premed

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Bleh! I partially drafted this blog weeks ago and never got around to actually finishing it! Super bad on my part with my time organization and discipline. We’ve all been cranking out job/summer applications and now midterms are coming in hot too. All the bloggers promise to be more on point from now on out though! Follow us on Twitter! And ask us questions 🙂

One of the most common and frequent conversations you’ll hear around campus is about how fast the time flies. However, this realization is typically made in retrospect, near the end of the semester when we’re all reminiscing. The crazy-unique aspect of this semester is that me and most of the people I talk to all agree that we’re living in a fast-forward type of life; we can feel time zooming by and there’s nothing we can do about it except enjoy.

There are probably many factors contributing to the speedy sensation of my life. I felt a little jipped of my J-term (January term, winter break) because I had to study for the MCAT (Medical College Admissions Test). This isn’t to say I didn’t have an amazing break because I turned 21 and had the chance to catch up with my favorite old friends and family. Also after my MCAT test, some of my closest Harvard friends and I took a road trip to New Hampshire to relax and snowboard/ski. It was my first time in an East Coast state outside of Massachusetts and New York. It was awesome to snowboard for the first time on the east coast and I would definitely never have had this opportunity if I didn’t attend college on this coast (so for all those who are experiencing a little cold feet anxiety from moving to the frigid cold, if I can survive happily, you definitely can too!).

After one of the most relaxing weekends snowboarding in New Hampshire, my friends and I returned to school to shop (classes) until we dropped. Actually, I wasn’t planning on shopping too many classes because there are a ton of freshman premed requirements I have yet to take (oops?); yet my nonresident tutor and the OCS (Office of Career Services) premedical adviser managed to offer me contradictory advice about my class options. One adviser suggested finishing the premed requirements so I could have them on my transcript when I apply to medical school this summer, but the other adviser suggested I explore more global health classes. This led to a frenzy of class shopping and I entered into random lotteries for classes I was initially planning on enrolling in my senior year.  In the end, I chose to take 4.5 classes – the same amount I took on last semester.

The half class can be explained  by my dopamine neurobiology tutorial. My concentration is Neurobiology, which is a department which offers year-long tutorials, but credits you for a one semester class. This may sound like the worst trade off ever, but the class only meets once a week for 1.5 hours total, whereas normal classes will meet for at least 3 lecture hours a week (this excludes section and lab hours which all in all can sum up to like 9+ hours/week!!). My tutorial is about Dopamine and the concomitant disorders that come with the degeneration of dopaminergic neurons. It’s a super interesting class – we have 2 lecturers, but only one has spoken in class so far. The cool part is that our speaker will send our written assignments to the lecturer who we haven’t met yet so it’s graded with minimal bias. We had a written assignment about drugs and their effectiveness over J-term, and just to prove that Harvard isn’t ridiculously strict, my professors gave me a few days grace period because the written assignment was due the day before my MCAT. The class is awesome because the setting is a big round table discussion and the professor is one of the most knowledgeable person ever – we try stumping him about neurology/disorders every week, but still have not been successful!

This semester, most of my classes are heavily populated by freshman and my only reasoning behind that is my older friends have/will soon be graduating so I need need to be replenishing my friend pool. It was a pretty smart choice looking back 😉

LS1b – Life Sciences 1b – Genetics, Genomics, and Evolution

Word on the street is this class was terrible a few years ago. We’re talking a Q score of 1 (out of 5). Q scores refer to the Q guide which is Harvard’s version of ratemyprofessor.com. In attempts to improve, this class has been totally revamped. Last year, it was taught by the amazingly charismatic Andrew Berry and this year, as I’m taking it, there’s a great group of faculty. There’s been 2 main lecturers so far and more to come as the class progresses. Kevin Eggan kicked off the class well with his undying energy (and well-dressed behavior – he’s known in the department as best dressed!). Our second lecturer, Hopi Hoekstra, along with People like to refer to Kevin as Sexiest Genius. I’m obsessed with Hopi though. She is SUPER entertaining and puts the hard facts into a creative historical context which really motivates what you learn, making it easier to learn. I was talking to a friend the other day about one of Hopi’s lectures – I literally just felt so glad to be in that lecture hall at Harvard. My friend then teased me about high 5-ing all the freshman among me, but that’s what I wanted to do!! Her lectures are so entertaining. I can’t wait for the full rotation of faculty for this class!

This is a science course with a 3 hour section/lab component; it combines discussion section with lab, something not very common at Harvard. My favorite lab yet has to be when we swabbed our cheek cells for DNA and then analyzed it via PCR (polymerase chain reaction). My genotype says I should be a very early morning person, someone who can taste bitter, and an athletic sprinter. Some of my phenotypes would suggest otherwise…

PS 1 – Physical Sciences 1 – Chemical Bonding, Energy & Reactivity

This is the class at Harvard that mirrors Advanced Placement (AP) Chemistry from high school the most – a class which I absolutely L-O-V-E-D.  The professor is really enthusiastic and passionate about the material, but he’s also more of a theorist than a researcher – doesn’t influence the class dynamic too much, but it makes the demonstrations Hilarious (with a capital H) because he’ll forget some of the safety rules that other faculty try to grind into us. There has been fiery explosions and liquid nitrogen. Need to say, a lot of concomitant Oooo’s and Ahhh’s.

