Monday, April 30, 2012

Organization and study tips from Kathryn

Kat and I go wayyy back to freshman year. Being library-loving BIOC majors from the same residential college, we stuck together throughout the four years. Kathryn is also the lovely one who introduced me to BodyPump (called “MuscleBlast” at our gym). I adore her study habits and her focus, so I asked her to take a break from her busy medical school routine to answer a few questions.

Here we are at Beer Bike couple of weeks ago as first year alums. We took this picture post-race in the parking lot. We are sporting Jones College colors purple and green:
A couple of weeks after she began med school, she told me every day was like finals. If you’ve ever seen this girl during the finals, you understand how scary that is. Well, she’s almost done with her first year and she looks nothing like zombie-Yesle during her finals period. I needed to pick up some pointers.

How do you manage your time?
I’ve always used a planner to keep up with activities and to schedule my study schedule. I use different colored highlighters to help me stay organized. I also make lists on post-it notes for non-school related tasks/errands to run. I like post-its because I can be flexible with my tasks and move them to a different day in my planner. It also serves as a visual reminder of what I need to do. By writing things down, I free my brain from having to remember them and can leave more room for study information.
I think we should start a “Planners empty our brains” club. What study tips have you found useful?
Part of the challenge is finding how you study best. This can vary for each “subject” class you take in med school. For one class, it was really helpful for me to use an online flashcard deck (I used Anki). It made studying like a game so I had a little more fun reviewing the material, and plus you could study on the phone if you were waiting for the bus. I also found that using a white board to draw out stuff and make lists is really helpful because I can erase and review quickly again. I’ve also tried making quizzes/question on the side of my notes which I use to go back and review. I think mnenomics are also really helpful since medicine can be a foreign language at times.
Well, I’ve heard that medical students effectively double their vocabulary. What is so difficult about medical school? How is it different from undergraduate?
Most undergrad tests usually cover 3 weeks worth of material (7-12 lectures) which is the amount of material you learn in med school in 3 days. It’s often compared to drinking from a fire hydrant which on some days is true! 
Most important is repetition. I try to study the lectures we had that day and then review all the week’s lectures over the weekend to increase repetition of material.
Keeping the bigger picture in mind keeps her motivated, in addition to interacting with patients in a volunteer setting.
The focus of the first 1-2 years of med school is gaining med knowledge (lecture and studying) so that you will be prepared once you enter clinics. It helps you to realize that the studying you put in now is valuable down the road.
I try to have some type of volunteering activity each month since interaction with patients is so inspiring to me. Each day I get more excited for clinics! At the end of the day, I want to be content that I have put in the effort to glorify God through my studying and pursuit of medicine so that I can effectively serve, care for, and love people through medicine.
Kat is such a people-person. Naturally her study breaks involve interacting with others:
I love getting to know other med students on my study breaks. I’ve had the chance to meet upperclassmen while spending time at school (she noted they can give insightful tips on what studying methods work for different classes as well). Forming a bond with the people in your class/school is really important in motivating each other throughout the journey of med school.
But I think my favorite thing is catching up with people who aren’t in medical school and taking a break from the life of a med student which is a valuable refresher.
Like me, right? Kathryn suggests this busy medical school experience is also part of an important life lesson.
It’s the start of feeling like an adult where you learn to balance a school/work schedule with getting daily tasks accomplished. I think knowing that you will have to work hard in med school is important, but also that there is free time (it’s just limited). If you balance your time well, you have time; you just have to be a little more selective in your extracurriculars and do the things you are most passionate about.
Her comment on “keeping your eyes on the prize” to get through the grueling first two years really stood out to me. Similarly in dental school, the first two years are studying/lectures/studying to increase our background knowledge and prepare us to treat patients. I also love that she gave practical advice I can follow.

I admire Kathryn’s positive and optimistic attitude through it all. Fact: I have not seen her whine once our entire undergraduate years. I am glad to have someone like Kat who I trust & respect tell me what to expect (and how to thrive) in the four years ahead. And now she passes on her wisdom to me, you, everyone.

Sunday, April 29, 2012

Old-school notebook for checklists and brainstorming

I don’t think I would survive without Google Calendar and Microsoft OneNote. My Smartphone syncs everything automatically including my “grown-up” email. But in addition to all the technology help, I am still old-fashioned: I write out everything. My DC friend may or may not have accused me of being OCD on account of my constantly writing down lists (I also kept a “Dental Notebook” to centralize all dental application material).

