warning: long and somewhat nostalgic good-bye post ahead

It was a hard question, what to do next. I started off by finally declaring my major in my sophomore year. After months of debating what I should do, if I should try to double-up, if I wanted to try to do pre-med with a humanities major I finally settled on a Biology major with a concentration in Neurobiology and Behavior. It was a weight off my shoulders when I finally decided, because I had finally given myself some direction. In the College of Arts and Sciences you have a lot of flexibility to take classes in areas that are unrelated to your major, so I figured I could take full advantage of that without giving myself the added pressure of meeting requirements of yet another major.

I continued working at the Cornell Annual Fund and decided to leave my job cleaning mice cages in the Department of Animal Science. Instead I applied for and was lucky enough to get a research assistant job with a start-up chemistry company right on campus. This is what initially got me interested in research, even though the research was far from biology-related. (I was developing a paint formulation!) By the end of sophomore year I figured it would be handy to get some research experience in a field more closely approximating my academic major of Biology, so I applied for summer research programs that I researched online. In my application process, I had a decision to make on whether I wanted to apply to more “behavior” oriented programs or more “neurobiology” oriented programs. I decided to try my hand at field research, and was luckily afforded an opportunity to do research at the University of Colorado.

That summer I lived in a ‘rustic’ cabin up in the middle of nowhere and did field research on navigation behavior in an ant species found there. It was a fun summer, and I enjoyed the research a lot but I wasn’t sure if field research was right for me. This left me in a quandary because while graduate school still seemed appealing, I wasn’t sure what exactly I’d like to pursue a PhD in.

I think it was early in my junior year that I heard about MD/PhD programs, and for the first time I was unequivocally excited about what it meant in terms of a career. (biomedically focused research with the opportunity to also have clinical responsibilities) So I contacted the Office of Undergraduate Biology at Cornell and had them help me find prospective Cornell lab mentors. I knew that the research-focused MD/PhD programs would want to see even more research involvement than I currently had under my belt.

To make a long story short, I ended up studying abroad in Bristol, England my spring semester and took a hodge-podge of awesome classes, and met some even more awesome friends. (Who just came to visit me!) While in England I also had an amazing opportunity to volunteer at a social/recreation rehabilitation out-patient center for those with traumatic brain injuries. When I got back from England I came back to Cornell and started working in the lab during the summer, using my Cornell Tradition summer internship funding to pay for my basic living expenses.

I forgot to mention that the process of applying to MD/PhD programs started early in the spring semester, with my registration to the Health Careers Evaluation Committee. I had to send in background information on myself as well as request letters of recommendation from people who knew me. When I was at Cornell doing research for the summer, I had my HCEC interview, which allows the Committee to prepare a cover letter on your behalf for application to AMCAS.

That summer was a busy one, I was doing research during the day, filling out my AMCAS primary application, and studying for the MCATs, which I took in August. I took advantage of a writing workshop consultant Cornell had hired and she helped me completely transform my personal essays from trite, rather bland pieces to much improved drafts.

Once my senior year started up I was simultaneously filling out both medical school and MD/PhD secondary applications, starting the interview process and taking classes. In other words, busy! I always think of the application process as a huge roller coaster ride. The slow grinding climb to the top that consists of filling out applications, studying for the MCAT and fretting over your chances. The first plunge of excitement when offered an interview, the first stomach-wrenching corkscrew with the first (and second and third and fourth -they don’t get any easier) rejection e-mail, the nervous anticipation at interviews, the feeling of failure, and if you’re lucky, the feeling of success as well. This process is not for the faint of heart, but I made it through in one piece. And I’m incredibly excited about where I’m off to next, New York City in an MD/PhD Medical Scientist Training Program. I’m moving into the city at the end of June and starting my first lab rotation right away in July. After which, I’ll complete two years of basic medical coursework, followed by 4-5 years in my PhD period in the lab, followed by completion of my medical years. I’ve got a long, long haul ahead of me, and I understand why many people look at me like I’m crazy when I tell them what I’m doing. But it doesn’t really matter because I am excited and pumped and enthusiastic. And Cornell helped me get here. From the prelims that made me want to rip my hair out to the health career adviser who would respond to every one of my frantic e-mails within 24 hours with a soothing reply, Cornell has prepared me in more ways than one for my next steps in life.

