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Why I Chose to Major in EEB

Tara Thean ‘13

tara

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

edwin

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.