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Plates with E.coli containing a plasmid encoding a protein of interest. rubber gloves. Photo Credit: Linda A. Cicero / Stanford News Service

Finding My Major: Austin Bargmann

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Plates with E.coli containing a plasmid encoding a protein of interest. rubber gloves. Photo Credit: Linda A. Cicero / Stanford News Service

“Do you have any ideas on what you are going to major in?” Dr. Wakefield (my academic advisor) inquisitively asked me. 

“I am going for pre-med by bioengineering in hopes of eventually pursing an M.D. Ph.D. program,” I definitively responded.

You see, I eventually want pursue molecular engineering; however, that is not an undergraduate field of study. I had convinced myself that studying bioengineering was the next best thing. I was also torn between doing research and clinical practice: I decided to do both.  Little did I know that over the course of my Freshman Year, Stanford would uproot my for-sure field of study.

September 22nd: First day of Think 23: The Cancer Problem, lectured by Dr. Joseph Lipsick. Dr. Lipsick began with a brief introduction of himself, stating he had completed an M.D. Ph.D. program. Instantly, I was drawn to him, seeking advice about pursing that type of program.

October 6th:  “An M.D. Ph.D. program typically takes about eight years, not including training,” stated Dr. Lipsick. “However, the program is very competitive. Students admitted to this have significant research experience and their names on research publications.”

Thus, began my adventure for research experience, something brand new to me. I needed a discussion with Dr. Wakefield if I was going to have an idea of where to start.

October 8th: “I did some looking at the various laboratories on campus, and I found Dr. Utz,” I began to tell Dr. Wakefield. “He has an immunology lab, and he is also the director of the M.D. Ph.D. program here.”

“Awesome!” Dr. Wakefield enthusiastically responded. “Have you looked at some of his research publications? It would be a good way to get into the conversation.”

“Yes. I’ve identified one in particular that really interests me.”

“Great! If you are unable to get research experience with him, see if you can attend his lab meetings.”

November 2nd: “I am incredibly interested in pursuing an M.D. Ph.D. program,” I told Dr. Utz.

“Here, let me show you a presentation I usually give about the program.” After pulling up the slideshow and going through what the program was, Dr. Utz came to some statistics regarding that type of education.

“Most researchers with this type of education are in their late forties to early fifties before they receive their first grant,” Dr. Utz told me.

Suddenly, I realized this type of education was not for me, and I was torn between pursing an M.D. or a Ph.D.  I still wanted to pursue research, to hopefully solidify the major I wanted to pursue.

“I’m not sure if this type of program is for me, but I am still incredibly interested in getting involved in research. Would it be alright if I attended your lab meetings to start to get a feel for it?” I asked.

To my delight, Dr. Utz responded with a yes.

Weeks came and went, and I was still unsure about medicine or research. Then, I took organic chemistry. There seems to be an unsettling stigma around organic chemistry, but it is really just solving chemical puzzles. I loved the class: the ruling-out principle really seemed to be my learning style. In fact, it was organic chemistry that settled my major dispute and education pursuit: I knew I wanted to pursue to chemistry, and medicine would be the best route for me, as I would be solving puzzles everyday doing clinic work. If I wanted to change for research puzzles, then a medicinal education would allow me to do so; doctoral works would never allow me to solve clinical puzzles.

Coming into my freshman year, I thought I was solid on what I was going to study. But, Stanford has a way of making you reconsider your choices, pushing you to really find what you what enjoy studying. Stanford will guide, you just have to start looking!

Austin Bargmann

Class of 2019

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