursuing a McGill biochemistry degree prepares students for virtually any path.

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