Donated my hair!

So I might not be able to donate my blood or my bone marrow, but I try my best. I am an organ donor. And today, I donated 10 inches of my hair to make wigs for cancer fighters! It’s something I’ve honestly been planning to do ever since I started growing out my hair a few years ago, hoping that one day it would be long enough so I could make this contribution. I’ll admit that leading up to this weekend (Relay for Life) and as they were razoring it off, I was slightly scared, but I thought about what my contribution meant, and how I could deal with a few years of short hair for someone who was going to have to suffer through chemotherapy. My cut ended up being shorter than I expected, and my only reaction so far has been “it’s so different!” (neither positive or negative). In the end, though, I’m very happy with what I did!


My hair!

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Medicine is right for me

Once I made the leap into medicine from the mountain of law, it was so obvious why medicine was just right to me. There were so many signs, and they still make me happy when they pop up, hence this short post:

1) I’m incredibly excited for “class” tomorrow! I’ve been out of school for almost a year already, and it’s been awful. I miss studying, the first day of class, syllabuses, taking notes, drawing figures, etc. The stars aligned, and it just so happens the one class I wanted to take in undergrad (biology of cancer) is offered next quarter at a time that fits with my work schedule! So I’m going to be unofficially sitting in and attempting to be a student. I’m not sure how far I’ll get in this experiment, but the fact that I’m so jittery for a class I’m not even in probably shows that I love learning, and I could do this thing forever (and the next four years at least).

2) I found an article on NEJM about my disease and casually read the 13 pages over dinner. I screamed over how cute “glomerular tufts” are, aww’ed out loud when I saw a diagram of how the immune system punches holes in the glomerular basement membrane allowing these fat red blood cells to fall through (seriously, so cute! They look like they are just floating along and suddenly are scooped away!), and honestly, I was just so excited to read about it that my Facebook feed blew up with statuses from me (sorry, friends). The fact that I can think my pathology is “cute” is probably a little psychotic (prednisone!) but also again shows my strange passion for learning….

In other news, my book posts are slow because I’m grinding through A Storm of Swords. After a year, I’m actually almost done with it! I hope to finish it by the end of this week so I can read the next ABG book by next week (when our meeting is), and then in May I have two books I need to review for ABG + hopefully make a dent in some of the other random books I’ve picked up in the past few months.

Professor relationships and LORs

^Not those kinds of professor relationships!

It’s almost been a year since my application cycle started, and as expected a bunch of my premed friends are gearing up for the new application cycle. I’m hoping to address the different aspects of the application as they happen, but I already know I’ll fail at that. I think the easiest was dealing with letters of recommendations (LORs), so here I go! Again, I’m not some kind of amazing authority on medical school applications, but I hope this will help someone. Also, I did not go to a school with a premed committee or a committee letter (thanks, public university), so I can’t help anyone with that! Sorry. :(

What do I Need?
Generally, it’s recommended to get two letters from science professors and one from a non-science professor. Usually this means a professor who has taught you in a class. Different schools require different letters (for example, Albert Einstein wanted a letter from each science department), so even if you say, “oh, but THIS school doesn’t require that!”, it’s probably safer to prep for the worst case scenario. Sometimes you can get out of the requirements if you explain your circumstances (like I had to for Einstein) such as being out of school for a few years. On top of the “safe” letters to get, you should get a few extras to speak about you as someone more than a studying machine. Good ones are from research PIs, volunteer coordinators, your boss. Not so good ones are from friends, family members, and TAs/graduate students. NB on the graduate student letter — sometimes grad students will be stuck writing the letters, but you should still (1) ask the professor, and (2) make sure the professor co-signs the letter. I’m torn on letters from physicians/medical professionals. If you really think they can write you a good one, then go for it, but I tend to believe most are too busy to write an amazing letter. If you can combine any of these extra letters with your professor letters, that’s even better (a professor I TAed with also taught me in a class). More letters don’t really hurt you but bear in mind that AMCAS can only hold ten letters max, and many schools cap the number of LORs they can receive at ~5.

Another reason it’s important to have extras is sometimes professors flake. Therefore, in addition to the two science, one non-science, I’d have some back-ups.

