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What I've Learned in Undergrad
wilsmd
Most days, I think that the four years it took me to obtain my Bachelor's have been an incredible waste of time. Nowadays, there's not a whole helluva lot you can do with a BSc - kind of like an extension of the BA phenomenon. I don't know anyone who isn't going on to pursue another degree - grad school, dental school, medical school, graduate certificate in something-or-other, teachers college, on and on it goes. With a BSc, you can be a lab techie - basically do everyone else's grunt work, an overqualified scientific secretary - doing everyone's bureaucratic crap, or... well... that's all that immediately comes to mind. I knew going in that I'd probably be in school for years after I'd gotten my hands on my science degree.

What's more, to be perfectly frank, you can get a BSc from a whole lot of places with a whole lot of different requirements. We haven't all been put through the rigorous programs that are McGill - we haven't all gone to research-intensive universities that groom us for a future in science - and that's fine. A lot of us have "liberal" degrees that allow a LOT of electives- and that's fine too, my overly ambitious program requirements and lack of ability to take electives are something I seriously regret about my undergrad experience. There are people wandering around with BScs (and, of course, university degrees in general) that, quite frankly, are not too bright. Every so often, I hear of someone I knew back when who has gone into science, and I can only sigh and shake my head. I know I'm by no means the only one who has worked hard for a BSc at an intensive university, but when some stoner chick who nearly dropped out of high school gets a science degree off the internet, or even when someone goes off to UBCO and parties a lot and takes four electives per semester in basket weaving or something it feels like a bit of a bastardization of what I've been through (Nothing at all against UBCO- I know a lot of people who go there, and most of them are very smart, have worked incredibly hard, and deserve all the recognition they get. It was just the first smaller canadian university with a rep for "liberal programs" that came to mind). 

I've spent the last four years memorizing the names of proteins, disecting signalling cascades, using my hands to depict the way organic molecules move in space, and pipetting stuff into other stuff - in the case of organic lab, watching it boil and occasionally turn a color or collapse the complex glass apparatus we had to assemble to put it in, in the case of Microbiology lab, not caring and watching Josh do my work, and in the case of the real lab, getting frustrated when it doesn't show the result I want. I've skipped more classes than I've attended, downloaded more lectures than my internet plan permits me to, and mastered the art of packing in useless information, regurgitating it onto an exam paper and forgetting about it immediately afterwards. 

Brian says that it's a waste of time - but then, he doesn't have a Bachelor's degree. To some extent, I think he's probably right. I haven't learned anything academic that's worth learning - yeah, I can recite the RIG-I cascade, but that's not going to come into play in medical school or the actual treating of patients. Beyond the whole exam thing, it's pretty much a boring party trick. I've had the occasional course (Physiology, Biochemistry and lower level Biology and Genetics come to mind) that will probably help me out during the first lecture or so of med school, but I don't think I'd be too far worse off for not having taken them. And so, with three months left till they hand me my diploma and send me the accept/ reject/ waitlist letters that will determine my future, I'm left asking "Why?" Why did I do this?

The answer to that one is, of course, to get somewhere else. I hate the term "stepping stone", because it's stupid and cheesy, but that's what this was. This was a checklist item. Like the MCAT was a checklist item. Like extracurricular activities were checklist items (no, I don't particularly enjoy the hospital volunteering experience, although my latest one has been about as great as they come). Like writing my personal statement, and filling out the forms, and scheduling interviews were checklist items. At the end of the day, though, I like to think that this has gotten me somewhere. There are things I've done that haven't been checklisted. There are things I've learned that haven't been related to protein. 

I've learned that you need people. You need to have fun, you need to go out, you need to do stuff. You can't hang out in your apartment and memorize proteins all day. You have to find friends. This doesn't seem like something huge - but after my grade school experience and the mindset I was in coming to McGill, it's massive. 

I've learned that studying isn't fun. Maybe some people "love this stuff", but I'm not one of them. I've learned that I can't learn for the sake of learning. I have to learn because what I'm doing means something. 

I've learned that people who are fake, or seem fake, or who suddenly start to act fake, make me really really angry. 

I've learned that I get very depressed if I'm not busy enough, and that I also get very depressed if I'm doing something "just to get into med school", and that procrastination makes everything worse. 

I've learned that you have to go to the doctor when you're sick. Yeah, it's a pain in the ass, it costs money, and there are long long looooong lines. But you gotta do it. Similarly, I've learned that if I'm going to live in a city, I need an optho, a dentist, an orthodontist, and some means of accessing a family doctor without the usual 2 month McGill wait time. 

I've learned that if I have more than six or seven drinks in a night, I start puking (yeah, I have a pathetic alcohol tolerance). I've learned that vodka potentiates this effect. And I've learned that I only start to feel bad after I've stopped drinking- so I have to stop sooner than six or seven drinks. I've also learned that you feel a lot better after you puke. 

I've learned that a bad grade, an angry friend, a frustrated colleague or a disappointing day isn't the end of the world. 

I've learned that you can't survive on Mac and Cheese, Ramen noodles, or Cliff bars. I've also learned that I dehydrate really easily. And that spending all your money on jeans is a really bad idea.

I've learned that I really, really hate parasitology. Mostly because it's not really clinically relevant anywhere near here. So yes, I resent learning the life stages of Leishmania (Amastigote. Promastigote. Sand Fly.) and Malaria (I don't even know. Mosquito). 

I've learned that every so often, you just have to go off and smuggle some corn across the border to Vermont and go camping. 

I've learned that putting off the laundry is a bad idea, and that nothing feels better than clean sheets. I've learned that you have to study at your desk, not lying down on your bed. And I've learned that I can't stand clutter. And also that Brian is a walking cluttery disaster. 

I've learned that I'm okay on my own. 

I've learned that sometimes, things are really really horrible. I think this year I had my first real experience with actual grief - and it was the most terrible feeling I've ever, ever had. Watching that horrible money-grubbing vet inject my baby kitten with barbituates was completely and utterly awful, and the week afterwards was honestly the toughest I've ever had to go through- at least in recent memory. But I've learned that things always get better.  

I've learned that the profs haven't read the textbook. They test you on the material in the lectures. 

And on and on it goes. I can only hope that this is what's made my Bachelors worthwhile, because it sure as hell was not the proteins that made the degree. When I walk across the stage on the lower field this May and shake the hand of Heather Monroe-Bloom, along with 700 others like me, I know it's not going to mean a whole lot. I won't remember anything I learned in third of fourth year, and probably will only know some of the basics from first and second- no more than what I need to teach an MCAT course, most likely. I'm not going to remember the RIG-I signalling cascade, and I'm sure as hell not going to regret forgetting it. 

But I'm going to be excited, because when I shake Heather Monroe-Bloom's hand (and probably pick up a fatal bureaucratic disease) it will mean that I finally get to move on. It will mean that all my excitement about the future, which quite frankly is all that has kept me going this last year and a half, through mono and kittens and proteins, has come to something. When I shake her hand, I'll know where I'll be in September of 2010, and I'll know that the last four years have been what's got me there. 

I don't know if it will make it worth it. But it will definitely mean something. 

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