This class comes with a 1 hour discussion/problem solving section along with a 3 hour lab. Problem solving sections are weekly, but lab is kind of once every 2 weeks. Last time in lab, we set Cheetos on fire and measured the surrounding temperature change to calculate the caloric energy content of our snack sample. I’m not hating on the lab, but it would have been better if there were Cheetos to actually eat. Maybe we could have measured the energetic content by seeing how many push ups we could do after eating Cheetos? I’ll suggest it in the Q guide feedback I give at the end of the semester 😉

Both LS1b and PS 1 have “clicker questions” during lecture. Clickers look exactly like this. During lecture, a slide with a clicker question will come up and the professors will give you some time to respond with one of the multiple choice answers. Then the next slide will illustrate bar graphs of the percentage of students that answered to each corresponding multiple choice answers. Clicker questions are like mini pop quizzes during lecture; sometimes credit is awarded for accuracy and other times credit is awarded for participation (like a way of taking attendance). Whatever the point system is, it’s more of a conceptual checkpoint to make sure students are not only paying attention, but also understanding the way information is being presented. I’ve grown to really like clicker questions and they help wake me up sometimes too 😉

Spanish 90c – Representations of Racial Belonging and Difference in the Hispanic Caribbean

This class is taught by a visiting professor and it’s taken some time for me to appreciate and enjoy the class, but I can now honestly say that I like the class! The topic is super interesting and the class doesn’t emphasize memorization of history. There’s a lot of psychology and sociology involved because we’re examining racial tensions and various controversial issues so this would be my favorite aspect of the class. It’s essentially a history course taught in Spanish. My positive feelings towards this class were hesitant because there’s so much reading to be done every week! However, the silver lining is that some of the readings are in English. The flip side though is that a lot of the Spanish primary sources we read are in ancient dialects and there’s really no hope of me understanding that.

I think my turning point with regards to this course came when I was assigned an individual section – I’m talking one on one, me and my TF (teaching fellow) chilling in a lounge. There’s about 15 students taking the class and everyone can meet during this one time the professor suggested except for me because I have math lecture. Instead of finding another accommodating time for everyone, the TF just decided to personally reschedule with me! Thus, I individually meet with my TF every week for 35-45 minutes discussing the readings. Advantages: it’s less than the one hour section, I get to know my TF really well and she gets to see how well (or awful) I speak Spanish. Disadvantages: I have to do every single reading to be prepared for any of the questions she asks me (but by doing all the readings, I’m definitely getting more out of the class…and my tuition), I miss out on the comments and analysis by my peers. Considering all, I’m definitely glad these individual sections are happening because as intimidating as it may be, I don’t think I’ll ever get an experience/opportunity like it. Unless I get like a Spanish tutor later in life.

Math 19a – Modeling and Differential Equations for the Life Sciences

I really like math guys. So I’m not the best at it, but it is pretty easy for my to find myself enjoying matrices, phase planes, and the like. Mmm, I just took a moment and considered whether admitting that paralleled social suicide. Whatever, I do hate the Friday psets (problem sets) though. Definitely takes over my Thursdays, but the class is awesome. It’s a super well structured class! The professor has been teaching this class both fall and spring for a few years now and has it down to a T. However, he definitely does not do the exact things verbatim – i.e. he does different warm up problems, example problems, assigns different article readings and psets. More teachers need to follow his footsteps because it’s what keeps the class fresh and exciting for each group of students. He makes every math problem seem like magic because everything just feels so logical and reasonable, so much so that it simply cannot be real life. The class reads scientific journal articles and either analyzes the proposed mathematical model or creates one to explain natural phenomenons such as population growth, predator vs. prey, etc. Overall, an amazingly taught and supported class. It’ll be more amazing after the first midterm this Tuesday though…so much studying to do!!

The House Masters of my upperclassman house, Mather, had a deliciously welcoming spread of desserts for Junior Parents Weekend!

Can’t study too hard this weekend though because it’s Junior Parents Weekend! Parents are welcome whenever, but on one special weekend during the Spring semester, parents of third year college students are invited onto campus and a lot of events take place for them to experience what Harvard life for their child/children has been like for the past ~3 years and it’s a nice way for them to familiarize themselves with the landscape before Graduation! My parents didn’t come out from California, but my best friend and roommate is from Connecticut and her parents have basically become my East Coast parents. They definitely have taken me out to dinner on consecutive nights this weekend and always make me feel beyond welcome into their family. When I was making friends here at Harvard, I wasn’t expecting to make new families too, but I’m overly grateful that the unexpected has transpired.

 

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I made a joke over the weekend about how I couldn’t make my bed because I’m really busy as a full time student. My snide elicited pity laughter at the very least, but it got me thinking about how being a student has been my job day in and day out for the last 15 years of my life…and I’m not at all sick of it! Wouldn’t it be the best if students got pensions??

