Posts Tagged ‘school’

So much has changed in my life recently! Or if it hasn’t changed yet, it has recently gained large potential for a near-future change.

1. I cut back my work hours at the hospital.

This was a really hard choice. One one hand I was spending 40 hours/week at work and only 10 hours (or less) on school. I was making it, but since the discovery that I really love grad school and love what I am doing, I want to get the most out of the experience and that wasn’t happening with all the work I was doing. My supervisor was really good about the decision and I am down to 24 hrs/week starting next week!

I tend to count my worth by how many hours of work I do in a given week (and I typically don’t count school work) so I equated cutting back work hours with being a failure at life. And there are always financial considerations–but the job really didn’t make a huge difference there. I already had to take out some student loans to cover tuition because I didn’t earn enough for that in addition to my living expenses. (yes, considering the job requires absolutely no degree, it pays decently, but I could get a better paying job that better utilizes my knowledge) Now the job will cover living expenses and that’s it.

And although I love my job, it is physically and emotionally demanding. Even with a healthy degree of separation from the patients (which happens to be one of my few talents), psychiatric work takes a toll on a person. Although I never take the beatings (verbal or physical) personally, one can only take so much abuse. After a while of cursing, and accusations, and manipulations, and altered perceptions, and hitting, and biting, it becomes rather difficult for me to bite my tongue and turn the other cheek. And yet, I have to. Plus, working with people who are also medically sick means I have to put forth quite a bit of physical effort and that is not ideal at this time either.

Basically some work=good for keeping a healthy balance with school. Too little work=an unhealthy obsession with school. Too much work=way too much stress.

2. I was invited for a medical school interview at the university I am currently attending.

Not much to say about that. It’s a good thing. It’s happening at the end of October.

3. I am in conversation with a research team about a different job.

With a psychiatric researcher with a lot of neat projects going on.

The initial offer was hourly (read: no benefits) so my initial desire was to just pick up some hours in addition to my hospital work. But it’s possible that it could be made into a graduate assistantship….which means it could include benefits and a tuition scholarship. I’m meeting with the research team Thursday. Stay tuned.

Oh, and at the end of the email she wrote “with your background and experience we would love to have you involved.” A compliment! It did make me rather happy.

In other news:

I have cut back on exercise. I am dealing with it moderately well, Zephyr is not. He is becoming neurotic. He has always had this obsession with lights (and I mean that in clinical, not colloquial terms). Every shadow or ray of sunlight prompts him into his “light hunting” stance and he stares at it intently and then dances around pouncing on it, wiggling his tail, and sometimes escalating into barking. Within the past week it has become unbearable. I can’t open a three-ring binder, turn a lamp on, read my book before bed, open the door to an unlit room, keep the blinds open at night, keep the blinds open during the day….and more. Last night I completely darkened my room, with the blackout curtains I use to sleep after night shifts, and he was still up until 3  dancing around on the bed chasing some invisible light on the wall. He awoke at 6:30 to start it again and is still at it 3 hours later. This means I got 3 1/2 hours of sleep. And I seriously want to strangle the dog…but I can’t, because I know it’s not his fault. It’s definitely gotten worse since he’s getting less exercise with me. So I have a few things to work on here. I need to wear him down somehow: whether it is running with him (despite the ban from my therapist), making frequent trips to the grassy space outside for tennis balls and frisbees, or going to the dog park. I need to get him some more mental stimulation–with all the work I’ve been doing this has fallen by the wayside and I will start scheduling training in our days. And we just need to deal with the anxiety issues more.

I am still freaking out about weight.

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Before writing this–I love grad school. I love my public health degree. I love learning about public health, the healthcare system, and all the other stuff we talk about. Even the class I was sure would be boring and stuffy (Healthcare Organization and Policy) is fascinating. I was enthralled through an entire lecture about the history of the healthcare system. And for those who don’t know…I don’t particularly like history. In fact I rather dislike general history (I don’t dislike the concept per say, but it isn’t for me to study), I never even really enjoyed music history. But this history….this history I love.

However I am starting to see the different world graduate school resides in.

For example: the following picture shows a sampling of slides that I was expected to understand.

I am proud to say that I understand them all now. After some long stares, and lots of reading, and a couple hours of lecture, and occasionally using my fingers to keep track of different places on the diagrams.

