As an Only Child, What Do I See?

Growing up, I would always hear  people talking about how their siblings would either steal their stuff or have their friends over and annoy the living daylight out of them. I would hear how siblings would scare them about the eighth grade. Sometimes, it would be the opposite, and I would hear how siblings inspired my friends to want to be just like their brother or sister who graduated. And of course, a common complaint, one that would be the most annoying of all, for me, was not having available bathrooms in the morning.

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For me, the situation was different. I never got into fights. I would always have my toys and games for myself and didn’t have to share. I had my own room and bed to sleep in at night, and a nice, peaceful, unused bathroom in the morning. It’s not because I was a selfish sibling, but because I was not a sibling.

Being an only child has its ups and downs. Although I used to complain about it a lot back in grade school because almost all my friends had siblings, I realize that it’s actually not that bad. I know many of my friends would call me lucky for being an only child, as something they wished they were. But for those who have always wondered what it’s really like to be an only child, here are some of the things that I have experienced being the sole offspring of the family.

  1. You get almost all the attention from your parents

Most obvious is that parents have all eyes on you. There is no “just because we don’t always pay attention to you doesn’t mean we don’t love you”. Also, any time I wanted something that my sibling would have also wanted, I didn’t have to argue with them over it or be forced to share. Don’t you even think about touching my PS3 controller when I’m not around.

On the other hand, always getting attention from my parents did work against me at times. They were stricter about my curfew coming home, they would always check in on me to make sure I was going to class and studying (they still do that now), and there were always times I wished I had a sibling to redirect the attention to when I suffered a tragic fate, like failing a test.

What comes with this is the overwhelming emotional feeling when my parents drop me off to college every semester. Who will they take care of when they get back home? Me, of course! I have not had a single day when I don’t get calls and texts from my parents at least 5 times, and me not being the rebellious type, I always answer. I know, it’s “sweet”, but not so sweet when you’re in class and the professor hears your phone go off! I do go home on weekends, but since I only live 20 minutes away, it’s an awesome feeling, like I never really left, and coming back to my own soft bed!

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2. You do get lonely, but not often

Whenever I invite my friends or cousins over, I easily have some of the most memorable experiences of partying, dancing, and playing ridiculous games. At the end of the night, it’s all over. There is not a single human soul close to my age in sight.

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Often times, I do wonder what it would be like just to have one other person sleep in the same house (not counting sleepovers, of course), and whether I would want them gone or be happy that I still have someone to talk to. However, with the advent of social media now, getting lonely is not as common for me. I can go on group chats and post random selfies or memes just to show how great of a time we had, or pick up on a conversation that we didn’t finish.

Also, being alone again at night gives me time for deep introspection and made me more aware of what I liked to do when no one else was around. Inevitably, that time comes for everyone at some point, and for me, reading a nice book, or watching Netflix, would be relaxing, or, now that I am in the intense pre-med stage, being alone means I could be more productive with my study time.

3. You might be a bit socially awkward, at least initially

However, being alone also meant less room for face to face interactions, and like any skill, good interaction takes practice. Without a sibling, I may have tended to come off as being more isolated, more self-centered, and not aware of basic social cues when I interacted with my friends or classmates.

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But having close friends and extended family around to guide me really made things better. I have been told I am not like most other only children, in that I am not totally antisocial, I try to listen to others’ opinions, and am not spoiled or selfish.

4. You might not know how to stand up for yourself, or understand how the world really works until much later

While my parents did teach me good manners and prepared me, or attempted to prepare me, psychologically for where I am now, nothing could really make me ready to defend my own opinion intensely when met with disagreement. I am not even sure if I have a real opinion sometimes. I often found myself in conversations with friends nodding my head in agreement over something I clearly would have disagreed with, but not sure how to go about convincing them. My parents taught me to be polite and mature, which wasn’t hard for me to grasp with my being around adults almost all the time, but disagreeing with someone may have inadvertently been included in what I considered impolite or immature. Slowly, I am realizing now that it’s okay to have an opinion different than others, and that engaging in debate occasionally may actually be healthy and fulfilling, and improve my knowledge of present day events and world conflicts.