Who do I ask?
Ask professors who know you well. There are many posts on SDN about getting letters from famous researchers/doctors, and the consensus is always only if s/he knows you well. A professor should be able to see you, recognize you, and write more about you than “this student got an A in my class” (even if it’s a hard class). If you are in a situation where you know a graduate student better than a professor (e.g. if you work under a grad student or a postdoc in a lab and barely see your PI), you should STILL ask the PI but also ask the person you work under if s/he’d be willing to co-write a letter with the PI (generally this means s/he will be the one writing the letter).

How do I get to Know my Prof?: Classes
Ah, one of the common #premedproblems: I’m in a class of 500 students, how do I stand out?

1) Plan ahead! – If you started college knowing you were premed, you hopefully have had a few years to establish some good relationships… if in that time you haven’t gotten close to ANY of your professors, you’re probably not only doing something wrong, you’re also not really getting the full college experience. Professors are awesome people to talk to and learn from. If you plan ahead, you should plan your classes based on what letters you seek. Many science majors leave their humanities general education requirements till the end to take, but how do you guarantee you’ll get your non-science letter then? I always arranged my schedule so that I would not only get great professors but also have multiple classes/quarters/experiences with them.

2) Go to office hours – This is so self-explanatory but I’m always surprised more students don’t do this. I made going to OH so regular that I scheduled it into my calendar as if it were a class. If you fall into the unfortunate circumstance in which a professor has OH when you have class or some other binding commitment, check tip #3. Common problems/complaints: I don’t have any questions to ask. That’s okay, just sit there and if other people are asking questions, you can follow their example (help answer, add follow-up questions). There’s so many students; how do I stand out? I guarantee that if you go the first week and/or go consistently (as opposed to just the weeks before exams), there will be days when there are less students, and that is when you can shine. Furthermore, it says something of you if you are going all the time, even if you aren’t really standing out (at least you’re putting your face out there). I’m the only student there, and it’s so awkward! Here’s something important to remember: professors are people too! (what?!) Start with small-talk if you must — ask about how their day’s/week’s been, what they like to do for fun, their kids, etc. Feel free to share about yourself too. One of the professors I’m closest to our conversations first began with “OMG I’m about to take the MCAT, and I know nothing about bones… help! Teach me/recommend books/OMGPANIC” (in an osteoporosis class so somewhat relevant), and now we’re so close that I’ve had dinners over at his house. As someone who’s TAed before, office hours can be really boring so even if a student comes in to talk about the most inane topic in the world, which to me would be anything sportsy, it’s better than sitting around doing nothing. So don’t be scared of office hours!

3) Make appointments – Say you have a class when your prof of target (hah) has office hours. Or you want to talk about something more personal/private (maybe you’re failing a class and you don’t want others to know), or you really feel like you just can’t stand out in a crowd, or you’re just shy. Make an appointment to meet with him/her in private. Just shoot an email over with your availabilities and a general idea of what you want to talk to about. If you are just using this session to try to get closer to them, I recommend picking a topic as vague as “career advice” and then discussing whatever premed problems you might have at the meeting. This’ll not only plant a seed in your prof’s mind that you are premed, it’s also a very easy topic to discuss (throw some premeds together and surely the conversation will steer this way).

4) Before/after class – This is way harder but you can try talking to your profs before/after class. Oftentimes, students attack professors after class so you need to be just as aggressive if you want to reach them first, but most profs do set aside time after class to chat a bit with their students.

5) Maintain the relationship after the class – Chances are you will take the class with your prof before you end up asking them for an LOR. You can either ask them for a letter right after you’ve finished the class, or you can wait closer to application time to ask. I recommend the latter because this gives you more time to build your relationship; HOWEVER, bear in mind it’s harder to do this if you’re not actually regularly seeing your prof, so if you decide to go this route, you need to be ready to be aggressive again. Try to take multiple classes with your prof. Try to find other opportunities to work with your prof (in a lab, as a TA/grader). If you can’t do any of these, make use of #3 (or stalk your professor’s office hours the next quarter/semester). Even if you’re busy, you can surely find an hour or two to spare every few weeks to chat and catch up with your professor (esp. since you are investing this time into your future). I actually think it’s easier to do this because there’ll be more time between your meetings, so you can have more to catch up on/discuss.

