FOMO: The Greatest of Halloween Horrors

Man, the semester has got me on a tight schedule. The most horrific thing about the great holiday Halloween is not the costumes, the movies, or the insane amount of decorations people put up around the streets at midnight, but rather the amount of work that we college kids are expected to do around a time of relaxation.

Remember the good ol’ days, similar to the scene below, where in elementary school, we kids could get away with eating all the cookies we wanted, pretending to be on top of the world with our costumes, impressing parents and fellow classmates alike, not caring about schoolwork or the tests that were coming up over a month from the date. Best part was, no homework on weekends! It seems like a utopia looking back.

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I can’t remember my last in-school Halloween party after 5th grade, since Halloween was just another normal day once I got to middle school.

Now that I’m in college, even though students do dress up, and can still go to those school night or “lit” Halloween parties, I find myself having to worry about how it impacts the rest of my schedule. I have two exams and an essay due next week as I sit here writing this, and had to cancel plans with friends multiple times in order to accommodate all these priorities. So I decide to reminisce of the days when we had little to no responsibilities, or have to worry about writing except for those cute little pumpkin cards I used to do in second grade.

I know I sound a bit overly nostalgic here, but keep in mind that I’m not saying these times are gone forever. Rather, they are simply present in a different form than the ones we experienced as children. Sure, I may have to work around a tight schedule, I might not go out as much as I’d like to, and I might have to settle for watching old-time horror classics like Friday the 13th or Halloween instead of the new Happy Death Day in theaters, but overall, I’m ok with that. It’s a compromise I have to make. I am happy with the career choice I am making in medicine, and I know it will all work out well for me in the end, so that is what I use to keep me going. The otherwise horrifying Halloween FOMO (fear of missing out) has little to no effect once I realize I am doing this for myself and my future. And it is not even true that I have missed out entirely, since I am actually planning to go trick-or-treating with friends by getting my work done sooner this weekend, and at the end of the day, I am a person who enjoys spending time with a few close friends rather than a big group (to avoid sounding cliche, I must point out that I also enjoy really big groups, and that’s why most of the time, when I am with friends, I insist on going to malls or football games).

I hope that this post finds everyone well in their studies, or if out partying or hanging with friends, having the time of their lives. It is true that college experience can never be replaced, so going out and having fun is no doubt a part of my schedule, but to incorporate both academics and fun into a single, balanced schedule, has no doubt been a daunting task at times, able to scare more than the jump scares in the Conjuring. Hopefully, when I’m out trick-or-treating, I get more energy to work productively from all the sugar in the candy…

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The NYPD (New York Presbyterian Department)

Sorry, it’s not the NYPD you were thinking of, although I have had a few close encounters I do not wish to discuss…(just kidding!)

This NYPD refers to the New York Presbyterian Department (not an actual acronym), where I had the great privilege of volunteering over the summer. New York Presbyterian Hospital has been the #1 hospital in New York for 17 years now, and it includes the medical school campuses for two of the best schools in the country: Columbia College of Physicians and Surgeons and the Weill Cornell College of Medicine.

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Back in January, I wanted my summer to be spent in New York, since I had been traveling there since I was a baby and wanted to really explore the city now as an adult. On top of that, I was looking to gain more clinical experience. With the best hospital not too far from where I frequently visited, I decided to try my hand at applying for a volunteering position there. Saint Peter’s is great, but I still wanted to try.

In February, I got a call for an interview for the Health Education and Adult Literacy (HEAL) Program, as part of the Ambulatory Care Network for Columbia University Medical Center, to improve the health literacy (awareness of options and conditions) of the patient population. This year, the HEAL program was restructured under one umbrella. Instead of focusing mainly on health conditions inside the clinic, the program was designed to allow the pediatric patient families in the waiting room of the clinic access to many resources and free programs for their children, to address the growing need to focus on the social determinants of health, which is a sociological term that describes “the structural determinants and conditions in which people are born, grow, live, work and age.” In other words, the life of a person outside the doctor’s office. In Washington Heights in Upper Manhattan, where the hospital is located, many of the families require walk-in clinics for when their kids get sick, or well-child visits to ensure that the basic health needs of their children are being met, and many may be unaware of the role that they can play as primary caregivers in ensuring that their children are living healthy and active lifestyles. That’s where I came in, by speaking directly to the patients and their families in the waiting room about programs or educational information that would make the parents aware of their child’s needs and how to effectively handle them.  The name for the new program was Waiting Room as a Literacy and Learning Environment (WALLE).

It was about a two and a half hour commute to the hospital, including train time, getting an Uber, and walking to the clinic, which was about 10 blocks down. My summer shift was from 10-5, three days a week. When I first started there, although I had observed current great volunteers at work in the clinic, I was still initially a bit nervous, since I had to approach the families in the waiting room and explain to them what WALLE was. Making random conversation with strangers always was anxiety-inducing for me, as if the families weren’t anxious enough about what the doctor was going to tell them about their children’s condition. On top of that, 70% of the population in Washington Heights is Hispanic, primarily with roots from the Dominican Republic, so that meant I had to speak with many of the families entirely in Spanish!

