Pursuing a Career in the Sciences at Minerva

We recently welcomed students from around the world for our annual admitted students weekend in San Francisco. The event is an opportunity to experience life at Minerva alongside our current students.

On their second day in the city, admitted students met with the deans of each college to learn about the curriculum, as well as leaders of the Professional Development Agency, who described the employer and graduate school advising services available at Minerva.

Of the topics discussed, many students seemed particularly interested in how Minerva would support their dreams of pursuing careers in the sciences.

While many perceive the term “liberal arts” to be exclusive of the rigor needed for the hard sciences, Minerva’s liberal arts and sciences curriculum is designed to support students interested in the sciences by incorporating subject matter from a diversity of fields, including the natural, computational, and social sciences.

“Minerva’s courses are interdisciplinary because we are not siloed. We don’t have a chemistry department that teaches only chemistry, or a physics department that teaches only physics. We are more integrated because that’s what mirrors the real world.”

Vicki Chandler, Dean of Natural Sciences, explains, “Minerva’s courses are interdisciplinary because we are not siloed. We don’t have a chemistry department that teaches only chemistry, or a physics department that teaches only physics. We are more integrated because that’s what mirrors the real world.

“Our students don’t take laboratory courses. Instead, we strongly encourage and help them identify summer research internships. These are really critical because they provide them with hands-on experiences — and a mentor — in a lab, where they are truly doing science. That’s where they will really understand how to do science, how to think logically and analytically, and how to put it into practice — not through lab courses that essentially require students to follow recipes from a cookbook.”

For example, Xiaotian Liao, a student in the Class of 2019 recently secured an internship with the prestigious Novartis Institutes for BioMedical Research in Boston, where she hopes to help in the search for new disease therapies.

Before she was made aware of the internship, however, Xiaotian met with Minerva’s Coaching and Talent Development Manager Jesse Silberberg to discuss her career aspirations. “We had talked through her personal motivations for pursuing a M.D./Ph.D. and collectively strategized approaches for engaging in projects with hospitals in the cities in Minerva’s global rotation.”

When the opportunity to apply for an internship with Novartis surfaced, Silberberg says, “Xiaotian understood how it fit with her personal and professional path, and how her past experiences, both inside and outside of the sciences, would make her a great fit for the position.”

“As a Natural Sciences and Computational Sciences double major, I am really excited about the opportunity to work at a bioinformatics lab and get to know more about the field,” Liao says. “While I always had a passion for medicine, I focused mainly on the outpatient side of it. It was during my studies at Minerva that I started thinking about research seriously; I find the process of rethinking research questions and developing answers from an interdisciplinary perspective deeply rewarding. I believe the opportunity to research the mechanism of a patient’s disease will allow me to offer better care in a clinical setting.”

“It is what you do during your four years — and the experiences you gain — that matters the most.”

Like the opportunity with Novartis, many internships are realized through Minerva’s staff and faculty who often work closely with students and get to know their professional goals. “Like our students, they are highly engaged in the global hubs they call home,” notes Anne Kauth, Minerva’s Employer Network and Partnerships Manager. “In talking about Minerva and pursuing their own passions, our community members meet people in San Francisco and beyond, who are naturally drawn to the work of Minerva and what our students are learning.”

Another student in the Class of 2019, Zitong Mao was the only undergraduate — and only a rising sophomore — on a team of Ph.D. and postdoctoral research interns at the Fujitsu Laboratories of America. Following his internship, his research manager, Mahoko Shiga, says his success stemmed from “his deep and accurate understanding of the project, logical thinking, and high communication and self-management skills.”

Dean Chandler has nearly three decades of experience mentoring students aspiring to attend medical school, so she understands the knowledge and skills they need to acquire as undergraduates in order to be admitted — critical insight that has helped inform the Natural Sciences curriculum she developed at Minerva.

“Minerva graduates will be very competitive for top grad schools, whether they are interested in medicine, public health, environmental sciences, engineering, physical sciences, or another field. I’ve spoken with many individuals at top medical and graduate schools around the U.S. and can definitively say they are very excited about Minerva’s emphasis on creative and critical thinking, as well as our interdisciplinary approach to learning and our encouragement of hands-on research experiences,” Chandler remarks.

Knowing this, Xiaotian offers a simple piece of advice for Minerva students thinking about pursuing careers in the sciences: “Don’t stress out too much about making the ‘perfect’ decision that determines the rest of your life. After all, it is what you do during your four years — and the experiences you gain — that matters the most.”