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Speaking of present day events, I am just now realizing how intensely competitive the career path I am choosing is. After expending all my energy and time into getting my academic record to where it is now, I realize that many of my pre-med cohorts are doing that, and also getting published, featured in the New York Times, being EMTs and scribes, shadowing over 20 doctors, and having way more clinical experience with actual patients than I ever thought I would be able to achieve. The worst feeling is when you work hard and realize it’s nothing compared to what your peers have accomplished. I’m sure we can all relate, but this can be partially attributed to me being sheltered in my own comfort zone at the end of each night. Not having to fight over the bathroom, not trying to make my parents love me more, and not going out of my parents’ way often to get what I want made me poorly aware of the level of competition the world actually holds. It only took a handful of rejections in high school and the inability to find a summer job my freshman year to realize that not everything comes easy, and that success requires time, patience, and persistence. Having your career path is clearly laid out right in front of you does not yield any exception to this. And I’m still trying to figure it out in time for my MCATs in less than a month.

I know that I didn’t get to choose whether I have siblings or not, and nobody gets to choose their family, but I did get to choose what I make of it. That all being said, regardless of the costs it came with, being an only child has made me proud of who I am today, and ready to experience the world with fresh new eyes at every new stage I enter. Even though I may not have real siblings, my friends, my extended family, and my dog have never stopped treating me like such. In life we learn to appreciate diversity as we progress, and hopefully this post has made you non-only children more aware of the world through the eyes of the sole family heir.

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There’s me and my (younger/older?) bro Prince.

On a side note, the number of only child families in the US and Europe is on the rise (up to 30% now in New York), and statistics show that this actually might help increase the nation’s productivity and intelligence, and can counter some of the negative societal effects of obesity and divorce. Yeah, let’s go us!

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A Walk in the Rain

Oh, New Jersey! Cannot decide on the weather and must incorporate both extremes to test its residents on their resilience to step out of the house. One good thing about this, though, is that more rain will accompany inevitably due to the intermittent scorching hot periods. For many, that means they can’t go outside and walk, and can risk getting wet. In my opinion, unless you’re a cat, you really have no reason to be afraid of getting wet. Now don’t go out and give yourself pneumonia, but getting wet feels kinda good actually, especially when you step inside and can dry yourself, and for when it gets hot in the same day.

But that’s not the main reason I absolutely enjoy rainy days.

Unlike bright sunny days when the sun is blasting in your face and you sweat at every step you take, or unlike freezing cold winds outside that threaten to freeze solid your face as long as you’re out, rainy days achieve a happy medium. They are not too hot to the point where you have to barely wear a layer, and not too cold to the point where you have to put on an extra 3 layers. They are warm enough for you to walk outside and still cool enough for you to keep your short sleeves. I know, this middle ground is not true of all rainy days, but I am mainly referring to those in April. After all, April showers bring May flowers, don’t they?

Also, there is just something about the calm, tranquil and serene atmosphere that you don’t get from other weather types. Being in the rain makes you feel more appreciative of what’s around you, just sitting there, basking in the raindrops and letting the natural cycle of water take its course. In a way, it makes you feel closer with nature, even in a place as highly urbanized as New Brunswick. It also makes you more introspective, and can alleviate stress through the gloomy surrounding presence of the fog.

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One time I was on College Ave, when it was burning hot outside, and was waiting to get inside where it was cool away from the beating sun. Afterwards, I could hear the raindrops thud against the roof of the classroom, and could not wait to go outside in my umbrella, or not. When I got outside, I just felt like walking around, taking in the surroundings with clearer sight than in the sun, when you don’t have to squint, or the wind, where you’re constantly getting your eyes shut by the brutal air. In a place as large and diverse as Rutgers, everyone has commitments, and it can be hard at times to remember that you’re still young, on a beautiful college campus, and that you don’t have to have everything figured out now. I realized as I was taking a walk down to the Scott Hall bus stop that getting overly worried about exams and med school was not going to make the situation disappear. I did not always have to be in a hurry. Just taking the time once in a while to see what’s around can improve your attitude. In today’s world of smartphones and social media, it’s easy to forget that we have an outdoor environment and there are natural surroundings we can appreciate. When not trying to escape it for the comfort of a classroom and more assignments, I was appreciating it more after seeing it under the rain. When I got to my next class, I felt more refreshed and ready to study, and not pressured to go outside or stay inside.

Those of you who say rainy days are depressing and gloomy, I can understand why. But there are other ways to enjoy the weather and make it beautiful. You may not be in control of the weather, but you sure can improve how you view it. Maybe my next post I’ll write about sunny days, which is less gloomy. Despite the criticism I have offered here, I still enjoy a good hot sunny day. I would just prefer to be at Great Adventure, Dorney Park, or down at the beach getting knocked down by waves! But at Rutgers, or any college campus, rain is the best way to keep me on track, reminding me that there is a life outside.