Although I hadn’t really practiced my Spanish since my freshman year at Rutgers, when I took a Honors Hispanic literature course, I was determined to make this work for the children and the families. After all, it wasn’t up to me as to whether they actually used the resources. My job was to build rapport with them and provide them with access through my volunteer supervisor to programs such as Early Head Start, where kids under 2 would learn to read and interact with other children, or downloadable stories through the You Tell Me Stories app. There were new programs being developed and updated almost every month.

I realized that I could customize my encounters through each of the families I talked to, and in the past year, they had been very receptive to us young volunteers. Although all of this only slightly quenched my anxiety, I somehow managed to walk up to the first person on July 5, sit down next to them, and tell them about the WALLE program and anything about nutrition education or physical activity information they wanted. Based on this experience, I held onto one critical piece of advice I gave to all the new volunteers I taught towards the end: do not make assumptions! Some of the adults may have come in with the children, but often times grandparents and extended family liked to accompany the kids to the clinics, so I had to be careful and know who I was talking to. One time, I was telling a woman about these programs, before she told me she was the aunt and not the mother, who wasn’t there, and would most likely have been more interested in hearing about them.

After I was done giving the information to the caregivers and having a conversation with them, I had to document my encounters on a pink form, putting down the patient’s name, the caregivers’ names, phone number, email (if preferred), as well as what points and programs or educational materials were distributed. For the sake of privacy and confidentiality, I will not include pictures of those encounters here. After about two weeks of submitting the encounters to my very committed, passionate supervisor, she would call them and ask them about whether they would be interested in hearing more about the programs I offered them, or what other programs they may be interested in that were not discussed initially. This way, the information I gave them in the clinic did not force them to make a decision at that point, and ensured that they had sufficient time to consider their schedules, as well as monitor the health of their kids. I told almost every family I spoke to that the table full of information about the WALLE program was there everyday, and that they had the option to check it out next time they came, in the event that they were not in the mood to open up about their needs at the time.

The whole staff there was very warm and welcoming, and at the end of the summer, I got the opportunity to shadow one of the doctors in the clinic! It was for a vaccination, since school was just starting, and I noticed that the way the doctor spoke and built rapport with the child was very similar to the way I spoke to and built rapport with the families in the waiting room. Prouder than ever I was at having put myself on the right career path.

Although I did get to explore Times Square, Central Park, the World Trade Center, and eat Subway sandwiches almost every day, what made my summer in New York most memorable was at NYP. Unfortunately, due to the new semester, I could not continue volunteering there this fall, but with this experience, I gained more motivation to work harder through the semester, my interpersonal communication skills have improved, and I am proud to announce that I know 4 languages well: Marathi (my first), English, Spanish, and Hindi (although that one is still in the works).

I graciously thank all the staff at New York Presbyterian and the clinic for this great opportunity, and making the experience all the more educational. Although I have not yet decided my specialty of medicine, I do now consider pediatrics as a possible option.

Fireworks at Home

The Fourth of July may have passed already, but there are personal moments from this particular celebration of the national holiday that I thought I should share on this hot July weekend. Trust me, whenever you don’t know what to do, I would advise writing something down, anything. Even a simple written statement as “I’m bored” can do wonders for your overall well-being.

This was the first time in over 5 years that I had actually managed to capture the view of fireworks up close. Every year, I was always away with family on trips out of the country that prevented us from appreciating the freedom our nation has worked so hard to obtain, but this time, I had the pleasure of looking up at the sky and listening to the loud deafening roars of American pride in the form of bright colors and beauty, and I couldn’t be more thrilled.

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Even if some of you may be too busy to celebrate, I would advise just looking at the sky even for a second on this special day, and if within earshot, to just take a moment to listen to the sounds that accompany it. In a world and in a nation where most of us are fortunate to have the civil liberties and opportunities to do what we put our mind to, we may tend to take those liberties for granted, and forget that two hundred years ago, the similar sounds of the fireworks we hear today instilled feelings of fear, not excitement. Although we no longer have to worry about being under British rule and fighting intensely for our freedom, the Fourth of July is a day we could just be happy to exist as fellow Americans, and only after seeing the fireworks up close for the first time in years did I finally come to realize the power of the human spirit to push forward even in the most difficult of times, leaving future generations to look back and appreciate all that has been done.

If this post comes off as excessively preachy and didactic, I do apologize. I simply intend to convey to my readers the astonishing moments that we may not realize we are missing sometimes, and that these small moments can be useful for days of low activity or motivation that the summer sometimes tends to bring upon us. After returning from a long vacation in Baltimore the previous week, it was nice to just sit down on the grass, amidst the mosquitoes and loud screaming children, and be part of a diverse crowd of various different races and ethnicities, all dedicated to one simple goal: to enjoy our freedoms on the birthday of the United States.