My peers and I are truly full time students – even on weekends and during vacations. When we’re not in class, we may be working to save money to invest in our education, or we may be in labs building both fundamental and advanced skills to directly apply to classes, or we may be eagerly awaiting highly intellectual conversations so we can casually bring up the coolest concept from our recent lecture. Regardless of our extra-curriculars,  we’re full time students. Personally, one of the most thrilling yet high-pressure aspects of attending Harvard is that I represent Harvard when I meet people. I feel like if people aren’t familiar with the institution, their impressions of me will either positively or negatively influence their perceptions of Harvard…scary!

Fellow blogger, Jesse, was at the event too!

My last post ended with how excited I was to attend the Harvard Club of San Diego’s Early Admit celebration. The undergraduate college has recently reinstated Early Action and a bunch of high school students are taking advantage of it! I sure wish there was Early Action when I was applying! Anyway, I was rightfully excited about the event as it was cool to finally meet people behind all the local club’s emails and also see how eager-nervous the newly admitted students are. It was a great event where newbies could ask questions to both current students and alumni, as well as have current students share with each other about their current experiences. I met and caught up with a lot of great people and had so much fun that I went to another event later that week! It was a Happy Hour get together for alum in the area and the turnout was super diverse! There were people who were in school while I was in school, but we had just never met. There were people who were the high school teacher of my current friends in college. I was essentially drooling over everyone’s cool stories. Since I was the only current student present at the event, there was a lot of interest in discussing how the university is in its current day – there wasn’t always OWAW (Optional Winter Activities Week, explained further below) or finals before winter break!

This past winter break, I dedicated a fair amount of my time studying for the Medical College Admission Test (MCAT) – basically a standardized test that all students who want to pursue medical school must take. When I originally tried registering for the test, there were no open spots in Boston or California for the January dates, so I figured I’d have to take the test after Spring Break, which definitely wouldn’t have been an ideal situation. Yet, the MCAT decided to give me an early birthday present this past December, meaning when I checked the MCAT registration site again, there were open testing spots at a test site just 3 miles away from my dorm room! Winter break was the only time I spent preparing for the test, although I’ve technically been preparing my whole life while taking all these classes and whatnot. I’m not an advocate of spending tons of money to prepare for standardized tests – this includes SATs, ACTs, AP tests, etc. as well. My plan of attack included reading some review books and practicing questions. Yet there’s something about being home that makes me extremely lazy and unproductive. The comforts of home is definitely not conducive to productivity, but it was especially nice for my parents to see me study hard so they know I’m actually working hard at school across the country.

Harvard has this week called OWAW (Optional Winter Activities Week, pronounced “Oh, wow!”) which is the week right before the spring semester starts. Students are allowed to return to campus early with most meals provided. Although I didn’t participate in any of the planned activities, I was able to utilize my quiet room and the Harvard libraries to catalyze my MCAT studies. T-day (test day) finally came and my nerves were way worse than the test!! I’ve never been so freaking nervous. Hopefully, when the scores come out in a month, I’ll be pleasantly surprised 🙂

Being a premedical student at Harvard is … interesting to say the least. I feel like there are pros and cons with this decision at every university, but the extremes of these factors are dramatically emphasized alongside the brand of Harvard. I think I feel a lot more pressure to attend a top medical school and be successful due to the fact that my bachelors degree comes from Harvard; yet I sometimes rationalize this concomitant, heightened pressure with the fact that I am so lucky to have tons of resources at my fingertips – this goes from amazing faculty and graduate students, as well as friendly and knowledgeable advisers! There’s also this (mis?)conception that Harvard students are more intense – we stab each other in the back and are just obnoxiously competitive. I can’t say that all of the above isn’t true, but I really, truly, deeply don’t think that we’re evil. Whenever I seek advice about a class or need help understanding a concept, my friends are always willing to sit down with me, even when I’m impatient, rude, and using a mean voice! We’re a community, and a community that I’m proud and happy to be a part of!

As junior spring begins (snowy!), I have the majority of my requirements finished. The weird thing is I haven’t taken a lot of intro classes like genetics and physical science, so I’m creepily excited to make a lot of freshman friends this semester. Let’s just hope that I’m not being presumptuous by assuming that freshmen want to be my friend in the first place…

My next post will be a list of the classes I’ll be taking this spring. I’m currently driving myself crazy because enrolling in 6 classes currently seems both a possible and desirable option…

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Junior year of college has been all about future planning. It’s been pretty hard for me to live junior year in the present.

 

Freshman year, you have the total right and responsibility to be a wide-eyed, deer-in-headlights type of student who explores classes, student organizations, perhaps even jobs and (dorm) entryways, and maybe even persuade some initially unwilling strangers to be your new best friend.

Sophomore year, you have a better handle on campus life as you really begin leaving your mark – you’ve narrowed your potential concentrations (majors), acclimated to the hectic schedule, reached an ideal (burping) comfort level among your friends, and not only have grown accustom to but also miss your school routine and campus duties while you’re away. You’re no longer lost around campus – or at least have the online and peer resources to reach out to when in need. You have your head on a little straighter and the whole small fish in a big pond feeling is (hopefully!) fading away.

