On Career Options

Today’s word-dump summary/subtitle: In Which I Reflect Loquaciously On What the Hell I’m Doing With My (School-Focused) Life

I have a year and three months left of my undergraduate education. In six months or so, I’ll be applying to graduate school, medical school, and who knows what else. The fact is, I don’t know exactly what I’ll be doing this time two years from now. This unknown is a lingering stress at the back of my mind – not enough to disrupt my life (after all, what can I do about it?), but its presence is noticeable. I have the impression that most (if not all) of my peers are in this situation as well. We look enviously on those who know exactly where they’re going/what they’re doing. We’re at once violently restless and seeking to settle.

I am an extremely goal-oriented person. Give me something to work towards, and you can be assured that I’ll pour myself heart and soul into it. Give me many things to work towards, and I’ll try to distribute myself among all these (which sometimes works out and sometimes does not). I also want to do just about everything. I have multiple ideas for careers, which all require slightly different paths – and I can see myself equally as happy in any of these.

For example, my primary objective over the past year and a half or so has been to set myself up for a career in clinical research. I would absolutely thrive in a setting like this, but (but, of course there are “buts”) I’ve also begun to consider the amount of life I’ll have to devote to it. At nineteen, it seems fully reasonable to remain in school until you’re forty – and while I’m absolutely still willing to commit to that, I do have to make sure I’ve thought long and hard about the sacrifices that will have to be made. Things like being salaried, buying a car, even getting married and starting a family. These things can still be done, absolutely- however, I wouldn’t be properly salaried until my mid-thirties, and the flexibility and freedom to do many things requiring time and money would be limited until my full matriculation.

The other side to this is “getting there” in the first place. I’ve taken multiple steps in gaining admission to a PhD/MD – from working in a lab (which has helped to garner publications) to taking my MCAT to keeping up my grades to shadowing a doctor to volunteering in various areas in the community (sitting on the board of directors for a youth choir, the Ontario Breast Cancer Association, coaching a soccer team) to maintaining my own extracurriculars (singing in a few choirs, playing in the university concert band, exercising).  That said, my grades aren’t at the “top” (I have a 3.9 on a 4.0 scale – woe is me, I know, I know); my specific clinical volunteerism is lacking.  Getting into any medical program is a lottery; for all that I have going for me, I also have fair bit “against”.

I intend to apply to Master’s degrees. In bio-molecular sciences (here), in physiology, in nutrition. I’m also considering applying to a university that has a B.Sc. program in nutrition and pursue dietetics; I could do a shorter second B.Sc. (two or three years instead of four) on account of the credits I’ve obtained through my kinesiology degree, and work as a kinesiologist/personal trainer on the side; this summer I plan to become a certified personal trainer and a certified exercise physiologist the next (after having obtained my degree), both through CSEP.

This last option is appealing to me on some days; doing a masters, more so on others. The issue is that I love both research and human interaction; I like the idea of both helping others with my current knowledge while searching for new things. I am passionate about physiology and metabolism (and the impact of nutrition and exercise on these); the only thing that I know for sure is that I’m headed somewhere in this direction. My interest in the MD/PhD degree is largely based on this duality of patient interaction and research.

That’s where I’m at, currently. Working towards a balance between my interests and hobbies; my work life; my student life; my relationships (SO, family, friends). Trying to take care of myself as best as I can. My mind is constantly busy; I’m paring back in other ways to try and compensate. I think that this is where the urge to settle comes from – busy-ness is a disease, and I want to slow down as much as my life is currently picking up pace. I’m just going to trust that as long as I continue to work, my career will sort itself out. Hopefully balance preceding this.

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Body Fat

I’m taking a course called “Fitness and prescription” [Conditionnement physique], which is (naturally) all about prescribing fitness interventions. Fair enough. We’ve just finished a unit on body composition, in which a short section at the end delineated “guidelines” to follow on how to address weight gain:

– Eat often; eat larger portions; snack; drink milk and juice with meals (fair enough)
– Eat high-calorie foods, but stick to low-fat options (uhhh)
Above all, do not gain too much fat. Aim only to gain lean body mass (wait, what?)

The prof went on to explain that while weight gain is necessary, fat gain shouldn’t be the goal. At this, I raised my hand. “What about women with amenorrhea? They’d definitely benefit from gaining some body fat.” Cue blathering about “critical fat mass” and women below 13% body fat and yes, amenorrheic women might benefit from gaining some fat, because sometimes women who drop too low in body fat percentage skip their menstrual cycle for a few months.

Well. As someone who skipped 30 months of her menstrual cycle, fat gain was definitely in my interest. So I gained weight. On larger, more frequent meals, full-fat dairy products, additional carbohydrates. Lots of vegetables and fruit throughout. This was by no means unhealthy. I am now the proprietor of a body with more lean mass, and (yes) more body fat. I had to go above and beyond my previous “high” weight to restore my menstrual function, and I’m maintaining here without exactly trying. I exercise regularly. I eat when I’m hungry and as my schedule allows. I eat a lot of vegetables. I don’t usually get enough sunlight or enough sleep.

I’m not entirely comfortable at this weight, but this is where my body wants to be right now. This is where I can drop and do sprint workouts whenever, make the half hour trip to school in the morning and back again in the afternoon (weather permitting). This is where I can lift heavy (for me) weights, or skate or ski, or attend random classes, or train for a 10k race. I can spontaneously go to yoga (as is the plan tonight) with a friend and stretch beyond what I believe I can do.

I have health-related goals, like working out more regularly or attending yoga classes at least once a week because they relax me or going to bed earlier to ensure I sleep enough or walking in the sunlight to maximize my vitamin D even in these frigid winter months, but weight loss or anything related to food-restriction can’t be a part of those.

Just a friendly reminder that body fat is an endocrine organ. Hunger/satiety hormones such as leptin, grehlin, and neuropeptide y are directly related to body fat levels; these communicate with the hypothalamus. The hypothalamus then uses this hormonal information to regulate a huge number of physiological processes, such as appetite and temperature and yes, fertility (generally via pro-hormones). This is a gross over-simplification, but all that to say that we actually do need body fat, and sometimes fat gain can be the primary goal. This culture of fat-fearing needs to stop.

Women need enough body fat to be fertile. End of story. While I have no intention of having children any time soon, I value the proper functioning of my body and see my menstrual cycle as a sign that I’m on the right track, health-wise. Enough body fat also regulates appetite, and I’m not chronically hungry any more (meaning I can think of things beyond my next meal). These are well worth the “extra” (required) weight.