Sunday, January 4, 2009

2009, The Start of a Better Year

I'd like to first say 'Happy New Year!' to everyone and a belated 'Merry Christmas!' to those who celebrated. I hope everyone enjoyed their holiday break and are ready for the beatings and blessings of '09. With that said, I will now spew forth the events and updates since my last post.


In the last post, I was reporting in the midst of exam week, giving details of how each of my exams have gone. Now that exams for the first semester are a subject of history (Hallelujah!), and I've received all of my marks, I am now prepared to talk about my 1st university exam experience.

Looking back, I did not have an air of confidence in me heading into each of my exams. Whether this was precipitated by the fact that I had slept very little and ate very little prior to my exams, or the fact that I did not feel very confident in my preparation, I remember feeling more frightened after writing then before. I remember devoting about an hour after each exam in the shower, sulking and rejuvenating from the beating that I received. Usually, I overestimate the severity of this beating. Usually, I look back at these "after-exam showers" and I chuckle at myself for being so down. These past exams were no exceptions.

I guess I felt more at peace after I received the exam marks. Despite not feeling very confident, I ended up scoring all A's and a single A+. Only 1 A+? Are you kidding me? You're planning to get into medicine with only 1 A+? Are you nuts ramblings? Well...I'm nuts for planning to become a doctor, but on the subject of marks, I've become less 'nuts'. My mentality heading into semester 1 of year 1 was to ace every course, trying to follow the footsteps of a certain person I must keep anonymous. Everything was about getting those A+'s that my focus wasn't on learning the course materials, but to just learn enough to get to the A+ level. I did enter exams with an A+ in every subject, thankfully, but evidently, I could not keep this level after exams, for the most part. One of the things that I'm now aware of is the fact that I don't need to be an all A+ student. According to the OMSAS Grade Conversion Table of 2009, an A+ is 4.00 and an A is 3.9 for my school. After looking at the minimum GPA for consideration of various Canadian medical schools, I realized that I am still safe with even A's. Most schools, so far, have an average GPA in the upper 3 region. I realized that if I can score mostly A's and A+'s, I'll be in the safe zone. So now you think I can drop from being an A+ to an A student eh? No way! One of the many things that have been engraved into my head from high school came from staring at this one motivational poster for too long. In big letters it said, "Shoot for the moon. Even if you miss you'll land among the stars". Basically, if you planned on achieving something great and fantastical but you end up failing, you'll still have had achieved something else. Even if it wasn't as magnificent, you'll find that you'll be alright in the end. I'll still aim for those A+'s, but if I fail, I know I'll still be safe with A's. This realization alone has helped/will help me feel less academic-driven stress. Now hopefully the entrance GPAs for American schools are not higher...

With semester 1 finished, I had to immediately recuperate because on the very next day, I had to perform musically, with a couple of other cool cats, at a coffeehouse. During semester 1, I managed to fit in time volunteering at a local hospital and helping out with various youth related activities at my church. One of these church activities was a coffehouse, which I helped out musically by organizing the in-house band, or rather, the in-church band. I had an awesome time rockin' out to the cure and squeeling in falsetto à la Chris Martin. The overall experience was both a blessing and a reminder.

I'm very thankful for the oppurtunities to work with and mentor youth, using my knowledge and experience to help alleviate some of the stresses of growing up that youth often experience. I want to be a positive role model in the eyes of the people I work with, not just of the youth, but of all the people I get a chance to meet and work with. The coffehouse was a reminder to me that sometimes I have to step back from all the self-centered, "I need A+'s", academic life, and spend some time helping others. As I said before, I volunteer weekly at the emergency department, but I'm finding I'm taking this volunteer position for granted way too much (my volunteering at the hospital will be a subject of a post in the near future). The church has always been a place of peace and tranquility for me, and I'm more than happy to promote this among the youth. No matter how much time academics demand from me, I'll always devote some time to help out.

