Special Guest Writer–Amber Sexton: Preparing for Medical School–What Should Be Your Major?

From a young age, I was entirely certain of the career path I wanted to pursue- medicine. While I totally understand that everyone reading this might not say the same, I know some of you have the same career aspirations as myself. So, for those of you with every intention of going to medical school, this is for you!

Let’s rewind almost four years to the summer before my matriculation here at the University of Kentucky. Though on the edge of huge change in my life, there were a few things I was very sure would remain constant as I began college, one of those being my passion for medicine. So I knew what my end goal was, but I still had one important decision to make.

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What should I major in?

You all faced the same question with lots of inward reflection and thought, I’m sure. For me, and I imagine for you as well, the decision was multi-faceted. Of course, my biggest concern was “what major/degree would help me most in applying to medical school?” I considered which major would be impressive to medical school admissions committees, which major would “diversify” me in an applicant pool, which major would best prep me for the MCAT (the standardized test required of all medical school applicants), and which major would be best to juggle alongside the prerequisite courses I planned to take.

With these questions I couldn’t answer, I sought advice from my older brother who, at the time, was a fourth year medical student preparing to begin residency. I applied his advice to my own journey. Now, as I prepare to graduate from UK and begin medical school in the fall, I will pass the same advice given to me to you:

Truthfully, with respect to admission to and preparation for medical school, it does not matter what major you choose.

Now, with a surplus of options, here are a few helpful things to consider when narrowing your choice:

  1. First and foremost, choose something you have genuine interest in studying. This subject will be something you immerse yourself in for four years. Don’t choose to major in electrical engineering if you hate math but you think it will impress a medical school admissions committee. Not only will you make it much harder to succeed in your coursework, but also you’ll make yourself absolutely miserable. The two things that will impress admissions committees are a great GPA and a great MCAT score. To bust the myth of biology and/or chemistry degrees: while some of you choosing to pursue medicine may have a genuine interest in studying biology and/or chemistry in depth, these two majors are not one-way tickets to medical school. So, don’t feel pressured to choose one of them as your major.
  2. Understand that there are specific prerequisite courses that medical schools require you take prior to beginning medical school. Though these are mostly consistent from school to school, you should check with each specific medical school you’re interested in to ensure you take what is necessary. If you choose a major other than biology, chemistry, etc., also remember that it is your responsibility to work those prereqs into your schedule. You’ll want to have the bulk of these prerequisites completed prior to sitting for the MCAT.
  3. Be prepared to explain why you chose your major. If you choose to major in theater and vocal performance, for example, yet you want to attend medical school, you should have strong reasons for why you chose this major and, of course, why you want to be a doctor. If you major in something rather atypical for pre-med students, interviewers at medical schools will almost always ask you about it. Don’t worry- they aren’t necessarily trying to grill you, they genuinely want to know you and your interests.

operation-afamerc-medschoolAs for me, I chose to pursue a degree in psychology. After taking one psychology class in high school, I became incredibly interested in studying psychology in depth. I believe that as a professional expected to treat humans, it’s absolutely imperative to somewhat understand their behaviors and motivations. I wholeheartedly believe that my degree in psychology will help me to become the best physician I can be.

Best of luck with all of your endeavors!

Please note that the comments of Dr. Golding and the others who post on this blog express their own opinion and not that of the University of Kentucky.

 

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The Importance of Grades

After teaching for almost 30 years, I have come to accept that not every student will earn a good grade in my courses—to me a good grade is an A or a B. This was a bit tough for me to deal with when I first started teaching, because I had naively assumed that everyone wanted to get a good grade. I had always “gone for the A” in college (even with a busy work schedule), why wouldn’t my students too. Some students may be in a real bind as far as good grades because their ability to devote time and effort into my courses is limited by job responsibilities, military service, or by personal difficulties (including mental issues). However, there are a number of students whose lack of motivation and willingness to give their maximum effort in my classes is driven by a view that grades are simply unimportant. This latter group of students includes those who think about “Cs for degrees” or may even feel that getting a D and just passing one of my courses is OK.

