A Transition into Computer Science from Biochemistry

I am a biochemist turned software engineer. The article discusses my reasoning for the transition and I share some resources on the UBC BCS (second-degree program).

Last updated: August 16, 2022

As a biochemistry graduate that wanted to transition to CS, I had to do quite a fair amount of research reading through multiple Reddit threads, personal blogs, and websites. I figured that I might as well also compile the information so any individuals in a similar predicament can get some insight to make more informed decisions. So let’s address why B.S Biochemistry to Computer Science? Is the transition from Biochemist to Software Engineer worth it?

What’s my background?

  • UWindsor Alum(Bachelor of Science Honors Biochemistry with Minor in Applied Information Technology)
  • Some coding experience from secondary school

What does this article cover?

  • Options for transitioning to CS (from any degree)
  • Why I decided to pursue a second degree in CS
  • Any regrets? / Takeaways
  • Recommended Learning
  • Let’s get in touch!

Are you looking to transition into the field of computer science?

There are a few options that you can consider:

If you are interested in pursuing a second degree in CS at UBC, I wrote an article about it! Check it out here! https://mrbenc.medium.com/the-ultimate-guide-to-ubcs-bachelor-of-computer-science-second-degree-program-b357156a9be5

What are the advantages and disadvantages of each? These are just general ones. There are many discussions that go into more detail. But here are some surface-level ones.

Bootcamp

Advantages: less expensive, less time, direct industry CS exposure;

Disadvantages: some employers still want to see a CS degree, may be a bit harder to secure a job and might be screened in resume screen round; harder to get internships

Second Degree

Advantages: Great networking, you get a degree from university; employable

Disadvantages: Takes time (2–3 years), costs money

Here are the following ones that I came across:

Self Learning

Advantages: Not expensive, many free resources and discussion groups online. Learn at your own pace.

Disadvantages: Need to be self-accountable and keep yourself motivated. Might be a bit harder to secure a job, so need to do LinkedIn networking.

Other

Why did I decide to transition into computer science?

As the completion of my first degree in biochemistry had neared, a lack of direction and sense of lost purpose for the next steps of life was experienced in full.

Typically, with a life science/ chemical science type of degree such as biochemistry — there really seems to be a limited amount of options.

  • Professional School -> Doctor, Pharmacist, etc.
  • Industry
  • Masters -> Ph.D. -> Academia (or then one of the two aforementioned routes)
  • Other (Second Degree / Work in a different field)

Originally, like many others coming out of secondary education and heading into post-secondary education, I was also one who aspired to become a doctor. After three years of intense biochemistry studying, volunteering at health-related organizations/clubs/hospitals, and preparation for the MCAT, I was finally able to take the last step in the journey and apply to medical schools.

I couldn’t complete this last step of my journey for reasons that I will discuss now, and my afterthought is I feel fortunate that the tides have turned in a different direction.

My worldview changed.
My goal to pursue had changed.

In any case, I knew I actually didn’t want to go through the medical school route. Thus, why not give academia a shot and then perhaps industry?

In the last year of my biochemistry undergrad, I completed an honors thesis in a physical chemistry lab studying the fabrication of electrochemical sensors using copper sulfide. While I have learned plenty, had an excellent supervisor, and lab group, I still felt that something was missing.

I was neither happy nor upset with my situation. It was a feeling somewhere in the middle of the emotional spectrum — to just satisfice.

While completing this first undergrad, I was also working part-time remotely for a blockchain company, Enjin.

A company that changed my life.

Enjin opened the doors to a larger world of opportunity. I realized that my worldview was limited — like a frog in a well. A very deep well.

I was able to attend industry-level conferences such as E3 (Electronic Entertainment Expo) and GDC (Game Developers Conference) — events which I would never have dreamed to go to and probably wouldn’t even consider for a lifetime if I stayed in biochemistry.

The most influential moment was when I had finally met my coworkers from Enjin in person for the first time. It really was a shock factor to see the individual you work with daily finally appear in the flesh. With the influence and inspiration of both my coworkers and these industrial events, I hardened my resolve to go pursue a career in computer science.

Why computer science specifically? The reason was due to the incredibly large amount of opportunity in the space. CS opens many doors and opportunities. With CS, you can go to pretty much any field. You can start any company. You can carve your own future. This wasn’t possible with biochem. I can’t start my own lab without a master's then Ph.D. I also decided to go with UBC’s BCS (ICS) program as it was in Vancouver — a city filled with opportunity compared to my hometown in Windsor.

My new journey began to take shape.