The following week was my first week free of school, and boy, was I ever glad. I desperately needed some time for some R&R. I immediately went to a local Chapters and bought 3 books: The House of God (Samuel Shem), How Doctors Think (Jerome Groopman), and Complications: A Surgeon's Notes on an Imperfect Science (Atul Gawande). I went through all of these books, finishing a book a day. Both Groppman and Gawande had interesting insights pertaining to medicine, while Shem offered a comedic and fictitous account of the psychological transformations done to a couple of residents in a hospital. I thoroughly enjoyed these books and recommend them to anyone looking for a couple of good medicine-related literature. I also engaged myself in an educational adventure that is of understanding the connection between religion and medicine. I'm particularly interested in how the two have developed coincedentally in the past, as well as how each one affects the other in the present and future. Questions like, how does religion affect health-care delivery? and what are the psychological implications of religion? are just two of the many questions that give a taste of my curiosity. I found a highly appropriate study referenced by Groopman , and I've tried to read the entire
study online. I haven't finished it yet, but I intend on doing so over the course of this year. This adventure of mine prompted me to purchase another book entitled, "The Spiritual Brain: A Neuroscientist's Case for the Existence of the Soul" (Beauregard & O'Leary). I've only just started this book but already it seems like it'll be an informative read. I've also purchased "The Complete C.S. Lewis" in my never-ending hunger of religious/philosophical knowledge.

So I spent most of the first week of break at home, catching up on some reading. The second week was some more reading, catching up with some friends, shopping a bit, gorging sushi at a new sushi buffet, playing mah-jong with the family, and celebrating the birth of Jesus. One of the things I didn't get to do was play trauma center on Wii at my uncle's house, but I did uncover someone's youtube channel with the whole game played out, so it wasn't much of a downer. In the last week of December, I read some more, shopped some more, drank some more, and celebrated the new year with friends and family. I spent the last weekend of the break in Toronto, celebrating my grandma's birthday and visiting relatives, eating massive amounts of food on both occasions. All in all, I thoroughly enjoyed my three weeks off school and I realize I won't have this much time for relaxation for a long while.

Tomorrow marks the first day of the second semester, and judging by how my schedule looks, its gonna be more demanding than the first semester. I've rested up good during my break, and I'm now prepared to finish the second semester better than I did the first. Gotta shoot for that moon with more accuracy and determination.

Stay tuned for my next post where I will reveal my resolutions for 2009.

Monday, December 8, 2008

Exam Update

At this point, I've finished 4 of my exams, with the last exam taking place this Friday. Exam week started last week, with my first one on Thursday, next on Friday, the one after on Saturday, and the 4th one completed just today.

Overall, my 1st semester of 1-st year exam experience hasn't gone too well, and I'm hoping I won't end up doing as terrible as I am imagining. My primary concern was for that first exam (ECOR), with the TSE (mentioned in my last post) portion of the exam tacked on. Again, if you don't pass TSE, you fail the whole ECOR portion automatically, so naturally, it had me worried.

I started studying for this course on the Monday of exam week, memorizing each and every fact presented in the outside readings and in class material. Mind you, it was solely ECOR and TSE I was studying for, so I put all the other subjects in the back-seat. I spent most of my time listening to the lectures I recorded, and going through all the material.

The exam itself wasn't too bad, there were just a couple questions I had to make an educated guess on. The TSE portion wasn't too bad either, although there were a few questions that were a bit ambiguous to me. For example, a question asked about why the native people in the north were at a higher risk of having persistent-organic pollutants in their bodies. I limited it down to 2 possible answers: 1) Because bioamplification is particularly high in the north and 2) Because their traditional food is high in animal fats. In my point of view, both answers are correct, but number 2 seemed the MOST correct. Bioamplification is particularly high, yet it doesn't not explain how the POP gets into the bodies of the native people. Answer 2 explains that because their diet is high in fat, which a large majority of POPs are stored, bioamplification has a higher chance of occurring, with a greater impact.

So generally, all was well for that exam. I did not have much problem with the information-based questions, and questions which needed you to do some basic math I completed with relative ease. As always, I took all 3 hours of the exam, just to make sure I corrected any stupid errors. If I hadn't taken that time, I would've killed myself after for saying that the result of a cross product is a scalar.

The next day after was the Biology exam. Of course, having focused on ECOR the previous days, I had to do some intense cramming right after my ECOR exam. This entailed having to learn all the content after the last bio midterm AND to review everything before. I did learn MOST of the content I needed to learn, which unfortunately left me only about 4 hours to review everything else. I had recorded my lectures, but I didn't have the time to listen to them. It was just speed reading through ppt presentations and doing the online exam preps.

