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Book Review: Biology for the Curious

This book allows students to glimpse the great many things you can do with a college degree in biology.

Biology for the Curious: Why Study Biology by David Zeigler, Rey Antinio Sia, Vincent Cassone and Mark Vicari, published by Curious Academic Publishing.

Biology, a young science that developed in the 19th century, has entered a golden age. Students today live in a world with test-tube babies, genetically modified crops and synthetic vaccines. In tinkering with the molecules of life, biologists have helped set in motion a virtual transformation of society.  Biology is a wonderful subject for critical thinkers and if you are intrigued, a good starting point would be reading "Biology for the Curious."

The book helps students weigh in on why they should choose biology as their undergrad major or get a graduate/PhD degree in biology? It is packed with thought-provoking essays on the future of biology and maps out the 101 things you can do with a bio degree. The book is divided into eleven chapters written by top biology professors on research areas, the human genome project, critical thinking, plant pathology, stipends, scholarships, and careers opportunities.

"Different fields of biology are converging to open new doors — similar to the way atomic theory and relativity did a century ago," writes Dr Mark Vicari from York University in "Biology for the Curious." He points out that students today are beginning their career during biology's golden age.

The things you can do with a biology degree are vast and eclectic. A team of 22 biologists from the California Institute of Technology and UC San Diego recently made a breakthrough in cancer research by discovering a new drug that actually makes cancer cells self-destruct. Biologists routinely wrestle with large, biosocial themes: population issues, genetic profiles, pollution of the biosphere, biotechnology, human development and health and disease. Modern biology is a vast field that includes molecular biology, botany, cellular biology, physiology, evolutionary biology and ecology.

"Were it not for the 'green revolution,' and the agricultural research led by microbiologist and Nobel Peace Prize winner Dr Norman Borlaug, billions of people across the planet would have starved already," writes Professor Vincent Cassone from the University of Kentucky in "Biology for the Curious."

Similarly, molecular biologist Elizabeth Blackburn shared the 2009 Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine for discovering telomerase, an enzyme that repairs telomeres, the protective ends of chromosomes. As it turned out, telomere dysfunctions are involved in both aging and cancer, which has made the field a hot subject of study.

"The more traditional career options a student with a degree in biology pursues are as a health professional, a college professor, or a researcher in the biomedical, biotechnology or pharmaceutical industry," writes Professor Rey Antonio L Sia of the State University of New York Brockport. "Biology as a major also allows a student to take advantage of new interdisciplinary careers in the areas of bioinformatics and biomedical engineering."

A biology major with a bachelor's degree can help biological and medical scientists conduct lab tests and experiments. They essentially document results and perform calculations just as they did when compiling reports as a biology major. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, these biological technicians earn roughly $46,000 annually. The real money kicks in after a biology major pursues a Master's or PhD degree. Armed with a Master's degree, a genetic counselor who assess individuals for genetic disorders and birth defects, earns over $80,000 a year. 

The book emphasizes that to ensure success in the natural sciences such as biology, a student should have a good high school level foundation in biology, chemistry and mathematics. It also points out that fellowships for undergraduate research are available during the summer. Most US schools provide students enrolled for a Master's in biology a stipend at the graduate fellowship level, as well as tuition, and fringe benefits.

Some of the chapters are uneven in terms of quality, but students will find "Biology for the Curious" a gem of a book. It provides a behind-the-scenes look at what an exciting time it is to be a biologist.

 

Uttara Choudhury is a writer for Forbes India and The Wire. In 1997, she went on the British Chevening Scholarship to study Journalism in the University of Westminster, in London.

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