Nancy’s Passion and Goals: Biochemistry and Medicine

Science never made it on the list to the question “What do you want to major in?”. The idea of going into this male-dominated field was absurd, especially within medicine. Everything changed in high-school when my chemistry teacher talked about her experience as a Biochemistry major during her years in undergrad.  Topics such as developing and characterizing chemical compounds for targeting diseases such as lung and pancreatic cancers and the way COVID-19 is capable of hijacking the host cellular protein machinery through protein interactions and pathways helped me view science as an enigma. The diverse aspects of biology ranging from the study of molecular mechanisms in cells to evolution led me to further explore this field at Scripps College as a Biochemistry major. 

Before I go more into my experience as a Biochemistry major at Scripps, I will explain what exactly is Biochemistry! Biochemistry is a branch of science that explores the chemical processes within a living organism. This field seeks to explain biology at the chemical scale- the chemistry of living organisms and the molecular basis for the changes occurring in cells is explored to better understand all biological processes. Biochemistry also includes principles and methods from physiology, physics, immunology and molecular biology to better answer biochemical questions at every level of complexity. The complexity studied in the field includes the structure of sugars and amino acids, and the formation of cells and tissues that make up a living organism. Biochemists can work as an academic researcher, medical chemist, biomedical scientist and other jobs related to the field. Biochemistry covers a range of scientific disciplines, which has made this field the basis for practical advances in the field of science, especially in medicine, biotechnology and veterinary medicine. 

In addition to pursuing Biochemistry to explore the biochemical processes that occur in organisms, I am also passionate about pursuing a career in medicine because the U.S healthcare system is fundamentally flawed, especially in low-income neighborhoods such as my community. By being involved in the medical field I will have greater insight into these flaws and find alternative ways to enhance this while providing genuine care for patients. In my community in Houston, Texas, it has been found that nearly every tract in Houston’s eastern half is deemed lacking sufficient access to medical care. Thus, low-income neighborhoods with largely a minority population will have a higher risk of developing preventable conditions like heart disease and diabetes. This ongoing trend of hospitals and clinics avoiding low-income neighborhoods is a result of them being more likely to be built in wealthier neighborhoods attracting better-paying residents. This not only has a long-term effect on health, but it also creates economic, cultural, and linguistic barriers. The pre-med track is popular among students! Instead of the ‘toxic-competitive pre-med environment’ that many students hear, the pre-med environment is very supportive and collaborative. Many pre-med students organize study groups and create student organizations and clubs to bring the pre-med community closer. 

Biochemistry?! This reaction is nothing new whenever someone asks me what I want to major in. Their reactions are either, ‘Oh you are so smart!’, ‘You will suffer so much in undergrad!’ or ‘Are you sure? It is very competitive and a male-dominated field’. Initially, this made me anxious to pursue the field. However, I have met supportive professors and students who have encouraged me to pursue the field. There are also resources such as Scripps Tutoring, free tutoring for any Scripps student who is enrolled in any course within the Claremont Colleges, and the W. M. Keck Science Department’s Pre-Health advising. Students are given access to workshops, events and resources related to the health field. In addition to this, weekly pre-health newsletters are sent out to students every Friday that includes info sessions from medical schools, shadowing opportunities, and ways to find an internship. 

The W. M. Keck Science Department is the joint science department between Scripps College, Pitzer College and Claremont McKenna College to help students explore a range of scientific disciplines and conduct research. I have met many science professors that have taken the time to tell me about their research and opportunities to help me pursue my STEM pre-health goals beyond undergrad. Professors are also very active outside of classes as they often join students for lunch and/or dinner at one of the seven dining halls in the Claremont Colleges. A few of my professors also have pets, so they also allow students to walk their dogs around campus and even bring their dogs into their office hours to help students reduce stress and anxiety! 

My advisor, a Biochemistry professor, became my biggest support when it came to planning out my courses for the four years in undergrad, and navigating through college as a First-Generation Latina in STEM. She was also a First-Generation student in undergrad pursuing Biochemistry, so she understands the barriers that students from my background have to overcome and ways to take advantage of the resources available. 

Whether it is a STEM or a non-STEM field, these fields are not limited to people who are ‘smart’. There is no such thing as not being ‘smart’ for something, what really counts is grit, hard work, and persistence. 

Shoutout to the women of color in different fields of study who have made groundbreaking discoveries in science, technology, engineering and mathematics and have been ignored throughout history. To First Generation individuals in institutions of higher education. To the innovators who have founded various clubs and organizations in their community or nation-wide to provide young girls and women a supportive community to explore STEM topics and careers. To the individuals who critique the misuse of scientific studies that have constructed ideas of gender, female fragility and female normalcy resulting in the objectification and devaluing of women. To the women of color who overcame both sexism and racism to hold important positions, contribute to ground-breaking discoveries, and pioneering the modern drive for increased representation in STEM. 

If you have questions about Biochemistry, STEM at Scripps College, the pre-health track or anything else, please email me at [email protected].

Thank you!

Nancy Puente