I don’t really have a generic (cheesy? overly expected?) summary of junior year (yet!), but I do feel like I’ve definitely spent a larger amount of my time thinking about senior year and beyond. Maybe it’s because half of my (older) friends have graduated, entering graduate school or the real (scary) world of jobs, and by keeping in touch with them and listening to their current priorities, there’s a strong influence for me to put myself in their shoes and project what my concerns will be like in a few years. Or maybe my futuristic mindset stems from how the summer of 2012 (shadowing at a clinic in Peru through DRCLAS – David Rockefeller Center for Latin American Studies) has catalyzed both my desire and certainty to pursue medical school.

Thinking about medical school, for me, is super intimidating. As I follow the steps to try and set myself up for a bright future in medical school and beyond, I feel like I’m walking through the darkest haunted hallway where I’m scared of everything whether I should be or not.

I was pretty hesitant to prance along and identify myself as a premed student. And if I were being completely honest, I’d have to admit that I sometimes revert back to that annoying hesitation. Especially right now during winter break (J-term, January term) as I study for the MCAT (Medical College Admission Test). I sit here staring at the mitosis chapter wondering what other careers that could possibly interest me even the slightest. Brainstorming to no avail, I continue on with my cell division review.

Thankfully, tons of my worries and questions regarding medical school and its application process has been addressed by multiple premed tutors (advisers) – some of them even live like 21 stair steps from me! After freshman year, students are assigned to an upperclassman house for their remaining time as an undergraduate. Each upperclassman house has both resident and non-resident tutors specializing in popular career areas (i.e. medicine, business, law, etc.). The best part is that these tutors advise from not books and movies, but rather from their personal experiences. For example, pretty much all the premed tutors are students at Harvard Medical School so I often feel like I’m in the best hands. Yet this doesn’t mean that it completely prevents my hands from trembling when I think about the future!

Perhaps my world has a little blast-to-the-future flavor because I fast-forwarded my life a year or two. Initially, I planned on taking at least one gap year between undergrad and med school so I could live out the whole young-adult-seeks-identity chapter of my life. However, as any great outline thrives on a little flexibility, I found myself editing that chapter out after this past summer. Thus, I began my junior year moving forward with plans to apply to medical school straight through which means thinking about serious things like the MCAT! Eeeek! T minus 11 days. Oh man, I definitely should not have just counted the days. The looming of this test has been such a heavy weight on my shoulders, but with my studying and practice, I hope to train so that it’ll soon dissolve!!! Just think in 11 and a half days, I can breathe effortlessly again, that is if I’m not crying from the cruelties of the test.

So as I sit at home with my nose in a review book, my friends are traveling the world, tanning, and catching up on some quality television. Just kidding…well kind of kidding; I’ve made some time to live a little too:

Today, the Harvard Club on San Diego is hosting a celebratory dim sum brunch for the early admits in the area. I’m crazy excited…and not just for the free food. Ever since the spring of 2010, I swear the Club has only held events when I’m out of town!! So this will be my first time meeting some locals. More about this brunch soon! I’ll check back in once the spring semester starts 🙂

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 “Summer internship” is a loaded phrase; its contrasting connotations blend splendidly together – especially under the umbrella of the David Rockefeller Center for Latin American Studies (DRCLAS) organization.

As mentioned in my previous blogs, I’m participating in the DRCLAS Summer Internship Program (SIP) for the majority of my jam-packed summer. The first week oriented the 13 participating students in Peruvian history, culture, and safety which essentially tried to eradicate our touristy characteristics (i.e. taking group photos in front of ALL churro stands) – whether or not these efforts were futile is still vehemently debated to this day. Orientation week ended with a cocktail mixer with our bosses.

Program student participants, coordinators & partners!

The program felt surreal up until the moments we awaited for our bosses to arrive. Most of us, at this point, never had personal contact with our bosses and had no idea what we would be doing for the next 7 weeks. A Peruvian company name was enough for us to purchase a round trip ticket without hesitation! The anxiety concomitant with jet-setting to a foreign country without complete job security rose and climaxed when we realized conversation icebreakers had to be in Spanish. Avoiding awkwardness in English is already almost impossible for me as it is, so I patiently awaited my boss as I perused my arsenal of knowledge, mentally recounting Spanish books and movies from class so I could quickly relate to them if the conversation lulled.

Thank goodness Melvin, my Peruvian boss, is suave enough for the both of us. We discussed the logistics behind shadowing at the clinic, ceviche, chocolate,  and before I knew it, the program coordinators declared a final toast so that no one had to travel home during an obscure hour.

My excitement about my shadowing internship carried over for days! Melvin and I had made plans for me to start my internship early in order to meet the majority of the doctors at the clinic as well as get my uniform customized. He said I would have full reins to observe whatever I wanted in the clinic and he has definitely kept his word to this day.

On my first day at the clinic, I was ushered into the operating room of a brain surgery!!!!! Yes, all these exclamation points are necessary.

Me in the middle of a surgeon sandwich!

