What it feels like to take the MCAT

The Medical College Admissions Test has long been considered the crucible of medical school. Let’s say it all together now: the MCAT is hard.

Great, now that we’ve got that out of the way, we can talk about all of the things no one tells you.

Randolph-Macon College has a great early acceptance program with Eastern Virginia Medical School, George Washington Medical School, and Medical College of Virginia. In the spring semester of my sophomore year, I applied for the program with the Medical College of Virginia and was accepted!! That acceptance, of course, was conditional. The program involves a certain number of medical exposure hours, high GPA standards, a list of required classes, and an MCAT score of their determination. DUN DUN DUN. Yes, you read that right. Get the score, or have the acceptance taken away. No pressure here.

I began researching my test prep options and wasn’t too thrilled with what I saw. Classes were upwards of $2,000 and private tutoring was $3,500. I didn’t have a couple extra thousand dollars laying around so I asked for the six book Kaplan set for Christmas. Santa delivered and I had committed to self-studying. I know, I’m absolutely nuts.

I took a full 12-credit hours, but I tried to keep up with the pacing guide I had set for myself. I had to read six chapters a week (one in each book) for 12 weeks in order to stay on track. That was all fine and dandy until I realized reading each chapter could take 2-3 hours. Needless to say, I didn’t have a spare 12-18 hours a week either. I did the best I could to keep up throughout the semester and began studying full-time once school let out.

Quickly, life looked something like this:

You think I’m joking…

If you’re taking the MCAT this summer, here are some things you might want to keep in mind.

  1. Self studying IS possible. There are so many resources available online for free! Kaplan offers free bootcamps and diagnostic tests. The AAMC practice tests are affordable. Amazon has great deals on the content books. Just be honest with yourself, what do you need to do to stay focused?
  2. Do what it takes. I recommend three hours studying, two hours off, then another three hours of studying a day. That means that during your two hour break you can do life things, like laundry and showering. It also means you get to watch excruciating Snapchat videos of your friends having fun at the beach while you sit inside and read.
  3. Try not to agonize over the wait. After you finish your exam, you will have to wait a full 30 days (sometimes more!) before you get your score. In that time, you will want to pull your hair out. Not knowing is so much worse than ripping off the bandaid. Nonetheless, it is out of your control at that point. Take some time off and recover from the stress you just put your body through.

Have you taken the MCAT? What was your experience?

IMG_0941

DIY Spa Party on a College Budget

Who knew that Girl’s Night only gets more fun as you get older?!

For my 21st birthday, I worried about celebrating in a way that would include everyone. Plenty of my friends are not yet 21, so regular 21-year-old-things, like going to the bar, were off of the table. I thought about what 7 year old Laura would want to do and I decided on a grown-up (kind of…) spa party! Here’s how I did it:

img_4053

Menu: This was easy. College kids are basically toddlers. Pizza and an ice cream bar were no brainers. Giant tub of ice cream, Hershey’s syrup, maraschino cherries, chocolate chips, blueberries, & raspberries. For my guests of age, mimosas were a must.

img_4054

Target garland and ice cream cups from the dollar aisle. Sugar Shack donuts in the back were definitely crowd pleasers. 

Face masks: Each guest brought their favorite face mask in addition to the ones I provided which made for a really interesting mix. Make sure you have enough face cloths and access to a bathroom for when these masks need to come off.

img_4051

DIY Sugar Scrubs: At first I was wedded to the idea of making bath bombs, but news flash college dorms don’t have bath tubs, hence the sugar scrub. After face masks, we all sat down to see what the Pinterest rave was all about. I looked at several different recipes and chose a few I thought everyone would like: warm vanilla sugar, coffee, and oatmeal. I also picked up a pack of small, plastic containers from the Dollar Store so my guests could take their creation home with them.

Here’s what you’ll need:

Brown sugar

White sugar

Coconut oil

Old fashioned oats

Ground Coffee

Honey

Vanilla Extract

img_4052

This would be a really easy, cheap party to throw at an apartment or as a sisterhood/recruitment event at your sorority house.

What do you think? Sound like fun?

IMG_0941

 

Planner Planning: Making Your Planner Work for You

Time management is hard. Time management without a planner is impossible. Even with a planner, I found myself struggling to keep up with the little things. An email here and there would slip through the cracks or I would forget an event on campus in which I was interested. I also found I was accomplishing the minimum, but I was never getting ahead. That all changed when I got this Academic Passion Planner.