In my world, what is a bummer about the students who choose not to strive for high grades is that they probably can get good grades, but something is standing in their way. If these students think that grades are simply unimportant, are they correct? It is my opinion that these students, for the most part, are incorrect and that earning good grades in college is worth pursuing. Let me add that in taking this position I am not saying that having a higher GPA means you are a smarter person. Of course, many factors will impact your GPA over and above your intelligence.

good grades-booksLet me offer 4 points in support of my thinking that good grades matter:

1) If you want to pursue a doctoral or professional (MD, DDS, Nursing, PA, PT, or OT) degree good grades are critical. As I have talked about in other places (careersinpsych.com and https://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/careers-in-psych), these programs are only taking the best of the best. Thus, your college grade point average (GPA) carries a lot of weight. It is possible to have a relatively low GPA offset by high scores on your entrance exam (e.g., GRE, MCAT, GMAT). However, selection committees (fair or not) will typically view a relatively low GPA in a negative light.

2) For certain jobs, especially high-paying jobs, good grades can be a “tie-breaker”. That is, if you have a 3.7 GPA and another job applicant has a 2.7 GPA, all things being equal, you will likely get selected for the job. Now I can hear some of you saying that “all things being equal” hurts my point because no job candidates are exactly the same. I agree. Nonetheless, grades are likely to be a part of the job selection equation, along with other characteristics like job skills, leadership qualities, ability to work with others, creativity and experience. My point is simply that grades can make the difference between candidates, and that it is better to have good grades than not. I will add one other point about certain jobs. Your GPA may be critical when you are looking for your first job out of college, but the value of your GPA may diminish over time–work experience may then carry the day.

3) If you get good grades in what are perceived as tough courses, this can work to your advantage. This does not mean that everyone should be taking a lot of difficult science and math courses in college. You just need to be aware that selection committees for graduate and professional school (possibly even certain jobs) will look at your transcript. Therefore, it won’t hurt that you took some science and math courses and did well in these courses. Keep in mind that those individuals making a decision about your future want to be sure that you were not taking a bunch of “bunny” courses to inflate your GPA.

goodgrades-arrows4) High grades can open up various opportunities for you in college. Let me give three quick examples. First, there are a number of scholarships that open up while you are in college. As you can imagine, these scholarships are not going to students with low GPAs. Second, it is typically the case that faculty will choose students with the highest grades to work in their lab or conduct other research. I am one of these faculty members. I look for the brightest and most motivated students to join my lab; high grades help me determine which students to select. Is it possible that I have missed a “diamond in the rough”—a student with high potential but low grades? Of course, but I feel over the years high grades have been a good indicator of productive research assistants. Finally, when it comes times to securing letters of recommendation you will probably have a better chance of having a faculty member write you a letter if you have done well in school. Moreover, the stronger your academic record, the better your letter.

In closing, I want to reiterate that grades are not everything. You may have qualities (e.g., leadership skills, creativity) that can overcome poor grades. In addition, I do not want to discount the importance of networking or experience in helping you move forward with your career. Finally, good grades require a lot of time and effort. The cost of high grades may be a loss of some sleep and social time. Still, in the end I feel the benefits of good grades outweigh the cost. Good luck!

Please note that the comments of Dr. Golding and the others who post on this blog express their own opinion and not that of the University of Kentucky.

Low Grades? Here’s What You Should You Do

In my almost 30 years of teaching I am sorry to say that almost every class (especially the large classes I have taught) has had at least one student who failed the course or did really poorly. This is a real drag because it is almost always the case that this student could have avoided failing if he or she had taken some important early action.

Before getting to what action you should take if you are doing poorly, let me first say that as a faculty member there is only so much I can do to move a student forward in my classes. Thus, how you do in a class is mostly up to you. For example, if you decide (for whatever reason) not to study you are likely not going to do well. Or if you think that you can blow off class, the chances of catching up and getting on top of class material is slim. I will add that you can always take a chance and see what happens if you do not study or stop going to class, but I find it hard to believe that you really want to play these odds.

bubblesheet-986935_1280With the above in mind, what should you do if you find that you are really struggling in a class? Here are several pieces of advice:

1) Be realistic about your situation. It is critical that you understand that there is a problem, and that it needs to be dealt with as soon as possible. The option of waiting is typically not going to work for you. Too often I have had students who are doing poorly, and think that things will just turn around on the next exam. In most cases, things do not turn around and these students continue to fall further behind.