 

 

Study Craze

MCAT, MCAT, MCAT, and more MCAT. This is what my schedule looks like. Am I missing something?

Oh yeah, my classes!

In order to keep myself sane and not think about the tricks the MCAT exam throws at you in virtually every question, I decided to make this post more motivational, mainly for myself, but also for my readers, about how to ensure that you stay on top of your coursework and not get overwhelmed by other commitments (that could not be more cliche, could it?)

I remember when I first got to college, this was the scene that initially greeted me through the movies, the TV shows, the books, and the new friends:

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Then where did this come from??

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And as boring as it sounds, I know the bottom one is the better option, for me at least (if you’re better at managing your time and can be more socially outgoing, please alert me of your presence). It’s the one that reminds me why I chose the career I wanted, and how it will get me there through the intense workload and experience. Getting up and studying 3 hours a day for Biochemistry, and 2 hours for MCAT doesn’t sound exciting on the surface, but when I look ahead and see myself and my fellow pre-meds in the white coat, I realize it’s what I really wanted all along.

Most importantly, I know that staying on top of your grades and coursework is the most important, since even if you don’t get the score you want on the MCAT the first time, it can be brought up. Your GPA, however, is like your baby. Always nourish it, feed it, and don’t ever let it get sick, and it will not stay your baby forever. In terms of other commitments, usually arrangements can be made to accommodate for your courses. But I would love to meet a professor who allows me to change the date of an exam because I don’t feel ready.

Understandably, the study craze can, for lack of a better term, drive you crazy. But there is one thing that really drives me in the face of that resistance: the spirit of competition. If it really were impossible to get an A in those courses, how are other people doing it? How can they complain and still emerge on top, whereas I tend to be too straightforward and actually mean what I complain? There is a way to bring yourself up, and I realize that wasting my time saying how hard a course is will only fuel my resistance, while others are finding a way that works for them. As a result, I usually tend to avoid the terms “boring”, “not fun”, and “hard” when I study, telling myself it is what I want and it is only temporary, and it will get me into that white coat (hopefully they have the right size). And when it is done, it does tend to feel much more relaxing and rewarding.

That is all for this New Year’s post. It has been a great 2017, and as always, I aim to make the next year better than the last. It might be hard, but, oh wait, I am not using that term. It is possible and it is what I want. Those of you who feel occasional lapses in motivation, it is part of the process, and do not forget that no matter where you go, your coursework is important. Even if your GPA doesn’t necessarily need to be on top for your career, the courses you take will undoubtedly have an impact on how you view the world.

For me, that world is currently Biochemistry, Physics, Biology, Chemistry, Orgo, and Psychology and Sociology all at once, and it just keeps getting better from there…

Ways to Really Enjoy the Fall Before it Falls

As the fall semester draws to a close, and as finals approach, I thought I would compile a list of things to do to really make the most out of the fall season, my personal favorite. It is that period when outside is not too cold and not too hot. The days can go from feeling like summer to below freezing in the Arctic, and having that contrasting atmosphere just makes me feel more connected to the world around, since everyone dresses warmly and spends more time with friends and family. It is a transitional period of introspective reflection, of tranquility and serenity, building one’s sense of self one leaf at a time, looking into a transitional future that will give birth to a new period of growth, until it is time to catch one’s breath, shed old inhibitions, and continue the progress of growth for the next available round, bigger and brighter, blossoming like violet spring.

All profundity aside, here are some of the things I managed to do during some of the best fall seasons, and what can also be done for the pre-med students to not neglect their crazy workload (I’m also talking to me here).

  1. Watch a movie

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As cliche as it sounds, watching a movie actually has shown to reduce stress and improve one’s mental capabilities of handling uncomfortable situations. The mind can only handle a certain load of tension before it starts to take a toll on the health of the individual, and so transitioning temporarily into a different world of various characters may actually help unwind the loops the mind has made with all the information that it collects in a short period of time. So, next time you’re stressed for an exam, as long as it’s not the night before, don’t be afraid to take a few hours to watch that comedy you’ve always wanted to see, or see how the affair between those two characters is resolved in the sequel. The fall weather, when it gets too cold outside, offers the best time to plop down and escape into a virtual reality, especially when it gets dark a lot sooner. A word of advice: stick to comedies and dramas if you can, since if you watch horror movies when stressed it can lead to more stress, and possibly to jump scares at the slightest unfamiliar thing in your room afterwards.