Now that I am done speaking about what Independence Day meant to me, here are some more pictures of the elusive fireworks I was fast enough to take. For you smartphone users (I have the iPhone 6s), a Noir and Process background really fits if you’re trying to capture the fireworks when it gets really dark after 9 pm.

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Pre-Med, The Fair Side

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.

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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.

Start Watching…Or Sleep

Spring break is finally here, sort of. With the snowstorm coming Tuesday, I figured why not sit down and talk about some of the TV shows that many others talk about, but that I personally never got the chance to watch due to exams, homework, family, friends, or just the conscience in my inner mind telling me to “get off that lazy couch and save the world”.  Many of these shows got good ratings, but growing up, I was mainly interested in watching the storylines of the characters and the overall setting more than the critical acclaim, since I don’t believe that all shows that gain good box office ratings may necessarily keep me captivated, personally. Other than TV shows, my other option is to sleep, but I don’t think I need to dedicate a whole post to that, since most of you are probably aware of where that would lead, and I most likely won’t be awake long enough to write it.

Anyway, academics and pre-med life aside, here are 4 of the shows that I need to continue, or start watching, before I have my genetics and neurobiology textbook in front of my eyes again (lord, help us). There will not be any major spoilers for those who still haven’t watched these shows.

 

  1. Game Of Thrones

 

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As I mentioned in my earlier post on the Fun Reads of 2016, I finished the first book of this medieval fantasy series last summer, and started watching the show before school started. This show, not surprisingly, delivers in its ability to keep audiences captivated with compelling storylines, plot twists, conspiracies, and romance. However, I often find myself watching over 4 episodes at a time, with no desire to sleep or time for anything other than the Starks and Lannisters, so I had to keep it under control for the duration of the semester. Hopefully, with Spring Break and the snowstorm, I can finally see what happens after (insert spoiler here) dies and (insert spoiler here) develops a relationship with (spoiler), if the power and electricity supply are still intact. Most of you probably saw this one coming, as Game of Thrones currently has 95% rating on Rotten Tomatoes. That’s good news, right? If tomatoes are rotten, is that good?

 

2. The Big Bang Theory

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What’s up, CBS fans? This show appeals both to my scientific and comedic sides. In the vast world of astrophysics and engineering and the unknown dimensions of the cosmos, there lies a group of socially awkward scientists who have Ph.Ds from prestigious institutions and know how to develop inventions and gadgets that go beyond the expectations of society and the US government, but don’t have the basic skills to talk to or approach women, even in normal conversations. As the series progresses, things get more drama and relationship-oriented, but watching the first episode this past semester just made me wonder how the guys ended up where they are now, through all the laughter and antics they went through during seasons 1-6. I have been watching the newer episodes, but I plan to go back and see just how Howard and Bernadette met, or how Raj got over his selective mutism with women and didn’t have to be drunk anymore when talking to them. Hopefully, I don’t get too hooked on to the scientific “facts” that are taught to the audience, and apply them to my own physics class I plan to take next semester, and I also hope neither do the engineering majors.

 

3. Breaking Bad

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Just when I thought I had seen enough of Bromine and Barium…

I guarantee that 99% of everyone on campus, and in society, knows the name Walter White. This show about a terminally ill chemistry teacher who develops a drug-dealing partnership with one of his fellow students to financially support himself and his family has no doubt been called “one of the greatest shows of all time”. Unfortunately, I have not had the chance to crack open Netflix and enjoy the adventures that lie within this 2008-2013 AMC series, not even the first episode. Even my statistics professor said he and his wife were “glued to the television” when watching this show, which just poured salt on the wound of what I have missed out on. However, I fear not, for this show will be one of the most viewed by me while I still have the time, before I myself have to go back to teaching chemistry every week.

4. Malcolm in the Middle

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Oh, the nostalgia that many must feel! I started watching this in middle school, and now that I am legally a full grown adult, I can go back and watch some episodes with a better understanding of the comedy and social aspects that this show contains. Malcolm is a teenager with a genius level IQ who constantly faces hilarious situations as a result of his dysunctional family, consisting of his bully & dimwit brother Reese, the eldest and outcast Francis, and the little (not so little anymore) manipulative and artistically gifted Dewey. Lois, the mother, and Hal, the cowardly yet intelligent and improvisational father, never failed to give me good laughs the first time I watched this show, and I have no doubt they will do it again when I watch some of the episodes over again this break. Minor Spoiler Alert for those who haven’t seen it yet: The family doesn’t stop there. More are always coming, but are not always welcome.

Those are all my top priority shows that I hope to watch, but there are definitely more good ones I’ve heard about and would like to start watching, but only after I course through the struggles of the Seven Kingdoms, learn about the difference between a boson and a fermion particle, see how far the meth teacher makes it before the inevitable, and finally, wonder how a mother who yells so much could still have her voice fully intact.

 

Happy Spring Break, and enjoy it, because the next wave of exams is coming over us like Winter in the Seven Kingdoms (Game of Thrones reference, for those who don’t understand).

