10 tips for pre-meds at Stanford
I figured I might as well start with my home ground. I have to say this upfront: I AM BIASED. I’m basing all this on my own experience and that of other pre-meds I knew–so what can you expect? But trust us a bit, we all went through the stuff that you’re going to go or have already gone through, so it’s not like I’m on this soapbox alone (at least, not entirely). Also, while I did just graduate in 2009, some of what I’m basing this list on could easily have changed, so take it with a grain of salt and check me, alright? Cool. I present to you 10 (fairly) simple guidelines for succeeding as a pre-med at Stanford:
1 – You can take your time deciding. EVERY Stanford freshman class is chock-full of premeds. Seriously. It’s kind of ridiculous–if my memory serves, 70%+ of the people in my class came in expressing at least some interest in pre-med, which is nuts. How many stuck with it? I’m not entirely sure, but I believe ~20% of the class graduated having fulfilled pre-med requirements. A pretty huge drop, huh? And you can bet a bunch of people who graduated pre-med didn’t start that way, so who cares if you came in with no interest in becoming a doctor? Granted, it’s something of an advantage to know earlier simply for planning purposes, so for those of you who came in as die-hard pre-meds…congrats? But for those of you who didn’t, big whoop. ^_^
2 – Hum Bio vs. Bio major. this is a huge debate, but I’ll try to break it down as simple as possible…
- who does it: people who like the “fuzzy” aspects of science–i.e. really like learning about social issues of science
- declaring: a mountain of paperwork justifying every elective choice you make
- core: 10. freaking. units. per. quarter. At the most popular timeslots of the day. Do you have any idea how annoying it is to schedule stuff around that?
- electives: pretty cool, admittedly. I took a class where I never attended lecture, hw took ~15 min/week, and I crammed for the final in one night. Grade? A-. Oh, and did I mention it took care of two GERs?
- flexibility/speed: what other major at Stanford requires paperwork just to change what electives you’re planning on taking? I feel like Hum Bio people were always complaining about their scheduling issues.
- exemplifying moment: a Hum Bio friend was telling me about how she spent a lecture learned all about the sickle-cell mutation, its rates, its underlying reason for continuously existing, etc. I told her that we learned about it in the bio core too. But in like, 5 minutes, without looking at any of the social impact.
- who does it: people who just want to learn the facts, straight-up
- declaring: 1 sheet of paper if you don’t do a track; 2 if you do
- core: 5 units per quarter. I was starting on my elective units by spring quarter sophomore year.
- electives: also pretty cool–especially once you reach out to some of the ones in the medical school
- flexibility/speed: if you don’t do a track, awesome. I mean, come on, it’s only 24 units of electives, you could find a way to finish all that in 2 quarters if you were really so inclined.
- exemplifying moment: realizing that my departmental graduation ceremony ended approximately 2000 hours before the humbio one because we had fewer people. So, literally in the end, we were the ones who didn’t have to spend as much time baking in the hot summer sun. *smug smile*
I admit it: I hate writing papers, I don’t really care that much about the social aspects of science when, quite frankly, you’re bombarded with it in med school anyways, and I despise useless paperwork. Go with bio–I guarantee it will give you less headache. Wanna know something? No one in any med school admissions committee cares what your major is. I have French majors in my class. Professional pianists. People who majored in nothing remotely related to science. And yet, they’re in med school. Shocking? Shouldn’t be. Keep it simple and go with whatever major best suits your needs, because it really doesn’t matter what it is. IMHO, for the Stanford pre-med, it happens to be bio.
3 – Use pass/fail to your advantage. Figure out how many units and what classes you can take pass/fail and play to your strengths. You don’t have to take every pre-med class for a letter grade, and if you’re smart? You won’t. *Most* admissions committees are NOT going to look carefully and care if you took orgo lab pass/fail, so if you know hammering out Chem 36/130 lab reports isn’t going to be your forte, take the “P” on your transcript and just enjoy the reduced stress. This can apply to other classes too. Use the extra time you gain to get some extra research work done, play ping-pong, sleep, or put in some extra studying to make sure you get that A in a class you know you can rock. As long as the fair majority of your transcript is letter grades, you’re set.