I’ve had my eye on the Passion Planner for a long time, because of it’s focus on progress. This small, leather-bound book is completely devoted to making you successful. All you have to do is spend 15-30 minutes planning out your direction for the week.

img_3900

Limited Edition Stay Classy Burgundy Academic Passion Planner ’15-’16

Step One: Put in the mandatory events first. For me, that means classes, meetings, or any other recurring commitment.

Step Two: Then, pop down to the bottom of the right hand side or the “Space of Infinite Possibility” and sketch out whatever it is you want to do this week outside of those things. Last week, mine included submit and application for a club on campus, make a new budget spreadsheet, and plan out my new product order for Mary Kay. The beginning of this planner has a great place to devote some time to thinking about your 1 month, 3 month, 6 month, 1 year, and lifetime goals. I plan to do that over Thanksgiving Break when I have some time to really think.

img_3903

Number One Priority: Classes!

Step Three: Pencil in (or highlight, in my case) everything that needs to be done. Don’t go crazy if you don’t know exactly when you want to do something, just jot it down at the bottom of the page so you don’t lose it. Moving on, please excuse my abbreviations, my rushed handwriting, and the fact that I’m neurotic enough to schedule my meals. On a more serious note, highlighting chunks of time really helps me see which classes I’m spending more effort on and which commitments I might be neglecting.

img_3905

This is what last week looked like for me. Maybe I’m excessive?

Step Four: Confession time. The weekly quotes in planners give me something to live for. Sad, I know. This sidebar helps you pinpoint exactly what you want to be working on that week and then keep up with things for which you’re grateful. At the end of the year, you can flip through all of these weeks and relive the memories. Not to mention, under every quote is an action item of some sort that pushes you to try something out of your box (seen in the next photo).

img_3906

Love this opportunity to be grateful. It’s like a highlight reel for your week with a little motivation below.

Step Five: Now, let’s tackle that to-do list. If you’re in college or taking classes, I always put assignments on these lists in chunks. For example, if I have a presentation that also has a written report, I’ll list “research presentation”, “write report”, and “make Powerpoint” as separate items. Yes, the list will be longer, but you get to check things off faster which is super satisfying. Also, if the project is due on Wednesday, “research presentation” and “write report” need to be on the week before. That way you only have to focus on the Powerpoint the week of. You won’t even notice that you’re doing it early, you’ll just be more relaxed. ↑Control = ↓Stress

img_3907

This work/life balance section keeps your two lives separate. Prioritizing also keeps you sane!

Step Six: Take your planner EVERYWHERE. Jot down expenses, rearrange meetings, scribble down a commitment you forgot while you’re in the line at McDonald’s.

img_3901

Never leave the house without: planner, highlighter/pen combo, and sunglasses

As always, thanks for reading! Leave any questions or comments below

IMG_0941

*All opinions are my own and are in no way a paid product endorsement*

Why I Hate Philosophy

If we’ve never met, I completely understand why you might be offended by the title of this post. If  your blog post was titled “Why Science is Stupid”, I probably wouldn’t read it, because you clearly don’t know what you’re talking about.

That being said, as a hard science person, I can’t seem to fathom the purpose of arguing. The first day of class my professor, who I personally think is brilliant, told me that a truth is more true if it sustains the process of being battered by objections. Hmm… okay, I could do this, I thought. Isn’t science the process of seeking the truth? Then, she blows it with “there does not need to be an end point. If you’re looking for a solution, Laura, this is not the right place for you” and being the matter-of-fact person that I am, I text my advisor under the table and ask to drop the class. To my dismay, he says NO. What? He tells me this is one of the smartest professors at the College and that it is a gift for me to learn from her. Fat lot of help he was.

The class itself is an Honor’s course in the Identity of Being Disabled in America, plus there’s a service learning component where intellectually disabled adults come hang out with us. Sounds like a triple win. Service. Honors requirement. General Area of Knowledge requirement. The beauty of going to a liberal arts college is that you pay to take classes you hate. Sounds counter intuitive, but there is so much value in hating a subject. I cannot stand reading these philosophical banters that criticize everything under the sun, but then don’t offer their own solution. Yet, now I know I don’t want to be a philosopher.

On the other hand, I’ve learned valuable lessons as to the experience of the disabled in America. If by some chance I build a building, I won’t neglect the needs of a portion of the population. I feel more comfortable in my ability to communicate with people who are non verbal or have mobility issues. But deep down, this awakens the overall question of what a productive, happy life looks like to me. If by chance I were to conceive a child like the adults I work with, how would I feel about that? What would I do? While I hate splitting hairs over whether ‘disabled people’ is more offensive than ‘people with disabilities’, I am growing.