The Ski Fall

Amidst the first round of exams this month, I decided to go back to a time when I didn’t have to worry, a time where I could learn without the repercussions and fear associated with a bad grade, and especially a time where I wouldn’t feel guilty stepping out of the study zone. This past Winter Break, at one point, met all those qualifications, so that’s where I’m headed.

Two months already into the new year, and my muscles still ache from all the activity of my skiing trip in Seattle which occurred in late December of 2016.

I quickly realized just how intense skiing can be, and that it is no walk in the park, especially since even walking is difficult with the skis on.

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If you were like me and never went skiing before, you probably thought that executing this kind of turn — in the above picture — would be as simple as changing a light bulb.
Fact: It’s not. It’s nowhere near simple.

Even standing on the skis, as said before, proved to be a difficult challenge, since the skis are vertical flat extensions worn on each foot designed to glide you through the snow smoothly. What do you do if you don’t want to move when wearing skis?
You prevent your skis from moving by placing them in a wedge-shaped pizza cut position, where vector forces cancel out in opposite directions (and a whole bunch of physics concepts I’m trying to get away from for the moment) and the friction keeps your skis when you want them in the thick snow. But sometimes, the rain can make the snow melt and turn it into ice. Flat ice with a friction coefficient of near zero.

Excited as I was, I convinced my dad to let me take a three-day course at the Snoqualmie Resort to give me a basic idea of how to get around on the skis. Spoiler Alert: I didn’t stay for all three days. The first day went pretty well, since we learned how to stand on the skis after putting them on, a process which took almost an hour (those boots were so thick I was afraid if I fell over, I’d break my tibia, or shin bone). Once the skis were attached, my instructor guided us onto the Magic Carpet, the simplest ski slope that was almost flat. The bunny slope got its name because of the platform that takes you back up the slope — you don’t have to take your skis off or waddle up like a penguin every time.

First off, we learned how to do the wedge-shaped pizza cut I mentioned earlier. It wasn’t too bad and my skis managed to stay put. Then we learned how to control ourselves while going down the slope — not so easy to maneuver. Even though this was more exciting, having an instructor spot me, me not having “studied” for this moment, and the all-too familiar fear of looking like a fool after screwing up loomed over me like an instructor during an exam. But I was determined to travel down the slope with excitement rather than fear. The first time, of course, didn’t go as planned, and I almost ended up knocking over a 10-year old learning how to snowboard, but managed to stop myself with the pizza cut just in time. The session ended after I practiced going down a few more times, feeling more in control and calmer with each step. I left feeling satisfied with a great first day and determined to make the next day better than the first.

Unfortunately, my childlike optimism was challenged with the course of reality, and I don’t feel the need to say out loud that it was different than what I envisioned it would be.

The second day of the lesson we had a different instructor, one who was much more enthusiastic and ready to teach a group of students like it was his lifelong goal. His excitement was contagious, and I brought the previous day’s determination with me along. I noticed that as I was going down, the snow was a lot flatter and more slippery than it had been the day before, due to the rain that had hit the local area that morning. The Magic Carpet was undoubtedly harder than it had been the day before, but I still managed to keep somewhat in control as I glided down.

After I came back up the bunny slope, my instructor told me and another student that we were ready to do the unthinkable: go up the ski lifts and down the green circle, supposedly the easiest ski slope with not too many sharp turns and hills. But looking back, the green circle might as well have been a red circle with the word “stop” in the middle, because I did not feel the least bit ready to come down one of those slopes, at least not yet. Getting on the ski lifts, according to my cousins, was itself quite a task.

I warily asked my instructor if I was ready for the lift. This is almost exactly how it turned out.

Me: Excuse me, but are you sure I’m ready for the lift? (I try to do the pizza cut to keep from going forward, but slip back and forth each time)

Instructor: Hey man, I wouldn’t be taking you up the lift if I didn’t think you were ready. It’s so easy! You’ll be fine, bro. Hey, where did you go?

Me: I’m over here. (near the line for the lift, pushed up against the pole, having been unable to keep myself from slipping)

Instructor: Hey man, the line’s over here!

Me: Coming. (As I attempt to turn around, my left ski comes off and I trip and fall into the cold pile of flat snow)

(My instructor helps me up and helps me get in line. The other student, age 39, shakes his head back and forth, completely dumbfounded by the whole scenario).

In what world did the instructor even begin to think I was ready for the lift? This was the equivalent of learning to drive for the first time and crashing into a tree while backing out of the driveway, and my driving instructor then telling me I was ready for the Garden State Parkway.

Still, I was curious to see what it’s like being on the lifts and coming down one of those slopes, so I didn’t try to forcefully impose onto him my inability to handle even flat ground, so I just did my best to stay put in line.

When it was our turn to get on the lift, I crouched down as instructed and managed to sit down on the chair with the right orientation. However, my right ski was positioned incorrectly and as the lift began its ascent, it came off, and my instructor yelled from behind that he got it and would return it to me once we got to the top.

