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Happy Wednesday. A lot of premeds are bracing for their impending MCAT date, the early spring is traditionally a popular time to take the medical school ‘entrance’ test. Medical students are also jubilantly tolling away. And though I graduated, I work at a university so I feel for your midterm pain; though better you than I, you’re young and spry. As for me? As accepted but already had graduated free soul, for now, compared to most of my readers I’m likely on vacation — don’t worry, I’ll be in the thick of it soon. Though I technically do have two jobs, Institutional Review Board/Animal Care and Use Committee Ethics guy, research scholarship/conference coordinating dude. I don’t mind earning a honest living. But, work is a lot sweeter when it’s a count down towards medical school. It’s pretty exciting to know that this is the last “job” I’ll ever have, only a career from August!
In April there’s Second Look
School starts in August, there’s a event called second look. Second look is billed as a less formal opportunity for students who were offered an acceptance to come back and see the school again. Unlike the tension filled day, Interview Day, accepted students need not travel alone and may bring their family. Though, I wouldn’t advise bringing “drunk uncle” to meet the faculty. This isn’t an interview part two, it’s a chance to see more of the school, and more of the area before making the fateful commitment. I wasn’t sure if I should go to Second Look or not, for some people it’s likely a good investment. I was advised by my host, a 3rd year at BU SOM, that I’d likely not need come out for second look, if I was sure about the program. Though, he still offered up his place to stay again in case I came down again — collegiality! It’s likely that I won’t go to Second Look as I’m already committed to a school mentally. Incidentally, after consulting with my bank account I thought it best not fly to between Boston and California twice within the next 3 to 4 months.
I had exchanged all of my money, enjoying a favorable exchange rate at the time, I wanted to make the exchange while the market was high. I was already traversed the Pacific Ocean, but not 13 hours prior I was perusing the latest in flight comfort gadgetry at airport stores, hobnobbing with the frequent flyers at the terminals at LAX. I had heard that Korean Airlines was rather cheap, and had really great service for the price, so I flew through them. It was my first flight, and transcontinental (continental shelf), flight at that — complimentary whiskey, no flight delays problems. I arrived at the Tokyo International Airport, a polar opposite of the chaos of LAX. I needed to find the ticket agency that had my discounted pre-sell train pass. I found the office, my heart fluttered, would this mean I finally had to use Japanese for real? I saw another foreigner, not sure from which country, sitting in the chair being questioned by the ticket agent. The agent asked questions, as the patron listened intently, he’d lean closer, as if magnifying the volume of the dialogue will bring about new found fluency. Both men did their best, this patrons business now done, it was next my turn. I sat down, looking at my first real experience with a Japanese native, a nice older gentlemen, maybe in his 50′s, frail but full of vigor. He wore a bow tie, a matching vest, he was the most dapper ticket agent I’d seen. He asked me:
ticket agent: 「日本語を分かりませんか」「Do you speak Japanese?」
me: 「少し日本語を分かりますけど。。「I can speak a little bit, *but I kinda suck*」
ticket agent: (in English) that’s good, it’s always good to try to learn the language. It’s good to show respect for the culture.
We soon finished our transaction in mostly English, he definitely carried a more up beat demeanor knowing that I respected his culture — heck, we may of even become pals. Although, he did end with a question that I’ll never forget:
ticket agent: じゃあ、もう一の質問がありますが [well, I just have one more question, if you don't mind]
ticket agent: 「あなたたちが本とに大きいですか」[is it true that you guys are big?]
me: え？大きい？[huh? big?]
ticket agent: 「あなたたちのチンチンが大きいって聞いたことありますからね。。」[I've heard you guys are well endowed, that's why I'm bring it up]
me: 「あああ、はーはい?」[ooo, um sure?]
ticket agent: penile inspector: ｗはははは [laughter]
me: はははは[laughter of fear]
The first person I meet in a foreign country, and we’re discussing member sizes. Now, I usually don’t have to do this, and I assure you these conversations usually don’t come up during my day to day interactions with say the local grocer, or the friendly chimney sweep. However, I shall make this into a constructive point by remembering that if I speak a patient’s mother tongue in they may be so honest that I may think I’ve learned too much.
After that day, I was no longer afraid to use my foreign language, after that conversation you’re good talking about anything in a foreign country.