2. Grab a cup of coffee (or tea)

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Personally, I’m a tea guy. I have it everyday in the morning, and in the evening when I come back, but the most enjoyable time to sip a cup is none other than that of the colorful descending lateral appendages of the tree branches. It just soothes and relaxes on those freezing Arctic days, and it really calms your mind down when you’re forced to study at such a beautiful time. The caffeine, when not taken based on psychological dependence and the spurious belief of improving performance when drinking in large amounts, actually can stimulate the nerves and generation of synaptic connections, improving focus and keeping one occupied with the important task at hand. The stress of exams can make one overlook the benefits and natural beauty of the surroundings, but to be honest, that beauty is accentuated when those times are limited. In other words, this particular break had made me enjoy the fall weather even more because it was a short break, and so I would not take such a season for granted otherwise. A cup of coffee, or tea, can do wonders for one who aims to retain his focus or simply enjoy the natural collapse of the previous season. However, be careful that one of the leaves does not accidentally fall into your cup!

3. Enjoy time with friends (and Friends)

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The theme song has started to buzz into my head now (So no one told you life was gonna be this way…).

Watching Friends on Netflix, while enjoyable, is not exactly what I meant. Instead, go to your friends house and enjoy what people call a Friendsgiving. If any of your friends cook, great (if the food is good), or their parents can do it for you. Or, you could try your hand at it yourself. There are some basic recipes that are not too hard to follow, even if you don’t even know the first step of cooking, which is getting all the utensils together. I have helped prepare penne vodka, roast turkey, and cornbread stuffing as part of the feast at my closest friend’s house. Eating it was the easy part, but coordinating with the family and getting all the guests to come over, I understand, can be quite a daunting task. The number one concern: what to do with all the food. Personally, that was never a problem for me, the “vacuum” who can suck up all the leftovers in an instant. The best part is, after eating, you all can relax and play some card games like Cards Against Humanity, That’s What She Said, among others. If you think that’s too much effort, go back to Tip #2. It applies well for a group just as much as individuals! For those crazy pre-med majors, a time with friends is exactly what you need to keep yourself sane. If there is any time you don’t have to memorize the Nucleophilic Substitution reactions, or the distinction between Photosystem I and II, please take advantage of it as much as you can!

If there are any other fun, cool party games that you play at Thanksgiving feasts, as long as they don’t involve too much memorization, please don’t stop the fun!

4. Study for MCATs (for prospective medical students mainly)

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Yes, unfortunately, it’s true. Sorry to end on a less fun note, but the breaks are the best times for those of you who have struggled to keep up with the intense load of material while struggling to maintain your GPA during the semester. It really gives you time to at least formulate a solid plan for when you think you want to take it, if you haven’t already done so, as well as which areas you think you need extra practice and/or tutoring for. I am taking mine in the Spring the week after Spring Break, since that will be the best time to gather up any last minute gaps and address them through review, and most importantly, not through study. By then, I should already have seen all the material at least once and have practiced most of it enough times to be confident when encountering it on the exam. This Thanksgiving break, honestly, I have only had time to go over part of the Psychology section, and I was planning on going to the hard science sections now and focus on those for the remainder of the few months I have left, considering they are the bulk of the exam. It is not too late for those of you who haven’t started preparing or planning yet, but doing so as soon as possible will allow you to go in with more certainty when you’re actually ready. Do not simply focus on the MCAT. Instead, focus on where you’re headed with it. What school are you aiming for? What do you hope to get out of studying? How badly do you want to go to med school? Are you ready for this application cycle based on your current position?

As a member of the Eboard for the Alpha Epsilon Delta Prehealth honor society, I can find ways to help any of you get in touch with the Health Professions Office and seek directed advice, as well as for myself. It is better to take a step back and analyze your situation now. Be objective. Do not blindfire with no clear goal in mind. You will do better if you plan. I know it sounds cliche, but when you are stressed, it can be easy to forget to brush your own teeth, let alone follow advice that could benefit you (quoting my earlier post “Pre-Med: The Fair Side”).

Use the time of the breaks, and the beautifully introspective fall season to really propel yourself forward with your future plans for medical school, or your future career in general. At the very least, use it to at least get you started on the right path towards your goal, and leave yourself time to enjoy. But you will enjoy more, if you have a clearer plan in mind, which you can of course modify along the way.

To keep yourself from burning out, follow tips 1-3 closely. Enjoy the rest of the Fall season, and remember: stick to comedies and drama, not horror (you might already be suffering enough of that).

 

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…

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!