Name: Joseph Pecha
Hometown: San Antonio, Texas
Major: Biochemistry, French concentration
BS: Why did you choose to major in biochemistry?
JP: I’ve always been interested in how the world works and how things fit together. Biochemistry is essentially the study of the chemistry of life, of biological molecules, or the study of how living things work on a very basic level. So that’s appealed to me from even when I was a kid, honestly. I always loved science. I got really into chemistry because it’s at the very base of how the world works. Everything is made of molecules, and those molecules interact with each other in certain ways to make up everything we know. So how does that work? And I’ve always been fascinated by the human body and how that all works and how we get around. On a daily basis, we just live our lives, but on a molecular level, it’s outrageously complicated. Biochemistry is a great melding of both of those, of the knowledge of how the world works on a basic level combined with how the human body works and how living things interact with each other. That’s what drew me to biochemistry.
BS: If you could be any other major, which would you choose?
JP: I love science, so I would probably stay in the sciences. Maybe biology, or even physics or math. If I wasn’t to do anything in the sciences, I might be an English major. I really love all the literature we have here. And that’s not something that I used to think; I used to think English was the [furthest] thing possible from what I wanted to do. But through all the Lit Trads and reading great epic texts, I’ve gained an appreciation for reading and writing. In high school, you don’t think it’s going to be good, but I actually kind of enjoy it now. It’s the reason I’m auditing [a class on] the Trivium with Dr. [Scott] Crider, because I’m interested in English. [For] next semester, I found [out] about this online class with Dr. [Robert] Dupree, The Medieval and Renaissance Epics, that I’m really looking forward to taking as well.
BS: In what way is junior year different from your freshman or sophomore year?
JP: Definitely after the Rome semester, everything changes. Your view of the world changes, how you see things changes and how important individual things are changes. Junior year is also a lot more busy with future plans and goals coming into focus. You have to figure out what you want to do, how you’re going to get there, and make sure you do well, because your future depends on it. I’ve been busier outside of the classroom. The classes, of course, are more challenging because they’re upper-level, but doing things like studying for the MCAT or being engaged in different activities and clubs and sports makes it a lot busier than freshman or sophomore year.
BS: What is your take on the divide between the sciences and the humanities, as a student who is seriously involved in both sides?
JP: A lot of people think it’s impossible to be proficient in both the liberal arts … and the sciences. I think that’s completely false, completely and totally false. You can definitely be proficient in both, … It takes a different way of thinking about things to do it, but I think it’s beneficial to you as a person and it prevents people from thinking, for example, that vaccines are harmful, that you shouldn’t vaccinate your children, or basic scientific things about the world and how it works that they don’t know because they’re so focused in on literature or philosophy … And I think that’s part of what the university is trying to do: they’re trying to impart different areas of knowledge, or at least the tools to study them, to students.
I think if you’re ignoring what makes up the world or how the world works, you’re really putting yourself at a disadvantage. And you’re seriously decreasing your credibility as a writer. I’ve read several articles where there’ll be someone who is an English professor, or different speeches by different people who are very involved in humanities and sometimes they don’t know anything about science, and that comes across very obviously. And that seriously hinders their credibility, because it can show that he doesn’t really know what he’s talking about. When you’re writing, you’re not usually writing about something academic. When you’re writing in the modern day, you’re probably writing an opinion piece, or a response to someone, and you have to know what’s going on, which means you have to know about the world, which means you have to have some basic grasp of how it works.
The opposite is also true. Anthony Esolen is a great example. He references different scientific issues elegantly and coherently, and I think “Wow, he really knows what he’s talking about.” It really builds his credibility. I love reading his online articles for “First Things.” … I’m in biochemistry, right, and you sit there and you’re learning about some very specific molecule that makes up the immune system, for example. And if you stop and think for more than five seconds about what it is you’re being taught, and you think that this one tiny molecule is shaped in a certain way so that it can interact with other molecules in a virus, and that sets off a whole cascade of signaling with different cells that affects different parts of the immune system that all work together to rid your body of this disease and keep you healthy, and you think that this is just one tiny, tiny part of what keeps you alive on a daily basis, you can’t help but be amazed. You can’t but have a sense of wonder. Also, the fact that God created us in this way is crazy. It’s amazing to me that you can be a scientist and not believe in God because it seems that there’s no way for such a complex system to come by itself randomly. These things are so perfectly well tuned that there has to be an intelligent creator.
BS: What is your favorite study break?
JP: Usually, I like to walk around Haggar or head to the Cap Bar and grab a drink or find friends to chat with. I always find that talking with different friends is a great study break. It often ends up with me just talking for an hour when I should be studying, but oh well.
BS: Did you forget to bring anything to Rome that you wished you had?
JP: I didn’t find I lacked anything physically; I thought that I brought everything that I needed. [Take] lots of warm clothes if you’re going in the spring; [I was] definitely was glad I brought a lot of those. But on a different level, bring a spirit of adventure, which sounds kind of cheesy, right? But once you get there and classes are stressful and you’re doing so many things, you can have a tendency to pass opportunities by to take a nap or relax and de-stress. And it’s fine to do that every now and then, but when else are you going to be in Rome, you know? So I felt like that’s something I learned throughout the semester … to take advantage of all the small opportunities throughout the semester which I would never have again. Looking back, I’m glad. I’m not going to remember that nap I took on that random afternoon, but I am going to remember when I went into Rome and ended up staying way later than I thought, got lost, got on the Cotral somehow and made it back. [I was] tired and hungry, but I had a lot of fun.