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“Why do you want to become a doctor?” — everyone
Every premed has heard this question at different times in their career. As an emerging premed taking your first biology courses you’ll hear it maybe from your adviser, who after seeing the bulk of premeds waiver on their doctor goals, they’ll ask because they know the premed lifestyle and requirements isn’t necessarily for everyone. Classmates rationalizing their choice to go with plan J will likely question you, even more intent on finding your flaws, convincing themselves by trying to wrangle in their logic of complacency. While volunteering at the hospital staff while either congratulate you on your kamikaze mission, or try to live vicariously through you by offering warm discouragements. Unless your parents are dead set on you going into medicine, it’s likely they’re starting to question your ridiculously long term plan, who could blame them who often do people commit to deferring an adult income for over a decade? If you do research, your lab mentor might ask why you’re signing up for a position with long hours, high stress etc. Premeds are asked this question so many times, that by the time it comes up again officially on the medical school application and interviews it may feel like you’ve found over three dozen reasons why you want to become a doctor — in fact your answers may evolve, as you often do, with time.
My answer on this changes, as I grow, as will most people I think.
”Why become a doctor when you can make more as ___, and more easily?” — the doubter
My answer: I literally couldn’t do anything else. It’s easy to evaluate my idea of how much money means to me, because if I won a billion dollar lottery I’d still go to medical school — I’d just have a much better lifestyle while in school and residency. Besides that, I’m professionally poor, so I don’t mind another decade on Top Ramen, it’s not for everyone (medschool and Top Ramen included). If you’re in it for the money, power to you because I have no right to judge your motivations, if you save people you could be doing it pay for your peanut butter hoarding for all I care. As like most medstudents, I couldn’t see myself doing anything else, therefore I choose this.
“But, now that Affordable Care Act (ACA) is here, won’t you make less as a doctor since you’ll have an onslaught of patients and paid the same?” — the pessimist
My answer: I’m sure my answers will grow as time progresses on this. However, I signed up for this because I wanted to see patients, therefore having an excessive workload isn’t a surprise here. In fact, I’m pretty sadomasochistic, I enjoy the thought of being in the trenches with my fellow man. I’m sure slogging through long hours I might even have my flippant cynical response, everyone has a moment of weakness. But, I was a patient before I was a medstudent, as such I feel fortunate to be given the chance to reimburse medicine for how much time and money doctors/society spent saving me. It’s not that I’m above money, I simply have no clue what money is besides a bartering token, I’m wealth ignorant. I’m lucky to get to do what I would gladly do for free and even take loans to do for a living (later). I will allow sanctioned molestation of my free time and sanity, I look forward to the weight, to pay it forward.
“Doesn’t it bother you to have to wait to have children?” — the oddity
My answer: why would it? I’m not sure where I stand on the children decision, but growing up as a poor one, I have a goal to not raise a child in the same position. People often treat me like I’m missing out on life when talking about kids, I’m not cynical about it at all. It’s just that, I choose to not have kids, just like others may of “choose” to have them. It’s hard to hear this question as a medstudent, as a postpone-r of attainment, people have even go so far as to treat me as if I’m ignorant on the happiness of life. But, I’ve often find these people move the goal posts about what constitutes happiness anyways. For myself, and many medstudents (or potentials), a child is a chose we’re willing to put off — I can hardly take care of myself, I shudder to think of what I’d do to a mini me (or her — me).
I was never good at Tamagochi pets (remember those, if you do, you’re old like me =X)
Do you have your own answers or opinions about this? If so, comment about how you’ve handled these questions.
Aside Posted on Updated on
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The most important rule is speed. The math isn’t hard, you just don’t have time to let it be part of your test schedule. So, being able to power through the math in a quick way is important. This is hard to have faith in if you haven’t been practicing math lately, or rigorously, as most people just spend time reading over review materials to study for the MCAT. The problem is only compounded by the fact that most premeds are biology majors, and have jettisoned all math skills out of their minds once it was no longer a requirement. Devote time to math skills every day while you’re studying for the MCAT, divorce yourself from your cellphone calculator:
1. Most on the MCAT are simple problems of multiplication and division and nothing more. The power of this concept shouldn’t be underestimated, because the rules that work for multiplication and division that you already know work for unit analysis. (See physics example below, because it’s a long example)
2. Learn to believe in estimation (science labs, ball park, then go for it, usually the ball park is good enough do to uncertainty). All values are calculable, but not all calculations have value. Keep in mind that each round of estimation will introduction error, just keep track of the direction of the error if you need a more accurate estimation — or you can just introduce less rounds of estimation.
