Archive for December, 2012

So You Want To Be a Graduate Student Do ‘Ya?

Posted on December 21st, 2012 by Danielle Miranda

                                By JAV

Ex-girlfriend: Jorge, so you really want to trade up going to med school and go to grad school instead?
J (Me): Yup.
Ex-girlfriend: Why?
J: Because I want to and I know I’m damn good at research.
Ex-girlfriend: Why really?
J: That’s all it is. What more do you really want me to say?
Ex-girlfriend: Do you feel like you gave up and just quit?
J: Hello no!

The above conversation between an ex and me took place my junior year of undergrad. I was dead set on medical school up to that point and then my plans were essentially snap front kicked out the window. One thing I learned is that grad school is an entirely different beast when compared to med school. But while one has big pointy claws, the other has big pointy teeth. So as they say, “Take your pick, the devil or the deep blue sea.”

So why did I choose the teeth instead of claws and as a result, throw all my plans, premed curriculum, an AMCAS in progress (plus however much money I blew which for sanity reasons I refuse to count), and many more things out the window? Because I a) wanted to, b) wanted to, and c) I knew I was good at research.
I’ve already gone into what you should expect your first year (you will find that here) so I won’t kick that dead horse anymore. Instead, this article will go into what you should expect with the grad school admissions process.

Figure 1. “I hear a new professor position opened up…”Grad students according to the Simpsons. Not true at all so get that out of your head. If you don’t get it then look up the clip on Youtube.

Part 1: The Application process

The Application Proper

So let’s see, right now it’s about midway through November, give or take a few days. If I recall exactly, that means you seniors out there will be moving through the sludge (or insert more colorful adjective here) of graduate school applications. Now I will not over embellish the process. Outside of interview weekends/weeks, the whole graduate school application process with its essays, personal statements, deadlines, etc. is not very fun at all. Just yesterday, a close friend said that it felt like applying to undergrad all over again. At first I didn’t want to believe it but in all reality she was right to a degree. The more I think about it, the stakes are higher, the paperwork stack is taller, and more is already expected of you. Just bite down, strap on your helmet, start the coffee pot, and go!

The GRE (aka The Purple Cobras of Standardized Tests)

Figure 2. We are the ETS GRE. And WE WILL ROCK YOU!

First thing’s first. The GRE is important but it is not the be all and end all of your existence. It is not an accurate measure of who you are or what you are capable of (that’s right ETS, I went there!). Despite that, you do need to take it because at the end of the day, you have to. As Richard Marcinko wrote in Rogue Warrior, “You may not like it but you have to do it.” On the issue of GRE prep I cannot emphasize enough that you need to prepare. If you are one of those who can just one day wake up with no preparation go in and rock it…good for you, stop reading this blog because you obviously don’t need it and are probably laughing at my hackneyed advice when I say you need to prepare for such an exam. I bought the books, the flash cards, and ultimately took the class. I don’t care what your opinion is on taking GRE classes but if anything it forced me to sit down, practice, and set out a program of study that was doable in a summer. What’s the best way to prepare for an exam like this? Practice, practice, practice, and more patience (I meant to write patience). You need to see it as a game (albeit a pointless one). As with any game or sport, practice makes perfect. Take as many practice tests you can under realistic testing conditions. This boils down to training under complete isolation really. Is your girlfriend/boyfriend going to be in the room with you? NO! So he/she shouldn’t be there with you either when you take practice exams. Are you going to hear the beep of your phone when you get a text? NO! So turn that off or put it on airplane mode and keep it out of sight. Are you going to have the luxury of listening to you “relax mix” or whatever playlist? NO! Time yourself and be strict. As test time got closer I actually decreased my time per section just to train myself to pick up the pace. How did I do? I’ll deal with that in my next post. But at the end of the day I made it in and this system worked for me.

One last note. A strength coach whose programs I have followed with great success once said, “Never chase fatigue, chase performance,” (10 points to whomever tells me who this is). How does this translate to studying? Don’t study when you are tired; don’t study when you are frustrated. Make each session productive and have a goal for each session. If you feel fatigue or frustration (and believe me, you will), then put everything down, get some rest/air or whatever you do and if you feel better and level headed get back to it. If not? Close the book; walk away because you’ll only do more harm than good.

Part Zwei: The Interview

Good, you made it this far. If you make it to the interview then this is a positive indicator that your grad program likes your grades and who you present yourself to be on paper. Now they want to meet you to see if you really fit into the program. Anyone can make themselves fit into anything via essay but the truth comes out sooner or later in person. This is pretty common sense so I won’t drill too much in. Wear a suite, be polite, limit the coffee (TRUST ME ON THIS ONE!).