If getting on the lift was the easy part, all the difficulty was compensated for by getting off. Because I only had one ski on my left foot, as I attempted to get off and slide down the small bank onto the top of the hill, my left ski went more forward than my right foot wanted to and I ended up skiing on only one foot, and falling into the pile of snow yet again. When my instructor finally came with the missing ski, I put it on and as I looked down the slope to the base, my whole body convulsed with fear and all of a sudden, I wished I was back in the safety of the library studying for neurobiology.

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This is how the green circle slope looks.

This was similar to the view I got from the top. While beautiful, at that time beauty was not at the top of my mind. This view seemed more appropriate, for me, to that of the double black diamond, the slope specifically designed for experts only.

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Even worse, my instructor told me and the other 39-year old student to do three turns back and forth as we were going down! We hadn’t even covered turns the previous day and here I was, on top of the world, which is quite terrifying for those who haven’t been there yet, frightened at the thought of going straight down at uncontrollably high speeds with no idea of how to stop.

After the other student completed his three turns, without incident, I was up next. But of course, the stopping problem came back and I almost went over a rather steep edge far on the left side of the slope, which was thankfully guarded by thin red rope, that I almost completely knocked over. The pizza cut seemed to make me go faster instead of slowing me down, and my instructor helped me back onto the track, and told me to try only one turn, seeing as how inexperienced I was. I looked around for the other student, who was nowhere to be found. He was probably long gone at that point, off to another slope that was more of his level, the hardest being the double black diamond. He was probably also wondering how I was ever going to get good at this.

I tried going down another time, but I couldn’t bring myself to look forward, which you’re actually supposed to do instead of looking down at the skis. But with the base of the hill waiting to swallow me up whole at speeds higher than I could even drive at, looking forward just made me more terrified, and I tried the pizza cut, and managed to turn 180 degrees around facing the upside of the hill, then, instead of stopping due to the wet snow, I turned back around to the downside, then back to the upside, then back down like a corkscrew, until I finally accepted my fate and allowed myself to fall over, with the skis coming off. I was thankful the skis could come off so easily. When my instructor again tried to help me up, I knocked him down and we were both tumbling as fellow skiers, elementary schoolers and graduates, glided past us, having the time of their lives, noticing the fiasco. One more time, I tried the pizza cut, which of course failed me yet again and off I was down the hill almost knocking over fellow skiers. At that point, I decided falling was the best, and easiest, course of action I could take. Embarrassed, I finally took my skis off and just walked down the hill, so relieved and thankful for being back in control of my feet. I was so glad when I got back to the base, and turned around and gulped at the sight of the slope. My instructor apologized for taking me up the lift too soon, and offered me a free lesson next time I came (which probably won’t be any time soon). Even though the slope didn’t turn out as well as I’d have hoped, even as a beginner, I still felt an odd thrill and excitement upon having experienced it, and survived. I went back to the beautifully flat Magic Carpet and practiced my turns with more confidence and determination, still falling a few times, but nowhere near scared as I was up on the slope. So, in a way, it all may have worked out for the best.

However, I decided that I needed a break and wanted to explore other parts of Seattle, and didn’t go back to the ski pass after that, but someday I do hope to ski again, this time with more control and awareness of my abilities and limitations.

Now back in the safety of Rutgers on a nice flat, solid surface, I look back and wonder how things might have turned out had my instructor insisted I go on the double black diamond!

The New Year that Comes Too Fast

With the first month of 2017 almost over, I wanted to compile a list of some of the things that people would like to accomplish in the new year. My fellow bloggers were kind enough to give me some of their responses, and my own is included at the very end. Honestly, if someone asked me what my New Year’s Resolution would be at the beginning of each year, my response would most likely be this:

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Seriously, sleep is the best invention of our time. Whoever invented it is a genius.

Jokes aside, the New Year may seem like it comes fast every year, and it just keeps getting faster and faster as we grow. However, it is really the best time of the year to take a step back and analyze where we stand and what personal qualities need to be improved for the future. Even if I had some unpleasant experiences or difficulties in 2016, this year I can tell myself to leave those problems in the past and start fresh and improve. I hope you readers will be able to do the same. Let’s all make 2017 better.

Because it is the beginning of the semester, many students will want to focus on their schedules and prepare for exams, so this post will not be as long as the others. I really hope it can inspire students to believe they can fix whatever curve balls or RU screws they encounter.

