Why I Chose to Major in EEB
Rebecca Neill ’16
The Ecology and Evolutionary Biology Department appealed to me as a way to study pre-med biology while thinking about systems on a larger scale. At the end of my sophomore year, I knew I wanted to major in biology, and I was frustrated with the tendency of biology programs to focus on only molecular systems. I was interested in studying the way that multiple systems work together—looking at the whole biological picture rather than just the parts— and the EEB department was the best way to facilitate that kind of learning. For me, studying systems has manifested as examining infectious disease in humans, global health and health policy, and for my thesis, the effects of gut worms on the immune systems of mice. Because many of the MOL biology classes and social science classes cross-list with the EEB department, I am able to study micro-scale science as a foundation to look more closely at population dynamics and the health of communities, human and non-human alike. I know that I want to eventually study medical science and this holistic approach to biology through the EEB department gives me a broad look at system interactions, integrating all types of biology with their applications.
For me, the best part of the EEB department has been the opportunity to travel and to learn from experience. I have gone to both Bermuda and Panama to take courses, and although I chose to do my thesis on campus, I could have chosen to travel even more. The summer after my sophomore year, I took the EEB class in Bermuda where I studied tropical ecology and oceanography. There is nothing like learning about something during a lecture in the morning and taking a trip to see it actually happening in the afternoon. I find that field science in this way has taught me to recognize the processes happening around me and more deeply appreciate that what we learn about in textbooks is actually real. I spent the second semester of my junior year with the EEB department in Panama where I studied more tropical ecology and also parasitology and even history. Again, this holistic aspect of the EEB department makes it ideal for pre-meds like me who are interested not only in the hard science but also in the application and understanding of complex biological interactions.
Adam Rosenstein ‘16
Choosing to concentrate in Ecology and Evolutionary Biology was a last-minute decision for me, as I changed from a major that shall remain nameless to EEB in the fall of my junior year. And I am certainly glad with my choice to switch. The multidisciplinary nature of the EEB department was very appealing to me, as I have taken EEB courses that overlapped with neuroscience, computer science, and Latin American studies. Having grown up on a farm, I had always taken an interest in ecology and animals, and therefore, I chose EEB despite having an interest in health and human disease at a more molecular scale. I wanted an opportunity to spend more time learning about the natural world at a more macro scale, learning about ecosystems vital to our planet's environmental well-being and the evolutionary processes that can explain the complex interactions in these systems. Nevertheless, I have been able to delve into a number of topics surrounding medicine and public health, such as disease dynamics and genetics. Perhaps most importantly, I feel that the EEB department fosters and develops the ability to be curious, to ask questions about the natural world, and to investigate them through scientific inquiry. During my semester abroad in Panama in EEB's Tropical Ecology Program, we conducted a number of individual field projects aimed towards improving our ability to conduct independent research. I repeatedly learned how experimental designs were never as simple in the uncontrolled environment of the field as they seemed when planned in the classroom, which constantly required me to rework my experimental protocols and forced me to be flexible and creative. Whether or not my future work involves surveying termite nests across rainfall gradients in Panamanian rainforests, the skills that I have learned in my courses in the EEB department should be applicable to any career path.
Tara Thean ‘13
As someone who didn't even take AP Biology, I never imagined I would major in EEB when I entered Princeton. Then I signed up for a class in EEB in the spring of my sophomore year and soon found myself leaving social events because I wanted to complete the class readings -- not out of obligation, but simply because they were so fascinating to me. I knew then that I had found my major.
The single greatest privilege I have enjoyed in the EEB department has been investigating and learning the answers to questions I have carried with me since childhood. A quick skim through the research pages of the EEB website presents the following, among others: "behavioral adaptations," "how species form," "sexual selection," "disease control" -- all topics that I remember thinking about at some stage or another, and that I am sure others have as well. It is indeed a cliché to talk about how science is directly relevant to our lives, but I truly believe this is the case in the study of ecology and evolutionary biology in ways that are perhaps more obvious than they are in some of the other science fields. The education I have received in the department has prompted me to think deeply about the phenomena I see around me every day. My senior thesis, for example, studies how dolphins learn their whistles -- which, in the bigger picture, is essentially an investigation into how animals communicate. What are animals saying to one other when they "talk"? The answer to this question is interesting to me not just as a scientist, but as someone who as a child read Charlotte's Web and watched The Lion King. And when I talk to others, I find many to be curious about the finer details of my research as well -- why the dolphins produce these whistles, whether we may eventually truly know what they are trying to communicate with them. This is for me the most gratifying thing about EEB: that it can inspire and re-inspire wonder in a wide range of people.
A second reason that I am glad to have majored EEB is that it has equipped me for a rewarding extracurricular interest and potential career path. Many have assumed, and some still do, that because I enjoy writing I must be interested only in the humanities, literature, and languages. But in reality the diverse range of things I have learned in EEB has provided me with excellent material for stories, and I've been putting that into practice by writing about science for a number of publications. It was a nice surprise for me to find that I could reconcile my newfound interest in biology with a long-standing love for writing -- and I have, in fact, found my writing much improved by advanced biology classes, fieldwork, lab work, and even simply talking to the great scientists and scholars in Princeton's EEB department. I've enjoyed being able to use my major for something that I feel can have an impact beyond the classroom, for writing compelling stories about the natural laboratory around us for a general audience.
Edwin Carbajal ’14
My love for biology stems from both my curiosity to understand the world around me and my belief that truth and goodness can be found through the various disciplines that academia offers. Joining the Ecology and Evolutionary Biology department at Princeton has further deepened my appreciation for the interactions and complex functions that we observe at any biological scale, which can help to explain the emergent properties and diversity that make up life. The department is a home for discovering passions in many of the sub-fields of macro-biology, for learning how to be interdisciplinary thinkers, and for venturing into the practical considerations of management and sustainability at the societal level. For me, it is also a place to wonder about why the evolutionary changes have occurred in the manner in which they have and what they can explain about our particular species.
As someone who has grown attracted to virology and immunology while conducting independent field and laboratory research in EEB, I am interested in dedicating my life to using the good that can come from theoretical knowledge by means of bridging the medical research and the global health and health policy sector. I am convinced that this requires not only the ecological and evolutionary understanding of the arms race between parasites and the immune system but also the knowledge of the incidence, distribution, and control of diseases as well as the environmental, social, political, and economic patterns and variations in health across societies. With a holistic approach, I look forward to emerging myself in the interdisciplinary function of academia that can help make a difference in the world through research while, at the same time, educate future leaders to appreciate life, or living matter, in all its forms and phenomena.