I always have one notebook- the notebook. My current one has animals and random French phrases: I picked this up at one of the many stationery stores in Korea (plus cute writing utensils). In the morning, I write down tasks that need to be completed today (if time-sensitive, these are also updated on Google Calendar and set to “notifications”). These are my Most Important Tasks.

Friday’s checklist: finish ESCI 101 TA-ing. Completed with a little help!organizeme

But my notebook serves another purpose- it is “reservoir” of sorts. Throughout the day, I jot down extra errands that pop up or thoughts/observations, so I can do instead of think. Because I am an awful multi-tasker, I cannot do one thing while thinking about another. This notebook lets me clear my head and only focus on the task at hand. At the end of the day, I complete the remaining checklist items and organize my brainstorm jot-downs.

(My friend Kathryn does the same "write and forget about it" thing! She answered a bunch of questions for me about organization and study tips, so that post will be up soon is now up!)

This year has truly been a lesson in information management. Because I have grown-up responsibilities in addition to my jobs-classes-applications triad, I needed a reliable system to remember (and complete) everything.

Sometimes I wonder if I am getting dumber because I write down everything. I hardly need to remember anything. But I don’t worry if I am forgetting something important, which can be the worst nagging feeling. This week I finally submitted the avalanche of international student paperwork. This is after I pressed “submit” and the page didn’t crash:

Snapshot_20120427_3

I love hearing about different ways people stay organized! I think it’s fascinating how different tips work for everyone- Getting Things Done is next on my reading list. Everyone talks about it- have you guys read this? What did you think?

My current “organization resolution” is to stop procrastinating. I tend to skip tasks I dread (even if they would take five minutes). When I see the tasks on my list the next day, I remember skipping over them (and the dread I felt) and feel even less like doing them. So certain items drag on.

Case in point: organizing my clothes. My clothes have exploded in my apartment. Every time I come home, I think my apartment has been trashed. Then I remember and think I should really organize my closet.

How do you stay organized?
Do you have an “organization resolution”?

Friday, April 27, 2012

Paperwork and nostalgia for the international student (bank statement please)

The campus is empty. Finals began Wednesday and I presume the lucky ones without finals have already left campus. It's strange to think that by the time they come back, I won’t be here.

I had the opportunity to speak Korean on two different occasions today. One was to confirm my brother’s trip itinerary and the other to chat with my international advisor. Every time I speak in Korean, I 1) remember how much I enjoy speaking Korean and 2) am surprised at how unnatural it feels.

I am really looking forward to going home.

(Isn’t this the perfect word? I love its long “o” sound ending with a closed m.)
 
Something that surprised me when I was in Korea was the kindness of strangers. On buses or subways, younger students always gave up their seats for the elderly. There is a deep sense of respect among strangers and people treat you like family, perhaps not unlike that waitress at your favorite diner you frequent. It may be because Korea is so small that everyone really is family, but I miss this sense of belonging. I can actually vote in this country. My identification cards don’t have “TEMPORARY” stamped on them. I can retire here and claim this place as home.

I may be feeling more nostalgic because of the extra paperwork I need to fill out as an international student: I-20 transfer, VISA application, financial documents, affidavits, bank statements, copies of passport, grade reports, 7th grade diaries... The extra steps make me feel more like an outsider: this alien needs more credentials verified! (thus the Men in Black picture)

In addition, as an international student I need to show that I have the entire cost for the first year of dental school in cash. My word isn’t good enough- I need to send in bank statements. Even presidential candidates don’t release bank statements, so I don’t know if I am going to dental school or a Senate hearing.

But in the bigger picture: How to balance my time between America and Korea once I begin my career? A huge life assignment to think about.

No Spend Month: Learning to be dental student-thrifty

Last week I met someone who put herself through college by working three jobs. I could not believe it. "Sometimes I changed in my car between jobs." She had to make sacrifices but paying for college on her own was worth it. "Plus," she said, "I have really good time management skills now."

Chatting with her got me thinking: I want to contribute perhaps 0.0004% of my dental school tuition with the money I earned. Plus I need to learn to be smart with money and not follow every pay day with a shopping spree the next day.

My friend also told me- this is how smart this sassy lady was- that working three jobs made saving easier. She didn't have time to go out and spend money, in a positive feedback kind of way.


