Rebecca Neill '16 on her experience in EEB: a holistic approach to biology

Wednesday, Jun 1, 2016

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.