4 – Don’t try to graduate early (unless you have pressing financial motivation). Trust me. After graduating everyone looks back on the golden days of Stanford and if you have any sense of sanity you will wonder why on earth anyone would want to shorten their time in the haven that is the Farm. *wistful smile*
5 – Don’t take classes based (too much) on subject matter you’re going to be learning in med school anyways. You know the ones I’m talking about. Surgery 101. Bio 112/212. Stuff along those lines. People often justify these choices by saying, “Oh, but it’ll be good because once I get into med school the stuff will be like review!” Those people are idiots. I know pre-meds aren’t banking geniuses, but really–why on earth would you pay the insane tuition to take the same subject matter twice? That’s such a waste, you might as well have just applied to med school in another country straight out of high school and saved yourself the time/money/effort. Look–just do your pre-med & major requirements, and then spend the rest of your time exploring other classes! Stanford has an unbeatable array of coursework, so take advantage! Consider a minor in something completely unrelated to bio/chem/humbio. Kick back with some swing in Richard Powers’ social dance classes. If you plan to practice in the U.S., spruce up your medical Spanish. Try Drama 103 and show off that sense of humor with some improv. Or maybe a kickboxing/tennis/fencing/etc. class at Arrillaga? Feeling the wanderlust? Go abroad for a quarter! (or two!) Can’t make that commitment? How about a Bing Overseas Seminar? My point is this: learn to value classes that teach you new skills and/or new ways of thinking about problems, because ultimately, that’s what going to make you stand out as a physician–how you tackle problems. Think Patch Adams.
6 – If you’re going to work, find a job you love doing. If the calling center “calls to you”, great. If it’s dorm staff that floats your boat, make sure you can handle 3AM fire alarms, drunks, and stupid drama with a smile on your face.If you’re going to do research, do it because you’re genuinely interested–not because you want to be the so-called “model applicant”. My buddy David and I spent a good deal of time recruiting/interviewing for our lab back at Stanford, and the people who really stood out did so because of their earnest desire to join and learn, not just gain another line on their resume. Anyone who went through high school has at least some ability to detect BS, and at a place like Stanford, expect those sensors to be extra sharp, at least if you’re planning on joining the Nadeau lab. Now, that said, consider doing your research in the med school. You’d be engaging in clinically relevant work at a leading medical institution, and potentially even get to interact with the patients you work with, which is a huge plus for experience. Also–let’s be real, the rate of publication in a clinical lab can often dominate a basic science lab–although they’re in journals with lower impact factors, your name on any paper is still a pretty sweet reward for the work you put in, AND it looks good to admissions committees.
7 – Find a good great spectacular advisor/mentor. I can’t stress how incredibly important this is–it can literally make or break you, particularly when it comes to strong recommendations. If your advisor is not working out for you, give some heavy thought to switching. This is YOUR 4 years, and you have the right to be happy with the person overseeing your work. If that means politely changing labs or major advisors, so be it. But do it with class. With grace. With gratitude, because no matter what, your old mentor did spend some time with you, even if it was only to sign off on your forms. If you’re serious about being pre-med, you need to exercise professionalism, and it’s never a good idea to piss anyone off this early in your career.
8 – On that note, don’t forget to be social/nice in general. If you get to med school and you’re the awkward guy/gal who doesn’t really know how to hold a conversation, no one’s going to like you. If you’re obnoxious, no one’s going to even look at you twice. Far from it, we’ll just laugh when you get smacked down on your first rotation because the nurses you pissed off by treating them like crap screw with whatever you’re assigned to do. Sooner or later, you’re going to learn that interpersonal skills are absolutely crucial in the healthcare profession, and in a field where people’s lives are on the line, tempers can flare. Stanford pre-meds have this huge reputation for being high-strung nervous wrecks or timidly emo–please do your part to turn that image around? Be chill and content with life. Honestly, if your desire to be a doctor doesn’t strongly rotate around money, a sense of elitism, familial pressure, or something foolishly superficial…this shouldn’t even be a challenge for you. What you love and are passionate about should NOT heavily stress you out.
