Alumni Spotlight: Ben Van Maren

Aug. 29, 2022
Ben Van Maren

Ben Van Maren, a Tucson native and 2017 graduate from the University of Arizona, studied Molecular and Cellular Biology as an undergraduate in the College of Science. Now a medical student in the College of Medicine here at UArizona, Van Maren credits much of his success today to his mentors and the opportunities he had as a student in MCB.

Van Maren spoke with the College of Science to look back at his time as an undergraduate student and what he has been up to since graduation.

Ben Van Maren

Current job title/position: Medical student at the University of Arizona College of Medicine
Hometown/current town: Tucson, AZ
Degree(s) from UA: Molecular and Cellular Biology (BS), minor in Public Health

College of Science: How did your time at University of Arizona and College of Science prepare you for post-graduate life and your career today?

Van Maren: My biggest take-away from my undergraduate degree was a new perspective on the world around me. Our lives are spent being involved with our surroundings, making decisions, feeling emotions, and spending time with other people. My degree gave me a way to think all of that in a new way--with science, facts, deduction, an appreciation of interconnectedness. It taught me how to be aware of my own biases and how to suspend my judgement until I know more. I learned how to think critically about things and make choices for the greater good. And now, as I continue my career/schooling in healthcare, and as I continue my life as a human, all of these skills help me every day. My time in the College of Science broadened my horizons without changing the horizon I was looking at.

CoS: What drew you to the Molecular & Cellular Biology department when you were deciding on your major as a student?

Van Maren: When I was choosing a major, I knew I had a love of science, specifically science that connects to human health and small-scale (microscopic/molecular) biology. A few majors fit into that box, so after looking at the upper-level (3rd and 4th year) courses in each major, the Molecular and Cellular Biology department was my obvious choice because I was most excited about its courses. 

CoS: When you look back on your time as a Wildcat, what memories stand out? Any favorite classes, labs, mentors, or research projects?

Van Maren: I have very fond memories of volunteering in a lab as an undergraduate. There are many reasons I enjoyed it, including that I was able to get school credit for the time I spent in lab. But my biggest source of enjoyment was the fact that I could apply what I learned in school in an exciting way--and in a setting where people trusted me and encouraged my success. I was surrounded by great mentors (the other people in the lab--PhD candidates, professors, etc.), much smarter than me, who were humble, appreciative, and kind. They took time out of their day to talk to me, train me, inspire me, show me the wonderful things I can accomplish with effort and persistence. One of my mentors, Dr. Parker Antin, told me one day, as I was struggling with my experiment's results, that "time is your most valuable resource." I didn't quite get it at the time, but he was teaching me the importance of work/life balance and knowing when to step back and take a break. It takes a smart and self-reflective person to teach that. It is one of the most memorable lessons I have taken with me from my time in a lab. 

CoS: After graduating with a degree in Molecular & Cellular Biology and now in your career, what has surprised you most about how your education has impacted your professional success?

Van Maren: I am in medical school now, which has obvious connections to a degree in molecular and cellular biology. But what I want to talk about here is that spent the last five years doing social work. Social work, I think, is not an obvious career choice with my degree. I was really surprised how helpful my degree was in that field. I did social work for people with HIV--the important part here is HIV is a virus, and my background in biology enabled me to talk to people about their health/infection in ways that many professionals around me could not. If someone wanted to know more about the science of HIV or treatments or any other topic that existed in the sphere of science, I was the go-to person at my work for information. My degree made me stand out because I had unique skills, even when I had a job that wasn't based on molecular biology. In fact, it is the "social" part of "social work" that inspired me to go back to school--to become a primary care doctor via medical school. Science is really cool, that will always be part of my career, and I've learned it's people that keep me excited and happy (hence my dream of being a primary care physician).

CoS: What advice would you give to someone who is interested in pursuing an education or career in Molecular & Cellular Biology department?

Van Maren: Ask yourself if you're pursuing the education/career because you want to. Would you be doing this if there wasn't a fancy paper (a degree) at the end? If so, great, let your passion for biology be your motivation, your center. And outside of that, do what you want and have fun!