I applied for the BCS second degree program at the University of British Columbia while in my final year of biochemistry. The reason I applied here was that I thought that connecting with like-minded individuals and networking would be really motivating. UBC also was in Vancouver and would have many opportunities as Vancouver is known as a tech hub in Canada.

Some other options I had at the time would be the following:

What was my plan?

  • Apply during my last year of biochemistry degree to the UBC BCS program
  • I was working part-time still at that time. If I got rejected, I was planning to work full time at Enjin and re-apply the following year.
  • I only applied for the UBC BCS program. The reason for applying to UBC BCS was because of its reputation, and networking opportunities.
  • The UBC BCS program is 2–3 years in length and you will be with many like-minded individuals who have also done a second degree. It is incredibly interesting. It makes it much easier to stay motivated. More details can be found in the article/guide I wrote about how to apply which you can check out here.

In my final semester, I had received an acceptance notification and following graduation, I moved to Vancouver to begin this new chapter.

I could start this brand new journey in a new city, new university, new time, and a new beginning.

Do I have any regrets?

None.

I do not regret the transition. Although there seems to be a stigma regarding doing a second degree as it may seem like a waste of time and money, however, in my opinion, it had shaped me to become the person I am today. I was able to clearly define what I really wanted to pursue which was clearly different from what I had thought as a mere secondary school student.

A strong persistence and will was cultured through my previous degree and I’m sure that it will be an asset for the future.

Now, regarding the actual transition from computer science to biochemistry…

A lot of what is learned in biochemistry, the studying habits, the approaches to learning, and the overall experience differs completely from computer science.

Some takeaways from the transition.

In computer science, you can expect to practice, practice, and practice. While there is theory involved, a larger extent is applying such theory to practice. This differs completely from biochemistry where knowledge of different organic structures, types of reactions, biological processes, etc are absorbed through reading, review, and memorization.

Adjusting to this new approach to learning may be a novel change. However, it is essentially the same as studying mathematics, physics, or physical chemistry. Rigorous practice.

The largest key aspect to note in such a transition was the transition of mindset. As a biochem major with the original intent to be fixed on getting into medical school, I was stuck in a fixed mindset.

In computer science, however, it was absolutely vital to get out of this mindset. University doesn’t teach you all that you need to know — it simply teaches you how to learn, where to start, and theoretical concepts which you will need to figure out how to apply. You need to go learn the skills applicable to the industry by yourself to complement what is learned in the classroom. It requires the transition to a growth mindset. The growth mindset is absolutely vital for personal development.

A growth mindset is a necessity for success — to thrive on challenges and see failure not as evidence of unintelligence but as a heartening springboard for growth and for stretching our existing abilities. — Carol Dweck

With a growth mindset, I was able to unceasingly challenge myself, motivate myself, and rediscover my passion to learn.

I believe that I have finally found a field that I am genuinely passionate about. A key takeaway is to seriously explore and consider alternatives if you are choosing to satisfice. Perhaps, you too may find your passion.

Resources/Recommended Learning

I usually recommend individuals wanting to transition to learn the following core concepts. (This is aimed at web dev.)

  • Learn a frontend development stack (Recommended (one of): React / Vue / Angular, etc.)
  • Learn a backend development stack (Express.js / Firebase / PHP / Golang, etc.)
  • Learn how to create an API and how to use them.
  • Learn what a database is and how to set one up (MongoDB (for NoSQL), MySQL/Postgres (for SQL)).
  • Learn how to use GitHub and version control with git.
  • Learn some of the common methodologies used in the industry (Agile/Scrum).

A great article/resource to start would be this one. MERN Exercise Tracker.

Different Types of Career Paths and Stacks

Some possible career paths of a developer

Let’s get in touch!

Feel free to reach out and connect if you have any questions. I will be still updating this as more ideas come up.

This was one of my very first articles. So I do apologize for the lower quality of writing compared to the later ones.

Hopefully, this has provided some insight! Feel free to reach out and connect if you have any questions or would like to contribute to this article. If you have free time and enjoyed the read, do take some time to follow or contribute some claps — each member can clap 50 times by holding the clap button (lol).

Edit: Wow! Quite a lot of emails haha. If you have questions, don’t be shy to reach out. Typically, my response time is quicker on LinkedIn, however, both LinkedIn and email works (Sometimes an email gets lost in a spam folder resulting in a delay). I am also down to set up calls if you are an individual who wants to have a virtual chat.

LinkedIn: https://www.linkedin.com/in/mrbenc88/

Email: chessben88@gmail.com

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