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.
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.