I’ve seen human brains before – at science camp (and on Grey’s Anatomy!) – but they’ve never been attached to a beating heart.

The patient was a teenage boy and it would be his 4th brain surgery within the year. He had an aggressive brain tumor and an aggressive team of talented doctors to match. As I loomed over the shoulder of the neurosurgeon and watched as the patient’s head was shaved, a lot of conflicting emotions erupted from the core of my stomach.

A patch of the patient’s skull was meticulously drilled out of his head almost as quickly as I could imagine future-surgeon-Jeanie with the drill in my hand. Yet I wanted to run out through the automatic sliding glass doors to the beat of the patient’s heart. Although I can physically see myself running the scenes of an operating room, I feel like I have to become emotionally cold to cope with the emotional trauma of the patients! (Did I mention I cry during every Grey’s Anatomy episode? Because I don’t….)

Before this shadowing internship, I thought shadowing was a stupid waste of precious time because I’m more of a hands-on person. However, all the Mather (my upperclassman House/dorm) premed tutors/advisers strongly recommended shadowing. Since it was difficult for me to find time during this past academic year, I was beyond elated to not only receive the opportunity to shadow and simultaneously practice Spanish, but also acquire generous funding through the Office of Career Services (OCS) [see “International Internships and Funding” in the hyperlink].

I never thought I would stand inside an operating room in action before the third year of medical school. The fact that I’ve already had this experience as a rising undergraduate junior blatantly demonstrates how Harvard and its resources effectively provide a catalyst to jumpstart as well as support students on their career paths. Reid, in her more recent blogs, mentions how grateful she is to be studying abroad in the country known for love and food. I couldn’t agree with her more.

I’ve done a lot of traveling this summer and still have tons of traveling ahead of me. When my summer official ends on September 4th (the first day of class of the fall semester), I’ll have my personal record of travel mileage. Every plane, bus and train that I board is made possible by Harvard, its opportunities and resources, as well as the strong support of my family and friends. Have I mentioned that I love life enough? And I haven’t even begun to rave about the “summer” half of “summer internship” …

Peruvian tradition calls for the birthday person to bite the cake before cutting it.

DRCLAS’s official calendar has students working/going to class Monday-Thursday with organized activities on Fridays and free weekends. Please note that students may be called in to work on any day! The flip side applies too – meaning that spontaneous holidays have happened. For example, the second Thursday of the program was a participant’s birthday! The main program coordinator was gracious enough to invite all the students over to her house to celebrate with pizza and CAKE! It was really great to reunite with the other students because we saw each other every day during orientation week, but when work and school started, we hadn’t seen each other for days! Hearing about everyone’s internship over a slice (or multiple slices!) of delicious birthday cake was the ideal way to wind down the first “business week.”

On the second Friday of the program, DRCLAS organized a tour through Paracas and Ica. In Paracas, we boarded a boat headed to the Ballestas Islands.

The caves and rock formations were carved by sea, wind, and weather!

 

On our way to the islands, we got a great view of “The Chandelier” hieroglyphic

This steep hillside encryption can only be seen on boat. Its origin and function remain as mysteries!

as well as a wide range of animal species including sea wolves and Humboldt penguins! Back on the mainland, we toured a winery. Although you might expect a bunch of college students to get excited about free wine samples, we were all just really eager for lunch! One of the more difficult adjustments to Peruvian life is the late lunchtime! We hadn’t really eaten since breakfast at 5am and it was about 3pm which directly translates into a bunch of winey kids (if you catch my drift 🙂 !)

I’m so glad they captured my good side while sandboarding…

After lunch, most of us spent the best $8 of our lives. Literally right next to the lunch restaurant were miles and miles of seemingly endless Huacachina sand dunes where we sandboarded down steep, STEEP slopes!

Just a few hours ago, we were on a boat!

Once in a lifetime #fairytalelife

 

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The first day of Spring was yesterday which clearly means I was thinking panicking about summer. I’m still waiting on a handful of decisions from summer opportunities – whether that’s interning in Cambridge, San Diego or abroad. Without peace of mind, I can’t help but stretch myself a little thin and continue applying to more jobs, but this task gets difficult every time I’m reminded that I’m also a student taking classes. I guess the majority of my anxiety stems from what happened last summer.

Here’s a reflection blog I wrote a few months ago that I never posted – think of it as vintage!

                Paid internship, international travel, and pinnacle life revelations – those are the three elements every Harvard student needs to incorporate into their summer plans. It can’t be that difficult to execute if you budget one per month, right?

                This is what it can start to feel like in the high-achieving Harvard environment. Yet, I’m not so sure if I achieved any of the above during my first summer as a Harvard student. Then why do I feel so accomplished, fulfilled, and refreshed? Probably because I spent the summer my way and since I’m a Harvard student, then it’s also the Harvard way. As infallible as my deductive reasoning skills can be, this connection originated after much internal struggle and I’m honestly still in the progress of genuinely accepting that my nontraditional summer was indeed a meaningful one, filled with memories and experiences I’m excited to catalyze my future with.

