Sunday, February 28, 2016

Microcosms in the UC Berkeley Botanical Garden

I have many pictures of the botanical garden already, but it really is one of my favorite places on campus. A few of us in some mechanical engineering labs took a "field trip" to the gardens as a way to get some sunshine and socializing. This was my first time really testing out my iPhone 6 camera, and I'm pretty happy with how the pictures turned out.

Microcosms -- I put particular focus on the greenhouses.

First stop was the carnivorous plants, ferns, and bromeliads.

Probably the only picture taken outdoors.

Tropical house.

Arid house.

These two require a bit of explanation. I was looking for plants in the Echeveria family because the mechanical engineering building on campus is Etcheverry Hall. We found a few of them, but these were some more interesting ones.

I always enjoy a trip to the garden in spite of the >1 mile walk uphill/through the woods to get to it from campus. We didn't have time to look through the native California garden or the redwood grove, but it was a great social event.

And forecasting: I'm heading to Orlando for my first academic conference (Orthopaedic Research Society annual meeting) this week and am absolutely excited and grateful. I'm planning on doing zero schoolwork while I'm away, go no-contact with the Berkeley Free Clinic, and focus only on working on my code for lab. Because I'm starting to more seriously consider orthopedic surgery as a specialty (now that I've actually gotten into medical school), immersing myself in all facets of research in that field, talking with other students, researchers, surgeons, and vendors will be the main focus of this trip. I'm rattling with excitement.

Sunday, February 21, 2016

Philadelphia Museum of Art

In December, I went to Philadelphia to my last medical school interview at a nice SOM that I will not attend. It was pouring rain when I arrived, when I interviewed, and when I left, and thus I spent most of Interview Eve in the Philadelphia Museum of Art or on public transit, which, by the way, is extremely well-organized and charmingly old-fashioned.

Though I did eventually see the Liberty Bell and walk by Independence Hall, it was so dark and rainy that I accomplished no real sightseeing. If anything, the views from the train and the window of my Uber to the airport were more successful at stirring up the whirlwind feelings of being in a new city. Also, walking around the campus during the interview in the pouring rain in a suit was downright miserable.

Also, I learned that the Schuylkill River is approximately pronounced "Scoogle" or "Scookle."

All this is to say that due to inclement weather, all I really have to show for my trip to Philly are some photos I took in the museum, which was one of the most splendid and awe-inspiring collections I've ever seen. In spite of my disappointment of not being able to see the city, I was more than satisfied with what I saw in the PMA.

Left: Right Shoulder, Arm, and Hand; Front of Male Torso;Right Side of Head; Right Foot; Right Thigh, Leg, and Foot; Left Knee; Front of Neck and Part of Shoulder

Right: detail of Right Side of Head

All by Thomas Eakins

The Gross Clinic -- 1875, Thomas Eakins

The Agnew Clinic -- 1889, Thomas Eakins

Sunflowers -- 1888, Vincent van Gogh

The Abduction of Europa - 1727, Noël-Nicolas Coypel

The Burning of the Houses of Lords and Commons - 1835, J.M.W. Turner

I have always loved Turner's paintings, which have such a distinctive dynamic, yet ethereal, style to them. I didn't know much about the collection at the PMA so seeing this in the gallery was a pleasant surprise. In addition to the photos here, there was a special exhibit on the Prometheus myth, showcasing masterpieces by Rubens, Michelangelo, and Titian that absolutely stunned me. Unfortunately, no photos allowed, but the museum site has plenty of information.

The two Eakins paintings shown above were housed in the same gallery across from one another with a bench in between. How can I describe the feeling of being a lowly medical school interviewee in a new city, staring at two significant paintings in medical history? There are many, many analyses of The Gross Clinic and The Agnew Clinic separately and together, and I could not try to look for meaning that others have missed.

I tried to edit the photos to recreate how I remember the paintings to look like. In the dark red gallery, the dark and cool-toned Dr. Gross presides like a wise, stately angel over his somber operating theater. Dr. Agnew's lecture is light and warm, and look how the standard of professional medical care has transformed.

So, I sat in that gallery for at least fifteen minutes, looking back and forth between Drs. Gross and Agnew. From childhood, I have always wanted to be a surgeon, and since then, I have worked ever closer to that dream. At the time, I had not been accepted into medical school, so seeing these paintings was more desperately aspirational than resolutely motivational, but you can imagine how I felt.

Anyhow, I hope I can put together a post about other art on the interview trail, but the recent death of my phone may make that difficult. I leave you with some readings about the Eakins paintings: [0] [1] [2] [3] [4] [5]

Sunday, February 14, 2016

L.L. Bean wool sweater puzzle

It's been feeling quite a lot like springtime in the Bay Area, but it's still winter in my future home of Boston, so this post about wool sweaters is reasonably justified.

Since about November, I have been consistently wearing the either a thin black or thin charcoal grey wool-blend sweater every day that dips below 65 deg F. Thoughts about a cold New England winter brought me to browse the website of one old faithful New England institution: L.L. Bean. Be still, my trad-wannabe heart.

It is not easy to find a middle/heavyweight wool sweater in the simple, conservative style that I want. I feel as if I've struck soft gold with these tried and true L.L. Bean pieces, but the above three sweaters are all men's sweaters. All the women's sweaters at the same wool composition are inexplicably far more expensive, and many are too flashy or colorful for boring me.

Beyond the gendering of clothing and unavailability of things that I want in my size and preferred color, what irks me most is that women's sweaters of similar composition (% wool) are more expensive than men's, and that as far as L.L. Bean is concerned, there are fewer options at that composition. I'm sure that there is enough demand for boring wool sweaters in solid colors that perhaps L.L. Bean could remove gender from the marketing and carry a wider range of sizes.