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Writing Papers

I understand the majority of assignments in college. I do physics assignments to practice the equations/manipulations and learn to apply them to situations that don’t look precisely like the given examples or I’m missing variables. I do research papers to learn to do research, connect the ideas, and to find the use of the subject outside of lecture. Typically those assignments also have the added challenge of choosing a topic and finding pertinent, reliable resources. Plus, the professor gets to read a huge variety of papers from students.

Here are the ones I don’t always understand. In one of my classes we have weekly essays due. The prompt is incredibly specific, usually just one or two questions, and the resources are required reading[s] for the week. Not only does this block in the students, get us off the hook of finding references, or even really making connections. These assignments essentially require us to summarize a 15-20 page reading assignment. Occasionally we summarize 2-3 reading assignments about slightly different facets of the same topic. Here is this week’s prompt:

What does Helena Pycior mean by Marie Curie’s “’anti-natural’ path”? Does the case of Marie Curie illustrate any important lessons about the broader history of women in science in the early twentieth-century, or was her case simply too unusual to mean anything for other women?

Does she even find these at all interesting to read? Surely having thirty students writing some sort of summary of an article means that at most you will find 5-6 recurring themes. What’s the point? Why do I waste every Wednesday night skimming these readings and making a summary that fits on one page, single spaced, twelve-point font?

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Recently there has been much debate over the rewriting of social studies textbooks in Texas. I have an opinion on this matter: I believe there are two sides to every story and to truly give an unbiased, honest account of history both must be presented. And both must be given fair consideration.

But onto what I was really thinking about when I sat down to write this…I was listening to Talk of the Nation on NPR today and a teacher called in complaining how his students in high school and previous students he’d had while teaching at the college level never read the textbooks. It got me to thinking, what is the purpose of a textbook?

There are several different ways teachers utilize textbooks. There are teachers who give a shallow overview of the subject matter and then expect students to read the textbook to actually learn the details or to memorize the dates, researchers, and outcomes of a hundred different research studies. There are teachers who think that textbooks are the spawn of Satan and find or create all their own assignments. This can leave students in a bind, particularly if the teacher does not bother to teach all the minutiae of the subject and students are left to spend long hours on the internet, in the library, or finding classmates to fill in the missing links.

And the teachers who are my personal favorite: those who teach in-depth every process needed to learn the desired skill. This doesn’t mean that they eschew textbooks; in fact it is quite the opposite. These teachers rely on the text to give a framework for teaching a class with a logical progression, students are told that the text is not required reading, but if they are confused by any topic that should be their first source for help; and the text gives regular homework assignments with an easy-to-find explanation of the underlying knowledge required to complete the problems.

Am I asking too much for the teachers to teach the subject in the full depth and breadth required for the class? Am I giving students an easy way out of the boring textbook reading we all despise [or just avoid]?

I don’t know the answer to the latter question, but in regards to the former, I don’t think that I am asking too much. If a teacher were hired simply to rate our academic progress based on performance on assignments, papers, or exams, then the first style of teacher (the one who gives a brief overview of the topic) would be perfect. If a teacher were paid to rate our ability to find references and teach ourselves, then the second style of teach would be sufficient. But as students we both need to learn the subject and to learn problem solving. The third style of teacher is the only one in a position to achieve both these goals. By actually teaching the student the teacher is able to direct him/her away from mistakes, common pitfalls, or other possible traps in the given subject matter. By creating/choosing assignments that are based on the underlying principals of the topic the teacher can test the students ability to problem solve and apply those principals to a problem that, on the surface, is seemingly unrelated.

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I’m living with a lot of fear right now. Fear of gaining weight. Fear of not getting into medical school. Fear of having to make a choice of what to do with myself next year in case I don’t get into medical school. Fear of failing exams.

I live in fear of having life fall apart and everyone seeing that my successes (or at least lack of failures) are all a sham and I will be outed as a fake, a stupid terrible flutist fake.

