University of Minnesota

Mircobiology Student Profile

Name: Sara Wixon
Graduation Year:
Hometown: Plymouth, MN

How and why did you choose your major?

Fall of my sophomore year I was taking an organic chemistry lab course for my then Biochemistry major, and a microbiology lab course as an elective. I would leave my organic chemistry lab class in tears at least once a week, but the microbiology lab came naturally to me and I really enjoyed it. I took another semester to take more general biology classes and electives, but officially switched my major to Microbiology the next spring.

Please give a description (in your words) of your major including the things you learn, favorite classes, and any challenges you have faced.

Microbiology is all about the microorganisms that we cannot actually see, but are ubiquitous on the earth. I've learned a lot about the different types of microbes--that they colonize the most inhospitable places on earth, but also that they make up more of the human body than even human cells do. I've learned that microbes are really powerful; they are integral to numerous processes and products we rely on, including water treatment, food production, medications, and biocontrol. However, they also can have devastating effects. I really enjoyed taking Microbial Physiology and Diversity Lab, where I got to learn about eight really distinct microorganisms by culturing and isolating them myself. While it is always challenging to work with living things that don't always cooperate, it's also new and exciting.

What types of experiences outside of the classroom have you had relating to your major? (i.e. clubs, jobs, internships, volunteering, study abroad etc.)

I've been involved with research, first on stem cells but then on antimicrobial compounds and fungal pathogens, which is more directly related to microbiology. In addition, I was involved in a biostatistics training and research program at the UMich School of Public Health, which was helpful in learning how to process and analyze data, something very important for microbiology. Finally, many microbiology majors I know, including myself, have been involved with Partners in Health, a right to health group on campus. Partners in Health supports global health efforts like building health systems and treating tuberculosis, malaria, and HIV, which are all caused by microbial pathogens.

In your opinion, what is one thing, or one piece of advice that other students pursuing your major should know?

Microbiology lends itself really well to healthcare careers, but there are also a lot of industrial applications for those looking for something different.

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