I might have been able to do this at another school. I just can’t imagine it.

PS-
Can you believe it? I am no longer a Life on the Hill Student Blogger. I am an Alum! I’ve gorged myself on crudités and chocolate dipped strawberries at the receptions, teared up at Maya Angelou’s commencement address, yelled at myself for wearing heels to the one hour convocation procession, had my mom take inordinate amounts of pictures, and picked up my diploma. I may not have done all 161 things every Cornellian should do (they printed a list in the Cornell Daily Sun) but I am now officially a Cornell graduate. Thank you all for reading and sharing a little bit of My Life on the Hill. If you have any questions at all, about anything at all, don’t hesitate to be in touch. Best of luck also to all you incoming freshers. You’ll meet incredible people and have a challenging but rewarding few years. And don’t worry if you don’t know what you want to do. I didn’t for the first 3 years at Cornell and things worked out for me. Be grateful you are in the US, where you have plenty of time to decide what you want to be when you grow up. And no matter what you end up doing, Cornell will leave you prepared. You’ll come out thinking – If I got through Cornell, I can get through anything.

freshmen year in (a very quick) academic review

Back to the story at hand. When I came to Cornell my freshmen year, I was undeclared major wise but doing the pre-vet requirement classes.  This basically is the same as pre-med requirements – intro bio, chem, etc.  They were rigorous classes, but I would say in hindsight they were good in terms of teaching me how to think as opposed to memorize.

Freshmen year I also volunteered with Cornell Companions, run through the vet school.  You get trained to visit nursing homes, assisted living centers and the like with other volunteers and of course the companions, the pets.  Since I didn’t have my own pet, I accompanied another volunteer and her two animals.

Over our winter break, I took part in a Cornell arranged one day externship at a private practice veterinary clinic where a Cornell alum practiced.  One of the huge advantages of going to a humongous school like Cornell is that there are a lot of resources, particularly with alumni networking.  In my case, there were actually no animal-related externships being sponsored in my hometown, so I asked the career center which ran the freshmen externships if they could help me.  They contacted an alum who had also gone to the Cornell vet school and behold I was able to shadow him for a day.  I think these programs are great to either get experience in an area you know you want to go into or explore an area you are possibly interested in.  For me the shadowing experience showed me that veterinary medicine was probably not for me.  I realized I would be just as satisfied having a menagerie at home and pursuing a different vocation for my career.

But what to do next?

a brief interruption

I know I promised a stroll down memory lane and of course I’ll give that to you shortly.  But first I just wanted to give you a little flavor of Senior Week here at Cornell.  Senior Week is the week after finals but before graduation, when most of the undergrads (besides seniors of course) have already packed their bags for home.  I wasn’t quite sure what to expect from Senior Week.  There are events that are free each day, and also events that you need to buy tickets for in advance.

Some free events that I attended this past week were the Urban “Rave” in Willard Straight Hall, the ’08  Tailgate on North Campus (which was in 40 degree weather by the way- what a way to sum up the past 4 years at Cornell!) and Casino Night in Duffield Hall.  Some paid-for events my friends and I attended included a wine tour, a twilight cruise on Cayuga Lake, and later today, brunch at the local bar/restaurant Ruloff’s.  I honestly wasn’t sure how great Senior Week was going to be, but it definitely was a good time.

It reminded me a little of Orientation Week but with a completely different atmosphere.  Everyone looks familiar, and you realize that you actually know people. (For example, I knew 4 of the Casino night raffle winners, FOUR!) Instead of a scared, unsure, somewhat awkward freshmen we are  mature, savy, still somewhat awkward seniors, ready for the world.

The tears have started a little bit, but mostly I blank out the fact that Cornell is coming to a rapid end.  OK, can’t talk about this anymore -can’t show up to brunch a sobbing mess…Let’s just say Senior Week has been a wonderful experience of catching up with friends and enjoying the last few days of the best few years of our lives.

