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.

Last Day

Today, I write my final exam of the semester.

That doesn’t quite have the impact I’d like it to have. Let me try again.

This evening, after 50 weeks straight of intellectual work, marks the beginning of my “Christmas holidays”. In quotations, because I’ll still be working and visiting people and cleaning my room (the struggle is real) and performing in a couple of concerts and that review paper will likely require at least another revision or two, but there’s nothing that will require CONSTANT VIGILANCE and LAB REPORT WRITE-UPS and IMMEDIATE STUDY FOLLOWING YET ANOTHER MIDTERM.

I’m dying for a break. I fear that my exam-writing stamina will fail me this afternoon, but I can hardly bring myself to care (don’t worry, the adrenaline should kick in as soon as I’m poised to begin writing).

To say I feel burnt out is an understatement.

I already have a mental (and physical, thanks to iCal) agenda for this week – it looks as busy as ever. Next week?

Bare, save Christmas. And though I know that this week will be taken up with friends and family and work, I. Can’t. Wait.

For now, my calendar looks bare. I can’t bring myself to pencil anything in right now. Just the aesthetic of a clean slate is so appealing. But tomorrow, or perhaps this evening, I’ll pencil in one two thing(s):

A day to myself. (And a day to clean my room).

I write my exam from 2 to 5 tonight, then rush off to play in a charitable Christmas concert. Following this, I’m going to pass out in my bed with a book in hand and sleep in until 8 (or, more realistically, until 7 or so) and get to work tomorrow around 9:00. It’s nice to be working just down the street again. After work, I may head over to the lab, or I may head home and begin to purge my closet again. And do all the laundry. Two loads – one for bedding, and one for all the clothes I currently own (I don’t have many any more, which is insanely liberating). In the evening, I’m celebrating the end of exams with the boy (who finishes tomorrow afternoon).

I have nothing specific planned for Wednesday. A dress rehearsal in the evening, and work (perhaps). More cleaning. I’d like to be done that by Friday. I also need to go do some Christmas shopping.

My mind is a mess of scattered thoughts.

Redux

Two Mondays ago, I scrambled to finish my biochemistry midterm so that I could leave town and get to Ottawa at a decent hour. I spent a mostly sleepless night sleeping in an unfinished basement next to an assortment of alcohol bottles, a small shot of rum consumed at approximately two in the morning in the desperate hope that it would finally be the factor that made me dead to the world for at least a couple of hours.

I wrote my MCAT the following morning, in a building directly in front of parliament – if I looked out the window beside my computer screen, an interesting urban landscape of tall buildings and people dressed in suits weaving between vehicles and taxis presented itself. I celebrated the end of months of preparation with dim sum and gelato with my accompanying entourage and best friend, and made the five and a half hour trek back home that afternoon with my mother’s best friend, leaving my parents behind (who had come along to help my paternal grandparents move).

The next morning, I received a text from my best friend telling me not to panic, but when I heard about the shooting she was okay, her own workplace (just outside the “danger” perimeter) was proceeding as usual, and Ottawa U was on lockdown. Moments later, everyone around me was talking about the shooting (much of my family and friends reside in Ottawa); and I, equally as troubled, struggled to focus in lab. The closeness of the whole thing – my family and friends, the thought that had I been scheduled for examination one day later, I likely wouldn’t even have written, and would have been on lockdown like my Outaouais collegiate colleagues – left me with a queer feeling I couldn’t quite shake.

I attended two make-up labs, wrote three lab reports and two further mid-terms. Life has returned to normal. I have a running checklist of course work left to accomplish before the end of a term. I have a review paper to write and some Western blots to complete. I’m thinking that this November might, finally, be the month in which I finish the novel I started writing in the eight grade – it’s been knocking about my brain for far too long. I’ve been going to the gym again – it helps me sleep the night through. I have somewhat less focus than I should have in class. I feel this urge to write, play piano, travel, create – but then, that’s nothing new.

It’s time to persevere through the new five weeks of school and the two weeks of examination that follow. I’m craving a season of rest, but I’m not entirely sure that I remember how to do that either. I think that many other people in this western society can probably relate to this sentiment.

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In other news, I dressed up as a snow leopard today. I took one look at the glorious snowfall that greeted us this morning and felt that this would be a worthy Halloween costume.

A Simplified MCAT Study Guide

Today’s MCAT review topic: Force, Motion, and Gravitation! Honestly, physics has never been my strong point. I know it’s known as the “most intuitive” of the natural sciences – my best guess is my intuitiveness took a wrong turn somewhere, or maybe that’s a shortcoming of being right-brained (I’m a lefty). Funnily enough, intuitiveness is a part of my Meyers-Briggs personality type (I am an INFJ), and so I don’t really know what the deal is here. In any case, physics is getting the most attention of all the MCAT subjects second only to biology, where I am at a slight disadvantage due to the limited number of courses I have taken on the subject.