#21 on my 25-before-25 list is to not spend any money for 30 days. (This is a more common challenge than I thought.) I'm giving it a shot this upcoming May. I have a full freezer and pantry items I need to finish before moving out, so this will be good in more ways than one. Exceptions: bills, food (groceries only), graduation celebrations, moving/packing necessities. So if you wanted to grab dinner with me... hope you like Chick-Fil-A.

It only takes 21 days to form a habit. My 30-day challenge should be a good start to financial savvy-dom in dental school. I am hoping this makes me a bit more creative and a lot more grateful, because I am lucky to have a No Spend Month by choice.

Anyone else up for a No Spend Month challenge?

Wednesday, April 25, 2012

Dentists in pop culture

You know how certain professions get highlighted on television and in movies? Paleontologists. Forensic scientists. Detectives. Doctors. But what about dentists? (Besides the ones who endorse your brand of toothpaste)

Most of the times the dentist's career is introduced as solely the character's mode of making money than an important story plot as with other careers. I can think of four at the top of my head:
Pictures: 1, 2, 3, 4

2. Ashley from "The Bachelor"- Okay, she's not really a "character". But she is a semi-celebrity and she actually went to Penn!
3. Julia from "Horrible Bosses" portrayed by Jennifer Aniston- a “maneater” shamelessly seducing her assistant… which bothers him enough to hire a hit man.
4. Noah from "Suburgatory" portrayed by Alan Tudyk- a smooth-talking wealthy dentist who enjoys the fine things in life.

Besides being dentists, they all happen to be awfully attractive. There is also Stu from The Hangover whose profession is the target of ridicule some moments. In “Harry Potter” Hermione's parents are both dentists.

Well, here's one exception to the "dentistry only as a job" rule: "The Dentist" from Little Shop of Horrors. His profession (and his nitrous oxide addiction) is a major story arc. This clip is frankly a little terrifying.


I believe career portrayal in pop culture greatly affects how the society views people in that profession (fictional characters can be role models for little ones). That's why I am going to produce "Dentists", a television show portraying all the behind-the-scene drama that goes on in a dental office. From my shadowing experience I can think of a few dramatic moments: “My patient wants her veneers in OM1- the fluorescent white!” All my acting education will finally pay off...

But in all seriousness,
What do you think of the way dentists are portrayed?
Am I missing any other fictional dentists?

Preview advice from my life guru Apoorv

I just got back from a fro-yo date with Apoorv. I invited him to to talk about his life organization skills on the blog. He promises to think about my questions and answer them by this week. I'm holding him accountable. But first, we can't believe this is a year ago:
summerfammay11
He left me with much to think about (in addition to sugar cookies from the good old South Servery). He gave me his advice to freshman engineers: if you want to be an engineer, ask yourself why. "Because I want to solve problems" isn't good enough. Be specific and think about why you want that certain degree: what do you hope to achieve with that degree? "That way", he said, "even if it is difficult and different from what you expected, you will find motivation if nothing else."

Similarly, he urged me to find my passion instead of pursuing activities to fill my applications: “You’re in dental school anyway." Because even if I am crazy-busy and sleep-deprived, I'll be happy.

I eat up every piece of advice coming from Apoorv because he is one of those rare people who walk the walk.

This is also why he's my life guru (I am not just saying that because he is Indian- he actually grew up in Cyprus). Oh, and his Chemical Engineering team "CHBE Pandas" won the Rice University Engineering Design Competition last week (pronounced "Chubby Pandas" in Rice-talk). Seriously, nbd.

Monday, April 23, 2012

What to write in your personal statement

My first draft for my personal statement was awful. I sent my draft to my Health Advising Office and they gave me a “C for Satisfactory."

You get 750 words  to talk to the admissions committee. Because the rest of the AADSAS application is so thorough, you should take this opportunity to tell your special story instead of listing your accomplishments.

I asked several of my friends to read my revised personal statement. One friend who is skilled in the art of graduate school admissions checked my essay for content and clarity. Another copywriter friend perused it for grammar and structure (I’m not a native English speaker). I recruited my English-major suitemate Alex to read my essay with a careful ear for my voice.

hemmyAnd no, you won’t sound like Hemingway. (Picture source)

In the end, I ended up cutting away half the points I wanted to make. If you are on the fence about a paragraph, just hit “delete” and read your essay again. If the essay feels weaker, you can hit Ctrl+Z (How did people survive before Word?).