The 1st half of the bio exam was pretty easy, with most of the content I've learned over and over in high school, such as: which macromolecule has the correct monomer. The second half of the exam was something else. It was ALL the material that was after the last midterm, meaning, it was all the stuff I had to learn in a 1 day period. Freaky. I managed to get through some of the questions, but I alot of guessing was done, especially the last page. The content was on human genetics, and I found most of the content interesting, although with the limited time I had, my interest only went so far in helping me to study. Though I know I haven't achieved what I was planning to on this exam, I'm fairly confident I passed.

The day after was the chem mid-year exam. The chemistry I'm taking is a full-year course, so the content on the exam was everything learned in semester 1. As for the bio exam, I had 1 day to prepare for the exam, and like the bio exam, I had 1 day to learn everything after the last midterm and review all the other material. Catching up wasn't too too bad, there wasn't alot of the text-book to read, but instead of understanding was what presented in the ppt slides, I was reduced to memorizing and NOT understanding. Luckily, the exam was in the afternoon the next day, so I had a little more time to cram. After pouring through all the past mid-year exams, and memorizing all the needed equations, I was ready for the exam.

I'm telling you, I almost fainted during my exam. It was one intense, brain-stomping, 3-hour ordeal that I had to muster non-existent energy to complete. I didn't have a good sleep the next before, and I hadn't eaten lunch. Two things which probably led to my down-fall. Most of the theory questions I got through with ease, guessing on the ones I wasn't familiar with. The second half of the exam was the mathematics portion, where I had to remember all the needed equations. While I'm sure I recalled correctly each equation, having to do question after question of math really does a number on the brain (when it has not slep and eaten well). Half way into the second portion, my concentration was wavering and I was becoming increasingly tired. Instead of paying attention to what the question was asking, I started to 'plug-and-chug' equations. I took all 3 hours of the exam period, getting together the minimal energy I had left to exit the exam hall.


That night after the chem exam, I had an interesting conversation with my parents about medical school, telling my mom about the various things I've learned through forum and blog browsing/stalking, and conversing about my future endeavors of medicine. While I have spoken to them about medical school before, I detected the same level of shock in both my parents. This shock, I sense is part 'being proud of a son who has 'real' life goals, and part 'how is he going to do it?'. They know this son didn't come out high-school the top of his classes, but JUST made it to the A+ level. They know this son wasn't particularly the brightest out of 3 'gifted' sons, as he was the most prone to failing. They know this son didn't win any 'high' awards or 'large' and 'prestigous' scholarships. But they know this son has a heart of faith, and a gut of steel. They know that when this son fails, he takes the opportunity to learn from his mistakes. They know that when he gets pushed down, he always gets back up.


With a refreshed mind, it was back to studying, this time, for my linear algebra exam. Linear algebra wasn't particularly challenging, as I entered the exam with a 100 percent. Not to be mocking at all, but any high-schoooler could get the same grade. The prof counted 2 best out of 4 midterm tests with 5 of the best 7 tutorial session marks, combined to create the mark going into the exam.

Studying basically consisted of skimming through all the required readings in the textbook, going through all the past tutorial assignments and test, and doing all the online exam-prep. I had ample time to study, as I had the whole Sunday to study. Surely, I thought to myself, this exam wasn't going to be as intense as that chemistry exam I did the Friday before.

For some reason, I had the worst after-exam feeling after the linear algebra exam today. There were alot of questions I had trouble on, and wasn't too familiar with. There were 25 questions in total, combining to count for 50% of the grade. Most likely, I've lost my A+ in linear algebra, and probably JUST passed. My concentration that morning was wavering. I had a relatively good sleep the previous night, and a coffee in the morning. I wasn't confident in any of the math I performed in all questions, and I even forgot how to matrix multiply. Naturally, I took all 3 hours of the exam, and left quickly to expel the urine that was begging to be released because of the coffee.

In retrospect, my exam experience could have been better if I had accomplished a couple of things:

1) LEARN THE MATERIAL WHEN IT WAS TAUGHT and PAY ATTENTION IN CLASS: I would lean on my recorder to catch me up on classes I've slept through (Biiology), or too lazy to pay attention to (Chem), or even just classes I would not even bother paying attention (ECOR and MATHs). Instead of listening to a whole Bob Marley album in Biology, I wouldn't have needed to spend most of my cramming session catching up. This can also be said for ALL of my classes.

