Student Spotlight: Rebecca Shelley

April 30, 2021 Fayth Schutter

Rebecca Shelley is double majoring in Cell Molecular and Developmental Biology and English Literature. Rebecca is currently conducting research in Dr. Brittany Allen-Petersen’s lab on pancreatic cancer. She is a member of the editorial board for the Journal of Purdue Undergraduate Research and a mentor for the Women in Science program. She also is a 2021 recipient of the English Department’s Kneale Essay Award in British Literature. I was able to talk with her about her experience in both STEM and Liberal Arts at Purdue.

Why did you choose your specific double major?

Well, I knew going into my undergraduate career that I wanted to do something in biology and biological research, so I started getting involved in labs. I found out that I was actually more interested in disease sites on a cellular level, so that’s why I went for cell molecular biology. I started out with just an English minor, but, by the end of my sophomore year, I added English as a double major.

Why do you think these majors work so well together?

Rebecca ShelleyWell, whenever I tell people that I’m double majoring in Biology and English, everyone in the STEM field is always like, “Oh my goodness,” because the stereotype is that STEM kids don’t want or know how to write. Actually, this is a huge problem in the scientific community. Not only is it important to be able to communicate with your peers effectively, but it’s also important to communicate research findings clearly to the general public. We have a lot of work to do there, and I feel that having an English major background is going to be very helpful. The ability to synthesize information has helped me both in reading and writing scientific papers. I also appreciate the ability of my English courses to generate conversation about different people and experiences, opening my eyes to new perspectives. Both the appreciation for diverse human stories and the ability to communicate effectively to broad audiences are skills as important to me in everyday life as they are to my pursuit of biological research.

Have you had any specific opportunities because you’re in both STEM and Liberal Arts?

When I was in the first-year biology course, I helped rewrite part of the course materials. The course was aimed at teaching students how to do biology research, so the professor had to teach us about the scientific process, how to form a hypothesis and analyze data. I told her about my interest in English—at that time, I was an English minor—and then about my interest in research, and with those two together I was able to help revise a section of the course booklet. Since then, I’ve joined Purdue’s Journal for Undergraduate Research’s editorial board, peer reviewing different research papers. Getting involved in this way, I’m able to use both my scientific knowledge and English skills together.

In your opinion, what are some of the other benefits of double majoring in English?

Whether you’re analyzing a poem or writing a critical essay, you have to practice analytical skills and bring your argument and observations together into a cohesive, well-explained whole. These things are very important in the STEM field as well, especially if you’re doing research. So, there are benefits to having these two majors. I think they work together really well. Also, it was pretty easy to double major; they made it very easy. A lot of English courses overlap with University Core requirements and so I’ve only had to take three summer classes, which were all fun because they were English electives.

What specific opportunities have you had in the College of Liberal Arts?

Scholarships are always nice, especially when you can get them from both colleges [the College of Liberal Arts and the College of Science]. The College of Liberal Arts also has the annual Literary Awards writing contest, so that’s another one that I can think of. You can put it on your resume and consider it career boosting, but you also get money if you win one of the awards so that’s nice! I think, especially being in the STEM field, that it does raise eyebrows, like when I’m interviewing. I just had an interview last week for a summer internship and I was asked: “Why are you majoring in English?” I think it makes you stand out.

Do you have any final advice for someone thinking about taking English classes?

If you are a STEM major, you should think about it. I can feel myself exercising different sides of my brain, and, like I said before, I feel like a lot of the skills that you gain in English are essential for the STEM field. We can’t practice them enough by taking STEM classes alone. So, it’s really beneficial, but it’s also fun. Really, though, you have to explore to find what you like. In my own STEM experience, I’ve had to take so many labs to try to figure it out. You’ve just got to get your hands dirty, get out there! If you think something sounds interesting, look into it, go ask the professor about it. If worse comes to worst and you don’t find yourself liking it, then look into something else.

What is your favorite class that you’ve taken here at Purdue?

I took a class in “Postcolonial Literature,” which I thought was very interesting. I didn’t realize this until I took that class, but, if you look at your bookshelf, you’ll notice that it’s mostly filled with books written by white, male authors. You don’t realize that there’s this whole field of literature that you haven’t been exposed to. The works were very beautiful and, culturally, very eye-opening, so I really liked that class.

What kind of books do you like? Any recommendations?

Personally, one of my favorite books of all time is A Brave New World. Obviously, I love books that have to do with science fiction, the things that could be possible and the implications of these possibilities. So, that’s one of my favorites.

Fayth ShutterFayth Schutter is double majoring in Professional Writing and Mass Communication at Purdue.

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