And of course, our main objective should be to graduate and know where we want to go and what we want to do when we leave Rutgers. The holidays may be over, but certainly our time as dedicated and motivated young individuals is not. The break may have been too short, but there will be more breaks to come throughout college and throughout life. With all that being said, here are some New Years Resolutions from the SAS Honors Program Blog Staff Writers:

“Survive. And graduate.”
— Nida Saeed

“Ditto to Nida, tbh. Let’s aim for a higher GPA this semester, shall we?”
— Becky Kowalski

“Don’t be so hard on yourself and appreciate yourself every now and then.”
— Aishwarya Madhikar

“Drink more water. (Seriously, if you don’t see me with a water bottle strapped to my hand, push me into the nearest water fountain please).”
— Fairooz Khondker

“Not waste half the day sleeping — wake up at a reasonable time in the morning on days where i dont have classes or have classes in the afternoon.”
— Stephanie Smyczek

“Manage my time better(i.e. Get more of X, Y, and Z done) and make sure that I’m happy doing it.”
–Kim Peterman

“Increase overall general awareness and curiosity. Whenever someone talks about something I may not know much about, I have a tendency to zone out and miss actual interaction that could benefit me. It’s good to know other aspects and events going on in the world even if it may not seem of particular interest at the time.”
–Neelay Inamdar

 

I wish everyone the best of luck for the new semester! It may not be 2016 anymore, but it’s still Rutgers with the same exams and academic web registration system that helps some and hurts others, and most of the time does both.

This Year’s Fun Reads

As the semester, finals, and the year 2016 come to an end, I thought it would be worthwhile to close it off by talking about some of the things I personally like to do when I don’t have exams. A December without finals seems like it should have occurred a long time ago, but somehow I have managed to recall some of my favorite books that I have completed as a past time. In case you were wondering, reading is not my first choice of a hobby after exams. I don’t just go home and crack open Charles Darwin’s The Origin of Species the minute I finish a bio or chem exam. In fact, I’m lucky even if I finish a book within a few months,  which is my personal record. But since many have talked about their favorite shows on Netflix, popular Youtube videos, or great video games that I personally miss playing (Assassin’s Creed to name a few), I thought it would be nice to go through some of the biggest classics I’ve managed to finish over the past two years to give a glimpse of the adventures, tragedies, and horrors that preceded our generation and still leave an impact on the reader after they finish reading.

Before I get started, I want to note that there will not be any spoilers for those of you who haven’t read these books yet, if you plan on ever doing so.

So let’s travel back in time to…

1. A Game of Thrones by George R.R. Martin

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Okay, maybe this one wasn’t that far back, but Book One of George R.R. Martin’s series A Song of Ice and Fire, on which the show is based,  was the one I most recently completed before school started this past summer. I kept hearing about Game of Thrones throughout high school, and personally I have liked medieval fantasies in the past, and some of my friends and family members really like the show, more than they like school, and when I found out it was based on a series of books, I thought I would give the first one a try to see how the story flows and whether I still possessed the medieval mindset. When I finished, on July 30, I was exhausted. Every detail was spelled out precisely and each chapter began with another character’s perspective and I had to adjust to fitting into my mind each one’s storylines, and the overall plot quickly became complex within the first 100 pages. But it was still remarkably captivating, and when I finished the book, I wanted to know more, but was too tired and anxious about the new school year that I decided to start watching the show instead (sorry fans who insisted I read the books first). Maybe I might read the next books anyway, because even watching the episodes proved to be quite a task at times, and I’ve tried not to look at spoilers to ruin my experience. I am far behind, currently on Season 4 , and plan to catch up as soon as possible. I told myself I wouldn’t watch any more episodes until finals are over, but keeping that string tied has been as difficult as studying for multiple tests at once. I must fight!

 

2. Dracula by Bram Stoker

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Going further back this time, I now present the 1897 Gothic horror classic by the Irish author Bram Stoker. I never considered myself really into tales about vampires or anything too supernatural, but since I read Frankenstein in English class during high school, I thought I would go back to the original story of the other Halloween-favorite,a monstrous blood-sucking creature that is still portrayed in today’s society. Although the story had some lapses in progress at times, it was still pretty scary to read some of the letters and messages written by a few of the characters, and one particular part had me wanting to sleep with the lights on and I hope that writing this now hasn’t reinstated that fear. But not to scare all you future readers, the story does pick up at the end, and each character has left a different impact on my view of the overall horror genre during the Gothic period. This is a new kind of horror that is different than the ones I see in slasher or paranormal films. It is the type that is not meant to scare by action, but by setting and character development, a horror that I did not experience as much in Frankenstein, whose tale I walked away from with more a sense of sympathy than fear or uneasiness, but that was compensated for by this book, which I hope I won’t be too scared to read again.

 

3. Beowulf by ???

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The original author is unknown, but the 1999 English translation by Seamus Heaney (from really Old English) leads me to this epic poem in alliterative verse of a godlike hero who fights monsters. The story sounds simple, but is actually a complex tale of survival, pride, and religion that dominates the land of the Danes and Geats in the story. Beowulf is the upholder of hope for a number of ruling families who are seemingly helpless when dealing with various supernatural entities that threaten their existence as rulers and as warriors, and also as people. However, ultimately, there will always be a final battle even for the greatest of heroes, but for me the adventure and suspense associated with each of Beowulf’s undertakings on each of the three monsters in the epic is what led me to finish what we had started in English class junior year, in which we only examined snippets of the story. As the only full length manuscript of Old English literature still around, this story is truly unique in its delivery of the tale of a courageous warrior with superhuman capabilities. Good luck to you folks who decide to try and read the original text. You’ll be left wondering how our own language has evolved.