2) Determine the cause of your poor performance. There are a number of factors that may be leading to your difficulty in a class. I feel it is best to initially sit down on your own and assess what might be the problem. For example, are you doing poorly because you simply do not study enough? Remember, the unwritten rule of most faculty members is that you are expected to put in 3 hours of work for every 1 credit hour you are taking. Yes, that means 9 hours outside of class for a 3 credit-hour class! Other factors impacting your performance might include your (a) not going to class; (b) not understanding the material; (c) having too many obligations (number of courses, employment, relationships, family, activities); and (d) having mental health issues (e.g., depression, anxiety).

3) Determine if there are changes you can make on your own to improve your class situation. It would be nice and simple if you determine that you are not studying enough for a class, because then you might just have to study more. This is easier said than done, but at least you can work on a study schedule that can get you back on track (for tips on setting up a study schedule go to: https://beginnersguidetocollegesuccess.com/2016/01/20/dont-delay-set-up-a-study-schedule/). Likewise, if you are not going to class, go to class!

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4) For some issues you will need help from others (aside from the instructor). This help can come in many forms. For example, if you are having trouble understanding the material, you could meet with other students to go over class notes. You might also want to get a tutor. At some schools tutors may be free and centrally located, but you might have to do a little searching to find a tutor who can help you out. In my experience, tutors are great and can often be a game changer as far as your performance in class. Another person who may be able to help you out is a graduate teaching assistant, if your class has one of these. You might also talk to your academic advisor to see if they can offer you some guidance, especially with regard to directing you toward certain resources (academic and otherwise) on campus. Finally, if you are having mental health concerns you will need to seek out a mental health clinic on campus to get professional help.

5) No matter what, you should talk to your Instructor. In my opinion, it is extremely important to touch base with your Instructor about your situation. Regardless of what you are thinking it is likely the case that your Instructor will be in your corner, and they ill do whatever they can to help you do better in the course. This might include going over material or giving you advice on how to study. The key is that if you say nothing, your Instructor (who will ultimately give you a grade) will be in the dark about your situation. Keep in mind, however, that you should avoid thinking that your Instructor is going to offer you extra credit or discard certain low grades—this is probably unlikely.

6) Consider dropping the course. Even if you do all of the above, you might still need to drop the course. You may be in a situation where the benefits of dropping the course (e.g., more time to devote to other classes) far exceed the cost of staying in the course (e.g., a failing grade). Check out my blog post about dropping a course (https://beginnersguidetocollegesuccess.com/?s=drop+course).

I hope this information helps you think about your situation when things are not going so well. Good luck!

Please note that the comments of Dr. Golding and the others who post on this blog express their own opinion and not that of the University of Kentucky.

Thanksgiving Break Is Over: Are You Ready?

Thanksgiving Break is just about over and a big question remains for the final stretch of the semester: Are you Ready? Almost all of you probably left campus to go home and be with family and friends for a few days or even up to a week, but the fact remains that the semester is not over. For some of you on the quarter system there may just be Dead Week and then finals, but for the vast majority of students on a regular semester schedule there are still two full weeks of the semester and then will come final exams.

collegelibrary-1697314_1280I realize many of you have already dealt with issues of returning from Thanksgiving Break, but there are a number of freshmen for whom this is new territory. Here is some advice for both rookies and college veterans:

1) BE FOCUSED. There is only a short time left in the semester, but it is critical time. Many classes have projects and papers due, and of course final exams loom in the near future. Although your time at home during break was relaxing and you probably did not think too much about college, when you get back to campus it is time to put maximum effort into finishing strong.

2) BE PLANFUL. With so little time left until the end of the semester you need to plan everything out. Don’t get caught forgetting when things are due and how you are going to manage your time (https://beginnersguidetocollegesuccess.com/2016/01/20/dont-delay-set-up-a-study-schedule/). It is going to be pretty intense right up until the semester is over and you must be prepared. My advice is to take 30 minutes and sit down with a calendar. Write in all due dates for papers and projects, and then indicate when are your finals. Finally, figure out when you are going to be able to work on everything—both time to write and time to study. Without getting this all figured out right now, you might struggle to get everything done.