2) DO NOT HIGH SCHOOL STUDY but UNIVERSITY STUDY: High school studying for me was reviewing (cramming) the night before the test and exam. I least it did for high school. I 'high school' studied for all my 1st semester midterms and it also worked. I mostly achieved A+ level grades. However, I've noticed that this DOES NOT WORK for the exams for many reasons. Firstly, university usually has MORE content, more content than can be successfully learned, crammed, and memorized in one day. Secondly, this does not help you in the long run. Cramming entails pure memory and memorizing enough to do the exam. Little learning is actually performed, and in the future where you need to recall the memorized information, it is likely impossible. The moment you step foot out of the exam, you forget all the information

3) GET A GOOD SLEEP and EAT WELL: While I'm sure you can gain energy through decomposing your fat reserves, it is not recommended and it is painful. I would regularly skip out on a few lunches per week, and I would just ignore the pains. As well, I don't do very much sleeping. Most of the sleeping I do is on the weekend where I get upwards of 10+ hours per weekend night. Maintaining a well balanced eating/sleeping to study schedule will definitely help you to perform well. I was one of those people who thought they were exceptions to the rule, but grueling through 3 hours exams, day after day, painfully tired, doesn't really help you at all with academic performance.

4) GET HELP WHEN YOU FIRST ENCOUNTER A PROBLEM: I'm usually the person who ignores a problem, thinking that it won't show up in an exam or a test, and then having the problem resurface when it really hurts you the most. Don't be shy to approach a fellow-student, professor, or TA to help you out a bit. Learn to put down some pride so you can keep it intact at the end. Over the years, my pride has continually kept me from asking for help, usually hurting me in the end. This leads me to the last point...

5) GET OFF YOUR TOTEM POLE AND WALK AROUND A BIT: Coming out of high school with relatively high marks, I was expecting to get marks around the A to A+ level. While I have achieved these marks in the term work, I know I haven't achieved these marks in my exams. Unlike high school, doing bad on the exams really hurts your mark, and your ego. Don't let your pride and ego get to you. Just because you're a hyper-competitive, supposedly-intelligent, pre-med student, you're not the best at everything you do. Compose a mental list of questions you don't have answers to, and be pro-active in finding someone with the solutions.

I know many students are in the midst of exams this time of month. For those of your who are doing well, keep up the good work. For those who aren't achieving what they wanted to...

6) NEVER GIVE UP!!!!! It'd take me a couple days to tell you about all the things I've failed in. I've probably failed more than I've succeeded. I'd get hit hard with failures, and fall to the ground. Sure I'd sulk over it a couple days, but what will sulking over it help you? Speak to someone if you need to. Don't hesitate to get some help, whether from your friends, family, teachers, etc. Know that failing at this one thing won't be a complete failure if you learn from your mistakes. If you have a dream, and you're working hard to achieve it, even going through failures of all kinds, there's nothing in your way to stop you from achieving your goals. Even I, a pre-medder, is possibly very close to losing my scholarship and then benefits of maintaining a high mark. I'm planning to rebound from my failures. Wouldn't you?

So that's how my exams have gone so far, and I'm hoping even I can follow up on the things I've posted above. Life is a learning process and success doesn't alway entail success in the process of succeeding. Failing is just getting you prepared to succeed even more.

Good look to all students writing exams, and I wish you the best! And remember, as the Kings of Convenience song goes, "failure is always the best way to learn". See you after exams!

Thursday, November 27, 2008


I'm sitting here, in the aftermath of a biology lab exam, tired and exhausted - physically, emotionally, mentally - looking for something to boost my spirits again, desperately wanting for that excited-about-medical-school feeling once more. Fortunately, or unfortunately, I knew this day would come when all motivation to study, work, strive for excellence would come to a halt. Taking this day-off of school, I decided to update this very-neglected blog, perhaps providing you the details leading up to today. As well, I'll try and continue what I've mentioned in the previous post, which was written a while ago, but just posted today.

I guess things have changed a lot since my last post. In a weird way, it seemed like yesterday I just started my first year of undergraduate engineering, yet it seemed like an eternity was endured to get from then to now. I've become more accustomed to the academic and social aspect of university, as well as becoming comfortable with a totally new study-habit.

