Camille Schrier, a junior double majoring in Systems Biology and Biochemistry with a minor in Chemistry, talks about her experiences as a Systems Biology student.

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On the Systems Biology Program . . .

What drew you to enrolling in SYSB?

I was looking for a change of major out of the College of Engineering. I was an engineer for the first two years of my college career, but it was not igniting the personal interest and passion I had hoped for. I have always loved biology, and when I came across the new Systems Biology program and began reading about the idea of bioinformatics and the computational techniques systems biologists were using to conduct cutting edge research, I knew I had found something that would align well with my engineering background, but also satisfy my curiosity for the biological sciences.

What about the program exceeded your expectations?

Definitely the small class sizes and personal attention. My current systems biology classes only have 4 people enrolled. I get to sit across from incredible faculty members and learn from them in an environment that I’m not sure I’d be able to in any other program.

What surprised you?

What really surprised me about SYSB was how integrated the curriculum is. My SYSB courses pull on information I have learned in almost all of my previous science and math courses, and ties them all together to study biological systems. It’s really intriguing and satisfying as a student to see how all of your courses can combine to solve real world questions.

Describe an experience you had in the program that stands out.

As our program grows, the students in my SYSB courses were asked to attend lunch with prospective SYSB faculty for the new year. I was excited that we were included during the selection process, and really showed that my professors and university valued my input as a student in the program.

How do you think SYSB differs from traditional science classes?

The difference between Systems Biology and my traditional science courses is really that Systems Biology is an integrated science. We use aspects of all science and math disciplines to address complex biological problems. These classes may have “biology” in the title, but in substance and topic, they are far from just biology classes…and I think that’s what I like the most about them. I feel like I really get to apply the knowledge I’ve learned in other classes, and see how the skills I’ve learned can help me solve real world problems.

 

The impact of the Systems Biology program on the way she approaches academics and work . . . 

Have you interned anywhere? If so, where did you work? Can you describe your experience?

This past summer I interned at Sanofi Pharmaceuticals in Bridgewater, NJ. My position was a marketing assistant intern in the generics division, which allowed me to gain first hand experience in sales, marketing and data analysis. My role was extremely business focused, but I was able to apply the interdisciplinary skills I’ve learned in my courses to be successful in a realm that I had no real experience in before that point.

Was there a skill (or a prospective/approach to problem solving) you learned in SYSB that you found particularly useful to the work you did in your internship?

The skill that I was able to apply most was data analytics. I think this is arguably the most valuable skill learned in systems biology because it is applicable to almost every discipline or profession. In my SYSB courses, we work to analyze large volumes of data and network systems…along the way utilizing a variety of computer software and computational techniques.

During my internship, I was faced with new programs and forms of data. My classes have helped me to learn adaptability and general understanding of data analysis that allowed me to quickly catch on to new tools presented to me, and helped me to be successful in my internship position.

Have you participated in undergraduate research? If so, what was the project(s)? How did your SYSB education inform how you approached the project?

I have not yet participated in undergraduate research, but this is something I am hoping to do before graduation!

Can you speak to your experience in SYSB as it has shaped the way in which you approach problem solving?

I think first and foremost SYSB takes away the intimidation one might have for a complex problem; every day we work with new problems that we don’t fully understand, and have to fill in the gaps to start getting an answer. For me, this has taught me that I don’t have to have all of the information to solve a problem. Systems biology teaches us techniques that work with whatever data you have to answer questions about a system, and start to decode more details and information.

How have you integrated your interests and hobbies into your coursework?

I have always loved biology, but I honestly didn’t think a biology major was practical for me without a plan to attend graduate or professional school. With a goal to enter right into industry after graduation, I wanted a program that would set me apart from the application pool. Systems biology has allowed me to integrate my interest in biology into my coursework, while providing me with a unique education that I believe will help me to be marketable as a job candidate in the future.

What are the benefits of double majoring in SYSB and BIOC? How do they complement one another or enhance your experience at Virginia Tech?

I think majoring in biochemistry and systems biology is an almost ideal combination. Not only do the course plans mesh perfectly, but I feel like each major helps me in the other. My biochemistry courses give me more detailed information about the chemical processes and enzymatic reactions happening in an organism, and then systems biology ties the entire network together. For example, I was learning about the enzymatic reactions and intermediate products in the glycolytic pathway in my general biochemistry course…and the next day in my SYSB 3115 class was performing a stoichiometric network analysis on the same pathway. I believe double majoring in biochemistry and systems biology is a strong combination, and would set any student apart while applying to a graduate program or looking for a job.

What career path do you hope to follow?

Ideally my goal is to enter right into the pharmaceutical industry after graduation. After my experience interning this summer, I’ve realized I have some natural strengths in the business setting and would love to supplement my heavily scientific undergraduate degrees with an MBA.

Barring any and all obstacles, what impact do you ultimately hope to have on the world?

I have always been passionate about helping people. I read a book in high school about epidemiology and immunology that was the catalyst that sparked my passion to pursue a career in science. I’m a little queasy with the idea of hands on medical treatments, so profession in nursing or medicine was not for me. I think after reading that book, I realized that I wanted to do, or create something that would help cure or prevent illness. For this reason, I would love to impact the world and make a difference in peoples lives by working on drug or vaccine development.

Can you speak to the overall impact SYSB has had on you as student? As a person?

Systems Biology has helped me to utilize my natural strengths in combination with my personal interests to help me to become an academically well-rounded problem solver. In the process, the program has helped me to refine my personal career interests, and given me skills and opportunities I couldn’t get anywhere else. I am very grateful to have decided to pursue a degree in systems biology.

What has been the highlight of your Hokie career so far?

I transferred to Virginia tech as a junior, and after two years of feeling like I had not found the right place for me, Blacksburg is now my home. The highlight of my Hokie career is ongoing…realizing the uniqueness of our community. After attending a university that I felt lacked genuine community, I have the unique ability to see that what we have at Virginia Tech is so special. From the students to the faculty and staff, there is a palpable feeling of respect, positivity, kindness and encouragement on this campus. Ut Prosim is more than just a motto, it’s something that is actually lived out by the members of our Hokie community every day. I have never been prouder to attend an institution like Virginia Tech.