How do I get to Know my Prof?: Lab
1) Meet up – I have to put this first because it’s the easiest but most overlooked one. It’s a fact that most PIs don’t lurk in the lab, so undergrads tend to feel isolated from their PIs and then get confused how to ask a stranger for a letter. So why not just meet up with your prof? Sure, they are busy writing grants, but you can always stop by to chat. If you need something to discuss, ask about research (duh). As an undergrad, you’re not expected to be super knowledgable about what the lab is studying, so you can even ask what you think are “dumb” questions. You can ask about other projects in the lab since you usually probably are only on one project. You can ask for more papers to read. You can discuss your “future” with them as in #3 above. You can give them progress reports on how you’ve been doing.

2) Be more than a lab slave – This is tough since it’s not really in your control but try to stand out in the lab too. If you are doing good work, you will be rewarded. I slowly climbed the “lab ladder” from a basic undergrad making solutions to going to weekly group meetings with my PI (these weren’t fun since I was often just yelled at but still!). If you can, go to journal clubs. Go to lab meetings!!! Basically, make time outside of just working in the lab to go to the same things that your PI would be going to. It’s another way of just showing your face to your PI, maybe sounding a little intelligent or striking some kind of conversation, and also showing that you care about your research (which ideally you should if you’re in that job).

3) Ask your grad student/postdoc for help – If you’ve been working in a lab long enough and if you’ve been a good little undergrad, you probably have demonstrated your worth to the grad student/postdoc you work under. You might even be friends with him/her. It’s very easy to just slip in conversation one day that you are looking to ask your PI for a letter of rec soon and that you need “help” (usually just the “Oh, noez, I need a letter…” comment will trigger the next reaction). Most grad students/postdocs will leap to helping you, be it by offering to write the letter or putting in a good word to your PI or giving you tips on how to talk to your PI.

How do I get to Know my Prof?: Misc
The general rule of the medical school game is be aggressive. Whatever that means to you, make it work.

How do I ask?
Hopefully you’ve established a good enough relationship that you already know your prof will gladly write you a letter. But the first rule is ASK EARLY!!! I asked 1-2 months in advance. Gear up with a site like Interfolio so you can store your letters (not affiliated with them but I used their service when I was applying so I know it best). Professors are busy people, and some will write numerous LORs for premeds, so you want to be at the top of that list. By the way, another advantage to getting close to your prof is that if you DO ask late, your prof will most likely move you up the queue if s/he knows you better. I had to ask one of my profs for a letter because I was worried another one wasn’t coming, and he told me that even though he had a few from students who had asked before me, he would move me up because he actually knew who I was.

Send an email to request a private meeting. You shouldn’t ask them for a LOR in the email so if they ask you what the meeting is for, give them a vague answer again (“my future~”). I know you’ve been meeting with your prof regularly, so this won’t be a problem! Next, you need to prep your LOR PACKET. What is an LOR packet? It’s all the information you can give your prof about you to assist in the letter-writing process. In my packet (which was essentially a folder) I included: a copy of my personal statement (it can be the roughest draft in the world as long as it’s not overtaken by grammar/spelling errors and says something about why you want to be a doctor), my resume, an unofficial transcript (basically I printed my grades/classes), instructions for the letter (Interfolio will give you a sheet to print out), a stamped envelope (in case your prof decides to mail in the letter but most will just upload it electronically), a post-it saying “thank you!” (or something like that) in my handwriting to give a personal touch, and a letter to the prof. The letter to the prof included things like when I wanted the letter by (this is super important — so important that I bolded it), what my relationship was like with the prof (in what context we knew each other like what classes we took together), and a bit about my college experiences. If you have anything else to include (old papers, etc.), throw them into the packet.

Do NOT forget your packet at the meeting. When you go into the meeting, you can have a typical meet-up (catch up, whatever your ritual is with your prof), and then you should shift/direct the conversation to your letter. Ask your prof if s/he would be willing to write a STRONG LOR for you to go to medical school. Keywords: willing, strong, medical school. Since your prof loves you and knows you so well, s/he will exclaim “of course!” and then probably ask you for some more information. If s/he doesn’t, this is still when you whip out your packet to hand over. Stress when you want the letter by — I would pick a date in early June so that you can be complete at most schools early, and IN CASE your prof is late, your app isn’t *severely* impacted. Thank her/him profusely.

Now what?
Wait patiently for your letter (work on other parts of your app?). If you haven’t heard in ~1 month, you should consider bugging your prof gently. If it is a few weeks prior to when you want your letter and you still haven’t heard, definitely bug your prof. You can either do that in person or via email. I’ve read a few suggestions on how to do this… some just point-blank ask where the letter is, others send an updated personal statement or updated grades, and a few on SDN have pre-emptively sent “thank you” letters.

