Pre-med By Default? Reset, Don’t Restart!

by Ifrah Hassan

The majority of USC students majoring in sciences identify as pre-med if not pre-health.  Dr. Rebecca Broyer, professor of Organic Chemistry (at USC), like several of these students, she thought she should be a doctor because it seemed like the natural route.

Dr. Broyer attended UCSD for undergrad and received her PHD in Organic Chemistry from UCLA. While she was in undergrad, Dr. Broyer participated in numerous extracurricular activities including, volunteering at an AIDS hospice and interning at a chiropractor’s office.

She said “in college, I worked as a tutor for high school students in areas of math and sciences; I liked teaching so academia seemed like the natural route once I started my Ph.D.”

Along with teaching, participating in a research lab in the pharmacology department also had an impact on Dr. Broyer’s career path.  She got credit for research and when she maxed out her credit, she got a grant to continue working on her project.

Dr. Broyer never had a clear moment in which she decided to not be pre-med, as a kid she liked chemistry and doing experiments but she did not take classes until college.  Due to this interest in science and a lack of exposure to alternative careers and opportunities, she chose to be pre-med.   Based on her experiences growing up and in undergrad she said, “I realized I was more of a scientist than a clinician.”

After finishing undergrad, Dr. Broyer knew she wanted to go to graduate school and not medical school.  She worked before applying to graduate schools, she worked at a biotech company; as an editor for scientific journals in Tokyo and then did post doc after working in art conservation.

Dr. Broyer stresses the importance to think about the big picture and to talk to people in alternative careers.  She said, “I learn form other scientists in the STEM fields. In addition to organic chemistry, my Ph.D. training encompassed polymer science, bioengineering and nanotechnology.

She continued to emphasize the overlap in the scientific world when she said, “The best advice I can give to students interested in the sciences is to expose themselves to many different experiences and to take them into other areas of their life. Do something you love.”

For students who like science but are uncertain about going to medical school, Dr. Broyer highly recommends reading Alternative Careers in Science (edited by Cynthia Robbins-Roth).  It is a book exploring a variety of careers accessible to science majors, each chapter is written by someone who specializes in that respective area.

Dr. Broyer enjoys being able to walk into a room and seeing people who are excited [to learn].   She said “I love my job, I think it’s really fun. I like teaching and my whole life is dedicated to learning.”


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