Sunday, 26 February 2012

Endgame: What do I want?

I haven't been feeling too good lately. This is surprisingly not due to my medicine application (though of course that has its role to play); the medicine application is a symptom of the broader underlying problem which I've been dealing with for quite a while now. Put simply, my masters degree is the problem. My bachelors degree was the problem. Being a Grumpy Biomed is the ongoing problem I'm dealing with.

These thoughts have been going through my head for a while now, but yesterday they finally crystallised. As part of my course, we have to complete a project. The projects are 12 weeks long and start in May after Term 2 exams. Once you finish the project you get the MSc. Yesterday the list of MSc projects was released. Five minutes after looking through the list I had a moment when I saw things in total clarity.

Five minutes before, I was looking through that list of available titles, supervised by some of the most brilliant minds in medical science at a world renowned medical school, and I was actively seeking the least boring one to put as my first choice.

I'll repeat that: I was looking for the least boring project to put as my first choice. Not the most interesting. The least boring. This is what my life feels like at the big quest to try and be as unbored as possible. The use of Newspeak is entirely appropriate here as I've never really been interested in what I've been doing during the past 4 years. Sure, there's the odd module which is really interesting, the occasional coursework which I can manipulate to become palatable, and of course, through my own hard work eventually everything becomes slightly interesting...but its no longer enough. I'm reaching my saturation point of completing tasks I have very little interest in. Getting good marks isn't even enough anymore...the satisfaction it brings is just not long term or deep enough. It is no longer enough for me to simply be unbored: I want to be interested.

But I can't be. From now until the end of term (three weeks or so), I have nine assignments to do. Each more boring, long-winded and pointless as the last. I had 11 to begin with, but I completed two last week. I felt utterly spent and exhausted. And then I remember I still have 9 more to go, and it's all I can do to stop myself screaming with frustration at how much I hate working towards something I couldn't care less about. Always during these past 4 years I am left with the feeling that this not what uni is supposed to be like. In an odd way, the only thing I can compare it to is the feeling you get when you're exhausted and yet you're still running and functioning on caffeine. You're getting things done and going through the motions, but you constantly feel that this is just not genuine. Lately, I find myself fantasising about dropping out on a near daily basis, sometimes even several times a day. To just cut ties abruptly, leave it forever, forget about it all, never go into a lab again, or hear about PCR or Western blotting or mass spectrometry...frankly it sounds amazing. But simply leaving something doesn't solve anything, there needs to be a more fundamental change to how things are done.

So I find myself fantasising about a time in the future when I don't skip most of my lectures because I just end up falling asleep in them out of boredom. When I'm not up at 4AM writing on a blog, but I'm sound asleep, having been totally satisfied during the day. When I can turn up for all my classes, be enthusiastic, maybe even ask the odd question or two. Get to know my lecturers and what they teach rather than seeing them as taskmasters inflicting boredom on me.

Of course, no one held a gun to my head and forced me to do an MSc. I chose to do it of my own volition BUT, only because the alternative i.e. being unemployed in my parents' town, checking Track fifty times a day seemed even worse. In short, I'm screwed whatever I do, it seems. I do the MSc and I'm constantly under pressure with work I don't care for, and if I didn't do it I'd be posting here daily about how bored I am with nothing to keep me busy and how I wish Track would just update already.

The solution is obvious: I need to get into medical school and start studying what I like and am interested in. Though this is not something which is within my control, at least not anymore. I've done everything I can: prepared for the UKCAT, tried to write a good personal statement, tried my best in all my interviews but my "fate" is now in someone else's hands and I'll be finding out if I've got in within the next week or so. It's not just about being good, it's about being a lot better than the competition...which is what makes it so hard and I just don't know if I am that good. But all I do know is that I can't keep up the Grumpy Biomed gig for much longer without a glimmer of hope, a sign that possibly things might be improve soon.

If you couldn't be bothered with reading all of the above, this is all I wanted to say: I want to stop being The Grumpy Biomed and start being The Contented Medic.