If you are in a situation in which you really need a letter and your prof is unresponsive, you need to work with your back-ups… FAST. My friend ES and I both had to do this, and thankfully we *had* back-ups, but this is another reason why you need to plan in advance. If you don’t have a back-up, TRY your hardest to build up a relationship as best as you can with someone now (and keep bugging your prof).

And for future follow-ups: always have a personal thank-you letter + a small gift (what I suggest). You should also update your profs as to your progress (especially when you get into your first med school!), where you end up deciding on attending, etc. By now, since you’ve built such a close relationship with your prof, this should come naturally to you. :)

Why I Volunteered: Community Service Debunked

As I alluded to in my previous post on shadowing, I didn’t go the “conventional” route with volunteer. Granted, as most adcom members have said, with so many applicants these days, nothing is unconventional. However, I think my service opportunities did stand out a bit from the typical premed application (not to berate them in any way), and I’m hoping that I can maybe inspire others to take an outlook like I did.

First, why did I volunteer? The easy answer on everyone’s mind is because community service is an “unspoken requirement” on applications. I’m sure on some level this was something I was aware of, but as I hope you will see, I really ended up doing these activities because I sincerely enjoyed them. As in even if I weren’t getting some kind of “credit”, I still would’ve devoted my time. In high school I did a lot of random service opportunities just because I wanted to, such as helping out at our yearly event to expose girls to science. I never got anything signed or recorded it on my college apps because I just never thought of it in that sense — it was just something I wanted to do. In the end I have to go with the cliche answer “I wanted to help people”. At that time, I really did (and do) want more girls to explore the sciences because I am a strong believer in girl power, and I think we need to show these guys that we are just as capable doing hard sciences (right now my roommate LN is working on her senior chemical engineering design project; rock on). Everything I do, I do it because I want to. I think that’s something that anyone and everyone should take away. We have limited time; why devote it to something you don’t enjoy?

Some might argue that the point of community service or volunteering is to sacrifice yourself for others. I think this is a very strict and maybe extreme definition. You can still help others even to your own enjoyment (if anything, I believe that if you actually enjoy what you are doing, you will probably be more successful at your efforts). It might seem like I only did these activities because I got something out of it, but that’s far from the truth. It’s more of something like I did these activities because I knew I would enjoy doing them, and I would be excited and happy and passionate about helping others. If you disagree with me, you can probably stop reading now.

So what did I do? Was it enough to get me into medical school? (Spoiler: yes) Am I guaranteeing you will get in too? Unfortunately, there are no guarantees in the medical school applications process (well, maybe if you were a Nobel Prize winner…) but I think most people agree that if you do what you are passionate in, that speaks for itself.

“Assorted” activities – Without too much detail I basically did many random service activities as part of a college organization. I devoted one of the AMCAS work/activities to this “assorted” category with a more eloquent title. Why did I do these? Honestly, because it was required of me. However, I did like them. We mentored a few children in the community, and I hoped that in some way I was helping them get on the right foot for their futures. We also signed up blood donors, and as a HUGE proponent of body donation, this was something I was in full-support of.

Words Alive – I mention this a lot in my book posts. Reading is one of my biggest hobbies; it’s something I’ve done to relax and escape since I was a child. I was the nerdy girl who checked out 5+ books from the library weekly, preferred to spend her free time in the bookstore instead of in front of a TV, and lived in another world. That’s why when I found WA, I knew there was no better match for me (“reading books, changing lives” is the motto). Reading, I think, is one of the greatest gifts you can give anyone. I participated through two programs. The first was helping out at the Authors’ Luncheon, held annually as a fundraiser. This was something that I completely did on my own (not required of the volunteers) just because I thought it could be fun, and it was. My main involvement has been through the Adolescent Book Groups (ABG), in which we are paired with schools (mostly through the SD juvenile court system) with at-risk teenagers and read and discuss books with them. I cannot even describe how much I love this activity. I’ve been exposed to books in such a different way, and I’ve learned so much from the students I work with. Lindsay girls, if you are reading this, I love you! Stay strong and believe!