3. You don’t need calculus, but all math concepts help. The most important thing you will take away from calculus are slopes and areas under the curve. But, you don’t need calculus to ever find a slope or area under the curve on the MCAT, it’s just useful if you’ve been introduced to these ideas already.
4. Become familiar with the log scale base 10, enough to estimate pH values within error of 1 pH point. (See Chemistry example below)
5. Any numbers written down larger than 10 should be written in scientific notation, if the number has pi, leave it till the end. Usually the problem will rely merely on basic math and scientific notation rules. You should become a scientific notation guru — don’t be over confident, devote practice to this. Getting this down is essential to being able to estimate, or ball park huge/tiny numbers. Do your groceries in scientific notation, just make it part of your life.
6. See relationships without doing that calculation. For example you have to have inverse and direct proportionality down cold, as well as inverse squares.
7. Natural decay (Aexp-t/T), half lives, be able to estimate them. How much there is now is based on how much there just was but a moment ago. Patterns appear a lot in the universe, pi reflects some type of geometric relationship (or rate), Euler’s number (e) in general demonstrates another rate of growth or decline, but instead of geometries, it shows growth (or decline) compounding on itself.
For example: if an experiment is done, and it shows that the cooling of a pool of blood on the cement from a particular crime scene can be described with regard to time with the equation Aexp-t/T. If it takes the blood 10 minutes to cool to half of it’s original temperature (98F), after 20 more minutes what is the closest approximation to the temperature of the blood if left to cool? (assume the temperature obeys exponential decay)
The trick to this is understanding what a half life means. A half life is simply the time it takes for some value to be half of what it was before. So, if it takes 10 minutes to have one half life, 30 minutes would be 3 half lives. First half life 98F/2 = 49F, then the second half life was 49F/2 or 25F, the third would be 25F/2 or 12F. This idea goes for anything that follows exponential decay (Euler’s number based powers).
9. Understand how to use xcostheta or ysintheta in a problem. These show up any time there’s a vector, i.e. a magnitude and an directional. Typically, the MCAT will tell you what the cos or sin of whatever angle you need, except the typical ones you should know, so don’t spend too much time worrying about the math. If you’re not sure if you should use cos or sin for a vector question, just use this rule of thumb:
If the vector is maximum at 0 degrees (to the normal) than it’s ought to be cosign, for example work performed while pushing a block at angle theta would use cos, because the maximum value would manifest from you pushing directly on the block. While the rule doesn’t always work, it works well enough for the stuff on the MCAT.
Example Mock Problem for Physics – Reference Number 1
Estimate the amount of time it takes to get to mars (Proving Idea’s 1 & 5)
It has long been said that in order for humans to survive inevitable extinction we will have to travel like our forefathers. But, instead of transcribing around the Earth, we will need to eventually move the human race to other planets. At the moment, the most promising planet is Mars. The photons of light originating from the sun only take approximately 4 minutes and 40 seconds to reach Mars after passing Earth. Mars, has a much thinner atmosphere than Earth, in fact it’s atmosphere is only 0.6% that of Earth’s. Mars is frigid heavenly body, with the mean temperature hovering around -60 C. Combined with the fact that Mars has an ozone layer that is 300 times thinner than Earth’s, and has no active magnetic field, future explorers who roam the planet would be bombarded by ultra violet rays and other high energy particles we are usually shielded from on Earth.
1. There are plans to launch a probe to to orbit Mars, however the probe will only travel at 1 million times slower than light, assuming the probe has a constant velocity, how long would it take for the probe to reach Mars? (the speed of light 3 x 10^8 m/s)
You can see this question in another of ways: unit analysis, or calculate, or estimate because the answer choices are so far apart. Let’s try the first way, unit analysis:
A unit analysis problem usually looks like this. It’ll have a bunch of numbers, and you’ll have to figure out what the numbers represent, and that’s usually good enough to answer the problem. As you won’t get a calculator on the real test, it’s a typical question as there’s only so many math questions that are fair game. Let’s brush off our unit analysis:
The rules of unit analysis are the same for mult/div, that’s all you need to know.