Sneak Preview!

Well, the comment on my last entry could not have come at a better time…as my time winds down here at Cornell (so cryptic) I think it’s about time to start going back down memory lane, and particularly back down the path that has brought me to where I’ll be disappearing to come this summer. (NYC for my MD/PhD!)

Deciding to go for an MD/PhD was an intense, grueling process that I often neglected to write about. Not because I wanted to leave you in the dark, but simply because I couldn’t handle any more stress than I was already experiencing -and writing about it while I was going through it would have brought it to another level of reality. Now that I’m accepted, relaxed and excited I think it’s about time to give you a little insight on what this entailed for me at Cornell and particularly how Cornell helped me get where I am. (Too corny? Sorry! Can’t help it!)

So, we are about to embark on (an as of yet undetermined part #) Mini-Series on going after an MD/PhD. From my first year at Cornell to my final letter of intent to matriculate, I hope this will help any of you out there contemplating such a path, particularly such a path at Cornell. (I hope this doesn’t narrow down my audience to n=4…but even if it does, that’s OK. There is not enough information on this out there!)

Stay tuned!

not another last!

As a senior at Cornell in May, there are a LOT of LASTS.  Some are silly, some are obviously not LASTS but more “lasts for the next couple of years” and some are actually bittersweet, veritable lasts. Here is a little taste of some of my lasts, both completed and approaching:

My last shift TAing biochemistry.
My last shift in the Learning Strategies Center.
(Having to turn in keys to both of these places was particularly sad.  I felt so important having keys to random rooms in Stimson, the biology building.)

My last Cornell Fund Shift.  Tonight! I started working there freshmen year in September and have been there ever since.  I’ll miss you Blue Room.  (The room in the Engineering Library where we call alumni from.  Why is it called the Blue Room? 4 years there and I have yet to figure that out.)

My last Tradition Student Advisory Council (SAC) picnic.  Gorging myself on burgers, pasta salad, watermelon and Wegman’s (the bestest grocery store in the world) carrot cake all while relaxing in front of Cayuga Lake in Stewart Park.  Sure it was a little chilly, but it’s been a tradition (pun intended!) since freshmen year…sigh…I’ll miss you SACers!

My last class.  My writing class, the pleasure of my academic existence this past semester.  Never enjoyed a class more at Cornell. It was painful when I had to go late or miss a class.  And that’s definitely not how I feel about all of my classes.

My last skipped class.  Although for a good reason.  If you can’t skip a class to leave for a sibling’s wedding, when can you?  Although I admit in my past I have had some not so good reasons as well.  That’s what senior year can sometime to do you though -rapidly reprioritize your life.  (Wegman’s? Class? Wegman’s? Class? Easy choice when you’re a senior.)

My last walk up to North.  This is one of those “probably not a last but still sad.”

My last (and fourth for that matter) intramural softball game.  Let’s just say they had to use the mercy rule, and it wasn’t pretty for us.

My last frenzied study session in Olin/Uris libraries.  This is an upcoming last and actually something I can’t say I’m too sad about.

My last time seeing many friends and acquaintances.  Granted, it seems like half of the Cornell senior class is moving house to NYC, where I’ll be, but this is it for many a good friend/ classmate/ professor.  As I always say, the people are the best part of this school and this is definitely the saddest last I can imagine right now.

Good grief! Graduation is sad! I’ll have to do my next entry on a cheerier subject.  Promise.

one rain cancellation that wasn’t so bad

As a senior at Cornell, one thing I realized is that there are a lot of things I don’t take advantage of. Thus, on Wednesday when our intramural softball game was canceled before the third inning had even started, instead of going home I followed my friends to Bailey Hall to see Post Secret creator Frank Warren.

OK, first of all: Bailey Hall. When I arrived at Cornell as a freshmen this building was undergoing renovation. Since the completion I never had a reason to venture inside. One word for my initial reaction: Wow. It’s basically a huge auditorium/theater that seats upwards of 1300 students and is absolutely beautiful. There is comfy seating, balconies, a reception area, and in general an air of “at least here I see where my money to Cornell is going towards.”

