I am a miracle made up of particles and in this existence I'll stay persistent and I'll make a difference and I will have lived it - Medicine for the People

Nerd Love for Today's Google Doodle

Friday, May 31, 2013

Today the Google Doodle is in honor of Julius Richard Petri and it's so cute (come on, spelling google by streaking an agar plate?? To a science nerd that's pretty adorable)! A friend told me to check it out and it made me happy that petri dishes made her think of me :) Also kind of made me miss working with my fungi and bacteria plates (kind of, can't quite work myself up to missing the smell). Anyway, take a look at Petri's wiki page and edumacate yourself if you are like me and don't really know too much about him: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Julius_Richard_Petri

ALSO HAPPY FRIDAY! I don't know about you but I am pretty excited for the awesome weather we're supposed to have this weekend. I need to get some beach time in before I shut myself up in my room to finish my application essays.

AMCAS For Applicants: Welcome To Your Life For The Next 7 Months

Wednesday, May 29, 2013

I know I know, I haven't written a post in 47 million years. It's been so incredibly blissful to be done with the MCAT and my Physics class that I have completely neglected my poor blog in favor of catching up on Game of Thrones and taking excessively long naps. To be fair (to myself) I didn't really have a whole lot to say after hell week and needed the down time to rest my poor brain.
Unfortunately vacation can't last forever and I've been slowly gathering all needed materials to get ready to submit my AMCAS app next month (aka three weeks from now). If you don't know, AMCAS stands for American Medical College Application Service and anyone who wants to apply to medical school in the US has to go through them. The main application requires a thorough explanation of pretty much anything a med school admissions committee would ever want to know about an applicant.
So far I've been working on the letters of recommendation and the transcripts portion of the application because those are the two most time sensitive since they rely on someone else to send in official documents for me.
As I struggle to navigate my way through this hefty application I'm beginning to realize that this whole process is actually pretty difficult. I used the common app to apply for undergrad and thought that AMCAS would be similar but it isn't. There are very specific ways you need to enter information (like all of the classes on your transcript) and there are sometimes several confusing choices regarding sending in documents like recommendation letters (do I use the letter packet option or the individual letter?). If you enter something wrong, it can be difficult and time-consuming to fix and the explanation videos (which are a cool feature) aren't always that enlightening. It doesn't help that all the FAQ material is clearly written by a catastrophist who incessantly warns that a mistake in your application could lead to being barred from applying (which is terrifying and led to an unfortunate dream about getting pulled over and having a traffic violation which precluded me from going to medical school. Extremely upsetting).
Luckily, there are many helpful resources you can use to work your way through and make sure you're doing it right. Number one (at least for me) has been friends that have already applied/are currently in medical school. They've been through this whole rigmarole before and I've found are more than happy to help navigate. The second source I've come to really appreciate is my program director at Harvard Extension. I've sent countless emails asking what I'm sure are annoying/redundant/inane questions and he's been very prompt and helpful in his responses. This is probably a good time to give the Health Careers Program props for being so supportive of their students, the aid is greatly appreciated! Finally, the AMCAS website does offer a comprehensive help section and they have an entire instruction manual (which yes, I did read through!) with details on how to fill out the application.
Today I am sending off my transcript and rec letter requests and next week I'll be working through the extracurriculars/work experience/what have you done with your life since high school section (max 15 essays which is A LOT!). I am actually a bit more excited about this part because I do really love writing and this will be my opportunity to highlight a lot of the meaningful experiences that I've had either leading up to or as a result of my decision to apply to medical school. I know a lot of activities I will be including won't necessarily be ones you would expect to find on a medical school application - I've never been a part of a pre-med society, I didn't major in biology - but I think that maybe that will help me stand out. There's nothing wrong with any of the aforementioned things and that will probably be what gets many students into medical school but I'm excited to be applying as a non traditional student and hope that whoever reads my application will be able to appreciate my atypical background.
I also hope that one day I'll be be in a position to do the same. I would love to sit on an admissions committee and look for the students that I can identify with - ones that don't necessarily have a perfect GPA, who didn't know immediately that they wanted to be a doctor, who maybe seem a little too old or not impressive enough at first glance but who have a lot of other qualities that show their dedication and passion, who maybe just need to be given a chance because sometimes (not always) those are the ones who want it the most and are willing to try the hardest. Struggle is the fire that refines and, from what I've seen in my friends, parents, and everyone else I admire, struggling to get to where you want to be is what makes you appreciate it more; it's what makes you great.