Part Tres.
Cuatro DCM comment: This is Spanish for the number 4. The number 3 is tres.
A: YAY You Made it in!
Why are you reading this? Get outside and have fun! I’ll have another post for you later.

Part Quatre (That’s French for 4)
B: “Though you are very qualified…” You know where this is going so just crumple up the letter and do something else for the time being.

Feel free to go through the three stages of grief

Anger: WHAT THE HELL?! I was made for that program. They are ridiculous! THEY DON’T KNOW ME!
Denial: No, this can’t be right…maybe I should call them. (FOR THE SAKE OF EVERYTHING PUT THE PHONE DOWN!)
And finally…Acceptance: Well guess that’s just how it goes.

Now for the sake of your family, friends, and the general populous of people around you….try to condense all this in 24-30 hours then after that move on. Shower and shave if you need to. Formulate a plan, regroup mentally and see how you can present yourself as a stronger candidate next year.

Well that’s all for now. Any questions spill them in the comments below.

A bit about the author:
Jorge is a second year graduate student in the Mayo Clinic Biomedical Engineering Program studying the use of nanoparticles as drug transporters to treat airway disease. He comes to MN from the warm Texas southwest supposedly for the cold.
When not in lab he can be found climbing something high, lifting something very heavy, cooking up some good old school American beef, or may not even be found at all.

Holidays and Highways, Turkeys and Deer

Posted on December 3rd, 2012 by Danielle Miranda

It’s a bad time of year to start a new diet, to be a turkey, or to have faith in the ancient Mayan calendar. But for everybody else, happy holidays and happy New Year! Snowflakes are falling, spirits are soaring (and pouring), and shoppers are on their never-ending quest for cheap blenders and such.

I was lucky enough to hit the dusty trail towards Duluth, MN for Thanksgiving weekend, where I was warmly greeted by my favorite dog (Lucy), my family and friends, and my least favorite sight on the highway: a deer in the headlights.

Anyone from Minnesota knows that deer generally congregate en masse near roadways during periods of heavy traffic with consistency that is almost pathological. Fortunately, most of those deer are content to merely dare their buddies to play dodgeball with the speeding motor vehicles that whisk by. Unfortunately, one poor, antlered friend had something to prove to the group and wandered courageously into the right lane of US-52 North. More unfortunately, I happened to be in the right lane of US-52 North hurtling towards Duluth and jamming to a 1980 classic by Queen just in time for Mr. Deer to decide it was a good opportunity to show the deer world just how much of a man he was, and just how apropos “Another One Bites the Dust” can be.

There are a few options when you have a deer in the headlights:
Option A) continue straight – do not attempt to avoid the deer. This is a good option in heavy traffic, icy conditions, or if you are driving the Batmobile.
Option B) press the brakes calmly and signal before switching lanes to avoid the deer – this is a good option at all other times, particularly when you do not happen to be the Caped Crusader.
Option C) swerve irrationally, honk furiously, stomp on the brakes like you are Wile E. Coyote about to run off the edge of the Grand Canyon, and wave with one finger as the deer nearly climbs into your passenger seat.

Care to conjecture which course the constrained cognitive capabilities of my careening cranium carelessly chose? Correct. Thankfully, I survived my close encounter and arrived near the shores of Lake Superior later that night.

Thanksgiving is a time to remember our blessings. We are among the most blessed, privileged, and downright lucky group of people to have ever tasted the sweet oxygen of God’s green earth. The brave souls that first traversed the “purple mountain majesties” and “fruited plains” before us probably never could have imagined the feast of luxuries at our disposal today.

Graduate school can be stressful. The stack of papers, tests, presentations, and experiments looms so high that we often feel inescapably stuck in “research mode” (Smith, 2008). During these times, it’s all too easy to lose sight of the incredible chance we have to make an insightful discovery, impact someone’s life, or maybe just confirm yesterday’s results. These are things that we have the opportunity to be thankful for. Take a few moments to step back and breathe some fresh air. But don’t stay out too long because it’s fresh Minnesota air, and frostbite isn’t any fun.

The holiday season is a time to slow down and enjoy the company of our friends, families, neighbors and pets. It’s a time to have a slice of pumpkin pie with that extra scoop of ice cream, and not count the calories. It’s a time to stay up late around a warm fireplace and really listen as Grandpa tells his best fishing stories from yesteryear. This holiday season, I hope you all have the chance to build a snowman, sing a carol, sip hot chocolate, and throw a snowball at someone you love. Most importantly, be sure to say a word of thanks, because those deer are getting pretty daring.

written by Carl Gustafson