                I ended my freshman year the same way I began it – scrubbing stainless steel showers in the entryways of (the freshman dorm) Wigglesworth as the university’s Dorm Crew employee (take my continued involvement as a STRONG encouragement to look into pre-orientation programs!). After a long week of dust bunnies and a six hour flight to sunny San Diego, my body was reunited with my memory foam mattress just like how your favorite pair of jeans flatteringly curves along your muscular legs. But just like how your favorite jeans grow raggedy, my body grew tired of lying in bed all day.

                I booked a one way flight home without any jobs, internships or projects lined up. I dropped all my plans of researching in Cambridge and servicing rural communities in Bolivia when my grandmother’s leukemia dramatically worsened. All I had wanted at the beginning of summer was to spend time with her and although that was exactly what I was doing, I started to feel inadequate and embarrassed when my Facebook newsfeed flooded with updates regarding consulting job offers and international adventures. It came down to either: A) assisting my grandmother while sending out invitations for my self-pity party; or B) pursuing my interests in science and ultimately creating a productive summer which would direct me down a less hazy career path. As my jaw hung low and I mentally projected the most negative portrayal of what my future could be, I remembered I could have both. If I could ever impose any sense of wisdom on the world, it would be to take advantage of every opportunity when you don’t have to divide and conquer, simply because you can just conquer it all!

                I began to pioneer a more active role in my grandmother’s health. I researched everything from the molecular background of leukemia to folkloric rituals that reported mysterious health benefits. I attended her bi-daily doctor appointments which not only catapulted my Vietnamese fluency, but also my medical vocabulary – so much so that I felt comfortable enough to email oncologists at local hospitals and universities. These contacts led to shadowing opportunities as well as prominent roles in their clinical research work. I wasn’t receiving monetary compensation, but my exposure and experiences serve as invaluable resources in my arsenal of knowledge. I can’t imagine my previous summer plans igniting my passions of pursuing the medical career path as much as my unplanned summer did. I also never imagined enjoying Vietnamese soap operas or the craft of crochet as much as my grandma does, but that’s what an unplanned summer can do for you if you’re willing to embrace the unknown.

Going back and rereading my thoughts definitely comforted me! (Diaries are not only for elementary girls!) At the moment, my short term goals are stay focus & positive and enjoy the Spring! Cambridge is bringing in gorgeous weather – take that SoCal rain.

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During this week, the majority of Harvard students are on Spring Break; but I’m a rebel so I’m on Alternative Spring Break (ASB).

Making it big on the front cover

The Phillips Brooks House Association (PBHA) sponsors a handful of trips during Spring Break that offer a harmonious combination of F U N and productivity. As a freshman last year, I participated in the New York City (NYC) trip and a week with upperclassmen premedical students visiting medical schools was enough to catalyze my decision to pursue the medical path. Last year’s Spring Break was so meaningful to me that I was quite determined to return as a director of the trip. I’ve spent a large portion of my sophomore year co-directing and organizing the trip which makes this Spring Break extremely rewarding.

Although the week is only half over, I feel like we’ve accomplished so much! Ten other premedical students and I have been conquering NYC by storm – volunteering with nonprofit organizations and visiting medical schools.

We’re working with God’s Love We Deliver (GLWD), an altruistic organization that preps and delivers love-infused, nutritious meals to the ill around the New York (and New Jersey!) area. Approximately 4,200 meals go out everyday which constantly shocks the whole group because the organization is able to accomplish their lofty goals with such limited volunteers! We’ve already volunteered with multiple aspects of their organization, whether that’s in the kitchen, delivering food, or handling paperwork. Their friendly and benevolent staff definitely foster a great atmosphere to work in!

Sanitation first!

The other volunteers are always interesting to interact with since GLWD has a relatively smaller reputation so most of their volunteers have a personal connection with the organization. Today was a special day at GLWD, however, that sparked our New York City celebrity streak! We got to meet the humble Jamar Rogers, a contestant on NBC’s hit show The Voice, who was so kind and happy to return to his GLWD community.

Star struck squared (#alliterationwin)

Speaking of celebrities, in the midst of one of our GLWD shifts, we received word that Jeremy Lin was eating lunch right down the street! In a frenzied teenage girl panic, I raced to the restaurant to stare at the back of his head as he ate lunch and managed to snap:

Everyone on this trip is so thankful that GLWD allowed us to help out, even if it’s just for the week! We’ve learned and realized so much through volunteering at this organization. Typically premedical students are focused on immersing themselves in a hospital environment to expose ourselves to the environment we strive to succeed in. Yet, working at GLWD proved to be a refreshing experience as it enlightened us with a refined definition of health – letting us perceive it from a unique perspective. Most of us crave medical school with the end goal that we’ll be able to provide a better lifestyle through personal interactions with our patients. GLWD is exactly this, but in the context of the kitchen rather than the resplendent luminance of a hospital. Concomitant to this realization comes a stirring sense of excitement for our academic future!

Our futures have become more tangible through connections with recent Harvard alumni who have generously offered to give us tours of their respective NYC medical schools.