Thursday, 16 February 2012

Diary of an interviewee: Part 2

Currently listening to: The Way Love Used To Be - The Kinks

The story so far: I came back home from my Barts and The London A100 interview feeling deflated, disappointed and sensing a real grump coming on. Luckily my mother came to visit and she brought some cake with her so things didn't seem that awful and we went out and talked, or rather I moaned about how much I hated the applications process and she very kindly listened. Slowly I began to feel that the interview wasn't that terrible and that even if it was, there was nothing I could do about it except use it as a learning experience and move on.

Wednesday 15th Feb 2012 - Joint interview at Warwick Medical School for WMS and BL GEPs.

00:00: I go to bed, telling myself that however bad yesterday had been today is a new day and a chance to make up for previous mistakes.

01:00: The clock in the hallway chimes and I realise I've been awake for an hour thinking about random rubbish. Shut eyes and tell self to sleep.

02:00: Clock chimes again. For god's sake man, if you carry on like this you're going to feel like a wreck tomorrow. Go to sleep!

03:00: Still awake. Thinking thoughts you do not want to think the night before an interview: What if I balls this one up too? What if interviews are my fatal flaw? What if I'm stuck being a grumpy biomed forever? Why can't I sleep?!?!

04:00: The clock's chimes now begin to feel as welcome as a death knell. I realise that as it stands I'm going to get a maximum of five hours sleep. Feel utterly hopeless.

04:30ish: I presume that I finally fall asleep.

09:00: I jolt awake after less than five hours sleep. Words can't describe how annoyed and pissed off I feel at the fact that when I needed my sleep most, I couldn't get it. I am not a happy bunny.

10:23: The train leaves from Euston. I listen to some music and thankfully the adrenaline has kicked in so I don't feel particularly tired.

11:45: I arrive at Warwick Medical School courtesy of a taxi from the station. Meet with some other applicants in the school canteen and begin chatting. Slowly feel less tense and relax as I realise everyone else here is in the same boat as me.

12:15: The selection centre officially begins with document and ID checks in the medical school common room. I must say, I really like this campus. It's very new, but it has character and a very friendly vibe. The staff are all very nice and friendly too. The selection centre has three parts: an interview, a writing exercise and a group exercise.

The Interview

Wow is all I can say. If for no other reason, I love Warwick Medical School because their interviewer was so affable and easy to talk to. That and the fact that I'd already had a hellish interview the day before meant that I'd adopted a resigned attitude of "whatever it is, it can't be worse than what I've just had".

Then the most amazing thing happened...when he asked me the first question, everything came flooding back. All my experiences, all the things I'd reflected on, and the points I wanted to cover. I felt like a blindfold had been lifted from my eyes and I could see clearly again. So I began speaking and very soon it felt like I was having a chat with one of my lecturers from uni. Of course, I was still treating it very seriously, but what I'm trying to say is that it didn't feel like an awful grilling. By the end of the interview the interviewer and I were talking about The Kinks and that whilst they're no longer a band, Ray Davies still does the occasional concert. The interview finished, I shook the interviewer's hand, gave him a big (and very genuine) smile and headed off for the next part.

The Writing Exercise

I can't give away specifics here, but the point of the writing exercise was to get you to justify what you were writing. I felt I managed to do this but (and this is ever so annoying), the final section at the end was a reflection on the task completed and I ran out of time on it. Very irritating! But I finished the main bulk of the exercise so I hope they'll take that into consideration. Again, it didn't feel like an awful experience, but like completing any other assignment at uni.

The Group Exercise

Again, I can't give away specifics but I can say that I'm very glad all my team mates were nice, friendly and I feel we all managed to work well together. I was very surprised about this part of the selection centre. Going in I had been very skeptical, I assumed that we would be parading around like the knobheads on The Apprentice, completing pointless tasks for the amusement of the invigilators and being really fake and cut-throat with eachother. But it was nothing like that at all, and pretty soon I settled into it and treated it like any other group task which I'd completed at uni.

So with that the day finished and the admissions tutor returned to answer any questions we had. She informed us that 430 people had been invited to the various selection centre sessions and Warwick would be making 230 offers. The offers will be given out towards the beginning of March. The selection centre then ended and I headed off to the main campus to join a certain Graduate Medic for a few drinks.