 

4. Moby Dick by Herman Melville

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I now go to the tale of the monstrous white whale Moby Dick by Herman Melville. Spoiler alert: This story is mostly about whales. Over 800 pages exist of the crew of different classes of the Pequod chasing down the whale who chewed off Captain Ahab’s leg, with cetology (the study of whales) taking over the middle for a solid portion. It took me a good nine months to chew through it all, and I was left wondering whether it was worth it. There is a story, but it took a lot of patience and perseverance to understand the conflicts on the ship along with the mysteries that the sea holds. This was a great read because personally I was curious to find out what life on the sea in the 1800s would have been like, especially since it would be different from a modern-day cruise, and since none of my family knows much about fishing or whaling. It was quite an adventure to explore the sea side of literature and learn more about Nantucket and the various other ships the Pequod comes in contact with. I wouldn’t be lying when I say this is a difficult book, but I personally admire Melville’s passion and style of writing like a textbook author, especially since he himself spent a lot of his life on the sea. But honestly, I don’t think I will be reading the book from beginning to end again any time soon. Looking back, I wonder now how I actually managed to do it the first time.

 

5. The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde by Robert Louis Stevenson

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I haven’t read this yet, so I can’t really say anything about it.

 

These books were only some of the handful of memorable ones that I remembered reading over the years. I initially didn’t consider reading to be anywhere near fun in high school, but during the summer before my freshman year of college I was charged with a sudden new curiosity about the classics and their impact on modern literature and other media. Somehow I felt that I started at the right time, as college, being a time of exploration, allows one to go beyond oneself, and delving into the classics has been a journey that showed me new perspectives I wouldn’t have gained simply by taking science courses or choosing a career in medicine. With this broad new knowledge of the world from different angles I hope to extend my interest and curiosity to more classics to develop a bigger picture, after finals are done of course. My next one will most likely be The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde.

As the first year of my blog post writing comes to an end, I want to take the time to wish everyone a very Merry Christmas, a Happy New Year, and of course, good luck on final exams!

I hope this post wasn’t too distracting.

Part-Time Commuter

Normally on Fridays, I could care less about where I am or what I do. In fact, I usually spend my Friday nights and weekends at home with family and/or friends, away from Rutgers and the party scene. I enjoy not having to worry about exams, essays, or any other commitments. Last fall, the only “event” I would attend on Fridays was tutoring for Expository Writing at 4:30 at the Plangere Writing Center, as my perspective on that class had changed entirely after “that first fail“. After tutoring was done, I was on the train ride home, excited to get away from the stresses, the wild nights, and the uncertainty that comes with being on the college campus. I was ready for a nice, relaxing weekend in the comfort of my own neighborhood. In case you were wondering, I only live 30 minutes away in Edison, so going home every weekend isn’t a problem. And I didn’t even have to drive. In fact, by the time Thanksgiving had rolled around last year, I was afraid that I would forget how to drive!

This semester, everything changed. I no longer take the train home, as I drive now. I purchased a parking permit to park on Busch (even though my dorm is on College Ave, which perplexes me). The reason for this is because weekends are no longer the stress-free getaways they were last year. Although I have only one class on Fridays, I have a much bigger commitment now than I ever did in all of my high school and college career: I am employed. I now spend most most of my weekends, including Friday nights, with the big-name Walgreens.

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Working in retail may have not been my first choice for a job, but since I had no prior employment experience, and because clinical positions at healthcare settings that I originally wanted required prior experience, I decided to give retail a try. Also, I originally wasn’t planning to work during the school year. I had applied to various places over the summer, including CVS, and Walgreens was the first one to call me back with an offer for a position. After going through the employment application, and the long in-store assessment, I was on my way to wearing that uniform.

All of these applications happened at the end of June. There were too many employees in this particular Walgreens at the time, and my employer told me to call back within a few weeks and she would have me begin training. But every time I called back to know about my status, I heard her tell me to give her a few more days/weeks since she didn’t have room for new employees, but that I was next on the list. What I didn’t realize was that this was to go on until the end of summer, since most of the people there were college students, who had no intention of quitting until school started. By the time I realized this, it was already August! I decided not to apply to any more places since they most likely would have been full, and besides, my employer wanted me to work at Walgreen, but just needed some time to get everything together. Eventually, I started doubting whether I would be able to work during the school year, and even thought about going into the store and telling my boss that I wasn’t interested anymore. I wanted to work for the experience, but didn’t want my grades to suffer.

Then, before I knew it, I got the call back on August 29! I was so excited to finally start training that I forgot about any qualms I had possessed. The first official day of work was challenging, having to stock items on the shelves, the cooler (freezing!), mopping the stockroom and breakroom, and then having to ring up sales at the register for the next 4 hours. Those of you who are wondering whether I already started to hate this job, I’ll be honest, it wasn’t the most fun, but I still enjoyed it. Interacting with the customers, helping them with any problems with where items were or how much they cost, and of course, being able to purchase items for 15% off on my breaks are all things I enjoy about this job. Also, most of my coworkers are Rutgers students who decided to stay for the school year, so talking with them really helps me understand what motivates them to work, as well as what study strategies they use for exams. My employer, knowing that I’m a student, only puts me to work on weekends, and I can request off on weekends where I feel I will be busy with other commitments or upcoming exams.