The men's S, at 34-36 inches across the chest and over 30 inches in length, would overwhelm my frame. Wool, however, does shrink in the dryer, but that solution seems more like an expensive gamble in my hands.

As for my sweater aesthetic:

Audrey Hepburn in Sabrina, John F. Kennedy on the campaign trail, and Bush Sr. 

Tuesday, February 9, 2016

Letters of recommendation | Applying MD

Old-fashioned paper envelopes because a stock image of a PDF would not be that exciting.

There is a veritable bounty of resources, threads, and guides about getting good LORs, but I ran into a few issues early this cycle that have caused me a bit more stress than needed. Many of these written (and anecdotal) resources are ambiguous and/or not helpful in answering my specific questions.

This post will not tell you how to build strong relationships with letter-writers, and it (obviously) draws heavily from my personal experiences. However, my questions may well be ones that you are wondering about as well.

Letters that I used:

1 PI letter: professor, mechanical engineering, did not take a class with
2 engineering faculty letters: mechanical engineering professor (course classified as Physics on AMCAS), bioengineering lecturer (course classified as Biology on AMCAS)
1 biology faculty letter: general biology (huge class) lab TA, cosigned by the professor, whom I have never spoken to in person
1 humanities professor letter: upper division class
1 clinic volunteering letter

With the exception of the biology letter, I regularly went to office hours and built up good relationships with these faculty members. They knew me well and were pretty eager to write a letter on my behalf (except for the mechanical engineering professor, who erroneously thought that only the only faculty that should write LORs for med school were PI's, and thought I was choosing him over his colleague whose lab I did work in...but explanation brought him around).

Why did I ask for that biology letter, then?

Engineering majors will probably know the answer, and I'll address it with the biggest LOR question I've had this cycle:

1. Most medical schools require letters from faculty in the SCIENCES. Do letters written by faculty in engineering with whom you've taken engineering classes count towards this requirement?

Put simply: does engineering count as science?

The short answer: YES. However, the internet is frustratingly vague on this front, and anecdotal evidence was not particularly helpful, especially since most of my premed friends were not engineering majors. While it seems absurd that engineering would not be considered 'science,' this presumption is furthered by the AMCAS course classification table that outlines engineering disciplines as falling outside of BCPM.

As an aside, I successfully assigned the vast majority of my bioengineering and mechanical engineering classes as BCPM (B and P), and a materials science course as C. However, I did assign my independent research class and a MATLAB class as 'Engineering.'

The caveat to this letters of recommendation thing is that this post is still anecdotal evidence at best, and I strongly encourage anyone who is concerned about their letters not fulfilling requirements to verify their validity on their own. After you are verified by AMCAS (hopefully you will submit early) or even earlier, call each school you are applying to and get the answer from the admissions office.

I'm not joking. As it turned out, almost every single school accepted my preferred four letters (PI, engineering faculty, and clinic), and I only used the weak biology letter and humanities one two or three times.

Working backwards in time, here is another question I grappled with:

2. When should my letters of recommendation be in?

A side questions: is asking for a letter from a spring semester junior year professor (if applying in the summer after junior year) cutting it close?

Letters of recommendation are needed to be 'complete' at a medical school. Though they are mentioned on AMCAS and will be sent to schools through AMCAS, they are not 'due' when you submit your primary. Since you don’t want your application to be unnecessarily delayed, you want your LORs uploaded onto AMCAS well before you plan on submitting any secondaries, just to be safe.

Because I was unclear on this (a very popular internet premed resource for the UC system spread information that LORs should be ready at the primary stage) I had my writers submit their letters to the Career Center letter service by the first week of June. Biology letter blew this 'deadline,' but I didn't use that letter much anyways. If you want to submit secondaries right as they come out (maybe you submitted AMCAS early, and prewrote like I did not), mid-June is a good ball-park deadline. Virtues of being early in this process aside, 4-6 weeks is a good amount of time to give someone to write a letter. Because UC Berkeley ends the semester in early May, I was able to get a letter from someone I took a class with in the spring semester after regularly attending his office hours over the prior few months.

And going farther back in time:

3. Who should I ask for letters of recommendation and when?

Who: a faculty member (professor or lecturer) who knows you well and can vouch for your intelligence and diligence in their class. Hopefully, you've gone to their office hours and asked insightful questions, and are able to have conversations with them about relevant topics not explicitly covered in the lecture material

When: regardless of if you take their class, ask for a letter after you've developed good rapport with them. Ask them around finals week or shortly before so you'll be fresh in their mind, even if it will be another year when you apply. The spring before your application summer, ask them formally for a letter of recommendation, and get on them to stick to deadlines.

Professors do this sort of thing all the time, and part of their job is to help students of the university achieve their post-graduate goals. However, this certainly does not mean you are entitled to a letter, and learn how to receive rejection or reluctance with grace.

As for how to get the letters to AMCAS, Interfolio is a good idea. I personally used the Career Center letter service, and avoided some (anecdotal) problems of delays and lost letters by doing everything electronically and early. I don't regret setting an early June deadline, and fortunately, I did not have any trouble with my letters this cycle. I've left quite a bit out, but these were just the points that I particularly wanted clarification on when I was at this point in the application cycle.

However, I strongly recommend an external service like Interfolio simply because I would like to have certain access to those documents in case I had to reapply.

4. Closing thoughts

I may have made a mistake in some of my faculty letters, but that comes from the fact that I was a wimp and seldom pushed myself out of my comfort zone to really get to know professors. I'm sure that one of my engineering letters, and most certainly the biolog letters were weak. I also wish that I had gotten a letter from my Spanish teacher as my humanities letter since foreign languages are high-effort classes that significantly show your participation and the way you handle unfamiliar material.

I wish I'd used Interfolio, but no harm, no foul.

Go to office hours.