I was 17 years old and canoeing down the Suwannee River in north Florida with my Boy Scout troop. My scoutmaster was a chief chemist at a quality-control lab in an International Minerals & Chemical’s phosphate facility in central Florida. While sitting around a campfire one night with another adult chaperone—who happened also to be a chemist working for IMC—my scoutmaster asked me the typical question an adult asks of a teenager: “So, Joe, what are you going to study in college?” I responded in a typical teenager-like way: “I don’t know. I’ll probably study biology and go to medical school like my father.”
Both chemists sitting with me around the campfire that night simultaneously responded: “Well, you should study chemistry instead of biology if you’re thinking about going to medical school. If things don’t pan out, chemistry is a much better degree to fall back on.” I thought about it for a second. It certainly made sense. I decided then and there to study chemistry and never looked back, and I never applied to medical school. Fate is a funny thing.
By Joseph E. CouryI'd still say that chemistry is a better fallback choice than biology, but I'd be much more hesitant about recommending it as a career choice. Sigh.