I discussed in detail three activities that were a huge part of my growing & learning process. One was my lifeguarding experience. It may not seem so relevant to dentistry, but I learned about the importance of acquiring knowledge and skills that can help others. Plus in teaching lifeguarding as an instructor, I learned how learning skills can transform a regular swimmer into a “lifeguard”.

Mot importantly I wanted to convey the feeling of excitement and anticipation I had about entering dental school. If you’ve read Jacques Steinberg’s The Gatekeepers, I pictured the admissions committee nodding around the table and saying, “Yep, she definitely wants this.”

Think about why you want to go to dental school and what makes you qualified. We can’t all have sob stories like Quinn Fabray but make best with what experiences you have. Write to convey the message that yes, you want this and yes, you can do this.

Sunday, April 22, 2012

Yesle’s 25 before 25

Update 051414: During a phone call, Alex says: “don’t you have that list?” YES! And I have a week.

Update 071713: This vacation I was determined to cross off a few things… which actually stressed me out. This list became more about crossing off things than thinking about things I wanted to achieve in due time. Some of the things are not that important to me anymore, like #5, I eat vegan which makes this obsolete. ;) You know I’m still a huge believer in lists.

Here are the twenty-five tasks I hope to accomplish before I turn 25. I have a little over two years to complete this list. If you know my obsession with checklists, you know I might be pulling twelve all-nighters leading up to my 25th birthday. But the goal is to live a little outside the classroom.

miamitrip

1. Watch a show on Broadway (“First Date” in NYC)
2. Run a half marathon (extra points for a destination race)
I signed up for a half next April! -12/6/12 & and ran this half in DC- 4/28/13
3. Throw a meaningful party for a friend
Dallas reunion to celebrate N’s wedding!- July 2013
4. Go overnight camping (cooking food and everything)
5. Make a cheesecake from scratch
6. Play an entire 18 holes of golf
7. Order an entire meal in Spanish
8. Cook and eat something I’ve grown/caught/raised- I have baby herbs in my apartment!
9. Write to my heroes (“Every letter was a love letter.” J.E.)
10. Finish my novel
11. Do something crazy with my hair
(dyed a shade lighter 7/2/2012 & a short bob to come...)
12. Attend a wine tasting class
13. Attend a cooking class
14. Pull a meaningful all-nighter
(
I stayed in a Chick-Fil-A parking lot for 24 hours... 4/19/2012)
15. Sew a dress for myself
16. Go on an Amtrak trip (Watch the new campaign for Orient Express!)  (North Carolina!)
17. Make an investment purchase
18. Go see a live show (NPR?)
19. Go 24 hours without technology
(first-
no fb for 48 hours!… then 01/19/2013)
20. Take parents out to a nice dinner
21. Go without buying anything for 30 days (except bills and food)
(before moving May 2012)

22. Swim with a dolphin
23. Say yes to someone’s crazy idea
(I danced in Penn’s flash mob of Gangnam Style)
24. Win an “athletic” competition (includes limbo, musical chairs…)
(I
finished top 5 in Penn’s SHAPE challenge)
25. Compose a music piece

I’ll update links and stories about my list as I complete them.

What’s on your bucket list?

Saturday, April 21, 2012

Don’t let school define you

2012-04-17 22.45.40
Couple of days ago I was talking to a stranger at an outdoor concert. She asked if I play any instruments. “I used to play the flute and the piano.” I said without thinking, “until I came to college and my priorities got a little messed up.” She asked “Then what did you put first?” I said “Classes.”

She and I pondered on my answer for a bit.

I feel I lost much of my identity in college. The hobbies I loved and enjoyed in high school- reading, painting, swimming- were pushed aside to make room for academics. And because I was at Rice where the library is open for all-nighters, I focused on classes and built my identity around academics (and derived much of my self-worth from grades).

I don’t want to drown in academics all the time that I lose sight of myself. Being in dental school should not define me. It should be something I do, not something I am. I want to take time to stop and smell the flowers.

(Are these not the most beautiful flowers you’ve ever seen? N-cakes remembered my love for sunflowers and brought these for me this week.)

2012-04-19 21.40.04
But I am such a goody-goody and I do love school. Will you keep an eye out for Yesle the person (not Yesle-who-lives-in-the-library)?