Monarch School – I also tutor and help out at a school for children impacted by homelessness. I’ve worked with kinders-1st graders (it’s a combined classroom). This experience has also been eye-opening for me. First, I’m impressed with how much work goes into teaching, especially of the younger group of children (I give major props to teachers). Second, the kids are just so cute. I really value this activity because especially with this population, I think the public so easily neglects or forgets about them (often even demeaning them), and it’s easy to fail with that kind of societal pressure. I hope that by helping them in their education, maybe some of them will find a way out of this cycle and pursue higher goals.

Perhaps it’s obvious by now that a common theme I’m obsessed with is changing peoples’ lives for the better. I’m not sure why this matters so much to me. Maybe it’s because I was lucky enough to have so many important people who’ve helped me get to where I am today, and I know the value of having someone around like that. So in the end, I’d say I volunteered because my life has been “saved” for the better, and I hope that I can be that influence for some of these people too someday. (also a big reason why I went into medicine)

On a completely unrelated note, here is a cute owl video! I love cute things, I love owls… and that’s about the best I can connect it to why it might be relevant. 

Enough clinical exposure?

Something I thought I was lacking going into the admissions process was clinical exposure, mainly because I know friends who have been volunteering in the hospital since high school, and I am in a school inundated by CCE interns. I did some shadowing, I was in the clinics a few times, but I won’t lie, my biggest clinical exposure and drawing force to medicine was of course my own hospitalization. Some on SDN argue that’s a cop-out, but I think if you approach it in a certain way, you can argue it’s still a valuable clinical experience (for example, I was at a teaching hospital, so I actually interacted a lot with medical students, residents, and of course attendings, and I got to see the hierarchy, rounds, interactions between staff, etc.).

I never did hospital volunteering because it simply did not interest me enough to commit my limited time toward (more on this in a future post). It’s not that I don’t like helping people; I just wanted to give my time toward an activity I knew I would enjoy (like ABG!). So that severely limited my clinical options. I wish I could’ve done CCE but I didn’t have a car (another limit — couldn’t do EMT or anything else). So I counted on shadowing and trying to get the most out of my shadowing experiences.

I shadowed only two specialties (officially) — endocrinology and cardiothoracic surgery. Unofficially, I also “witnessed”/observed primary care and of course, nephrology. I got my endocrinology stint through a club I was in, and I found my CT surgery opportunity by emailing doctors. I enjoyed every minute I spent in the clinics. As I noted several times in my interviews, it was obvious medicine was my love — I had no issues waking up at 4am three times a week to watch a 6+ hour long surgery, I skipped classes several times (when I could) to be in the hospital instead, and I came out of every experience with a huge smile on my face.

My friend C (someone I respect highly — and I am in love with his better-half T too) directed me to a shadowing “checklist”, a rough “guideline” of what kind of experiences one should hope to garner to have enough clinical exposure. Fortunately, even in my limited shadowing experiences, I passed (“you’re golden”). I guess the two fields I picked just luckily offered a lot (endocrinology: saw a lot of diabetics and therefore dealt with all kinds of issues related to preventative medicine/obesity/insurance, CT surgery: saw lots of blood among other things). Also, the surgeon I shadowed was hilarious. I didn’t accidentally follow him into the bathroom ONLY because he told me a story on the first day about how medical students used to tail him into the bathroom (so I became extra careful of watching where he was going). And since so many of the hospital staff thought I was a medical student, he sometimes pretended I was and would PIMP me in front of the others. As expected, I rarely knew the answers (in fact I usually couldn’t even follow what he was saying). The actual students (other residents) thoroughly enjoyed this (they also knew I was only an undergrad). -_-; I did get one question right once about reading an EKG (I have my excellent physiology professor to thank for that), and the surgeon was happily shocked.

How to Shadow
I’m not some pro on shadowing, but I can try my best. I think the main thing is to approach every opportunity with an open mind. Don’t see shadowing as just a time to see patients, see it as a time to witness the inner-workings of the hospital. Try to interact with the nurses, the receptionists, anyone you might run into. I learned a lot just by opening my eyes and ears. Similarly, be friendly and polite with everyone you see because opportunities are a-lurking. Quite a few medical students were willing to sit down with me and chat about school and applying between rounds, and the surgeon I was with hooked me up with other surgeons too (I didn’t end up pursuing those opportunities since my time was already limited, but I was thankful he did that).

Dress professionally on the first day (or be sure to ask how you should dress), and on the first day find out how you should dress in the future. The endocrinologist did not care what I wore. I obviously wore scrubs in the OR.