Wednesday, May 15, 2013

At least until Saturday, that is! I feel so wonderfully relieved to have my physics final out of the way that it's actually making me less stressed out about the MCAT in two days. And surprisingly, the exam didn't go so terribly. I'm notoriously bad at physics, it takes me a long time to understand the concepts and when I do I struggle with applying them to problems, so I was pretty worried about how it would go last night. Luckily I had some great friends help me study and I felt much more prepared for this test than usual and for once I walked out of the Harvard Science Center feeling like I had maybe actually done OK on a final. Maybe didn't ace it, but don't think I totally bombed it either. I don't get my overall grade for the class back until the 29th but I'm hoping it will be a good one (that way I can go out with a bang, since physics was officially my last pre-med class!). End result is that I am in a fantastic mood and the good weather is only helping. Hope you are all enjoying this beautiful day!

Van Damme Dancing
pretty much sums up my mood for the day!

1,000 Pageviews!

Sunday, May 5, 2013

Today journalistdoingscience reached over 1,000 views and and I just wanted to say a huge THANK YOU to everyone who has been reading over the past few months! It's so nice to hear from people that they appreciated a recent post or shared a link with a friend and it's lovely to see that I must have at least a few readers other than my Mum :) I hope you all continue to read and enjoy my blog!

Journalist Doing Science, Chantal Mendes

National Science Foundation Press Release

Friday, May 3, 2013

Happy Friday babies! Today is super exciting for many reasons - it's almost the weekend, I have a million favorite people coming to visit, the weather is beautiful - but the latest exciting news is that I got an email from Julia with a link to this awesome press release from the NSF about our research! If you had a hard time muddling through the abstract that I posted yesterday then this article will be a lot more illuminating in terms of what our project was actually about so definitely take a look! I'm mentioned right at the very end as a co-author which thrills me. There are also some cool images attached that you can scroll through. Enjoy!
NSF, Elkhorn Slouth, CA, Superoxide
Elkhorn Slough, CA - one of the locations we took samples of water from that contained superoxide-producing bacteria!

Yay Science! I'm Officially a First-Time Published Author!

Thursday, May 2, 2013

I didn't even realize but COINCIDENTALLY today is the day the paper got published online!!! You can't view the whole thing unless you have an account but you can read the abstract and see my name looking all official-like underneath the title :)

I Got an Email from SCIENCE!

Some of you may have seen my initial post that I had to take down due to the paper not being officially accepted and issues with copyright etc. BUT NOW I’M FINALLY ALLOWED TO TELL THE WHOLE WORLD!!! I’m getting my first paper published in Science!
One of the most rewarding things about working in research is getting your name on a publication. It's extremely gratifying to know all your hard work is actually contributing to something concrete that you can be proud of and share with others and just generally show off to the world a bit.
The summer after I started my post-bac I was hired as a research assistant for the Hansel lab at Harvard University following an interview with Julia, a new post-doc who had just started with the lab. I owe so much to her for looking past the fact that I had no background in research and had never worked in a lab before. I remember earnestly telling her that what I lacked in experience I more than made up for in effort and perseverance. I love learning and was more than willing to start from scratch. Julia was amazing and gracefully took on the responsibility of teaching me everything I needed to know to work at a microbiology & geochemistry lab. Working in research can be difficult and it can take years to get authorship on a paper. I was incredibly lucky to be given the opportunity to work on a project that culminated in a manuscript in less than a year on which I was able to put my name.
This manuscript has been through a lot; after submitting it to and getting turned down from Nature, we sent our creation in to Science and were told there was interest but it needed more revisions. This apparently happens fairly often especially with a publication like Science, which is an extremely high caliber research journal. Our paper was resubmitted and I got an email (screenshot below - Dr. Mendes!!! It makes me so happy to see that in print)* telling me to fill out a few authorship forms in order for them to accept the manuscript. ACCEPT?!?!?!! I was nervous to actually tell people it's a definite thing but since that initial email I've gotten confirmation that they're moving ahead with publishing our research! I'm incredibly excited and it really makes all the long hours and wrestling with data collection 110% worth it.
There are a host of things I worry about when I consider how competitive of a med school applicant I am but then something like this happens and it's so reassuring. It's just a reminder that it's always worth it to try your best in everything because it WILL pay off one day. It may sound trite, but it is true. So if you're struggling now just remember that it's not just your test scores and grades that matter, it's everything you do that is a testament to your intelligence, your work ethic and your willingness to keep on keepin' on.