In line with this philosophy, I put together a list of “25 before 25”, twenty-five tasks I want to accomplish before I turn twenty-five (I will write about these before Monday). These are selfish personal goals, but I hope these will motivate me to get up from my desk and live a little. Because I don’t know who I will be, but I don’t want to be a student and nothing else.

Does anyone else feel this way about becoming what you do?
Who are you? What defines you?

Friday, April 20, 2012

When to take the DAT

When should you take the DAT? Early as possible, if following this timeline in the winter before you need to apply. But only if you’ve had sufficient practice.

In September I dropped by the local Kaplan to take their initial diagnostic DAT. The Kaplan test is half as long as the real DAT but gives a reliable assessment of where you are.

Since I had clear strengths and weaknesses, I decided that a comprehensive class was not right for me. Instead, I drove to the bookstore to pick up Kaplan and Barron’s DAT guide, focusing on the Perceptual Ability Test and Organic Chemistry for the remainder of the fall semester. If you are a biosciences major like me, you are familiar with materials from the other sections anyway. You probably study them every day in your classes.

I signed up to take the DAT just before Christmas. I was able to focus on my classes in the fall semester while nibbling away at the DAT. My course load was heavy enough and I wanted to ace my classes that semester. And once finals were over I flew home and went into intense DAT-mode for two weeks.

DSC_0336 (500x313)

I could have taken the DAT at the end of winter break, but I wanted to relax a bit before going back to school. South Tampa is just beautiful in the winter with the 30-feet Christmas Tree in Hyde Park and Bayshore Boulevard cool enough to walk along the water.

I loved studying at home since the fridge was always stocked with food. Besides, I was already familiar with the local Prometrics testing center since I’d taken the GRE there only months prior.

My plan was to re-take the DAT at the end of the spring semester if I wasn’t happy with my score. Fortunately I scored well first time around to be done-done-done, at least with this part of my application process.

Thursday, April 19, 2012

The smile police: hypochondriac dentists

At my last dental check-up, my dentist and I discussed orthodontics. She told me that I have a slight open bite and recommended I consider getting braces. Since I am starting dental school and all, it will be free anyway, right?

Yikes. Braces in grad school?

I thought no, because it’s minimal and does not interfere with my everyday chewing. But she noted that it may get worse over time. Plus, she told me to consciously observe how I use my teeth: I realized I rarely use my front teeth to bite off food.

Maybe it is not a bad idea to fix my teeth before I become a dentist. Because sure, a dentist can’t fix his own teeth but a dentist with bad teeth must lose some street cred. Besides, I can foresee me diagnosing myself with all sorts of malocclusions as we are learning them in class, becoming a dental hypochondriac of sorts.

Perhaps I should enjoy these last few months of metal-less smiles (and my cozy little apartment):

Snapshot_20120308_25
Does the philosophy “if it isn’t broke, don’t fix it” apply to dentistry? Time to be dramatic: Is it worth years of pain and suffering during the height of my vibrant youth to make my smile picture-perfect? In 6th grade all I wanted was braces. A decade later, my wishes might just come true. I’m seeking a second (and third) opinion over the summer.

Has anyone else debated getting braces?
For those that have… do they really hurt a lot? (I’m a wimp.)

Sunday, April 15, 2012

Paying for dental school with no loans

Is it possible to pay your way through dental school? Considering how outrageously expensive dental school is, I wonder how many people are paying for dental school with cash. (Here I’m imagining someone dropping off a briefcase full of cash. And because this is dental school, while flashing a full set of diamond-encrusted grills.)

Here is Penn’s expense budget for the 2011-2012 academic year. Don't have a panic attack on me:
Penn1112tuition

This is almost $100k a year. Penn is one of the most expensive dental schools in the country, yes, but even Texas residents at UTHSC-Houston are to budget around 50k a year (21k in tuition).

Take a look at these statistics from ADEA annual survey of graduating seniors from 2009:image
The average debt for the 2009 dental school graduates is $180,644. You can pay $1,113 a month for the next ten years to pay it off. But here’s another table that tells a scarier tale:

image
56% of private dental school graduates have a debt of $200,000 or more. 38% have more than $250,000 in debt. That is quarter of a million dollars in the red as you receive your diploma, even before opening your practice (=$$$).

Does this make dental school a profession only the brave (and fortunate) can pursue? Even bankrupcy can’t erase your student loans.