Journal. I had a pocket Moleskine with me every time. When we saw patients in endo, I obviously wasn’t whipping out my notebook, but between patients I would jot down notes about what I had seen (my early pages were filled with “what is TSH?” “Hashimoto’s something something” “Graves??” and other confused comments; eventually, I got it down). In surgery it was easier because I wasn’t allowed to touch or do anything (so I could write down what I was watching). Even if you aren’t actively recording what you see, it’s good to get home, reflect, and record what you witnessed overall. These experiences can come back to help you (maybe a story to mention in a personal statement or an interview).

Check early on what your doctor expects out of you. Some doctors don’t like it when premeds interrupt their meetings with patients, but the endocrinologist I shadowed welcomed me to ask the patient questions and talk to him/her about his/her disease. You also want to avoid running into HIPAA/privacy violations. My notes NEVER said anything about the patient’s identity beyond “patient 1 of [date]” so even if I tried, I couldn’t bring up specific details other than what I remembered about their appearances (and we all know memory is fallible).

“That’s great… but how do I find a doctor to shadow?”
1) Easiest: ask your own doctor. Once my doctors found out I was premed, they couldn’t wait to have me around (and because I’m sickly, I have so many doctors, yay!). Again, I didn’t end up taking these opportunities, although this was because most of my doctors are at home on the east coast, and I spent most of my time at school on the west coast so logistically… not possible.

2) Check your school for any “hookups”. My undergrad has several premed organizations that all offer some kind of shadowing/mentorship program. Even if it’s only for a few days in the clinic, you can set the groundwork for future opportunities. Look to see what your school has, and apply broadly for these programs.

3) Contact doctors yourself. Like most things to “put you ahead”, I’ve found that sometimes you just need to gun, be aggressive, and do things yourself. On SDN they frequently advertise calling doctors’ offices and asking if it’s possible to shadow. Fortunately, I went to an undergrad affiliated with huge medical centers, so I just emailed out a hundreds of doctors (not literally but close) in hopes of scoring a few. Most did not reply, and of those who did, many said no. But all it took was one successful hit, and I got excellent experiences out of it. Generally, I attached my resume and emailed some kind of cover letter describing my interest in their specialty, my interest in medicine, and what I was hoping to gain from my experience.

4) Other networking. Do you have friends who shadow? Do you volunteer in a hospital? Do you work in a lab? Chances are that even if you don’t know a doctor, you probably know people who know doctors (mm). So ask them if they can give you some contact information. My current PI is also a psychiatrist, and he has offered several times to allow me to come by and see his patients or to set me up with some other medical faculty. My friend ES shadowed a hand surgeon whom she met from her volunteer gig at a rehab facility.

End of the Interview Trail

It’s finally the end of the interview season for me (unless by some miracle Columbia decides to invite me). This means that I will be flooded by more rejections in my inbox in the coming weeks, but that’s okay because I already have acceptances. :) Here are some of my thoughts on how it’s been. It’ll probably be a premonition for my future “end of applying” post, which will be more comprehensive depending on how motivated I am.

General Thoughts:
1) The people you meet at medical school interviews are really cool. My friend ES and I were discussing this a few days ago. The “typical premeds” you meet in college (especially at the start of it) are… annoying, to put it lightly. They’re all pretty naive, they’re stressed all the time, they tend to have an arrogance complex, etc. Now I’m not saying I’m not like that because I’m pretty sure I also am a “typical premed” but some of the traits come out more in others. Anyway, in short it can be frustrating to be around premeds all the time (take this from someone who went to a school populated by premeds and was in a premed fraternity). Therefore I was pretty surprised to see whom I met at interviews. They were all pretty friendly (some so outgoing that even I was impressed [my friends all know that I’m pretty extroverted] but even the quiet ones had hearts of gold) but most of all, they had SO intriguing backgrounds. I met several ex-military members, a jazz singer, a security escort for celebrities (including Lindsay Lohan), a religious studies guy who randomly switched to premed after taking a cognitive science class on spirituality, several awesome athletes, some old friends from my high school days, and a professional cake decorator. It really shows you what it takes for admissions committees to decide you stand out enough to extend that interview invite.