So far, there have been good days and bad days. When I judge the quality of a day, it isn't based on some life-threatening occurrence. Oh no, the pathetic person that I am judges the quality of a day on the marks I receive that day, even on past assignment. That's one of the downfalls of being an addicted pre-med with pre-med syndrome, you become a hard-to-please, perpetually dissatisfied monster.

While I have received many excellent marks, I've also received some very poor marks. Without closely reviewing the things I've said in my last post, the panic that is associated with Biology labs have resulted in no good marks. In fact, what I've received on these labs are pure garbage. I remember the day I logged onto the net, to find out I got a 50/70 on a previous week's Bio lab. Further damage was done the week after, when I received a 30/50 on another lab. In those two weeks, all motivation to live disappeared, and it didn't stop with just Bio labs.

I'm taking an introduction to engineering course (ECOR for short), covering a variety of topics important for the 1st-year engineering student. An off-shoot of this course that 1st-year engineering student must also take is "Technology, Society, and the Environment" (TSE for short). One cannot pass ECOR without passing TSE. Even if you pass the ECOR exam, but not the TSE portion, failure is served to you. Like my usual self, I thought that there was no way I could get below an A+ in TSE. All that was required of TSE was a 250-word essay and an exam. Easy peasy.

My hands were visibly wet with excitment, my feet soaked to the laces. A couple of weeks after the submission date, the TA who marked the essays showed the TSE class a histogram with the mark distributions of the essays. Only a handful of people recieved full marks, and somewhere in my selfish mind, I knew I had to be in that handful. No way could I have gotten below a 70%, which was the most dominated group. We were notified that we could get our essays back after the class, so when class ended, I raced outside the classroom to fetch my paper. I guess you could say I was a deer caught in headlights.

2.85/5. 2.85/5. 2.85/5. Quick, pull out the calculator. 57%. 57%. Oh my goodness. Recalculate. 57%. 57%. Check the name. It's definately mine. I'm dead.

My pride, ego, self-esteem, felt like it was just stomped on over and over again. It was hard to breathe at that moment, after recieving the worst mark in 1st year. I knew my two friends were suprised to 1) get a higher mark than me and 2) realize I just got a 57% on an assignment. I could tell they were like civilians in front of a suicide-bomber, scared of how I would react. Fortunately for them, it wasn't the only time I've failed in my life, and so I simply kept my composure, collected what was left of myself, and walked away.

When you recieve an almost-fail grade on something you worked hard on, there seems to be some sort of injustice associated with it. Also mixed in is a large batch of insult. Personally, it was an insult to my skill and my participation in TSE. Was it my fault? the TAs fault? God's fault? Whatever. To have almost failed an assignment, even though you have a good knowledge of the material it is based on, usually tells you something about yourself. After reviewing the paper over and over again with myself, and with the TA who marked it, I realized a couple of things I did wrong and learned:

1) I was too cocky and I shot over the limits of the essay prompt: The reason I recieved such a low mark wasn't because I didn't know the material. It was because I brought in elements into the essay which was out of the scope of the prompt, which was about environmental issues. I chose to include various aspects of social injustice in the short span of the essay ( a 250 word expository essay - which itself is a bit of a big stretch) , which the TA did not like.

2) I didn't compose my ideas cohesively: On top of including material that was out of the scope, I didn't tie in the ideas of social injustice cohesively to my other ideas on different environmental issues. To include irrelevant matterial and to not compose it neatly in my essay got me a double-whammy.

3) Don't expect too much: In reality, I know I don't need a perfect GPA to pass many of the Canadian medical school cut-off grades, and I doubt getting a 57% on something worth 5% of the total ECOR grade, in 1st year, will have a big effect on my chances. I realize once more how selfish I was as a person and as a student, and how much of a monster pre-med syndrome was turning me into.


Things have gotten alot better since the events of those unfortunate weeks. I recieved 5 marks back on an assignment I originally got 47.5/60 on in a Bio lab, I got a 94% on another assignment for ECOR which is weighted the same as the TSE essay, and I've lately finished round 2 of mid-terms, getting A+s on all my midterms.

