Monday, August 02, 2010

On science and pre-meds

In one of the comments on my last post, lost academic wrote:

why MAJOR in science if you really just want to be a doctor and don't want to screw your chances?

I can only tell you from my point of view, what I did and why.

1) why major in science

Because science is quantifiable.

I loved writing. I loved my humanities classes. I loved that my homework was curling up with a book and underlining my favorite parts, making notes in the margins.

I loved getting writing assignments. It never felt like work. It made college feel like summer camp.

But I hated grades. Getting graded on my writing always felt personal. It was all so subjective. What seemed to appeal to one professor was hated by another.

When I got a B+ or an A- in my humanities classes, or god forbid even a B-, on a paper I wrote, it wasn't always clear why. Even to the person who gave me the grade. I was baffled when I asked a professor or TA what I could do to improve my writing. They always hesitated, rarely gave useful feedback.

They said my writing was fine.

Sometimes, if I pushed hard for suggestions, they said they didn't like the premise (my hypothesis offended them somehow) or felt I was making "wild claims" (ha! and now I'm a blogger!).

I couldn't figure out what they wanted me to do differently when the assignments were vague and the feedback even more so.

Ironically, this is also where I got stuck in my wannabe career in science.

I wanted to improve. To me, the fun in school was improving, mastering, making progress. That was also the fun in research.

Nobody told me what I was missing. I'm still not sure. The subjective part, somehow. The likability, whatever that is.

Science classes were fine. They were predictable, formulaic. I knew how to do science. I knew how to study for it. It was fascinating in its own way, and some classes were better than others, but the format was always the same: sometimes graded homework, sometimes quizzes, always exams.

I read the books, I took notes, I did the problems in the books, I reviewed my notes, I took the exams.

Rinse, repeat. It was fine. I was learning. I enjoyed the stuff I was learning. Knowledge was power.

But I have to admit, I look back at the stuff I wrote in college and think it sounds somehow smarter than anything I write now. Probably because of what I was reading at the time. In my humanities classes.

if you really just want to be a doctor

Because I didn't just want to be a doctor. I wanted to study human disease. Grad school was one option; med school was another. I also considered trying to do an MD/PhD.

What if I didn't get into med school? Grad school seemed like a viable backup option.

I was interested in anatomy, in diseases of all kinds: genetic, aging, communicable.

But I wasn't interested so much in working directly with patients. I thought about studying pathology. I did not consider being an EMT or a nurse as a viable option.

There didn't seem to be much work for humanities majors. Everyone I knew who majored in the humanities was determined to get into med school or law school or grad school or business school.

Here's the thing: not all of them got into med school or law school or grad school

In the end, I decided I'd rather go to grad school. And I got in. Pretty easily. So I went.

I was actually kind of baffled when people didn't get in. I knew my grades were not spectacular, and neither were my GREs. I didn't win a lot of awards or fellowships.

All I had was some lab experience. And I did that mostly to keep from dying of boredom.

and don't want to screw your chances

And therein lies the rub. Most of the students I knew who obsessed about grades did not obsess about learning. I didn't want to be one of them.

I had already spent four, no five, years being harassed about my grades so I could get into a college deemed worthy enough by my parents to ensure my future success.

And look where that got me!

I just hated the idea that school was about report cards, just like I hate the idea that science is about impact factor. It never made sense to me, and you'll never convince me that it's a better reflection of quality or productive output than taking the time to actually read the fucking papers.

I also felt like med school was the military. Like I would have to fit a mold more tightly than I would ever have to fit if I went to grad school instead. The culture of it turned me off.

Ironically, some of my favorite people in the world went to med school and came out... still themselves. But now they're MDs. Then again, they always had better grades than me.

And, I was always secretly really rebellious. I think it's just been building up over the years. Lately I feel more rebellious than ever before. Like, fuck it all, it's all a bunch of bullshit.

This was years before Fight Club came out, but even by the time I was finishing college I had already figured out that I am not my report card. I am not my job. I am not how much money I have in the bank. I'm not the car I drive. I'm not the contents of my wallet. I am not your fucking khakis

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At 10:56 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Long time lurker just catching up on some recent posts --

WHAT?? Did you finally leave? Did I miss a post announcing this?

Does this mean the book is a go? Will we finally learn some of the behind-the-scenes details?

So many questions!

At 6:05 AM, Anonymous lost academic said...

I'm sorry, I should have been more specific, I suppose. When I wrote that line at the end of the comment yesterday, I meant quite specifically, if your entire goal is to attend medical school and become a practicing physician, primarily, perhaps, in primary care or emergency care or something like that, it likely would not make an enormous amount of sense to spend your 4 years of undergraduate career preparing for something that you might not enjoy all that much and is not, as a whole, fully relevant to preparing you for 1) medical school and/or 2) working a as a physician. It wasn't intended as a question of 'why major in science' or 'if you just want to be a doctor' separately at all, since of course, I personally never wanted to be in any medical profession but absolutely did want to be working as a scientist. It's really a comment entirely on a particular group of undergraduate students with a singular goal who might be best served by not feeling that they MUST major in something like neuroscience or chemistry when that is just not one of their top interests or passions. I don't believe that that reflects negatively at all on them as a potential doctor.

I suppose I should have been more specific when I made the comment, that it wasn't at all about you.

At 7:37 AM, Anonymous Namnezia said...

I think it is almost essential that anyone going to medical school study science and work in a lab. I think the level of science education one gets in medical school will be much lower than what one can get in college. Someone who wants to be a doctor needs to understand where all the stuff they learn in med school comes from, how it was figured out. If as a doctor you cannot explain to your patient why it is that they are sick or feeling the way they do, and why the alternative treatment they are asking you about has no evidence to support it, then you are doing your patient a disservice.


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