I wasn’t discouraged. In fact, the main reason I decided to keep this job was because it took so long for me to officially start it, and also because I know just how much I am learning. I feel that my social skills and my ability to communicate with people is really improving. Also, I realize now the value of money that comes with working for hours on end, and how important it is to manage time to do well in school. I would usually have no fixed plan to study, and ended up procrastinating on assignments last year since I had so much free time. Now that I’m employed, nearly 10-15 hours are gone every weekend, and it feels necessary for me to plan in advance and distribute my study time appropriately for each subject. Thankfully, I am only taking 13 credits this semester, mostly science and lab courses, so this might be the most appropriate semester for me to work. Walgreens is only 20 minutes away from Busch, but I do have to plan for when I take my car from home so I can use it to drive there, and as soon as my shifts are over, I know I have to reenter the atmosphere of school during the week, but throughout it all I will fight. I will work to keep my grades up, and will never look at a cashier the same way again!

Walgreens also has a pharmacy, and my boss is thinking about training me there soon. I wonder if this job could double as the clinical experience that I passionately seek as a pre-med student.

Either way, I can now officially say that I have prior employment experience!

 

The Easy Classes

Wow! It’s already past the first month of the semester and I haven’t written a single post since the summer, and it’s getting colder! As I attempt to regain the creative mindset that had at one point controlled my thinking, I am now taking the time to look through my schedule to see where I am in terms of my classes. I tell myself I am not simply trying to kill off requirements for my major, and I’m not just aiming to take the easiest classes to get the best grades  in order to get that perfect GPA for medical school. Yup, I’m still pre-med, still loving clinical experience, and still hoping that that feeling never goes away.

The classes I’m taking this semester consist of two labs, organic chemistry (the honors option, probably not the best choice), statistics, and an intro to teaching course on chemistry. The reason for fewer classes is because I am working, and I’ll elaborate on my decision to take fewer classes shortly.

What do all these classes have in common? They’re all geared towards getting the requirements for my major and making a stand on my position as a good candidate for med school. Where are the fun classes, the ones where I don’t necessarily have to shut myself off from the rest of the world over 80% of the time? Why am I burying myself in only math and hard science courses?

The answer to that question is because I thought I would be done with my major classes all this year. Boy was I wrong!

After orgo, the possible reason to explain why I didn’t take more credits in addition to my work is that I thought the stress would be over. I kept listening to the opinions of those around me that it will get easier in terms of what classes I take later on. I was planning to push off the “fun and easy” classes until my junior or senior year. However, I realize that where I am now only partially reflects the intensity of stress I will feel later on, especially because of MCATs and med school admissions. If there is any good time to take those non-major related courses that open your eyes to other parts of the world, it would be earlier rather than later.

I look at my schedule for Spring 2016, and Theater Appreciation was one of the classes I had taken. Honestly, that class, while it had a lot to teach, wasn’t one where I had to put in as much effort as the science courses to do well in. I consider it the most “fun” class of freshmen year, as I got to explore acting and a part of myself I wouldn’t have found in my major courses. I decided to take the explorer approach that year and not just stick with General Bio and General Chem, which surprisingly are not considered some of the hardest science courses!

While Theater Appreciation did fulfill one of the core requirements, it wasn’t the main reason I took the course. I took it because acting has been a hobby and passion of mine, and this class made me explore the various facets of theatrical acting and the overall image that a play has to evoke in its audience through its scenery, its storylines, and most importantly, its characters. Also, I wouldn’t have found freshman year so exciting had I not allowed myself to enjoy great performances, including one right on Broadway in New York City about a sinking cruise ship and the musical journey of the characters trying to escape with their loved ones.

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This was one of the scenes from the musical, and yes, that is Kevin Chamberlain, for those of you who recognize him. I didn’t even know he did theater, or that he went to Rutgers!

Overall, taking this course really helped me navigate the stresses of my freshman year science courses. Looking back now I feel like that is the balance I should be consistently following going forward, instead of only focusing on difficult courses in one semester and taking all fun classes in another. Instead of hoping that the stresses of hard science classes will be reduced next year, I will personally take the time to look through available courses and see which ones can relate to my other interests, and I will even try to take one of them next semester, maybe one on dinosaurs. Even one non-major related course per semester would probably be enough for me to stay connected to other areas of study, and would allow me to get a more complete picture of what I like to do and ultimately, where I would like to go in my career path, even if it doesn’t turn out to be medicine.

Just because I am a pre-med doesn’t mean I have to surround myself with only science-related topics. After all, doctors don’t deal with the same types of patients all the time. If anything, I should also be focused on trying to see what characteristics make the people around me different, and to do that, I have to involve myself in various settings, classes, and activities that make me who I am and that make college so diverse and exciting.