All I need on that Biology lab exam is at least an 85%, but then I need a 95% on my final exam to get an overall A+ in Biology. After writing the exam yesterday, I'm scared I won't make that 85%. I'm praying desperately for divine intervention. Thankfully, I'm done all my required undergrad Biology labs. I could rant on and on about how terrible Bio labs are, I think I'll save that for another post.


With a week of hardcore exam studying/writing in front of me, aceing 1st-year undergraduate engineering is a possibility that I can increase the chances of happening. But sitting here, writing this blog, reflecting on all the terribly marks I've recieved, really casts you down to a terrible place. I desperately need to find a source of motivation to get me going again, or I risk the chance of falling very short of my goals. I'm praying for divine intervention.

Tuesday, October 7, 2008

A month

A month has gone by since my last post of early September, and while I tried not to neglect writing in this blog, the lack of time to relax has caused me to be quite absent. Before starting my university studies, I have been told stories about how quickly classes move, and for that matter, time itself. It seemed just like yesterday that I first posted in this blog, and now a month has gone's gotta be the lack of adequate sleep.

Its only right for me to recapitulate my first month to you and give you a glimpse of my journey so far. If I happen to make horrendous grammar errors or spelling mistakes, I'd like to blame Full Throttle/not sleeping too great. With that said, here's what happened, neatly arranged in categories:

Academics: A bias that I held until early into September was the notion that asking questions in class was a no-no and would cause you to be cast down to the bottom of the barrel. I quickly realized how wrong I was. My professors are generally very nice and caring people, and actually promoted the asking of questions in class. I don't know where I got this bias from, but it helped relieve my stress of asking questions in class without being ashamed. I realize how fortunate I am to have great profs who are passionate about what they teach and show a level of concern for their students.

Like all premeds I'm sure, we make vows to ourselves on things like: not sleeping in class, staying on top of all class material, reading up on future lectures, etc, and like all premeds (I'm pretty certain) we don't meet many of these goals we set for ourselves. We have this preconceived and idealized version of what our journey will be like, not readily understanding how much change and re-working will be done to our plan(s). An ode to this realization is illustrated by my breaking of the very first vow I listed - sleeping in class.

My general biology lectures are held in a theater room that accommodates around 300 students. The lights in this room can not be turned up brighter than a dim, and the seats are perfectly fitted with velvety-cushion. This combination provides for one of the best in-class sleeping experiences ever. I find myself regularly dozing off within 15 minutes of class time, only being awakened by the soft-snoring of the person behind me. One advantage of being in a sea of students is the ability to not be singled out by the professor, who, I might add, speaks with the perfect makes-you-fall-asleep voice. As a blade of grass in a lawn of green, I like to justify my in-class sleeping by the fact that I rarely learn anything new with having followed my third vow that I listed - reading ahead ;)

For the lab component of biology, I remember having trouble sleeping the night before my first lab, which is probably a symptom many nervous-wrecked premeds demonstrate before tests, assignments, and labs. Even though the first lab was on basic microscopy, I read the whole lab outline around 3 times over, repeated the procedure(s) in my head around 2 times, and checked to make sure the lab sheets did not run away from my bag around 5 times. Mind you, this is a habit I repeat before every lab.

....Continued in next post....

Sunday, September 7, 2008

Here I am...

The idea to become a doctor was not something I acquired from an early age or from some deep lust for position and fame. I can safely say that I am pursuing this career with the utmost knowledge of my reasons, which, as I will reveal in later posts, originated from a real-life occasion. I vow to stay true to myself and endure both the good and the bad times, putting all I've got to acquire this title of M.D.. I certainly will not betray my fellow man or my moral integrity to achieve my goals, as I believe betrayal of these things is a betrayal to my cause.

With all these things said, I would like to express that this blog is a genuine documentation of my road to becoming a doctor, and none of the information will be given falsely; however, I swear to protect the identities of those people and places which I will mention in my posts. I would like to invite you (the reader) to join me in this journey, irrelevant if you are associated with this same road or if you are affiliated with the medical field. Today, I give this blog life, and as all living things, this blog also has a death, which will occur because of my acceptance to medical school, or my decision to abandon this journey.

With the long arduous road ahead of me, this journey does not guarantee me success, but of the chance to succeed. I will embrace this chance with all I've got, putting all of myself into my journey. Here I am at the starting line, 3...2...1...and it begins!