>After all, no one every learned anything in their comfort zone<

IMG_0941

From Top Dog to Low Man- The College Transition

In the spirit of the upcoming school year, here’s my advice to all the freshmen out there embarking on their new journey!

We think we can do everything. It doesn’t sound like too much, because you commit to each responsibility one at a time. Then, you sit down at your desk and BAM; there is an elephant sitting there. From your chair you look at your to-do list, you stare at this monstrous pile of homework, club tasks, and social obligations and you want to cry. That packed schedule is your elephant and you sit at its feet thinking “there is no way I can eat this elephant”.

 

In some cases, this is true. You may have too many obligations, but more often than not you just are not applying yourself in the most efficient way. Being overwhelmed leads you to procrastinate, because you will never finish it all. Or so you think.

Freshman year is a time of transition, the likes of which you’ve probably never experienced before.

 

1) Your parents leave you. They actually leave you. For the first time, you are the most alone you’ve ever been and that is a scary thought.

 

2) Whatever group of friends or support system you had in high school isn’t here. No one here knows you and, maybe worst of all, you don’t know who to trust.

 

3) Maybe you’re an only child or maybe you’re one of five. Either way, living in a dorm requires a major adjustment. Sharing bathrooms with non-relatives can be like nailing jello to a tree. The food is weird. The bed is hard. And no one cares whether you’re sick or not.

 

4) You want friends, to belong to a group. Due to that perfectly natural goal, you join EVERYTHING. One of those clubs is bound to work out, right? Or, on the other hand, you join nothing. You want to sit back and watch the drama unfold before you decide who you want to be. News flash: both are perfectly fine.

Here’s my freshmen horror story: I met a roommate on Facebook and we both decided to live in the Leadership house, Lambert Hall. Our room was small, but I loved it. Two weeks into the semester, I got strep, two ear infections, and bedbugs. On top of all of that, my roommate wanted to live with someone else. There I was sitting in my laundry basket on the floor of the Hampton Inn thinking there was no way this whole college thing could be any worse. Eventually, I got a new roommate who is my best friend, got a 4.0, and joined a sorority in my first semester. I survived, and you will too.

My guess is that you’re more well-adjusted than your peers. You’ve probably been to a sleep away camp or handled club positions before. That’s great! Yet, college is a completely different ball game. There is no way to tell how prepared- or not- you are for classes and that, my friends, can be a huge variable. You don’t know what you’re doing, but it’s okay, because we do (sort of!).

 

So, how do you actually go about eating anelephant?

The answer: one bite at a time.

Start here:

How stressed do you feel in these areas of your life?

Friends

1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10
I have too many friends to count I have enough friends that I feel comfortable I have good friends but would like to make more I have one good friend, but I would like more I’m happy with the friend I have, but I need more My friends are okay, but I need cooler friends I have many shallow friends, but no good friends I think I need a huge number of friends to be happy I’m worried I won’t meet any good people I’m having a lot of difficulty connecting with people

Academics

1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10
I can comfortably get my work done, attend class, and still have social time I get all of my work done and attend class, but I don’t have free time during the week I get all of my work done and attend class but don’t socialize often I get most of my work done and attend class but don’t socialize I spend most hours of the day doing work, but I get it all done I spend hours in the library each week, skipping sleep I go to class, but can’t seem to finish all of my work I finish my work, but don’t go to class I can’t finish all of my work when it is due I’m having a lot of difficulty handling coursework and going to class

Overall Comfort (dorm life, food, etc.)

1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10
I hate living here; I dream of Christmas break I’m very homesick and haven’t settled in I hate living in dorms, but I’m getting used to the college life I sleep well sometimes in my dorm, but I miss my family I’m not quite comfortable, but I’m getting there Some days are better than others, but overall good I have two to three bad days, but other than that, I’m happy I have one bad day a week, but other than that, I’m happy The food could be better, but life is good I feel completely at home here

What are three things that would improve your experience?