Apparently it opened up in 2006 -I guess I’m a little behind on the times…you can read the Cornell Chronicle article about it here:

http://www.news.cornell.edu/stories/Sept06/Bailey.Hall.html

Back to what this entry is really about. There are ALWAYS speakers, concerts, plays, and other random events going on at Cornell. ALWAYS. While this is great, sometimes the selection is so overwhelming I just end up doing nothing. But as a senior, I’ve realized I won’t always be getting these great, and often inexpensive, opportunities. So I decided to go with my friends to catch the tail-end part of Frank Warren’s talk in Bailey Hall.

Post Secret is an online and literary phenomenon, if you’re reading this blog you probably know what it is. In case you don’t, the Post Secret Website explains it all. In sum, people mail secrets on postcards to his house, he publishes some of these on his website and in his numerous books.

It was actually a great talk, and I was impressed by his dedication to both the integrity of his work and finding meaning it. He then gave it up to the Cornell audience to reveal their own secrets. Some were funny, some were sweet, some were disturbing and some were heartbreaking. I was really impressed by the courage displayed by all who went up to the microphones to speak.

And, in honor of what he talked about and particularly how underrepresented some of the most common secrets are in the media, here are a few links to some resources:

http://www.hopeline.com/

http://www.therapecrisiscenter.org/

http://www.healthyplace.com/

Thanks for reading this one.

in the 607, 66 is the new 86

People react to the abnormally warm weather in Ithaca (re: 66 degrees Fahrenheit) in two different ways:

1) There are those who have been preparing for days like these for months, with thermometers at their windows and summer apparel laid out by their bedside

and 

2) There are those who are unequivocally unprepared for temperatures in this range

You can identify the former by their distinctly summer apparel: Shorts, flip-flops, t-shirts and that breezy, upbeat attitude.  You might find these individuals lounging on the quad, sipping their iced coffees, or laying out in front of their houses in swimwear.   Warm weather is like a long lost treasure here in Ithaca, and people will take 300% advantage of it.

Then there are those still stuck in the arctic winter mentality: these Cornellians can be found in bubble jackets or long winter coats with scarves and boots to complete the “I’m ready for your weather Ithaca, so give me all you got” mentality.  Usually these people realize in the first few minutes of stepping outside the drastic change in their surroundings and immediately convert to a Type 1 individual, returning inside to switch their Uggs for their Birkenstocks. 

I would say 99% of Cornellians are the first type.  Most of those that appear as Type 2 probably  only forgot to check the weather report in the morning and were in too much of a rush to go back inside once they stepped out.

Where do I fall? Well, I wore a sweater this morning, sat on the Ag quad and had an iced latte for an hour, returned home and switched my sweater for a  t-shirt and sunglasses and swaggered back to campus in a joyful, endorphin pumping euphoria.  What do you think?

It looks like 66 degrees F is the new 86.

from graphic novels to glial cells

So instead of doing what I should be doing (studying for my Psych prelim tomorrow) I will instead tell you all about what I can’t wait to do once it’s over tomorrow at 9 PM.

For my writing class, this week I have to turn in a Graphic Novel.

You heard me correctly, a graphic novel. The guidelines are pretty loose – 10 pages using visuals to tell some sort of story. I began filming after coercing several friends to be my ‘actors.’ We then galavanted around town to film my various ‘scenes’ from my ‘storyboard.’ (Please note I’m only using the quotes to indicate that my version of these various things were not too high-tech. For my storyboard, for example, I had ten pages in a spiral notebook of terrible drawings of what I envisioned my actors doing.) Yes, we may have gotten some weird looks here and there as I directed my friends in the scenes (“OK, look into her eyes. Not psychotic. You’re in love. Stop laughing! Crap, my camera just turned off.”) but it was well worth it.

Now I just have to master Adobe Photoshop in 3 days. Awesome.

I’ll let you see how it turns out if it turns out OK and will of course never mention it again if it looks like garbage. Just kidding! (Maybe.)

But for now it’s back to studying the neurochemical bases of mood disorders. Party in the 607.

Stepping Up in the 607