A STEM path to being a research scientist

Tyler Junior College sophomore Micah Leary sampled a variety of science courses before selecting cell and molecular biology as her major. (Photo: Elise Mullinix/TJC)

Micah Leary knew she would major in a STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) field, but she wasn’t sure what specialty to pursue until she found her passion at Tyler Junior College.

“I had taken a wide range of classes hoping that one would spark my interest: biology, chemistry, physics and calculus,” she said. “As a last resort, I took anatomy and physiology this semester, to see if I wanted to go into the medical field — and it was that class that actually inspired me to go into cell and molecular biology.”

Editor’s note: This article is part of a series published by TJC in March to celebrate Women in STEM Month. Watch the videos of the other TJC students and alumni featured in the series, including a local meteorologist and a professor of game and simulation development at the college.

That realization led Leary not only to her major, but it also brought into focus her career goals, which then pointed to her chosen transfer school.

“After graduating from TJC in May, I plan to transfer to Texas Tech to get my bachelor’s degree in cell and molecular biology,” she said. “Then, I plan to pursue graduate work, get my Ph.D., and do my own research and eventually publish.”

She continued, “I think this field is so interesting because you’re looking at things like neuron regeneration and being able to express and repress genes in your DNA. And it’s just incredible because when you’re looking at science at the smallest level, there are things we still don’t understand — but it’s really cool because we’re learning things about our own bodies that we never knew before. Those things are what revolutionize medicine and cutting-edge research. So, I’m not sure exactly what my career will look like, but I really love science and I definitely see myself in a research field.”

Community College Innovation Challenge: Don’t forget March 30 is the deadline for students teams to apply for this STEM-focused national competition run by the American Association of Community Colleges with funding from the National Science Foundation.

Leary gives the Texas community college high marks for helping her prepare for her future, both academically and personally.

“I grew up in Tyler, so I was always familiar with TJC,” she said. “Besides being much more cost-efficient than immediately going to a four-year university, it also allowed me to receive and offer support to my family. Also, I have never felt as much support from my professors and advisors as I do at TJC. Anytime I have ever had any questions at all, they are always really helpful and give me great advice.”

In addition to her studies and working a full-time job, Leary is also active in several campus organizations, including the Alpha Omicron Chapter of Phi Theta Kappa Honor Society, and serves as chapter president; the TJC Honors Program; the STEM club; and the Green Committee.  Along with her family, Leary lists several TJC professors among her major sources of support.

About the Author

Elise Mullinix
Elise Mullinix is editorial manager at Tyler Junior College in Tyler, Texas.