I know worrying about all this stuff is a huge waste of time. And although I berate myself for what I consider to be unnecessary worry and anxiety I need to remember that at least some of these fears are founded. It is okay for me to be concerned with getting into medical school. It truly does determine the course of my life for the next year or so. It is a huge deal. I haven’t decided if the concerns about what I will do if I don’t get into medical school are worth my time and energy. On one hand I know that I should try to be positive about my applications, but on the other I can see that my attitude at this point will have absolutely no effect on my applications. I also can see value in having a decision made as soon as possible. If I know now what I want to do, then my decision will not [hopefully] be emotionally swayed by rejections from medical school. By the middle to end of March I will also be limited on time for getting housing and other plans worked out if I intend to move somewhere else for the year. I will need to start that right away and having a firm decision will make that easier.  Fear of not getting into medical school is only part of the problem though. I take these rejections personally. I have a decent MCAT score, outstanding grades, experience–which lead me to believe that the problem with my application is….me. And that is hard. A friend of mine told me recently that essays were the most personal part of college. To write a good essay requires passion and part of one’s self and to be graded harshly for it hurts more than doing badly on an exam. And I think that’s where some of my personalization comes from. Other than grades and test scores my applications are judged on my essays and my reasons for wanting to be a doctor. To be rejected makes me think that I’m not good enough. That they don’t believe I would make a good doctor. It’s the only thing I want to do and if they don’t believe I can, or simply don’t want me, what else will I do?

The other fears are less founded. Ever since coming to college I have had a fear that everything I do is simply contributing to my life of cards. Any day now it will all come tumbling down and everyone will see that all the As I have earned, all the ensemble positions I have won, all the tests I have aced, were pure luck. Who am I, a farm girl from southern [I], to come here and have a full academic scholarship and huge successes as a flutist? Why do I think I even have the right, much less the ability to attend medical school and live my dreams? Have I been fooling myself my whole life by thinking that I could rise above the education and opportunities I received growing up in [S]? (My therapist once mentioned impostor syndrome….I do appear to have it, no?)

Fear of fatness? That’s always there. Pretty self-explanatory. To me being fat would be yet another sign of my failures. And I do think I’m fat.

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Now what?

It’s the thought many people have after a long-anticipated event. Doesn’t matter if it is a marathon, huge exam, graduation, or a recital. Something that one has put massive amounts of time, energy, and concentration into. I am currently in a grey area of lostness-
precipitated by my senior recital, which occurred on Sunday. I see that my slumps are worsened by a lack of big-picture planning. Let me explain…

I have my ultimate goals in life–things like becoming a physician, teaching and playing flute at my highest possible ability. But those goals are not one-step processes. Each one is made up of smaller checkpoints and the path to each checkpoint is a series of action steps. My senior recital was a checkpoint. My priority checkpoint for the last month or so (that sounds a little sad–as if I were ignoring it before that time, but think realistically. Can any person truly have more than one priority at any given time? Can you have multiple things that are the “most important?” No. Something always wins even though other important things may come in at a close second.)

When I am working toward a checkpoint I am constantly focused on the next action step. And my action steps are probably smaller than you would imagine. Say my checkpoint is to get an a in one of my classes. What is my current action step? Is it to write the paper that is due next week? No. Is it even to write the outline for that paper? Think smaller yet. What is the smallest item I can possibly do? Here is how I break up the checkpoint for getting an A. I will use this semester’s Psychology of Women’s class as an example. For this class I have a grand total of 2 exams and 5 papers for the entire semester. Checkpoints would be: paper #1, paper #2, midterm exam, paper #3, paper #4, paper #5, final exam. Action steps for paper #1: choose a topic, determine a focus, find x number of journals/books with research and/or support for my view, read each source (x number of action steps), read the corresponding chapter of the text, review corresponding class notes, reevaluate my focus [depth and breadth] for length/connection to class, write outline, write rough draft, edit draft, add bibliography, final edit. Sounds nit-picky, but in reality it’s what you would do anyway, I just break each step down visually instead of mentally. This keeps me from getting overwhelmed. I could just say: write outline, write rough draft, write final draft. But I can’t sit down and do any one of those in 30 min without prior preparation. I break down things into approximately 30 min tasks so I always k ow precisely the next thing I need to do, precisely what I need to do it, and I know that I can accomplish it in a reasonable amount of time. It also prevents me from getting ahead of myself and spend hours writing before I realize that my topic is much too large/small to fit in the assigned length. I obviously have multiple classes so knowing my next action step makes it easier to plan my days and study sessions. I no longer find myself at the library switching subjects only to realize that I am missing some key element that I need to get closer to my next checkpoint.