Anyways, I’d like to take the time to go over my MCAT review strategy. Most people I know take their MCAT exam during the summer, because they have the time to take a course and devote their full attention to reviewing. This strategy doesn’t work for me for a number of reasons: firstly, I just don’t want to pay the money for a course. In my honest opinion, it’s a waste of cash (considering I am extremely good at self-motivating when I have a plan to follow). Secondly, I don’t have hours a day to devote to pure MCAT review (and nor do I really want to spend that much time on review). I’ve just completed an extremely stressful semester. My grades aren’t quite as high as I’d like for them to be, and I need the time to recharge mentally before tackling the new semester. Finally, my summers aren’t any less busy than the regular school term – as I mentioned in the last post, I am completing a full time internship in a medical school lab whilst working part-time on the weekends and taking a summer course. Finding the time to do eight hours of review just isn’t going to happen. Ever. I keep myself quite busy, and feel stressed when I feel like I’m just sitting around and/or am only devoting my time to one thing.

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Source; I’m definitely more type A than B. 😉

As such, I’m finding that I am extremely busy; adding in a rather large standardized test to prepare for definitely doesn’t simply matters. I’m employing a few simple lifestyle changes for the next few months in order to simplify my life and stay healthy:

1) Go to bed at 10 and wake up at 6. Every single day. This way I know I’m getting my full eight hours of sleep, and I have the morning hours to tackle studying and get to work early.
2) Eat three well rounded meals a day. This one goes unsaid. Fuel the brain, fuel the body.
3) Do some form of physical activity on most days. Typically this is my walk to school/work (it’s a solid 35 minutes each way, so that adds up to roughly an hour). I’ve put all gym workouts on hold until after this test – once it’s done, I’m rewarding myself with a CrossFit subscription (I’ve always wanted to go!) and a yoga class. 😀
4) Take one rest day a week. For now, this works out to be every Friday. I’ve scheduled two hour study blocks Monday to Thursday, but have left Friday blank; this tends to be my date night with the boy – but if I were to miss a review session on any other day of the week, I’d take a two hour session here instead.
5) Take some rest time every day. Right now I have roughly two hours blocked off in the evening for relaxation. Wether it’s reading, writing, blogging, or meeting a friend for coffee, I will not think about anything study-related during that time period.

And without further ado, here’s my rough summer schedule:

6:00am: Wake up. Tuesday and Thursday morning, I complete a verbal reasoning practice section; Wednesday and Friday mornings are used to review the passage.
7:00am: Breakfast. I leave the house by 7:30 in order to arrive at my internship by 8:00.
8:00am: Internship. Here I also review the material for my nutrition course.
4:00pm: Done! Walk home now.
4:30pm: Grab a snack and work on the review session of the day. Mondays = physics, Tuesdays = biology, Wednesdays = general chemistry, Thursdays = orgo.
6:30pm: Supper time!
7:00pm: Two hours of downtime.
9:00pm: Get ready for bed. Read/write.
10:00pm: Lights out.

Fridays are a day off. Saturdays I actually have two review sessions scheduled these are biology and physics. This allows for extra focus on the material I am shaky on. Sundays my plan is to theoretically complete an entire practice exam after work one week and correct it the next, but that’s contingent on my actually purchasing a company’s practice examinations. For now, the plan is to focus on the “high yield” practice problems in the Kaplan study books from the previous week’s review topic.

This plan will allow me to review everything on the MCAT, based on the AAMC’s content outline, prior to the start of classes in September. Once September arrives, I will be doing practice problems during the week and one of the AAMC’s practice exams on the weekends.

A summary of the materials I am using:

1) Kaplan’s Complete review boxed set: For general content review. From what I’ve been through so far, it is quite general, but that’s really all I need. I have textbooks from my courses for practically every subject, and for the gaps there are tons of videos and webpages online available for free that provide excellent explanations if I find myself needing more information.

2) ExamKrackers 101 Passages in Verbal Reasoning workbook (& biology textbook) : I bought the passages book due to the generally high ratings and positive response. The best way to study for verbal is to drill passages under timed conditions, and so that is the plan. I also bought the biology textbook as it had a high rating and I am nervous about the gaps in my knowledge, but I may return it.

3) Kaplan practice examinations: Haven’t bought these yet, but I will be purchasing soon!

4) Princeton Review Hyperlearning Science Workbook: For science practice problems.

 

So, that’s the plan for now! I will be adjusting my study strategy as required. I have approximately five months to rock this exam, and I am fully confident that I will with a bit of determination and focus. 🙂