Matthew Habel, with a major in the Department of Mathematics, entered the School of Arts and Sciences ready to take full advantage of the breadth and depth of its undergraduate academic programs.
Taking an analytical and expansive approach to college education
As soon as he arrived at Rutgers, Matthew Habel set out on a wide-ranging academic journey.
He tried out several possible majors in the social and physical sciences, conducted research on cancer and heart disease, and worked at an internship where he learned about the process of bringing medicine from the conceptual stage to consumers.
“I was drawn to Rutgers because of its size and depth,” the Howell, N.J. native says. “One of the things I really liked about the School of Arts and Sciences is that you have the opportunity to tailor your experience. If you’re interested in a particular area, you can reach out to professors and create your own path.”
Habel, who graduated in May, 2018, eventually decided on biomathematics as his major, an interdisciplinary field that uses complex math to advance experimental biology.
“Biomathematics felt right to me,” he says. “Of course there were a lot of 90 degree turns that led me here.”
Indeed, Habel initially pursued psychology with the goal of becoming a psychiatrist. Then, seeking a more traditional science background, he studied in the Department of Chemistry and Chemical Biology. He also had several important stints in undergraduate research. At the Rutgers Psychophysiology Laboratory, he examined the connection between cardiovascular reactivity to stress and heart disease. And at the Rutgers Cancer Institute of New Jersey, he investigated the metastasis of pancreatic cancer.
If you’re interested in a particular area, you can reach out to professors and create your own path
“When I started out, I had medical school on my mind,” he said.
But in the course of doing research he began noticing with increasing fascination the work taking place at the intersection of science, mathematics, and business.
“There were a lot of people at the cancer institute working with novel techniques and technologies, trying to move things forward into clinical trials,” he says.
He signed up for some operations management and artificial intelligence courses, and landed an internship at a pharmaceutical consulting firm.
“You had to understand the science behind the products and you had to mathematically model how this product would do,” he said. “I enjoyed that challenge.”
He soon became drawn toward biomathematics, a field that emerged at Rutgers in the 1970s and is experiencing a major resurgence due to advances in bioinformatics and molecular biology. The major, administered by the Department of Mathematics, is great preparation for both graduate studies as well as research jobs in the pharmaceutical industry and government labs.
“Ultimately I’m interested in starting my own consulting firm that employs the mathematics behind artificial intelligence techniques to help businesses solve problems,” Habel says. Despite taking on a heavy and challenging course load, Habel maintained high academic standards throughout his academic career.
His facility with organic chemistry, for example, earned him a slot as an undergraduate teaching assistant in the Department of Chemistry and Chemical Biology. He worked as a part-time lecturer for undergraduate chemistry lab, alongside his studies.
Habel said that receiving Arts and Sciences scholarships was a definite advantage. He received the Harriett and Robert Druskin Endowed Scholarship, the Dave and Ceil Pavlovsky Endowed Scholarships, and the Class of 1915 Waksman Scholarship.
“I was able to reallocate my time so that the hours I would spend working as a private tutor were then used to focus on my own studies,” Habel says. “This allowed me to dive into the quantitative side of my studies—learning about operations research and more advanced mathematics—and really cultivate my knowledge in this area.”
He also cited the influence of his father, an engineer who grew up in Poland under communist rule before moving to the United States. “Poland did not have the economic mobility and I think he felt held back,” Habel said. “When my father came to the United States, he worked very hard and took advantage of every opportunity. He certainly instilled that in me.”