I just messaged my dad and typo-ed “student” as “studebt”… So is my post title is a misnomer Mission Impossible for most? A quarter of a million dollars (you could hand over this cash to drive one of these babies instead) with four years of your life as a student, more reasons to be absolutely sure before embarking.

University of Southern California has the most informative financial aid sessions. If you are invited to interview, go if only for this alone. (Plus their campus is gorgeous.)

Friday, April 13, 2012

The application cycle: It's not over until it's over.

(The post title reminds me of the rain scene in The Notebook- Picture)
notebook
When is the application cycle actually over? In short, when you receive a letter of either rejection or acceptance from the school. But it's more complicated than that: "over" is when you start your first day at another dental school OR the school's first day goes by and you don't get a phone call.

There have been instances where someone who did not get into any schools receives a phone call from his dream school- classes begin tomorrow and someone dropped out, still want to be a dentist?

Many schools wrap up interviews early spring. If you are invited to interview pre-December 1st, that's a good sign. If spring rolls around and you haven't heard back from schools you've interviewed at, hold onto hope until their first day of school. But until then, you should prepare to re-apply through next year's cycle. If you don't have any interview invitations come early spring, realistically you should look onto the upcoming application cycle as well.

According to the ADEA, only 40% of applicants enrolled at any dental school for the 2007-2008 cycle. For the 2008-2009 cycle, the number was still around 40% (4871 enrollees out of 12210 applicants). That implies there will be many re-applicants in any given year. In fact, many of my supplement applications specifically asked if I was a re-applicant.

I just got a phone call last week inviting me to an interview. This was one of my favorites, so it was hard to turn down- but another evidence that the application cycle isn't over yet. And we are now approaching summer. (I also know this because kiddos refuse to go to bed when it's still light outside.)

Tuesday, April 10, 2012

Reflections: Two weeks left in gap year's academic calendar

We have two weeks left in this spring semester. Two of the five lectures are quizzes and exams, so I only have three more classes left to TA.

We had a huge project meeting last Thursday. After the meeting, I chatted with one of our dentist advisors who may be the dental god himself. He was not only knowledgeable on the topics we discussed (including microbiology, electrochemistry, surface chemistry, mineral dissolution...) but also very quick to pick up the presented data. He gave us priceless feedback while I observed in awe.
 
Dr. H asked if I was in graduate school and was surprised to discover I was going to dental school. We discussed some concerns I had about our samples. (Could someone donate their complete set of 32 teeth in the name of science?)

What I actually wanted to tell him was that he is my role model. He collaborates heavily with a scientist at another dental school I'd seriously considered attending.
 
Dr. H noted, "This year must have been great for you." This gap year has been the perfect bridge for someone like me with a genetics background crossing over to dentistry, exposing me to the research side of dentistry. And to think this opportunity came from a random class Lo and I decided to take together.
 
As discouraging as research can be sometimes, I've learned so much from this gap year. How to ask critical questions that can be answered and can lay down stepping stones for further questions. How to interpret presented information with a careful eye. How to give presentations and make the most out of group meetings. To take initiative and be resilient. I think these are important life lessons I only vaguely explored as a student.
 
Plus, I get to wear these cute booties at work:
Let’s power through the last few weeks. I’m giving myself the entire summer off. It will be my first free summer in a long time.

Monday, April 9, 2012

Deciding to go to dental school: why become a dentist?

I didn't always know that I wanted to go to dental school.

One friend in particular helped me make this decision. I worked for him one summer and he has since then become a mentor and a friend. Couple of weeks ago he told me I should have applied to UC San Diego. Because he is in San Diego for a conference and loves it. Then he would have someone he knows in San Diego. I thought, what about Philadelphia? (And UC San Diego does not have a dental school.) Now I joke that he's the one who convinced me not to go to graduate school.

He gave me a picture of these duckling statues in Boston for my graduation. In my photograph, the ducks look like they are walking on snow.

Make_way_for_ducklings_statue
Why dental school? Why do I want to be a dentist? I think everyone needs to think about the answer to this question herself, but here are some thoughts about my exploration:

Why not medical school? I think this was the most common response when I told people I am going to dental school. But for me, deciding on dental school did not result from a process of elimination. There are so many health professions out there: pharmacy, nursing, physical therapy, optometry… I chose dentistry because I liked the field, not because I did not find the other options undesirable.

