Sunday, January 24, 2016

Spring semester forecasting

Gloomy woods in Tilden Park

Now this is the final hurrah at UC Berkeley. The objective of this semester is this: I must become a well-rounded adult. I must prepare myself to be an educated, self-sufficient, autonomous, capable, thinking member of society, and future physician. MY GPA DOES NOT MATTER AT THIS POINT but holy Hell do I want to graduate cum laude or magna cum laude. I can take the classes that I think will most fortify my knowledge, but also be fun and interesting. I do not plan on attending any more medical school interviews, and have turned down/withdrew from a few schools. I will throw all of my free time into (1) making the most out of the last semester with my close friends, (2) finishing my research projects and publishing, and (3) making the most and best positive change at the Berkeley Free Clinic. I'll probably find a hill to figuratively die on.

Without further ado:

"A placeholder title for a class for semi-privacy reasons" (4 units, letter graded): this is an upper division class cross-listed between bioengineering, including about an even split of undergrads and grad students, having to do with the design and performance of medical implants, with particular focus on mechanics and materials science. With that description, a clever snoop can probably find exactly which class this is. The reason for the vague title is that this class is taught by my PI, in whose lab I have worked since the summer after freshman year. Needless to say, I am thrilled to be in this class, which is taught by a mentor and professor whom I have always admired, about a subject that I have always been interested in. I entered college and my bioengineering major dreaming about medical implants, I have worked in a research lab studying implant failure, and will continue pursuing this interest into medical school, and hopefully the rest of my career. Furthermore, my favorite classes at UC Berkeley have been those upper division bioengineering courses that have this huge mix of students: bioengineering, mechanical engineering, materials science and projects + the scholastic melting pot have made the most rewarding learning experiences I have ever been privileged to have. My classmates are incredibly diverse and I have much to learn from them.

Intermediate Spanish (5 units, letter graded): finally. One of my ultimate goals of college was to improve my Spanish from the level I took the AP Spanish test at in 2011. It turns out that my skills have atrophied: I am not as proficient in speaking nor understanding, and my grammar is more haphazard. There's no remedying it except for taking a class and working hard to learn it, practicing every day, and willing myself to learn a language and learn it well. I will have Spanish-speaking patients in the future, and I hope that by improving in this area, I can better serve them.

The Structure and Interpretation of Computer Programs (4 units, P/NP): the introductory computer science course, taught in Python. After hanging out with my majority EECS and CS friends for the past 3.5 years, I will finally see what the fuss is about. I don't anticipate programming much in my future, but CS 61A is one of those quintessentially UC Berkeley courses, with a staggering >1000 enrollment a notoriously difficult professor (the infamous Prof. Hilfinger), and an almost mythic status as a general interest course of the 21st Century. I'm the only senior in my discussion/lab section, and one of the very few non-freshmen. An old dog can learn new tricks!

Wealth and Poverty (4 units, P/NP): this is another mythic UC Berkeley class, taught by former United States Secretary of Labor, and prolific Facebook soapboxer Prof. Robert Reich. I'm hesitantly excited for this class because I want to become more knowledgeable about the intersection of politics, economics, and society in this country...but Robert Reich's reputation precedes himself, as a loud, outspoken Left-wing radical, a decrier of GOP shenanigans, etc. These are not bad things, but I'm on the quest to build a political opinion of my own, which includes the decision of who to vote for in the Democratic primaries. First lecture down and he's emphasized that his political ideology is unimportant for the course, and that we should develop our own based on critical thought and research. So far, so good. An interesting feature of this course is that Prof. Reich hosts a small(er) group discussion after lecture; in the first "salon" of the semester, I asked my question and he answered, all in the presence of the film crew that had been recording all lecture.

Also: my total textbook cost of the semester thus far is a whopping $0, which is down from last semester's $15.

