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Discover Your Path in Biological Sciences

Hello, my name is Miguel Barranco-Origel. I am one of the major advisors here at ReadyEdgeGo for biology and health sciences. I am currently in the midst of applying to medical school, and hope that I can stay here in California to study/practice medicine. The end goal is to become a trauma surgeon and a physician that advocates for the underserved communities whether it be via programs, outreach, or education. 

My interest in biology/medicine initially stemmed from my anatomy and physiology course in high school. I vividly remember the smell of formaldehyde during our two week cat dissection. While many of my classmates became nauseous due to the stench, I actually enjoyed the scent. This may have been me associating the smell with the fact that I could cut into a cat cadaver, but nevertheless I thoroughly enjoyed this experience enough to want to major in Molecular Biology while at UC Berkeley. Before I dive into my time at UC Berkeley, I’d like to take some time to share all I did in high school. 

While I was in high school I was a three season athlete, I volunteered at a local tutoring center, and I danced. All of these were big interests of mine and I learned very valuable lessons from each experience. Traits like perseverance, humility, dependability, and adaptability are skills that I learned from these experiences outside of biology, but I was able to, and am still able to, put them to use while pursuing my passion of medicine. I think it is important for high school students and even college students going into a particular field whether it be biology, medicine, engineering, chemistry, art, etc., to realize that your entire world does not need to revolve around the one given field/subject. This is not to dissuade students from doing so, but more to let them know that it is okay to explore interests outside of their given major. For example, if you’re a student in high school planning to pursue biology and are debating whether to do a summer sport camp versus a neuroscience summer program, I say pick the one you will enjoy more. For some students that will be sports and for others it will be the neuroscience program, both are equally fine choices. The message is that the experience will be more impactful if it is something the student truly wants to do. 

So the big question is: “What should a high school student interested in biology do?” Simply put there is no single answer as everyone’s journey will be different. However, the best place to start is with the classes students can choose to take in high school. Biology, chemistry, and physics are all great classes to begin exploring the realm of biological sciences. I would encourage students that find real interest in these courses to take the AP equivalence of the courses and then even additional courses that their high school offers like anatomy and physiology, psychology, environmental sciences, etc.. The more the student can immerse themselves in these classes the more they expose themselves to different disciplines of biology. The hope is by taking all these courses there is a certain topic, field, question in biology that will intrigue the student and make them want to seek more knowledge/information. This is great and all, but students may ask “What if I have other commitments like work, sports, clubs that do not allow me to take all these AP courses?” To these students I would say, “If you do not have the time to take all these AP courses, at least attempt to take one.” This is because it shows that the student took the initiative to further explore their interest. Regardless, the goal of high school for the students attempting to go into a field of biology is to get into a four year college or a community college and then transfer to a four year college. The point in even mentioning this is to let students know that there is time to pursue, explore, and discover their true interest in biology or really any field. 

I was fortunate enough to know that I wanted to major in Molecular Biology entering UC Berkeley, but students do not need to know their major going in. Every single undergraduate student enters undeclared meaning that there is no pressure for students to know exactly what they want to do. The first year of college will really be spent taking a lot of general courses like English, math, etc., which means that students can and should explore their school and look for services that will help them navigate their undergrad career. These resources are especially useful for biological sciences majors, as they will help students understand the system and take advantage of how to pair courses for the best grades/learning. For example, it would not be recommended to take general biology, organic chemistry, and physics all at once. While this is definitely possible, students run the risk of burning out or performing poorly in the courses due to the rigor and amount of work of all the courses. I could go on and on about tips/tricks for science majors navigating undergrad, but that is something that can be covered in a later post. It was during my time at UC Berkeley that I got most of my clinical experience. I have worked as an EMT for the past 4 years and was also lucky enough to spend two summers at Johns Hopkins as an advanced medicine academic advisor for Envision. While doing all of this, I still continued to do the things that interested me in high school in new forms: coaching high school wrestling and teaching dance for Salsa at Cal. 

College, while stressful and hard, did teach me a lot about myself, and how much I can truly handle. There were times when I had to juggle multiple commitments/responsibilities, and during these times of stress I think it is important that people just take a moment to breathe and remind themselves why they are doing this. I always think of the bigger picture, to remind myself what I am striving for and that I will get there. In medicine or really any career path, no one’s journey is the same and what worked for me may not work for you. However, you can definitely learn from my experiences and choose what you want to do with the information. I hope that this small part of my story can help students navigate the biological sciences world, and I look forward to sharing more and possibly talking with a few of you.

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See you soon!

Miguel Barranco
ReadyEdgeGo Mentor – Biological and Health Sciences

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