And now back to my original point: a lack of overall planning. When I am absorbed in my priority checkpoint I always have a very clear picture of where I am and where I will go next. Once that checkpoint is achieved I have a time of “what next?” I obviously know the next actions in all the checkpoints that are in front of me, it’s really an issue of choosing which checkpoint will be my next priority. Do I want my net priority to be Psych 346? Psych 313? Phys 112? My planned marathon? A flute competition? A pet project of my own? If I reach one checkpoint without planning my next checkpoint, I become lost in the sea of possibilities. I waste time only half-committing myself as I thinks about what I could/should/want to do next.

Even as I write this it sounds ridiculously over thought. But I have realized that I need this ultimate structure in my life. If I always know where I am headed next then I find it is much easier to deal with all the swells and dips that come in life. Instead of being in a tiny boat and being upset by each single wave, I am instead in a large boat and each wave just gently rocks me, but doesn’t throw me off course.

So what will my next priority be? I’m not sure yet, but I know I need one asap. Perhaps my first priority will be to choose my next priority checkpoint.

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Tuesdays kill me.

I leave home at 8 a.m. because I “have to” walk to campus. It starts early, that voice. The eating disorder voice that tells me if I don’t walk everywhere I go then I will instantly become fat. “poof!” In an instant. Instead of turning into a goon I become my worst nightmare the instant I don’t obey the voice. So I do. I walk to campus. It is 1 mile to the close edge and another 3/4 mile to the building that holds my first Tuesday class. That isn’t until 10 but I came early so I can sit in the library and beat my brain down before the day starts, working on homework, worrying about all the work I didn’t do the night before.

At 9:40 I head to the music building, pull out my flute and prepare for my 10 a.m. lesson. I enjoy my lessons. Lately I’ve been a bit stressed because my senior recital is coming up and because I missed the first two weeks of school getting ensemble things worked out with my pianist has been crunched for time. That typically runs all the way up to the hour which means that I am late for my 11 a.m. class.

That stresses me out too. Some classes I am ok with being late for, but this is a small, upper-level women’s studies class and the only entrance is in the front of the room so everyone doesn’t just see me, I have to visibly break their lines of sight to the professor in order to get to my seat. And then the class is an hour and a half, not a big fan of long classes. When that is done I trudge to my psychology of women class that begins at 12:40 and, of course, also runs an hour and a half.

At 2 I promptly leave psych and head to a two-hour physics lab. Some lab classes don’t take the full lab period, but this semester of physics has run the full-time nearly every lab. As soon as I’m done with lab I head back to music hall for a two-hour orchestra rehearsal. My day is finally over at 6 p.m. however, I still feel the need to walk home.

I arrive home utterly exhausted. And why shouldn’t I? I just had 8 hours of intensive classes with no break. Lunch is a hurried matter and snacks typically don’t happen unless I break rules and bring food into the recital hall during orchestra rehearsal. I have walked 3 miles just going to campus and back and easily another 1-1 1/2 miles between classes. It’s no wonder I never have any motivation to do homework. Many nights I stare blankly at my books or computer screen and try to will my brain to think coherently so I can get work done and escape the guilt. Should I just call Tuesday nights a loss? Go to bed as early as possible so that when Wednesday comes I am fully rested and can handle more. I wish I could. Instead, I force myself to painfully waste time writing a few lines in a paper, I go to bed late, the next morning I am still exhausted. I can either sleep later (hello guilt and worry!) or drag myself out of bed and spend another day with lost productivity because I am so worn down that I can’t get my brain to think in an organized fashion. And this scene repeats itself on Thursday and Friday.

I long to have the energy and stamina to take Tuesdays as they come. To buck up to one challenging day in a week and come out of it okay. Will I ever be able to do that again? Will I ever have the insane drive I had in high school that allowed to me go to school, run track, and practice flute and piano upwards of four hours a day? Will I be able to handle the rigors of medical school? Of a career in medicine?

Should I regret the insanity I gained when I planned my schedule for the semester or should I appreciate the opportunity to spot my weaknesses and create a plan to combat them?

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