Many of you are likely familiar with the infamous rigor of the pre-med track here at Rutgers. With neurobiology, biochemistry, anatomy, and the dreaded organic chemistry, there is no telling how people manage to survive these dreaded encounters. On top of that, med schools expect to see other activities outside that involve experience in the clinical field, including shadowing, volunteering, building houses in Africa, which almost everybody does, so how in the world are you supposed to distinguish yourself?
I know one thing for sure: complaining about it won’t help. I have adopted a new mantra to make myself stop complaining when things do not go my way because it is an unnecessary waste of time and energy that will not get you anywhere. Although this may seem obvious, when caught in the whirlwind of courses and grades and academia in such a competitive field, it is easy to even forget to brush your teeth in the morning, let alone give advice that should be beneficial. However, as the semester draws to a close, I will take it upon myself to remember internally the advice I set for myself and for others, to not complain and instead find a way around and look for a solution.
One of those potential alternate solutions was, for me, to go to the Career and Internship Mega-Fair, on Thursday, February 2, and Friday, February 3.
Unsurprisingly, this was a formal event, because when people look first to introduce themselves to potential recruiters and employers for big companies looking to hire employees or summer interns, they must look their best. Dressed in a button-down Calvin Klein white shirt, black dress pants, and a three-button blazer that I got as a present from the Raymond shop during my trip to Mumbai last year, I stepped off the bus at Livi and made my way to the Rec Center, also the site of my high school graduation. With my blazer, I was described by my friends who also went there as “straight from the 1970s”. Great way to stand out from the rest of the crowd who was dressed in more traditional business attire, I thought.
I wasn’t looking for any company in particular, but I was there to observe how people network and look for jobs, and overall how they present themselves to the employers to make themselves sound like the perfect fit for the company. There were easily over 1,000 students waiting there, with hundreds waiting in line for the bigger companies like Johnson and Johnson, Google, and GlaxoSmithKline, all geared towards the same goal of expressing their interest and why they are the best fit for the company. Talk about competitive.
All of them brought their resumes, two-sided, listing their best accomplishments. If this is starting to sound just like any other typical student trying to get a job after graduation or for the summer, let me emphasize one point: most of the other students I saw there were either finance, marketing, computer science, engineering, or data analysts (whatever that means), none were pre-med. Almost all of them had some idea of what skills they wanted to present to what companies in order to land co-ops or full-time careers, and many of them were even post-bacs or seniors looking for a place to work, but nobody I saw was pursuing a career in the biological sciences. Now I’m not saying there were no pre-med related companies there (Emergency Medical Associates came on that Friday), or that there were not any pre-med students. I am simply stressing how much I felt out-of-place there initially, since everybody was talking about their experience with programming languages like C++ or Java, their summer working for an engineering firm in Colorado or somewhere far away from home, or their summer internships as data analysts, R & D employees, or intensive paid or unpaid co-ops. All of that jargon seemed foreign to me, considering that all I had done during my past summer was shadow a doctor of geriatric medicine and looked for a job in a retail setting (Walgreens, for those of you who haven’t seen my previous post). This type of setting just didn’t seem fitting for pre-meds, even if they said “all majors welcome” on the online and print advertisements.
But worried I was not. Mainly, in addition to an alternate pathway should there ever come a time when I feel pre-med is not for me, I also wanted to learn how to network. Potential new opportunities, as I learned last summer, don’t just come. You have to actively work to get them. I actively approached this fair as a potential to get involved with several companies during the summer, maybe to see the side of career choices that don’t come with clinical experience or to simply see how to communicate with people in a professional manner. I brought a few copies of my resume and proudly put my clinical experiences on them, despite not matching what others had for the companies I was standing in line for. I was determined to at least make a good impression and establish my interest in learning about networking and the company itself.
My first, and most memorable stop, was Johnson and Johnson, one of the few places there that seemed to be of interest to me as a pre-med. When I finally talked to one of the recruiters, I initially told them that I was a pre-med major and looking for a chance to work with Johnson and Johnson, as an R & D. Even if I didn’t know what that meant, I managed to tailor my questions in a professional manner so the recruiter could explain to me all the terms without me seeming like I had no clue. I explained to her I was very interested and thought pharmaceuticals and medical devices was the field for me, which was exactly what Johnson and Johnson embodied, she said to me. I told her about the experiences on my resume as she skimmed over it, as a Teaching Intern and a blogger for the SASHP, telling her I was actively working to make a difference by teaching others, inspiring them, and hoping to do the same with Johnson and Johnson. To my surprise, after I was done, she told me I’d be a perfect fit!
Although I initially made myself sound like I wanted to do a co-op for the summer, I ended up landing a volunteer position at Columbia Presbyterian Hospital for the summer before I seriously considered applying, but was thrilled to know that I successfully learned how to network and present myself in the best manner, and have a potential backup plan to continue going and networking at these fairs in case pre-med does not work out for me.
My main point of advice to all you students who are or are not pre-meds is to not be afraid to network. Although I felt out of place there, I ended up making a better impression on other companies than I expected to, probably because of how confident I seemed despite my inner confusion and insecurity. This fair allowed me an opportunity to see what skill sets are required of other majors to land jobs and internships, since as a pre-med, I would naturally find myself trying to develop skills only for the sake of medicine through my shadowing and volunteer activities, and not necessarily have a good understanding of what people of other careers have to do to get their feet in the door.
I told myself that, with this experience, I will never make myself feel like I don’t belong, and will keep an open mind, instead of complaining about how difficult the field I am entering is. Reflecting on my presence at the fair, I was surprised about what skills I possessed and what opportunities that I wasn’t expecting could suddenly become an important asset to my future, and overall, how to be confident and explore other areas other than the traditional routes that most other pre-med students tend to take.