Two Harvard College alumni met us on Madison Avenue for an informal tour and Q&A of Mt. Sinai Medical School. Although we were initially disappointed that Admission Officers respectfully declined our request for an official meeting, it was a great advantage, in retrospect, to have Harvard alumni show us around and speak in Harvard acronyms like “proctor” (resident adviser) and “section” (small group discussion sections outside of lecture) as well as tell us what they specifically did in their undergraduates years that they found most helpful/applicable in graduate school.

The Annenberg of Mt. Sinai (not limited to freshman nor a cafeteria!)

Both previous Harvard College students seemed genuinely happy in the midst of their second year of medical school – an attribute us undergraduates didn’t expect with negative misconceptions of the rigors of graduate school!

Two more generous Harvard College alumni and current Columbia Medical School first years met us to show us around the campus. It was a top-down tour as we started on the roof and they swept us away with a breathtaking skyline of New York City.

The roof of Columbia Medical School's Bard Building

The theme of the day was how great the Pass/Fail system is because the first 1.5 years of Columbia Med follow this more relaxed system. The students loved how this grading style developed a community between the ~160 students of a class to the point where wonderfully organized, color-coded study guides were freely emailed out to share! It also gave students time to frolic outside the library to enjoy the nearby Times Square, performing in theatre, or watching free symphony style shows on “Musical Mondays.” Needless to say, we’re all determined to bring this laid back grading style to Harvard College!

I personally believe that the gloomy hesitation looming around committing to medical school stems from the negative connotations of studying in a competitive, cut-throat environment. I’m confident enough to speak on behalf of the group, however, and say that we were deeply comforted in the fact that these medical students had happy and balanced lives; continued reassurance was also provided by the fact that all our tour guides so far were also Harvard College undergraduates because this made it easier for us to picture ourselves in their shoes and being happy in medical school.

 

Major themes: Harvard Alumni & Celebrities (not mutually exclusive)

Snaps to Academic clarity & Spring weather!!

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Although I have yet to begin my final exams, I’ve finished the first semester as of two hours ago! Now I can dig into studying, Christmas music, and second-semester planning. Before I do that, though, there’s some reflection of the first semester that needs to happen, focusing mainly on what I’ve learned so far in my 3 months at Harvard! Check out my list below to see just what Freshman Fall has taught me, in no particular order.

 

1. Dorm Crew is a great pre-orientation program, but not for reasons you may think.

Cleaning bathrooms is not everyone’s top priority. However, Fall Clean Up (FCU or Dorm Crew pre-orientation) includes very little bathroom cleaning! The majority of my time was spent mopping and sweeping Leverett Towers, alongside my eight other d.crew members, from 9-5 every day. This is, by no means, ‘fun.’ What is fun is making friends, impressing other freshmen with your knowledge about campus, making money instead of paying money, and getting an upper-body workout. Having upwards of $400 dollars in my pocket before I even started school gave me a little bit of a cushion as I set out in the World of Harvard, to which I was accustomed due to the extra week on campus. Also, all dorm crew groups have a secret “theme” that you’re supposed to figure out by the end of the week. Ours was pretty obvious; all of us were going to live in Canaday! Now, I have friends in different entryways (as well as in mine) which really helps to foster dorm spirit; I also have an automatic (and lucrative) on-campus job which took care of some of my financial aid. Moral: Dorm Crew is GREAT, and you make a small group of good friends right off the bat!

 

2. Rent, don’t buy, Textbooks!

After researching the prices of my Chemistry, Biology, and Psychology textbooks, I wanted to either rob a bank or drop those classes. Instead, I discovered some great book-renting sites, such as e-campus and Chegg, whose rental prices prevented me from performing criminal acts in the name of Academia. I ended up paying a third as much as if I’d bought the books, and they were brand-new! (One of them even came with a Schick Razor, which was really weird but useful, I guess…hey, it was free!) Anyways, search around, because the Coop (pronounced ‘coop,’ not ‘co-op’) is MAD expensive, and there are a ton of online options that will save you precious dinero!

 

3. Talk with your deans, advisors (PAFs included), and proctor!

Harvard has a lot of great resources on campus. Unfortunately, they’re not readily-accessible unless you know where to search; it’s very different from high school where everyone is proactive for you, instead of you representing yourself. I found this out the hard way, which caused more than a few points to be knocked off one of my course’s final grade. You have a Peer Advising Fellow, who is a totally Harvard-savvy upperclassman to whom you can ask questions you’d rather not ask your Advisor. Go to them first! They have a big budget to take you out to coffee, which is always high on my list. Your advisor is the next up, and normally they’ve majored in a subject that you’re interested in. (If you’re considering pre-med, there are even advisors for that!) They can help you plan your schedule, work out problems with roommates (luckily, I have had none of those because my roommates are THE BEST), and decide on a plan of action if anything goes awry. However, you need to be very proactive about your problems; if there are even just the faintest sensations of difficulties, meet with your advisor! It takes only a few minutes and can save you a lot of stress in the future. Finally, if things get a little whacky, your Resident Dean is there for you; their job is to help you (along with lots of other stuff), so don’t worry about meeting with them. Also, lots of people have a hard time with courses their freshman fall (and beyond), so there’s no need to freak out if you feel like an idiot. (Because, really, you’re not.)