9 – Don’t be afraid to ask for help. What do you think doctors do on a daily basis? They consult with other doctors–because another might catch something the first didn’t. In medicine, it’s not about you. It’s about the patient. And when someone’s life is in your hands and you’re not sure about a diagnosis, you sure as hell better not just wing it and make up BS. So don’t develop those bad habits in the first place. Swallow your pride, and go to those often empty office hours. Talk to/e-mail the professor. Work with your TA. Study with your classmates (the people are the best part of Stanford!). Ask your upperclassmen the best quarters to take certain classes. Check in with the pre-med advisors–measure their advice (anyone’s advice, really) with a critical eye, but at least get their opinion to help formulate yours. Make it a point to meet with your major advisor once a quarter. The more you do all this in person, the better. I don’t care if it’s raining outside in the middle of winter quarter and you’d rather be snuggled up in bed reading Harry Potter than bike the 100 feet to the quad. You think anyone’s going to care during your surgery rotation that you want the weekend off? That you’d rather show up at 11 AM for rounds instead of 5 AM? Tough luck–suck it up and just learn to enjoy the small victories in life. I know it sounds harsh, but it’s realistic.
10 – Learn computers. Take some computer science courses. And I don’t mean just fulfilling your GER with CS105. Whether you like it or not, computing is going to be an even bigger part of the medical world than it already is in just a few short years, and the more you learn programming, the more it’s going to make you really stand out as a valuable resource in the medical community. It’s incredible just how much the ability to make a website is considered a novel, incredible thing amongst medical students–truth be told, most of my classmates struggled to connect to the wireless network at school. It’s pathetic how tech un-savvy people in medicine generally are, and it’s the biggest reason the field has stagnated over the past few decades. We need to change that. You need to change that. So step outside what might be your comfort zone and sign up for something beyond CS106A (remember, pass/fail can be your friend!). Tackle the puzzles of algorithmic thinking in CS103. Struggle with code in CS107. Get that group together and rock Bunnyworld in CS108. In the end, you’ll be glad you did. I’ve never regretted pursuing a CS minor–it’s made me a much stronger thinker, and the skills I gained let me do things like code up custom flashcard databases that help me study for anatomy. How nifty is that? Being at the interface of tech and medicine is exactly where you want to be as a pre-med, particularly in the years to come. Going to a school with the #1 CS department in the nation and not taking advantage of it would be like refusing a free 7-course meal cooked by Chef Ramsey.
So there you go. The 10 most important things to keep in mind as a pre-med at Stanford. Take what you will from my list, but remember that any choice is ultimately yours. I just wanted to pass down what I wish I’d known in my younger years.
Oh, and one last thought–there’s an unspoken rule I forgot to mention: take care of yourself. You can’t take care of another human being if you yourself are in bad shape. Make the time to hit the gym. Go running when the urge hits you. Spend time chatting with friends. If something really bad happens and you need a professional to talk to, the second floor of Vaden allows a certain number of free confidential therapist visits, so make use of those (screw the stigma, I think psychiatrists are awesome–having a trained individual help you wrestle with your thoughts is intense but incredibly relieving).
If you’ve got any questions/comments/concerns, leave ‘em below. Gratzi for reading!
|Print article||This entry was posted by jaewonjoh on January 18, 2010 at 03:26, and is filed under admissions, pre-med. Follow any responses to this post through RSS 2.0. You can leave a response or trackback from your own site.|
No trackbacks yet.
about 2 years ago - 5 comments
It’s still a bit weird for me to know that I’m now officially a second-year medical student, but here’s my best shot at some pearls of wisdom! You really have to love medicine. If I offered you $100 million to quit medicine forever, you should be able to say no without looking back. I realize…
about 3 years ago - 18 comments
OK, so a lot of my friends are applying to medical school this year, and I’m getting requests for tips on how to write a killer medical school personal statement. I’ve read and given feedback on all of my friends…and honestly, I still don’t think I quite know how to distill the essence of a…
about 3 years ago - 8 comments
A guide to the typical stereotypes you’ll find around in a med school class. This is (mostly) meant to be tongue-in-cheek. 1. gunner: the most notorious of the stereotypes, the gunner is out to get perfect scores on everything, whether it’s final exams, clinics, or random questions in lecture. The gunner is somehow capable of…
about 3 years ago - No comments
While commonly touted as a good thing, the notion of perfectionism is, when analyzed, little more than a source of stress, delusions, and a detrimental sense of failure. But wait, cry all the self-help coaches, overachievers, and med students. Perfectionism is good! It drives us to achieve, to surpass our limitations, to be all we…