Managing your own practice In dentistry, it is still realistic for you to own and run your practice. In fact, many dental schools offer business and management classes so dentists can also be savvy entrepreneurs. This also brings in…

Being your own boss Naturally, you will set your own hours, hire people you'll work with, and set your clinic’s philosophy. Big freedom. Also big responsibilities.

Working with hands Thinking about what everyday work would be like for a dentist, the ability to work with your hands and create something is similar to being an artist. The Canadian DAT even has a soap-carving portion for potential dentists to showcase their best soap sculptures.

Other desirable factors may include 4 years of school. After receiving a DDS or a DMD degree, a dentist can start practicing without completing a residency program. A comfortable lifestyle and predictable work schedule may also be drawing factors.

I think it’s important to think about why you want to become a dentist. Some of my strongest reasons for dental school were incorporated with my experience working in a fruit fly lab and teaching lifeguarding. These unique experiences made my reasons personal.

All right, I don't know about you guys but I definitely have work tomorrow... zzz!

Thursday, April 5, 2012

How to be smart about applying through AADSAS (Apply early!)

AADSAS, short for Associated American Dental Schools Application Service, is a centralized system that sends out applications to U.S. and Canadian dental schools, similar to the Common Application for undergraduate admissions. It is pronounced "add-sass", which may be a fitting name for this convenient system hosted by ADEA. Some schools do not participate in AADSAS: you can find the complete list of AADSAS participating dental schools on ADEA.

image

The most important advice I got again and again: Apply early. AADSAS takes some time to verify your information and send your application to dental schools. This year the earliest date to submit AADSAS is June 4, 2012. Often times AADSAS opens before this date, so check a day or two before the announced submission date. You may type in your information before this date.

Follow along on your dental application timeline, and before May is up, complete these tasks:

1. Send out your transcript from all undergraduate institutions. You need to print out a Transcript Matching Form for the registrar’s office. Your entire AADSAS application will be held up until your coursework is verified.

2. Confirm with your letter writers to have your Letters of Reference sent out. (AADSAS will still send out your application as long as other parts are complete)

3. Have your personal statement typed up on Word without fancy formatting. Maximum 4,500 characters (about 750 words). Hopefully your personal statement has been written, proof-read, and camera committee-ready.

4. Put together your academic records. I printed out my transcripts so I could physically check off each course. You’ll need to type in information about each class. AADSAS has a system of calculating GPA’s that may be different from your institution’s.

5. Gather up information on academic enrichment programs, awards, dentistry-related experiences, extracurricular activities, work and research experiences. (Click on those links for specific instructions from ADEA) You will need to describe these activities including average weekly hours, start and end date.

If you gather everything you need early on, all you have to do is type and copy+paste into AADSAS once it opens. Easy pie breezy tie-dye.

Wednesday, April 4, 2012

Deferring admission post-acceptance: Interview with Alex

I took a year off between undergraduate and dental school. Partly because I was not ready, partly because I found a great research opportunity.

Alex, my best friend of five years and counting, also decided to take a year off. In her case, she got into medical school and decided to defer her admission to teach English in Spain. She writes about her teaching experience at her blog Tortilla y Tortilla. During our senior year we spent quite a few nights contemplating our decisions. Here we are, the night before graduation at IHOP.
 
Our gap years were indeed different: Alex knew where she was going to medical school while for me it was an if. But considering Alex deliberately chose to start a year later, I wanted to chat about her gap year experience.

Why did you decide to defer your admission?
My reason to defer from medical school is for a selfish reason. I wanted to travel again. I wanted one year free to travel to France, to the Peak District in England, to places I didn't get to travel to my first time in Europe almost three years ago. I simply wanted a break from studying before taking the plunge and going in deep, so to speak.
Her plan to take a break became more realistic when she heard about the Spanish Ministry of Education's Language & Culture Assistant Program. She admits she still struggled with the idea at first. In the end, she decided to "do it with security". Three things needed to happen: 1) Get into medical school. 2) Get into the program. 3) Get permission to defer. In this order.