2) The interview is just as much about (if not moreso) the schools trying to impress you. I think many of us go into the interview (especially earlier in the cycle) thinking that we need to put on our best faces and try to impress the admissions committee into accepting us. This is partially true but I also noticed that a lot of the interview session is about the school selling itself to you too. After basically every interview I went to (even the schools that I hadn’t been too impressed with on paper), I thought I had found a new top choice (they do a really good job!). Also, the interviews that I attended after I had already held one acceptance (and therefore didn’t feel as compelled to sell myself) seemed to have gone significantly better. I think this suggests that confidence is key; when I viewed my latter interviews more as me interviewing the school to see if it was a good fit, I seemed to have done better.

3) Practice doesn’t really work for me. I should’ve known this from my high school experience on debate team, Model UN, and various other speeches. I’m not very good at practicing speech… I end up sounding fake, rehearsed, and insincere. My strength has always been that I stand out in person but maybe not so much on paper. By practicing, I was losing what my key selling point was. I felt so awkward at my first interviews for which I did extensive research on the school, wrote notes on what I wanted to emphasize, and practiced and timed my answers to some questions I thought I’d get based on what I read on SDN’s Interview Feedback. I’m not surprised that I got waitlisted at those schools. When I started letting myself be me at the interviews, I did significantly better.

Lessons for Future Applicants: – DISCLAIMER: I AM NOT THE PERFECT APPLICANT SO TAKE EVERYTHING WITH A HANDFUL OF SALT!
1) Be yourself. (This should be pretty obvious but somehow, us premeds still ignore it.)

2) Have confidence. Usually the biggest cut in the applicant pool is from applying to the interview invite, so if you already got to the interview stage, the schools pretty much want you, and you’d have to do something totally awful to get rejected (from my experience). If you’re just mediocre, you’ll probably get waitlisted. So be confident, and get accepted!

3) Hopefully you are enrolled in some frequent flier programs like I suggested in a previous post. This’ll help you save a lot of money when flying to and fro. If you’re lucky in picking where you applied, you won’t be flying too much but usually people apply all over.

4) Try to lump your interviews together if possible (especially if they’ll be in the same region). This will save on costs and also prevent you from constantly bouncing back and forth between “normal life” and “interview/on-the-go life”, which to me was pretty stressful. Scheduling is key. Also, “in the area” notices for schools that allow them can be pretty useful.

5) Prep beforehand enough so that you can go in feeling confident but not so much that you sound rehearsed. For example, you should at least know about specific programs at the school that you are attracted to so you don’t sound like someone who doesn’t care about the school. You should also definitely know how to answer “why medicine” in a concise way. But you shouldn’t sound like you’re reading from a book. Be natural!

6) For girls: if you are wearing heels (which you probably are), it’s ALWAYS good to pack flats just in case. Even if you are a pro heel walker, some schools just have really nasty campuses that will be difficult to walk on in heels. I saw many girls switch in and out of flats so you won’t look weird at all.

7) Try to stay with a student host. Not only will it save you a ton of money, it’s a great way to get some insight into the school before your interview. I think part of the reason I did so well at one of my interviews was because I adored my student host, and we clicked very well and spent long conversations discussing medicine, the school, etc. This showed in my interview, probably giving the interviewers the impression that I “fit in” with the school environment but also that I cared enough about the school to be genuinely enthusiastic about it.

8) Orient yourself with the interview day as much as possible before you go so you aren’t caught unaware (for example by surprise panel interviews or the few interviews that are closed-file). Also learn where the important buildings are (like where you’re supposed to meet), and MAKE SURE you have the admissions committee’s number in case of emergencies! I was almost late to one of mine because for the life of me, I couldn’t find both the parking structure and the building I was supposed to report to, and unfortunately my smart phone was dying (hah) so I couldn’t even find a number to call for help.

5/20: A Thousand Splendid Suns by Khaled Hosseini

A Thousand Splendid Suns by Khaled Hosseini
Category: F
Rating: 5/5
Date finished: February 11, 2012

Summary: A story set in Afghanistan from its Soviet invasion to the Taliban regime to 2003ish with post-Taliban rebuilding of Kabul. The story stars two girls Mariam and Laila, separated by one generation, as they live through the harsh reality of being a woman in Afghanistan. It’s a story of friendship, family, love, and most of all, hope.

My thoughts: This is another ABG-assigned reading, probably one of the best ones I’ve read this year. We split the book up in two parts (two months/discussions), and I was the lead facilitator on the first part, so I actually started the book right after I finished Bossypants, but I stopped myself after about the halfway point so I wouldn’t get too far ahead. Then I had my discussion this past Thursday, and right after I voraciously plowed through the last half of the book.