Wednesday, January 20, 2016

Finally pre-med

A late afternoon picture of Cleveland's Little Italy. Very little relevance to the post below, actually

Recently, I was admitted to Boston University School of Medicine's class of 2020. I got the news in Safeway,  wept in public, and am still riding the bliss of knowing that I do have a future in medicine, that I will become a doctor. So ended my agony of the cycle, washed away all plans of gap year jobs and reapplication, and undermined many of the self-loathing/doubting/destructive thoughts that have been lurking in my brain these past few weeks.

More importantly, I realize that I have to shift my way of thinking of myself and what my work must be for. For the last 3.5 years, I have predominantly seen myself as a college student working towards becoming a medical school applicant. Now, it is clear that I must reevaluate myself, and redefine myself: I am a future medical student, and a future doctor. My goal now must be what I had always wanted it to be. I must strive to become a good person, a good physician, and learn to practice medicine.

The title of this post references my discomfort with the term pre-med, which I've written about before. In short, I've never liked identifying myself as such, since there is so much uncertainty in college anyhow, no matter how resolutely I believed I wanted to become a doctor. Also, early on in college, I felt alienated from other bioengineering majors for feeling strongly about applying to medical school. Until recently, when I learned that a significant portion of graduating seniors pursue consulting jobs (Deloitte, Accenture, etc), I felt like an inferior black sheep of the BioE flock because I one of those losers that wasn't going to become an engineer and use her degree.

The shame of being an engineering quitter is unreasonable. It's actually completely stupid since I've known since childhood that I wanted to be a doctor. Berkeley engineering has taught me valuable lessons, taught me how to think critically, design methodically, and solve problems logically, but it was ultimately a means to an end. My research lab has been a home away from home, my graduate student mentor become a general life coach, and my fellow undergrad worker bee a close friend. For a long time, I illogically felt unwelcome in BioE. Let me add, too, that some of the other pre-med BioE people participate in many more engineering-related things than I do.

I digress. The point of the title is that now, only now that I've gotten into med school do I feel comfortable with that descriptor. I am pre-med: for the next few months, I will be a person in the prologue of my medical career. In August, I will matriculate. It's just a stupid phrase. It's silly that I should feel the way that I do, but I'm understanding that now. In the next few months, I need to work on myself, my self-esteem and confidence, and my emotional health. I need to work on broadening my understanding of the health care system in this country, and read and write as much as possible.

Before I end this navel-gazing post, I must add that I am thrilled to have been admitted to BUSM, and to potentially live in BOSTON for the next 4 years. Between elation at attending one of my favorite schools I interviewed at and the staggering anxiety at the amount of information, skills, and responsibility that I must take up during med school...I'm kind of drained.

Sunday, January 17, 2016


In early November, I interviewed at the two MD programs at Case Western Reserve University: the 4 year University Track and the 5 year College Track (aka Cleveland Clinic Lerner College of Medicine). I stalled on posting these pictures since there were all holy shit autumn leaves that were very similar, but all too dear for me to delete. These pictures, with the exception of these early ones of the city and a few at the end, were all taken at the Lakeview Cemetery. For the sake of aesthetics, the text won't necessarily describe the closest photos.

Cleveland in early November was a ridiculous blast of colors. Flying in over the drab Lake Erie and having my first glimpse of the state of Ohio be city + near confluent mass of red/orange/gold deciduous trees was absolutely jawdropping.

I took a train eastbound from Puritas Station to University Circle at around sunset. Cleveland literally looked like it was on fire. These are my favorite pictures from my trip since they capture the incredible autumn foliage and also the remnants of infrastructure and industry that formed my preconceptions of Cleveland. Would you believe me if I said I hardly edited these pictures?

