Non Pre-Health Science Majors Face Additional Challenges

By Maliha Gul 

Some students have to commute hours to access research equipment that the university does not provide. (Casey Chun/The Fordham Ram)

Some students have to commute hours to access research equipment that the university does not provide. (Casey Chun/The Fordham Ram)

Elaina Weber, FCRH ’16, is a biology major who hopes to one day earn a Ph.D. in either infectious disease or virology. Until the summer of her sophomore year at Fordham, she was on the pre-health track but after working in a research lab, Weber wanted to shift her career path away from health sciences. However, she found it difficult to pursue her new interest because of the pre-med culture within the STEM departments.

“I had no idea about any non-physician’s assistant or non-doctor positions that I could still utilize my love for science,” said Weber. “[Non-pre-health options are] not well talked about and there’s also pressure and the prestige put around going to medical school…To say ‘I don’t want to go and that’s good for me’ makes it seem like if you don’t want to go, it’s because you can’t go. People are going to assume, my family’s going to assume that it’s because I can’t do it, not because I don’t want to.”

According to Weber, science professors discourage interest in research without even realizing it. “There are so many bio professors here that are so passionate about the research that they do and even when they’re teaching the courses they’re teaching to people [as if] they are all going to medical school. They’re constantly giving advice for one group,” Weber said.

Within Fordham’s STEM majors, students on the pre-Health track make up the majority. The Biology department, the largest science department at Rose Hill, has just under 500 majors, only 110 of whom are not on the pre-health track. There are about 600 students in total on the pre-health track, many of whom chose the program before they even started school.

Unless you actively seek out alternatives, “you have a really high chance of being put into a box,” said Weber. “You checked pre-health and biology when you were 18, and they’ll just push you through that without really sharing any other options.”

Assistant Dean for Pre-Health Advising Ellen Watts agreed while many join the pre-health program due to an interest in science rather than an interest in medicine, advisors do not push science students into pre-health without giving them other options.

“We always try and make sure that [students] understand now is the time to be unsure,” said Watts. “If you don’t know what you want to do, don’t say,

‘Well I guess I’ll just stay pre-med.’ Never say, ‘I guess.’ Don’t guess. Pull back, explore some things, and we’ll figure it out.”

“There’s no shame in saying, ‘I changed my mind.’ It’s actually a good thing,” she added

But according to Eileen Pawlik, FCRH ’18, a biology major, once students do change their minds, there are not many sources of guidance and less exposure to their career path. “There is so much you can do with science that is not just the health field,” said Pawlik. “I think just having people know this and keeping their options open is the biggest thing.”

Hayai Ali, FCRH ’17, is a math major on a pre-teaching track. Ali said the lack of exposure to career options is a common concern among math majors.

“Specific career goals or specific career options for math majors are not obvious,” said Ali. “They just know that they love math, and they want something in math.

She recommended the department hold an information session for math majors on career options. “I think a lot of people would go, and the same for other departments.”

Emma DeGrace, FCRH ’17, a biology major, agreed that non-pre-health science majors often get the short end of the stick because Career Services is unequipped to handle their specific needs.

“After attending a few of the career fairs and other events, I began to view Career Services as a resource that both didn’t understand what I needed from them and didn’t have the connections that would have benefitted me,” said DeGrace. “What I’m looking for are research grants. As far as I know, they don’t offer help with these kinds of applications.”

Career services has made past efforts to work with science students. They ran panel for students within the science integrated learning community in which they brought in past bio majors, a move which DeGrace acknowledged was helpful.

Dr. James Lewis, the chair of the biology department, said the departments are working together to solve the problem. “I think both the biology department and Career Services are aware that there’s this perception that Career Services doesn’t provide as much help for the sciences as it provides for other fields and so we’ve been trying to offset that.”

However, Lewis also said the faculty is tasked with providing adequate support for non-pre-health science students. “Because there isn’t really a formal administrative program for [STEM advising], it really is ad hoc by the faculty,” said Lewis. “If we had something comparable [to pre-health advising], if we had someone who was assigned full time as an administrator to oversee the pre-grad-school or something like that, that would be great.”



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