First, the book is super fast to read. The plot is extremely depressing. I could probably write for days about the book since I had to analyze it deeper for my discussion, but I won’t. The main thing you need to know about the story is that’s it’s several cycles of hopes and disillusionment. As an optimist, this is pretty depressing and maybe inspiring seeing how many times the girls’ hopes get dashed and yet they continue to dream. The historical background was okay… it was probably one of the things I didn’t like so much about the book. I understand why it was there (to give context to the story) but a lot of it was glossed over. Some might say that’s better so that you aren’t drowning in a history lesson, but I was left feeling confused about what was actually happening, and I would’ve preferred a more in-depth explanation of what was happening in Afghanistan if Hosseini decided that’s what he wanted to do. Of course, as with The Kite Runner (which was also fantastic), the main seller of this book is the FREAKING CHARACTERS. The characterization is absolutely real and fantastically heartbreaking at the same time.

I felt so bad for Mariam throughout the entire book. She didn’t have a great childhood, she was constantly hoping and longing for love, and when she finally got it, it was too late. She had possibly the most tragic storyline I’ve read in a long time. I wanted to cry (and almost did) so many times for her. She’d occasionally have these lines about how she has nothing to offer, and it was just so sad. I connected most with Laila, however, probably because she was the younger, more “modern” Afghani girl who was raised with education. She had struggles too, though. She also had a pretty great childhood but then an awful middle-of-life in which she was damaged, physically and emotionally, something I can easily relate to, finally pulling out in the end with a good life yet still bearing the scars.

Of course, I can’t talk about the characters without bringing up Rasheed…. Without delving too much into it, I’ve had a rough past few years of learning to have relationships with men. My last relationship was awful and ruined most of my feelings toward males in general (not to mention I have a history rampant of father issues), so it’s been a thing I’ve been working on. I think I’m doing pretty well, but after reading a book like this, seeing how Afghani men treated their women, and ESPECIALLY reading about Rasheed, I almost felt like I was lapsing again. He was so evil, rude, misogynistic, violent, arrogant, conniving, suspicious, etc. I’m someone who believes that everyone is good on the inside. Even though this is fiction, I want to believe that the characters are realistic enough that you can’t have one archetype. So I tried to sympathize with Rasheed, I really did. I felt bad that he lost his first son, and I guess he eventually did learn to “love” again (albeit with a new son), but he was just so awful. The other route I went was thinking that maybe he was so awful because he felt incompetent in some way (shameful) so he tried to compensate by putting down the girls. In the end, I cannot feel any kind of empathy for Rasheed, though. (There are a few redeeming men like Tariq, Laila’s dad, and Mariam’s Mullah Faizullah [sp?] teacher. And Mariam’s dad Jalil was quite the opposite from Rasheed in that he was a very weak man.)

In our discussion someone brought up a point about how mother-daughter relationships are different from father-daughter relationships. I thought that was interesting because it somehow suggests inherent parenting styles in our gender. For example, daughters tend to take more harshly to their mothers than their fathers, and I definitely think this is true in everything I’ve seen in my life (people, books, movies/TV). Even though I never really had a “father”, the guy who functioned as my father figure for most of my life did get away with more things from me than my mom did.

On that note, I wanted to mention something that Hosseini mentioned in an interview. Many Americans, esp. right after 9/11, regarded Afghanistan in a negative light and certainly looked down on the burqa-clad women. Hosseini said that he hoped that readers of this book would learn to think about the woman behind the burqa, her struggles to endure, her story. I think that this book really accomplishes that for me. I sympathize so greatly with the two women who are just victims of customs of their country and time period.

I really appreciate this. One of the reasons I’m going into medicine is because I love peoples’ stories. I think everyone has something to share, and medicine is one of the few professions in which you can get full access to those stories through someone’s body, their words, their family. I found out when doing research for my facilitation that Hosseini actually got a medical degree (from UCSD too!). Someone asked him to compare being a doctor and a writer, and he said this, which I believe is very apt: “I have not found many similarities between my two crafts, except that in both it helps to have at least some insight into human nature. Writers and doctors alike need to understand the motivation behind the things people say and do, and their fears, their hopes and aspirations. In both professions, one needs to appreciate how socioeconomic background, family, culture, language, religion, and other factors shape a person, whether it is a patient in an exam room or a character in a story.