In a world where English and science have historically been at odds, alumna Sarah Bay found a way to successfully merge her love for both.
Bay graduated in December 2009 with a double major in English and biochemistry and molecular biology and a minor in Spanish. She is currently in her sixth year of graduate school in Emory University’s Genetics and Molecular Biology Graduate program . She also serves as a science writing intern for the Genetics Society of America where she writes for the blog genestogenomes.org.
Bay said she began her college career as an English major who dreamt of eventually attending medical school. As a junior she took an advanced genetics lab that solidified her passion for science, but also made the decision about her future more complicated. Dr. Rebekah Rampey, associate professor of biology, taught the genetics class, and said she witnessed Bay wrestle between the two subjects.
“She told me that taking genetics really sealed her love of science and her curiosity for figuring things out,” Rampey said. “When she was in that class I saw and heard the struggle she had between English and science as a double major, and it was something I had never encountered before.”
Dr. John Williams, former chair of the English department, said he had never seen anything like it, but that Bay handled the challenge of double majoring well.
“She had absolute enthusiasm for both subjects,” Williams said. “She enjoyed both thoroughly, and she decided to stick with them even though it was a daunting academic task.”
Bay said Rampey became her main mentor and pushed her to gain research experience through a summer internship at Rice University. While at Rice, Bay was able to work with many scientists, and eventually collaborated with them to publish a paper discussing metal transporter genes. It was that experience, according to Bay, that gave her the knowledge to be able to pursue graduate school.
Bay said that through the science writing internship she learned that her love of English and science can go hand-in-hand.
“Writing is not a skill that has always been highly prized in the sciences,” Bay said. “One of the biggest struggles that scientists have when it comes to communicating with the public is that when we talk to each other, we write in this crazy, convoluted, complex jargon. That’s fine for talking to each other, but it’s difficult to talk to the public and actually make them understand what it is we are trying to get across.”
In September 2013, Bay returned to campus to speak at a biology seminar about the research projects she has been a part of in graduate school and the knowledge she has gained from her internship. Bay said she hopes to continue to learn how to help the scientific community better communicate science to a non-scientific audience.