First let’s recognize what each number was representing, 300,000,000 was the speed of light, with units of m/s because it’s a velocity. The question stem told us that the speed of light is 1,000,000 times faster than our speed, so that was just scientific notation. That is, since 300,000,000/x = 1,000,000, is that equals (3 x 10^8)/(3 x10^2) = 1 x 10^6, i.e 3 x 10^2 is “x”. Our 300 number is another velocity, so the units are m/s. The last bit is 260, I’ll save that for the last. Let’s see what we have so far:
3,000,000 number will have m/s
300 will have m/s
The final answer will be in seconds, and the m will magically disappear so if we take our units (I bolded it so its easier to track):
(m/s)/(m/s) = (m/s) x (s/m) = everything cancels
Yay, our units canceled out, but what about that 260 number? Remember the answer was asking about time, so as everything else canceled out we know 260 has to have the units of time, and since the answer is X secs, we know that 260 most be on top:
((m/s)/(m/s))(s) = seconds
In this problem it was enough to know this much because the answer has to be B according to unit analysis. If the answer choices were more similar, then you’ only need to go one step further and remember that (m/s)/(m/s) doesn’t equal (m/s)(m/s). In other words don’t let unit analysis make you think that 300,000,000/300 is equal to 300/300,000,000. So, you would simply have to pick which goes on the top or the bottom. Alternatively, you could of sat down and calculated the real number, but that would of taken longer, and wouldn’t be a choice selection anyways. Physics and chemistry problems are generally solvable with unit analysis and basic math. On the actual MCAT it’s more likely that they’ll ask you to convert the seconds into days, just to torture you, but the work is the same.
Example of Chemistry Problem – Reference Number 4
In human blood the pH is buffered by the interaction of carbonic acid with carbon dioxide. The hydration of CO2 with H2O is the rate limiting step, and the reaction can be described as:
[CO2] + [H20 ] <-> [H2CO3] <-> [H+] + [HCO3-]
[CO2] + [H2O] <-> [H+] +[HCO3-] (mediated by the enzyme carbonic anhydrase)
The buffer system will try to maintain an equilibrium described by:
K = [H+][HCO3-]/[CO2]
In logarithmic form it becomes:
pH = pKa + log [HCO3-]/[CO2]
If the concentration of HCO3- is 24 mM and the soluble amount of CO2 in the blood is 1 mM, what is the blood pH?
Now, the proper way to get to the answer would be to pick up a calculator. Type in…6.1 + log(24) = something. Of course you don’t get a calculator. Is this a memory question, should you remember the exact pH of blood (probably not, but knowing the range would be helpful, but let’s ignore that fact)? The question is actually a lot easier than it looks, you have to first understand logs, and be okay with estimating. First, we are dealing with log base 10, so every factor of 10 represents a change in one pH value:
log (.01) = -2
log (.1) = -1
log(0) = meaningless
log (10) = 1
log (100) = 2
log (1000) = 3
Looking back at the original problem, 6.1 + log (24), well we have a problem, because you an I both don’t know what the log of 24 is according to log values above. But, let’s just estimate for now, we’ll prove way this was okay later. So, let’s use a number we know from our values I listed, 10. So, if we put in 6.1 + log (10) we get 7.1, this is much easier than figuring out what the log of 24 was. Now, we just have to think logically, 7.1 can’t be the answer because the concentration was actually 24 mM and not 10 mM. So, that eliminates B, an the answer can’t be A, because that answer is even lower than B. The answer can’t be D either, because 6.1 and 8.1 would mean that there is a 100 times more carbonic acid conguate [HCO3-] than acid [CO2]. In other words, 6.1 + log (100) = 8.1, so this is a gross overshoot. The answer can only be C.
We can use calculus to prove that the pH will change in minute amounts with the equation:
dpH = 0.4343/[initial acid concentration] x d[H+]
What this means is that small fluctuations in the concentration of the protons added to solution will change the pH at a rate of (0.4343/initial concentration). So, let’s say we had an initial concentration of 1M, an you added .01M more of [H+ ]you expect the pH to chance to .004343. So, don’t expect the pH change from point to point to be intuitive, instead know how to use a less refined estimation for the MCAT.
Here’s the math behind that, which you’ ll never need to know. Just take it as a lesson that you should remember the log rule base 10, as opposed to expect to calculate it exactly on the MCAT:
[*correction 2/24: the last value in the pic above should be dy = dpH, I'll fix it later * fixed 2/26]
Well, that’s all I have for now. I made up the questions, so if you see any mistakes let me know! Anyways, good luck and study hard, the math skills you pick up now will stick with you!