Is it common to defer your admission like you did?
I simply filled out a deferment form and submitted it to admissions with an explanation of what I intended to do with my year off. Some people do it, but I think it's more common for students to go straight into med school or simply wait a year to apply. I don't know why. Deferring is easier as it's given me a peace of mind regarding a seat in the incoming class.
What has this gap year meant to you?
With this year off, I have been given a whole other world to learn from and live in. Not just literally as I'm living in Spain but figuratively in that I live in the world of teachers. You can't imagine the feeling of awe when a student surprises you. That moment when a student you had placed at the bottom of the class just one day begins to volunteer and participate, that, that is a wonderful moment. To realize they were listening and actually learning from you. It makes it all worth it.
Would you do this again if given the choice? Do you regret taking this year off?
I've also learned a lot more about taking care of myself. I've always been independent but moving to an unknown city with zero living arrangements is... instructive. I've grown wiser, and older. I've learned about another culture and about myself. And I've gotten to travel. So no. There is no way I regret this year off.
How do you think this gap year will be useful/helpful in your career?
There is no one specific scenario. You are a mash-up of everything you encounter. I like to think that because of my travels, I am more culture-sensitive, more open-minded, more patient, and more curious about the world than ever before.
And as her friend, I see it too. Through her unique experience, she has matured and grown more confident of herself. In some weird way, I am very proud of her. Plus, we will be starting our first years together this fall, albeit 1468 miles apart.

Monday, April 2, 2012

Utilizing your pre-health professions office (committee letter)

My undergraduate institution has a fantastic Health Professions Advising Office. The office holds multiple information sessions for first-semester juniors to get started on their timeline:

Junior year around Spring Break
- Turn in applicant information (SAT's, ACT's, MCAT/DAT scores, extracurricular activities...)
- Send in a draft of personal statement (our office gives feedback)
- Send in Letters of Evaluation requests to professors
- Meet with your health advisor to discuss your file

The office's timeline put me right on track with my personal dental application timeline. I received reminders and confirmations when I had completed each required step. The office also sent us information about pre-health workshops, panel discussions and summer research opportunities.

Besides keeping me on track, our Health Professions Advising Office also writes the committee letters. In our case, the professors writing the letters were instructed to send in their letters into the Health Advising Office which put together one complete composite letter to be sent to AADSAS.

AADSAS currently accepts one committee and one additional letter or four individual Letters of Evaluation. Check with your schools and see if they require one from your dentist that you shadowed: this will probably be your "plus one" if you have a committee letter.

Some people choose to do everything on their own, mainly because the Health Professions Advising Office takes some time. They are dealing with other anxious applicants. I've also heard that some schools will refuse to write a committee letter if your file is weak.

For me, it helped tremendously to have someone guide me through the process. Some things I knew, others not so much: who to ask for recommendation letters or what to write in my personal statement. Having a familiar face of encouragement was also nice. My health advisor Dr. McD kept me calm by keeping everything in perspective. She also banned me from Student Doctor during a particularly tough week. When at the end of it all I finally made my decision, she was there to celebrate with me.

Philadelphia climate and my first race

After running my first 5k this spring, I decided this running business isn’t too bad. My Philly host Kathy successfully convinced me that Philadelphia is perfect for running. She took me down to the running trail by Schuylkill on her injured foot. Plus, she needed a running buddy.

When I visited Philadelphia, everyone warned me about Philadelphia summers: “You can barely breathe. You will not want to do anything.” I’ve spent three summers in Houston. Last August we had an average maximum temperature of 102 degrees. And in 2011 we had 46 days soaring past 100 degrees.

rssweather

In Houston summers my biggest excuse was “It’s too hot.” As in, “I got two parking tickets this morning because it’s too hot to move my car.” (On my birthday. We were moving 300 feet across campus to another dorm.)

One of the greatest Philadelphia traditions is the Philadelphia Marathon. Couple of days after I finished reading about ultrarunners in Christopher McDougall’s “Born to Run” I saw that the registration for the Philadelphia Marathon was open. Expected temperature on race day: mid-40’s to mid-50’s. I’d be training in pleasant 60’s weather.

I signed up. Not for the marathon. For the Rothman Institute 8k.

This might have been an impulsive decision. Plus, there must be some danger in declaring something like this so publicly. If I crash and burn and don’t have the Houston heat to blame anymore, can we pretend this never happened? But I am excited to be part of Philadelphia's tradition, along with 25,000 other runners.

Has anyone else clutched to uncomfortable weather as an excuse for something?  Is anyone else training for an upcoming race? (and looking for a workout buddy?)


*I just read that Micah True, or Blanco Caballo, has passed away in Mexico-  I feel like I almost knew him from reading McDougall's book. What an inspiration.