3) BE POSITIVE. Keep a positive attitude and remember that (like college students before you) you will get everything done. There will be times where you throw up your hands and wonder how you will accomplish everything. However, if you can follow my advice above (be focused and be planful) you will be amazed at how successful you will be at finishing everything. Remember, the days you were off should have allowed you to catch up on sleep, relax, and get rid of a lot of stress. Hopefully, this means you are coming back to campus in a better state of mind than when you left several days ago.

Good luck as you head back to college and finish the semester!

Please note that the comments of Dr. Golding and the others who post on this blog express their own opinion and not that of the University of Kentucky.

Special Guest Writer–Ellie Cahill: Wear Your Letters, Earn Your Grades: Balancing Greek Life and Academics

So you’ve made it. You moved in, said goodbye to your parents, joined an incredible Greek organization, and now you’ve survived your first few weeks of classes. While these first few weeks of school were new and exciting, reality will set in. You’re going to have homework, exams, chapter meetings, philanthropy events, social events, and not to mention meetings for other student organizations you want to be involved in. The number one fear we always hear from new freshman is that they are not sure if they can balance the obligations of Greek Life and their academics. What you don’t always realize, is that the number one priority of Greek Organizations is academics. We are all here to be college students first and members of our organizations second. These organizations exist to not only provide a sense of belonging here on campus, but to help you thrive in all aspects of your life. While managing all your obligations is difficult, here is some advice to help you learn important time management skills:

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1) Buy a planner! You can literally get one anywhere such as Target and Staples. I recommend finding one that has monthly calendars at the beginning and then breaks down into weekly agendas. In the monthly calendars, I like to write down major events like exams, important assignments, class projects, social functions, athletic games, philanthropy events, etc. This way I can see when all of my main events are happening in relation to one another. It is so important to know when you might have exams and important Greek events during the same week so you can plan your study time in advance. I then use the weekly agenda to write down all of my homework, such as notes or worksheets, and all of my minor weekly meetings. This allows me to understand what all I need to get done each day while also keeping in mind what I need done by the end of each week. Understanding what you need to get done and the time frame you have to do it, is essential to being successful. While it’s important to write all of this down, it is even more important that you actually use your planner every single day. Do not let it become just another notebook that takes up space in your backpack!

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2) Decide what is mandatory and what is optional. To quote my mom, “you have to do your have to dos, before you do your want to dos.” Look at all of your obligations each month and determine which are absolutely mandatory and what are things that you simply just want to do for fun. For example, weekly chapter meeting is mandatory, class is mandatory, your chapter’s philanthropy event is mandatory. Those are all of your “have to dos.” Going to a social event, grabbing lunch with a friend, or going to an athletic game are all of your “want to dos.” Realize that sometimes you are not going to be able to do it all. If there’s a social on a Thursday, but you have an exam on Friday morning, then you are going to have to miss out on the social. Saying no to the “want to dos” that conflict with those “have to dos” is totally ok. For every event you miss, there will always be another one.

3) Ask for help. One of the best parts of being in a Greek organization is that you are bound to have class with members of your chapter. Make study groups with them! It is a great way to meet and get to know other members in your chapter while still studying for your classes. Plus, you’ll never have to pull an all-nighter alone! Another great benefit with being in such a large organization is that there are older members who have been there and done that before you. There is bound to be at least one member (if not more) who has the same major or has taken the same classes as you. Use them! They are always willing to show you which classes and professors to take or how to take notes and study for the class.

4) Most importantly, use your chapter’s Academics Chair. This is usually a member who has high academic achievement and wants to help guide others to reach their own academic achievement. Their entire position is to help you be a better student! If you are struggling in a class, they will help you seek help whether that’s from someone in the chapter or from an on-campus tutoring place. If you are nervous to get help on campus, they will probably go with you! You are surrounded by opportunity to be academically successful, take advantage of it!

Your chapter wants you to be successful in all areas of your life, but especially in your academics. Chapters love to brag and boast about all of the incredible achievements in your life. Whether that’s getting an A on the exam you thought you failed or getting into the program you dreamed of, they love seeing you accomplish your goals and will help with anything in order to get you there. Yes, it will be hard, but college is hard for everyone. It isn’t supposed to be easy. Luckily in your chapter, you will be surrounded by people who will be there to help you through the hard times in order to make them easier and to celebrate with you during the good times to acknowledge how hard you worked.

Please note that the comments of Dr. Golding and the others who post on this blog express their own opinion and not that of the University of Kentucky.