Originally posted on doctororbust:
The amateur piece above is in the art realm called a ‘study’, it’s a copy of a Da Vinci self portrait (I believe) that I did years ago when I considered pursuing art as a major. A common way to practice fine art is to imitate a piece by an artist you like, meticulously trying to interpret the original piece in your own way, all while still paying respect to the original artist by keeping the finished rendition canon. In my opinion, the methodology for performing well on the MCAT and premed courses isn’t that far off from becoming decent at art.
Referring back to the ‘study’ above, I first broke the original piece down into a manageable squares, this was done to make the whole composition more digestible for me. Breaking the picture down into more intelligible grid boxes allowed me to recreate with equal effort each square inch of the original drawing. The most difficult, and only part that requires some experience, is noticing what parts of the composition are most critical to capture the viewers attention, and planning how to render them. But for the most part it’s almost a mechanical process, if you did a swell job seeing the “forest” with a layout sketch and “trees” by paying equal attention to each square inch of the drawing then you’re likely to create a quality drawing. The end result of performing an art study is not only to recreate the art, but also to recreate the problem solving situations the original artist had to overcome, making us a better artist — perhaps you’re setting off the same neuronal symphony as the original artist while applying your craft.
I appreciate all of my readers, the loyal, the new and the re-curious.
Why Do I Blog at All?
My friend recently asked me why do I blog at all, and if so why put so much effort into it without financial reward. I can see what they’re saying, after all time is money as they say, and my time is dwindling as I’ve been drafted for medical school duty. However, I remember as a kid I wanted to travel the world, and meet all sorts of people and share ideas with them. I guess, for now, this blog is the closest I’ll ever get to that. Thanks for reading, commenting, sending me messages, and just plain carrying-on.
Have a topic you’d like for me to address? Just message me like others have already, thanks again!
Also, if you’d like the blog to take a certain detour, go ahead and vote — or don’t, and just enjoy the ride.
Tomorrow is Valentine’s Day, though if you’re a premed it’s likely the only use for the remembering the date 2/14 is that 1.4 is a pretty good approximation to the square root of 2 — useful in all walks of life.
Word of the Month – FAFSA
For now, it means just as much as it means: half way through February, so I better hurry up and get my taxes done if I want to have priority financial aid processing. I have already submitted my FAFSA, but I need to submit my taxes to correct my estimation. I have abjectly poor, so I don’t have to worry about them finding out about my next egg in Antigua. I suppose my only apprehension is my parent’s taxes, on FAFSA my parent’s taxes aren’t considered because I’m well past independent status legally and financially. However, there is another funding agency that does consider my parent’s income, and well most schools feel your parents will likely contribute to your education. My step is the sole source of income for my parents, luckily for them his income alone makes them well off. Though, let us take a recent example parents try to extrapolate my parents future contribution to my goals of medicine:
Mom: his white coat ceremony is in Boston, in August, we have to buy tickets to go see it.
Step Dad: we can’t afford that.
So, I don’t really expect their assets to be an asset to me, after all I’m below the poverty line and still managed to afford to fly around the United States, they are making six-figures and yet afford to fly out for a few days to Boston – go figure. In my undergrad years, I got caught up in a similar Catch-22: parents earned too much for me to get aid, but I didn’t have money because my parents weren’t willing to contribute in a significant way anyways. In this case, I think once my financial aid package is secure I’ll feel better I’m sure. On a tangential note, hug your parents if they’re bankrolling your premed/medschool dreams — there’s nothing to be ashamed, they worked hard because they believed in you.
I remember when my interviewer called me from Boston Medical to tell me that I was accepted, she said to me “Make sure to go out and celebrate with your family, they’re going to be so happy”. I’m really happy she called me, I’m really happy she was happy for me, because in all honesty those moments on the phone were my only sources of tangible celebration on that day — and all the days to follow it.
I Bought Pants…and Shoes! (non dress up)
To reward myself (and to not let this post end on a dreary note), I bought more clothes for myself. Recently, it occurred to me that I’d vested all my effort into getting into medical school, leaving myself disheveled. In fact, all of my pants (I deem wearable) have a hole in them. Now, there’s aesthetic holes that double the price of garments, and there’s “give that guy some change” holes, and it was moving towards the latter. So, I decided I needed several fine pairs of trousers. I needed to do something to celebrate getting into Boston Medical, right? I look forward to meeting my new family and support network at Boston Medical, maybe they’ll notice my snazzy attire.
Till next time. =)