Left: my CWRU student host's darling cat
Right: a basic boots + autumn leaves picture

Because I had interviews on Monday and Wednesday, I stayed in Cleveland for three days and three nights. On Monday night, I took a bus from the Cleveland Clinic to Cleveland Heights, the most picture perfect autumnal suburb I had ever seen. Since it was shortly after Halloween, walking at night in this part of Cleveland was spooky rather than scary, and actually pretty enjoyable. I have few pictures of Cleveland Heights, but imagine many brick houses, trees and their leaves everywhere, and curvy streets. My student host told me it was designed to reduce deer deaths by car. I don't know how true that is, but a buck did jump across my path during my nighttime walk.

On Tuesday, I explored Cleveland Heights, Little Italy, University Circle, and Case campus. My host dropped me off at the medical school, and I promptly went east towards the cemetery. Nothing quite like a stroll in a historical graveyard among autumn leaves to reflect on my own mortality, dwell on my abysmal performance at my CCLCM interview, and worry about CWRU on Wednesday.

I got to see the chapel, Rockefeller's memorial site, the mausoleum, and Hoover's monument.

After that, I went through Little Italy, University Circle, and Case campus. I had coffee and a bagel at a cute coffee house, then spent the vast majority of my day at the Cleveland Museum of Art. I'm far from an art connoisseur, but I enjoyed its collections, and was right at the level of Cantor, the free museum at Stanford. Because the CMA was free, I ended up going back to it a few times during the day.

There was also a little museum of medical history, with a special exhibit on childbirth, on Case campus. The same building had a beautiful, old-fashioned library, luxuriously decorated with oil paintings, antique medical equipment, and antique furniture. It reminded me of the Morrison Library at Cal, but much larger.

Creepy stumps

I did not see much of the city beyond the Cleveland Clinic itself, Case Western campus, Little Italy, and Cleveland Heights. I've deliberately left out most of the medicine-related details, which are the details that an applicant might find useful, but I have relatively little to say about either CCLCM or CWRU that is not mentioned on MSAR, the program websites, etc.

The Coffee House at University Circle: cute little place for a morning coffee and afternoon bagel and nap

That's all I have to say about Cleveland.

The atrium of the Cleveland Museum of Art

Sunday, January 3, 2016

Gradual exit

A dramatization of my apartment, courtesy of Animal Planet

I'm approaching my final semester in college, and my final semester in the wretched little treehouse that I have called home for the past three years.

It's been a hard year for me, but something that unexpectedly troubled me was how unhappy and uncomfortable I was in my apartment. It's always been cluttered, it's always been small, but only now did I realize how much dirtier and disorganized it's become this past semester. The general deterioration of the apartment, along with the increased quantity of accumulated stuff has become oppressive and depressive. I use such strong language because the realization of this truth was so startling. Indeed, dissatisfaction with the space I live in seriously affected my general outlook and wellbeing.

It seems so obvious now that I wish I'd been less complacent about it before.

Given that I only have a few months left there, I think it's high time I jumped whole-heartedly on the decluttering bandwagon, but with the distinct goal of preparing to move out. Also, I realize how uncertain my future is, but know for a fact that I'll be moving back in with my parents immediately after graduation, regardless of what my plans eventually become. As cluttered and cramped as I feel my space in my apartment is, my space at home is practically empty. I don't own many things, and the things I do own went with me to college, and now sit in my small apartment. Over the years, certainly I've accumulated belongings, some of them more used than others, and many of them used not at all and simply wasting space.

My goal is to sort through my space/things in my apartment and make the move-out process slow and steady. I plan on visiting home once a month (I'm local), and relocating some of my belongings. In this process, I will toss/recycle/donate as much as I can, and reorganize what will remain in my apartment so I can utilize the space more effectively. A general goal that I have is for each item in my possession to have its specific, designated location. I suffer from some laziness that makes me leave things lying about haphazardly: now is the time to combat it.

I haven't read Marie Kondo's manifesto, but I feel like I have a good idea what it says. If I deep clean area by area, then perhaps my feelings of being trapped by stuff will  gradually go away. Here's to a more organized and content 2016.