UNC Asheville students majoring in biology should do so out of a love for the field and not because of the potentially large paycheck, according to faculty at the university.
“For people interested in majoring in biology, do it because you’re interested in it, not because you have this idea of how much money you can make as a biologist, or that doctors have this great career,” Rebecca Hale, assistant professor of biology at UNCA, said.
Justin Massey, OneStop adviser at UNCA, also said he discouraged pursuing a degree because of money.
“I am a firm believer in a liberal arts education in which everything is interconnected. I know this is very cliché, but money can’t buy happiness,” Massey, a UNCA alumnus, said. “I really feel like students do better when they do something they’re passionate about, versus, ‘I’m going to make $70,000 right out of college.’”
To excel in any chosen field of study, be it biology or something else, Hale said it requires true dedication over a desire to earn a lot of money.
“I think people go into biology for both reasons,” Hale said. “In order to stick with a major, people have to be really interested in the topic and the material and the amount of studying it takes to be successful in the sciences in general, and biology specifically.”
Hale, who earned her doctorate at the University of Florida, said an education in biology is important regardless of the career field chosen.
“People in general can get a good sense of the diversity of the natural world and ideas about how the system works just from the amount of exposure to natural science through television and our own experience,” Hale said. “I think that what actually getting an education in biology, or in sciences, specifically does, is puts all that information in context.”
Massey said he knows what it’s like arriving to college as a freshman and pursuing the wrong major.
“I wanted to be a pediatrician when I was a freshman. I took chemistry, and I remember I made a 38 on the exam,” Massey said. “I was tickled pink because I thought it was 38 out of 50 and it was 38 out of 100.”
Massey, who is currently pursuing a graduate degree in adult education at East Carolina University, said students may find a science-based degree too challenging.
“In theory, it looks good if you can make $250,000-plus. If your mind is not geared toward calculus and chemistry, like mine was not, obviously that’s not a feasible path for you,” Massey said.
Making money matters least, said Nick Freeman, a 25-year-old senior biology student.“Even if my profession is not high-paying, if I’m liking what I do and it turns into a career, that’s totally fine with me at this point in my life.”
Freeman, originally from Front Royal, Virginia, said he first planned to work in engineering because of its difficulty and attended University of Virginia for three-and-a-half years.
“I went to college at 17. I was fairly young. I went in for a challenge and money, really,” Freeman said. “I was thinking engineering. I know it’s not the highest paying, but based on the challenge factor, that was probably the hardest thing I could do, in my mind.”
Freeman said he wants to pursue a career in genetics to discover why certain genes function the way they do.
“I still love math and science, so I figured a good way of doing that was to get into some kind of human science. Biology isn’t just about humans, but the specific one I want to get into is human genetics,” Freeman said.
According to Massey, helping students choose careers is not really his forte.“I don’t really, as an adviser, dwell on jobs or money, because that’s not really my jurisdiction,” Massey said. “If you come to me and need help deciding what career path to choose, I would normally recommend that they speak to the career center.”
According to Massey, intuition often leads students in the right direction.
“I often tell students to go with their gut feeling. If you really hate something and you’re doing it for the money, chances are you’re going to burn out eventually — I know I would,” Massey said. “If you’re doing something that you’re truly passionate about, I feel like if you’re passionate about it enough, you can find a way to spin it so that you can do that and secure a living.”