What Should You Do? Trying To Get Into A Closed Course

One of the biggest bummers at the start of the semester is realizing that you need a course, but finding out that the course is closed. You might think that if you need the course, you will find someone (Dean, Professor, Advisor) who will simply let you into the course (i.e., give you an override). However, as the expression goes Think Again! It is not a lost cause when you need a closed course, but getting an override into the course will require a certain way of approaching your dilemma.

Here are some pieces of advice:

1) Keep in mind that in most cases the only person who can let you into a class is the faculty member teaching the course. That means, at some point you are going to have to have some communication with this person. It is very rare that the faculty member will let you in to a closed course simply based on the recommendation of another person (e.g., an Advisor). For the rest of this post I will assume a faculty member must give an override into a class, but it may be another person (e.g., chairperson, advisor) who makes this decision.

override1-university-105709_12802) I feel that you should talk to a faculty member in person. Contacting them initially via email is OK, but for something like this I feel a face-to-face meeting will work to your advantage. For one thing, I believe a faculty member will be more impressed with your desire to get into the course when you show up in person to talk compared to reading an email from you. I’ll be honest, in my close to 30 years of teaching it is doubtful I ever gave or would give an override to a student I did not talk to in person.

3) Be persistent. Getting an override for a course can be hard work that takes some time. Don’t try once and then just give up. In my view, you should try several times. You need to realize that ultimately you may not be successful, but I feel that if you really want the course you need to keep going for it.

4) Have clear in your mind why you need the course. This is critical for when you talk to the person teaching the course. Don’t just say to the faculty member that you need the course to graduate. Lay out in a very systematic manner why you need this particular course at this particular time. For example, maybe you need the course right now because your plan to graduate does not allow you to take this course during a later semester. Or, you need the course now because it serves as a pre-requisite for other courses that you need to graduate on time.

There are two quick things to keep in mind when you talk about why you need to take the course. First, needing to take a course immediately versus needing to take the course at some point in your college career are of course two very different things. Be prepared to answer why you need the course right now. If you do not have a good answer to why you need to let into the course right the Instructor may not be swayed to give you an override. They will simply say you can take the course later. Second, a faculty member may ask you why you did not pre-register for the course. Again, you need to have a good answer. Just saying you forgot or were not really sure you needed the course are sure ways to have a faculty member say no to your request.

override-school-book-1560339_12805) Be civil. The worst thing you can do is to approach your discussion with a faculty member in a combative manner. If a student did this with me I would tell them to come back when they have calmed down or simply deny the request for an override on the spot. Before you talk to a faculty member it is important to calm down and be prepared to talk about your request in a mature manner. Getting angry will not help your cause at all.

6) Don’t beg. In my opinion, having talked to hundreds of students needing an override, I do not feel any student should be begging (cajoling or whatever you want to call it) to get into a class. You need to approach your situation in a mature manner and be prepared for the outcome—good or bad. I just do not see any place for begging, and quite frankly I can see it work against you in most situations.

My hope is that all of the advice I have just given you will get you the override you want. However, if there is just no way to get a faculty member to budge, keep in mind that you might need to (a) take another course at your school, (b) consider taking a summer course (c) try to take the course at another school (including online), (d) find out if there is any way to have another course substitute for the course you want, (e) keep checking to see if a slot opens up for the course—during the first week of the semester there is usually a drop-add period and someone may simply drop the course, leaving a slot open for you, and (f) put your name on a wait list if your school uses one. With regard to the wait list, that can work. However, I feel you should still see the person teaching the course regardless of whether you are on the wait list.

As always, good luck as you continue to navigate the ins and outs of college life!

Please note that the comments of Dr. Golding and the others who post on this blog express their own opinion and not that of the University of Kentucky.

What To Do With Your Cellphone In Class?

         Sometimes I think back to the old days. I started teaching in graduate school way back in 1984 and have been a college professor teaching classes since 1988. In those early days, of course, there were no cell phones, ipads, notebooks, or laptops. Students came to class and did not have the potential distraction of an electronic device. Oh how things have changed! Now students come to class, often with multiple electronic devices, and they are ready and willing to use these devices in class. However, there is a question about how you should think about these devices, specifically your cell phone, in class.

cellphoneblogger-336371_1280         In answering this question, I want to begin by saying that myself and most other faculty use our cellphones a lot. We are heavily into them, using them all of the time to call people, text, check out the Internet, play games, etc. Thus, what I will say isn’t the case of an old faculty member who refuses to accept the innovations of the 21st century. With this in mind, just hear me out on what I think you should do with your cellphone in class.

