Nathan and William White, twins from Adamsville, have done almost everything together since the day they were born. Graduating from the University of Tennessee at Martin on May 4 was no different, and the brothers crossed the commencement stage one behind the other to both receive bachelor’s degrees in biology. Now, with four-year degrees in hand, the brothers will go in different directions to pursue opposite areas of scientific study.
“We’re interested in basically the same thing, but I want to do it in plants, and he wants to do it in the biomedical field,” said Nathan, who will begin graduate school at the University of Kentucky this fall studying plant pathology after a 2018 internship introduced him to the field.
“I love cell and molecular biology, but I wasn’t sure how it made sense for me to apply that (to my career),” he continued. “In plant pathology, there’s a field side and a lab side. What I’m looking to do is some of both, and you can do that through research and extension programs. (During my internship), I got to see how all of my classes made sense in the real world in a way that I was actually going to be happy practicing science.”
While Nathan is focused on an agricultural application of biology, William is concerned with the human focus of biomedical research.
“I had an appreciation for living organisms (growing up), but most of all I really wanted to study science. … Science could explain why things were the way they were as far as physical properties – why water behaves the way it does and how that impacts so many things. I didn’t want to study chemistry or physics or something like that because it was a little dry to me. Biology was a very interesting application of all scientific fields,” he said.
“I’m not completely sure what the dream job is. I have an interest in microbiology and definitely research, definitely something applied to the medical field. I want to be doing research that I feel like has a purpose and makes a difference. … I want to be able to see the impact,” William continued. After completing an internship at the UT Health Science Center in Memphis last summer, William is planning to apply to graduate schools and hopes to continue his studies in a similar field.
The summer of 2018, when the brothers completed internships in different states, was the longest amount of time the twins had spent apart since birth. Nathan says the distance made them appreciate their friendship and connection as brothers more than they had in the past. The pair lives together and has taken almost every class together during their four years at UT Martin. When asked if they ever get tired of each other, the simultaneous answer was, “Yes!”
However, Nathan points out that they naturally have a support system that the university works hard to create for other students.
“It’s like what (UT Martin) strives for in the living-learning (residential) communities here, … to have somebody that’s interested in the same (things) that you live with and have a lot of classes with. Well, that’s naturally what God gave me, and so we did take advantage of that,” he said.
Both brothers have enjoyed their time at UT Martin and say the campus size and faculty-student relationships are big reasons for their successes in college.
“It’s been a comfortable place for us. This campus is not incredibly small but not large by any means, so it’s very comfortable to get around. … Any time I needed advice or had a question about anything, there’s been a multitude of professors I can go and ask,” said Nathan.
“The big difference I would say that UT Martin has is that one-on-one time you get to spend with your professors,” William added.
Both students have looked for ways to challenge themselves before graduation, and they say their collegiate experience has been better for those challenges. They also have advice for the students coming behind them: “Branch out. There are a lot of things, even within the field of biology, that I thought, ‘That is the biology that I’m interested in,’ but that wasn’t true,” said Nathan. “I took other classes. Like, I didn’t want to take an art class my freshman year … but I’ve learned something from every class, either something about the subject that would impact my life or, if it was a difficult professor, I learned how to deal with different types of people.”
“Don’t forget who you are, … what you value and what you grew up with,” added William, who wants underclassmen to maintain their humility. “You’re not the greatest thing! You don’t know everything! Be open to learning, because you don’t know anything, and the quicker you realize that, the better off you’ll be.”