 

4. Never go to Annenberg at 6:30.

There is a slight problem with Annenberg’s hours: they are really short and really early. Annenberg opens at 4:45 (or something) and closes at 7:15, so everyone ends up going around 6:30, which means you’ll have difficulty finding a seat, getting food, and hearing the person across from you. (Exaggeration. But not really.) You don’t need a tray, either! Freshman fifteen probably exists, and if so, I have found the cure: go trayless. There are a million choices of food and lots of fun containers, which can be tempting, but with one plate of healthy food and a glass of whatever, you’re set! (Just make sure you’re eating properly…I am not a nutritionist, but there are a lot of them at Health Services.)

 

5. Comp the Crimson…if you’re Crazy

Okay so that might have sounded bad. But The Crimson is amazing, and everyone there is a little bit crazier than other Harvard students, which is a good thing. Especially crazy boards to comp (comping is the first step to becoming an editor, where you get to write articles or take photo/video) are FM, photo/video, and Arts. You get to hang out in the crazy basement after having waited crazy hours to get let into the crazy Crimson (no swipe access=long nights), go to crazy formals, cover crazy events, and sprint around like a crazy person while you should really be doing something else! (Post Scriptum: Other boards are also crazy, if you’re interested in crazy economics or crazy no-shave november hockey players, or like sharing your crazy opinions.)

 

6. Get a Mac!

No, not because you miss Steve Jobs. Harvard IT has HUGE deals on Macs, and you really need a fast computer while you’re here. Also, you get a free printer, $100 dollar iTunes Store Giftcard (or whatever Apple decides to do next season), and a great warranty. Go Apple!

 

7. Icing Shots are Disgusting, but Sweet is Great.

Sweet is this incredible cupcake store that makes the best cupcakes in the world, and also the most horrendous invention in the world. They sell these big trays of teeny cups full of icing. Blegh. If you don’t like frosting, don’t ever eat it.

7.b) Good food places include Flat Patties (get the grilled cheese), Crema Cafe (they have legit wraps), Burdick’s (deliciously expensive hot chocolate), Starbuck’s (…sorry…), and Cardullo’s (they have EVERYTHING YOU COULD EVER DESIRE IN YOUR ENTIRE LIFE.)

 

8. PSYCHOLOGY (SLS-20)

If you take this course, you will maybe regret it. You will come away from it knowing too much about how your mind works (joke), potentially much more wealthy/exhausted (psych studies pay 15 or 10 dollars an hour!), and a weakened sense of self-esteem (everyone, except for those terrible smart people, perform poorly on the exams…they’re multiple-choice deathtraps). So…take it, or don’t. Your choice! (Or is it?)

 

9. You learn so much….

TOO MANY THINGS IN MY MIND TO FINISH MY SENTENCE BECAUSE*

 

That’s all, folks!

 

Happy 2nd Day of December! © S. Reid

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

*this is college, where you learn things. but this is also harvard, where you learn more!

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This is my last week of class! I can’t believe it, and although I’m really excited for what comes next I’m also sad to be leaving. Hopefully, those of you coming to Harvard College next year (class of 2015!!!) will find these series of posts useful if you are considering medical school, graduate school, or a combination.

When I arrived in Harvard Yard four years ago, I thought medicine and science were pretty cool. Like many of you, I had volunteered in a hospital in high school, and I felt at home there (I also didn’t faint when observing surgeries and enjoyed watching my blood get drawn as a child, strange as that sounds). I had the opportunity to work in a biophysics lab at the end of high school, and was excited to join a lab in the MCB Department when I got to Harvard (which meant I didn’t have to ride the M2 shuttle back and forth between my dorm and Longwood like many of my friends!) And yes, I had taken some AP science classes in high school, but my freshman fall I didn’t even know what an MD/PhD was (you can get both degrees? And the NIH pays you?!)

I took Life Sciences 1a and 1b–like many of you will, edited lots of drafts in Expos, and spent quality time in Lamont Library (open 24 hours!) Yet probably the two most formative experiences were getting to know my lab and being matched with my physician mentor. From my PI and the postdoctoral fellow who mentored me (for all four years!) I learned not only about PCR and how to run a gel, but slowly but surely, how to design experiments and think like a scientist. Along the way, I tried to figure out how to balance classes, extracurriculars, lab, and the rest of my life. My first summer, I was able to participate in PRISE—the Program for Research in Science and Engineering — along with a community of like-minded undergraduates, which you can read about here on the blog I wrote for the Office of Career Services. Looking back, I made some of my closest friends that summer, and many will be continuing on with me to medical school or graduate school. My physician mentor was incredible, and took the time to take me on rounds at the NICU and teach me about data collection and clinical research and what it means to be a physician. Spending time in the hospital with him strengthened my desire to go into pediatrics and learn more about how humans develop and how we get diseases when things go wrong. Little by little, I realized I wanted to pursue an MD/PhD, and I started looking into how I might spend the next eight or so years of my life.

To be continued!

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