Dr. Mendes, Science Magazine
Initial email (Me: Dr. Mendes! Yay!)

*I am not actually a Dr. of any sort, I'm pretty sure they just address all authors as such in order to not step on any toes. 
Science Magazine
Acceptance email!!! Wooo!!!

The MCAT is a Sea and I'm Drowning In It

Wednesday, May 1, 2013

I'm not sure if it's better or worse that I have so many other things in my life that I have to think about on a daily basis that aren't the MCAT. I'm still taking Physics and I have the final to study for, my job is giving me more and more projects and responsibility, my life in general needs maintenance because let's be honest, we all run out of underwear and have to do laundry at some point and who has time for that?
I can't tell if it helps me to keep my mind off the exam in a good way (can't fixate and stress on one thing) or if having all these other worries is just making it worse. I've typically done quite well on standardized tests, but never before have I had to take one that could determine my future. I take some offense to the idea that one test could decide my entry into medical school only because I know so many others who should have done well because they are intelligent and would make wonderful, kind, caring doctors but were disappointed by scores low enough to preclude them from applying.
Luckily, in the midst of feeling overwhelmed, something will inevitably happen to convince me to soldier on. Last week one of my coworkers sent me this article that was in the New England Journal of Medicine and it helped assuage so many fears. Basically it outlined how the trend of many med school admissions committees is towards a more holistic approach to evaluating candidates for the entering class. They consider much more than just MCAT scores and GPAs. They look at work successes and life experience among other things and treat them as equally important. I think this is huge and can only hope that the schools I'm applying to will implement this method of review when going through my application because my research looks much shinier on paper than my academic record.
I've always worked hard but when I was a communications major at BU, GPA just didn't matter. I was selected for a prestigious internship at the Boston Globe my junior year because my professor was impressed with my writing and effort, not because I got an A in her class (because I didn't). Much more stress was placed on your work speaking for itself rather than your grades, especially in a field where you often wrote up to 5 drafts of the same paper. Your first piece was a completely different animal from your final product and depending on the grading system, your professor could consider you to have done very well in his class and end up with a lowly B. When our engineering or pre-med classmates complained about BU's horrendous grade deflation the comm students were unconcerned. We knew that when we applied to work at magazines or journals or newspapers no one would even inquire about our GPA, it was unheard of.
Now I have to face the fact that having a less than ideal GPA is a huge detriment to my medical school application. Although I've had a lot of interesting and varied work and life experiences, the numbers just aren't pretty and that definitely scares me. It's one of the things that I stress out about when I can't immediately drop off to sleep, starting with the MCAT and ending with my low GPA, like a continuous loop in my head.
I was talking about this with my friend the other night and agonizing over whether or not I was even smart enough to be doing this when she said something really important: "you are smart enough to be doing this, otherwise you would never have gotten this far." That really stuck with me. I've gotten this far and there's no way I'm just giving up now. It's hard work, but I think this is the important part because if you can't handle this kind of stress then maybe you can't handle the stress of being in medical school, residency, being a doctor and holding someone's life in your hands (all of which I imagine is much more anxiety-inducing).
When I do feel like the stress is too much, I know I have people there to help me, to send me articles they know will bolster my resolve and encourage me to study harder, to tell me I can do it when I'm not sure I can anymore.
All I can say is that the MCAT might be a sea and I feel like I'm floundering, but I'm so, so thankful for my friends who are there to throw me a life jacket when I need a rest.