  1.   ___________________________________
  2. ___________________________________
  3. ___________________________________

What is your BIG goal for your semester? (It’s okay to have more than one, but be careful not to get overwhelmed):

_________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________

Now, try this tip:

The Four Square Method

Due Now Due Later

Important

1

2

Less urgent 3

4

This method was taught to me by Dr. Reiner in the psychology department. First, organize your tasks into their respective boxes. Then, when it comes to actually completing the work, do them in order of the numbers in the boxes. This seems counterintuitive, because the tendency is to do everything that is due now first. Think about it. Quick worksheets or a set of practice problems are usually in quadrant three. Therefore, you end up thinking: I have plenty of time for that. Two hours of Netflix later and you still haven’t started it, but it’s okay because it won’t take you long. Not true. Hence, it makes more sense to at least start some of your big projects that are not due until maybe next week. Even writing just an introduction for that big paper makes a difference. You can’t imagine how relieved you will be when the paper is due the next day and you are not looking at a blank Word document.


 

“You don’t have to see the whole staircase, just take the first step.”

― Martin Luther King Jr., Let Nobody Turn Us Around: Voices on Resistance, Reform, and Renewal an African American Anthology

IMG_0941

Showing your Advisor some Love

No one ever thinks about their advisor as their friend, but they could be your number one ally at in your academic career. Best case scenario, you think your advisor is pretty normal. Worst case scenario, you think they are a stuffy, academic who couldn’t possibly understand you. The truth remains that a little time invested in getting to know your advisor will serve you well in the future. Ask yourself:

  • Who knows the programs at your institution better than a faculty member?
  • Who do you think sits on the scholarship selection committees? Faculty members!
  • Who has the academic catalog memorized and knows the curriculum the way that a professor does?
  • Isn’t it smart to have friends in high places?

Why wouldn’t you want to be friends with your advisor?! They, surprisingly, are actual people! They don’t sleep in the closets at night. They have husbands and wives and children. Start by asking them if they live close by or if they are local to the area. Maybe they would like to talk about where they went to college or how they found their field of expertise. Literally, ask anything and let a relationship unfold.

Make a plan for your whole four years and see where your advisor can take you.

IMG_0941

Lessons Learned in the Lab

Randolph-Macon has a competitive program called SURF, or the Schapiro Undergraduate Research Fund. Students write grant proposals with very specific guidelines and submit those applications to a panel. That council then decides who gets the funding for their project. I was lucky enough to receive a position in the programs, which entails free on campus housing, a generous stipend, and irreplaceable experience.

My partner, Brennan, and I presenting our research at the annual SURF conference.

My partner, Brennan, and I presenting our research at the annual SURF conference.

My project studies infertility as an effect of chronic diseases like heart disease, diabetes, and melanoma through a protein called GPR56. My research has the potential to be published in a real scientific journal!! If that happens, you will hear me screaming from wherever you are in the world. I will jump around and holler and have a huge party to which you are all invited! I have loved working in the lab this summer, surprisingly. I thought that this experience would ruin a research career for me, but actually I’ve discovered a career that has a lot of independent problem solving which is sooo exciting for a nerd like me! Besides loads of cool technology, here’s what I’ve learned.

  • Science is SO necessary for everything that we use in our day to day lives. Other students are working on the immune systems of impoverished nations, sustaining plant populations despite deforestation, the amount of spending on political campaigns in the last 100 years, and the rate of shoreline erosion in the Chesapeake Bay. Cool stuff, huh?!
  • There are infinite  (get it, it’s a math joke!) possibilities of careers in  the research  field.  Like the outdoors? How about fish colonization patterns? Enjoy solving problems? Pick any topic you enjoy and start working! Are you one of those people who actually liked math? Craft statistical models in computer science or find patterns in rat responses to stress. The world is your playground in the science field. It really is for everyone.
  • Even smart people forget. I’ve been told this many times by my partner in the lab. What I understand to be a condescending remark, is actually a double check, a commitment to accuracy. The two of you can read the exact same scientific paper and come away with completely different conclusions. Team work really does make the dream work.
  • If you need a flexible schedule, research is a good setup for your life. Oftentimes, project work around research goals rather than a set number of hours. You could work from 1-7 one afternoon but work 9-2 the next day. It all depends on how you work your science into your life. Obviously, that works a little differently if you are a professor.
  • Data is exciting! I jumped around and squealed when we got our first data set in a spreadsheet. Suddenly, I couldn’t wait to do statistics (ew, I know) but I really wanted to make the most of my data to help people. And that is truly motivating.

Okay, so by now you know that I’m a total nerd, but this whole research thing is a lot less scary than you think. Yes, I have social skill. No, I am not Sheldon Cooper, but I do wear a lab coat!

Any other scientists out there?!

IMG_0941