1) In thinking about what to do with your cell phone in class, you need to first change the way you think about your attachment to your cellphone. I am sure that in certain ways you and your cellphone are “one”. However, in the classroom you just can’t be thinking about things in this way. Part of the issue is that you need to pay attention to what is being said in class, take notes, and participate in class. You are going to be limited in these activities if you are checking your cellphone every few seconds to see if you have a new text. Let me add two things about this change of thinking. First, the size of the class should not matter here, because even large classes will require you to be attentive and complete your work. Second research has shown that students understand that a classroom is an inappropriate place to use a cellphone (https://www.researchgate.net/publication/229862354_Cellular_phone_etiquette_among_college_students)

 2) Figure out a strategy that will keep you from constantly looking at your phone. For example, it might be best to put your cellphone in your backpack or in your pocket with the ringer turned off. You will be able to hear it buzz or feel the vibration (especially in your pocket) if an emergency call or text is coming through, but you are not looking at your cellphone all of the time. You might want to check, however, if having the buzzer on is OK, or if your Instructor expects your cellphone to be on silent. To me it is only reasonable to allow for a buzzer in case of an emergency (see #5 below). Will it be tough to follow this type of strategy? Of course! But, you need to stop yourself in some way, and having your cellphone out of view is very important. One other thing to point out here is that I know some people look at their cellphone a lot to check out the time; their cellphone serves as a watch. Still, you need to try and stop looking at your cellphone so much. Looking at the time will typically lead to checking phone calls, texts, and the Internet. Therefore, get used to checking the time by looking at the classroom clock.

3) Understand the rules for cellphone use that are presented in each course syllabus. It is likely the case that your Instructor will frown upon cellphone use unless it is used in conjunction with an educational app, and will state in the syllabus that you should not use it during class. This may even include telling you that you cannot use your cellphone to take pictures of material presented on the board/screen. In some cases (so I have heard) things may be much stricter, and the Instructor may include penalizing points for using your cellphone. Finally, it is possible that your Instructor will allow you to have your cellphone out, although the ringer must be off. The key is that there is almost surely going to be something in the syllabus for each of your classes about cellphones, and you need to know this information.

cellphonetexting-593321_12804) Don’t try to play games with your Instructor. By this I mean that over the years I have encountered students who either think they can “pull one on the old guy” or that I am simply “out of it”. This includes students who text with their phones on their lap. Do they think I really cannot see them? I guess not, but even in a room with 500 students you can see students texting—a student moving their hands in their lap with their head down when I am not lecturing is a dead giveaway! When your Instructor says no cellphones can be out they mean it. One caveat to all of this is that I have talked to students who make an interesting point about cellphone use. They tell me that sometimes students who pull out their cellphones are not being intentionally rude, but are doing so automatically (i.e., “texting unconsciously”)—they are not really aware that they are being rude. As a psychologist, I understand what they are saying but this can still turn into a big problem, and to me indicates all the more reason why that these students need to put their cellphone in their backpacks during class.

5) Think about the best way to use your cellphone in case of an emergency. Of course, emergencies happen and having a cellphone is just what we all need to be able to deal with the unexpected. Because of the importance of cellphones in these situations, check to be sure you can have your phone on buzzer so you can hear if an unexpected text or phone call is coming through. If your Instructor expects you to have your phone on silent, you might want to approach them and see if there is any flexibility on this rule. I am betting your Instructor will see your point of view, especially because it is likely the case that your Instructor has their phone on buzzer. On a related point, if an emergency call or text comes through, my advice is to get up quietly from your seat and go into the hallway to talk or text. You might even want to later explain to your Instructor why you had to leave the classroom.

In the end, like many other issues dealing with being in class, it is important that your cellphone use allows you to be courteous and respectful to your Instructor and your classmates. This behavior will make for a more positive classroom experience.

Please note that the comments of Dr. Golding and the others who post on this blog express their own opinion and not that of the University of Kentucky.