I have taken several things away from this whole experience. Firstly, I really like the selection centre idea now. Whether or not I get an offer, I think grading people on their overall performance throughout the day is more representative than an intensive 20 minute Q&A. Secondly, Warwick is really nice. The campus, the current students, the staff, everything really. Up til now Barts and The London GEP was my first the unlikely situation I have more than one offer (assuming I get any at all), it's going to be quite hard choosing between Warwick and BL!

And with that, the admissions process ends as far as I'm concerned. I've done all my interviews (Southampton don't do interviews) so all I can do now is wait, hope, and see if I get any offers. The maxim "you only need one offer", is something I have repeated to myself many a time. I am not picky or choosy, I just want the chance to study medicine. I really hope my efforts over the past few months will pay off and help me realise that ambition.

Wednesday, 15 February 2012

Diary of an interviewee: Part 1

Currently listening to: Why - Elefant

Wow, what a hectic 48 hours it's been, quite possibly the most significant 48 hours of my life actually.

As I've written before, I blog to release stress and feelings. I don't feel like I can cover both the A100 interview and the Warwick/BL selection centre in one post. So Part 2 will come tomorrow once I've had more time to reflect on the experience.

Tuesday 14th Feb 2012 - Interview at Barts and The London for the A100 5 year degree.

09:30: Roused awake by the harsh sounds of my mobile's alarm. Surprisingly I'd had a very good night's sleep. Went to bed at 12, woke up once in the middle of the night and promptly fell asleep again. Feel refreshed, confident and ready to go.

10:30: Wearing my suit and feeling ever so slightly uncomfortable, I leave my flat and begin walking to the Tube station. Listen to Sgt Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band on the way to the station.

10:40: Yay, the Tube arrives within a minute and what's more it's on the right branch of the Northern line. Get on and check self in carriage windows. Looking suave and debonair. In my mind anyway. Listening to Coldplay, Eno to the max for epicness.

11:15: Arrive at Whitechapel, breathe in the scent of fried chicken. Feel slightly nauseous. Go to the Garrod Building where I had my Nutrition & Metabolism classes during second year of biomed. Listening to Pink Floyd's A Saucerful of Secrets.

11:20: iPod switched off. Taken upstairs to the old London Hospital Medical College senior common room by a smiley fourth year medical student. Everyone else is there with their parents. Begin wondering if I've done something wrong by turning up by myself. Have a glass of water.

11:35: Taken back down to the Old Library by the same medical student. Sit down on a row of seats with four other applicants, all of whom look worryingly young. Or perhaps I'm just worryingly old.

11:40: I'm the first to be called up. The interview begins. Butterflies in my stomach doesn't even begin to cover it. My interviewers are a clinician and one of the tutors from the med school. And so the questions begin, starting with some fairly obvious ones (I'm not allowed to reveal details - but use your imagination, it can only be about work experience, why you want to do medicine etc, the usual stuff found in guidebooks and so on).

11:43ish: Realise that I'm fumbling my words and being awkward. Interviewers stare at me impassively as I try my best to explain what I'm talking about. Butterflies in stomach are replaced by a vague sense of foreboding and panic. Desperately hope we'll move on.

11:45: We move on, thank Christ. We turn to the article (can now reveal) and I begin discussing it at length. Again, impassiveness from the panel. I conclude my thoughts and the questions begin. Interview slowly begins to turn into an intensive Q&A on my views on public health.

11:50: This is now a full blown debate on public health. Feel seriously out of my depth but continue to attempt to express myself eloquently and clearly. Not sure if attempt is working. Still have the sense I'm coming across as fumbling.

11:55: We move on again onto questions about the medical school. I feel I managed to answer this part well. To be honest it would be pretty disgraceful if I didn't, I was at QMUL for three years and I'm a current Barts and The London student. Interviewers still don't appear impressed. Either this is all part of their interview strategy or I've managed to talk utter cack for the past 15 minutes (more than likely).

11:58ish: A final personal question. Feel like I manage to answer it well, but by this point feel that it won't make up for my earlier weak performance.

11:59: "Any further questions?"..."No, I don't think so, all of my questions have been answered by the prospectus and the current students. Thank you very much for considering me".

12:00: Interviewers smile (or grimace, perhaps, given how rubbish I feel my performance was) and say that that will be all. I shake hands, smile whilst weeping on the inside and leave.

So how did I feel afterwards? Pretty gutted to be honest. I had felt confident on the way to the interview though clearly it hadn't been as much of a pleasant experience as I hoped. I'm particularly disappointed in myself for fumbling the parts to do with my work experience etc, especially since I'd spent a long time reflecting on it. But in the heat of the moment it seemed like my brain just didn't want to cooperate.

I suppose to some extent this is totally natural since I've never had a med school interview before so it was completely new, unfamiliar and nerve wracking. At any rate, I felt glad that if I was to screw up something, I'd screwed up the A100 interview rather than the GEP selection centre (though in all honesty, I'd much rather not screw anything up). Offers/rejections will be given by the end of February (according to the information sheet we were given), though I'm not hopeful of an offer at all.

Tune in tomorrow for Diary of an interviewee: Part 2. I can give away some spoilers right now and reveal that the GEP selection centre was a much more pleasant (and downright fun) experience. So perhaps there's hope for me yet.

Monday, 6 February 2012

Term 1 results and "anxiety saturation"

Currently listening to: I Saved the World Today - Eurythmics

There's been a considerable shift in the ethos and content of this blog lately. When I started this blog just over two years ago, it was very much the grumbly grumbles of a grumpy second year biomed. Certainly this is no longer the case, the biomedical sciences degree, SBCS, QMUL and all that has been consigned to memory lane. This is a new era for my blog, charting the anxieties surrounding UCAS and medical school admissions, rather than being a life sciences student.

But I am a life sciences student, so I do still deal with much of the same things I dealt with last year: coursework, deadlines, the occasional skipped lecture and inappropriate hangovers. And of course, exams. The one difference being that as a postgrad I have the joy of experiencing exams in January and in April. So, results day were released today, and here's how things look. Pass mark's 50 by the way:

Research Skills and Sciences - 53
Basic Molecular and Cell Biology - 62.5
Basic Pathology - 72.5 (distinction)

Overall mark for Term 1: 60.3

Initial thoughts: relief that I passed, and passed well. Happy with getting a distinction in pathology (my favourite subject), slight annoyance at being so close to a merit for BMCB (needed 65) and indifference to the RSS mark. It was my least favourite subject, something I have zero talent for and zero interest in. There are those in my class who can run an amazing gel or use SPSS to perfection. I am not one of those people, I have never claimed to be. I am however someone who is genuinely interested in the intricacies of disease, healing and adaptation, hence my decent pathology mark. Apologies to all you scientists out there, I'm not snubbing your discipline, but at a certain point every man or woman needs to figure out exactly who and what he or she is. I am not lab scientist material, and in all honesty, that doesn't bother me either. Hence why I'm not grumpy about my RSS mark. I take solace in the fact that I will hopefully never have to care about Western blots again. So really, a good set of results which I'm pleased with. So that's the PGCert done, now for the PGDip and MSc, then, with any luck, I can hang up my white coat for good and finally don my stethoscope (please!).

Here's an interesting way of dealing with (nay - eliminating) exam anxiety. Simply replace it with anxiety over something else, say, for example, medical school interviews. Seriously, you would not believe it, I slept fine last night. Absolutely fine. This morning when I woke up, I didn't even think about results. This was most certainly not the case in June before my BSc results day. Why the change? Because I am currently undergoing something called anxiety saturation (a revolutionary new psychological concept thought up by myself). My mind is so filled up with thoughts about interviews, ethical scenarios, etc that I just don't have any more space for exam stress. Hence why I managed to sleep fine last night, and why I didn't feel a jot of nervousness today until right before I opened the results envelope. I'm pretty sure there's a Nobel prize winning psychological theory in here somewhere.

So with just over a week left til my interviews, I'm making little bullet point notecards. I am not someone who enjoys readily talking about their personal life with strangers (this blog is very much the exception), so I need to get used to hearing the sound of my own voice talking about why I want to do medicine, when I've displayed empathy, why I'm a decent team player or any of the other extremely relevant questions medical schools invariably ask. I try to be a fairly modest person, (though hopefully not in a Uriah Heep way), so whilst I'm fine with discussing ethical scenarios, current affairs etc, I don't like waving my "empathy", or what have you in people's faces. But ultimately, I do feel like I have a lot to offer, so I need to do myself a favour and just bloody well say it.