tank top and bikini weather! iced coffee! the MCAT! hooray!

Bwog Science is back with Science 101, our regular column which brings you tips and tricks on navigating science at Columbia. In this week’s edition, Bwog Science Editor (and token pre-med) Alex Tang provides ideas for ways that pre-meds can spend the summer.

With the warmer weather and the agonizingly oh-so-close approach of Spring Break, we’re reminded of the presence of that benevolent behemoth, summer vacation, lurking in the distance. Ignoring the constant bombardments of “what are you doing this summer?”, keep in mind that there are countless ways to spend the break, as long as you’re being intellectually stimulated and emotionally refreshed from the long prior semester. With that being said, here are some summer ideas tailored especially for our pre-med audience.

  • Columbia has resources! If you feel stuck and want some guidance regarding your personal circumstances, speak with the Center for Student Advising! I especially recommend setting up an appointment with Megan Rigney, Director of Preprofessional Advising, whom you may know as the woman behind the pre-med email listserv. Together, you can discuss your own career interests and background, and she’ll be able to highlight a lot of options for you. Also, click here for some summer/extracurricular recommendations offered by Columbia advising.
  • Research is an activity that a lot of top medical schools want to see, and it seems like more and more pre-meds are gaining experience with it. Working in a research lab, you’ll be able to see up close how science is conducted, and apply many of the concepts that you’ve learned about in class, and which will come in handy in medicine. Summer is a great time to do research because you’ll be able to devote most of your time to it, without this pesky thing called “classes” in the way.
    • Check out Bwog’s first Science 101 post: How to get started with undergraduate research.
    • Now’s a perfect time to start contacting professors about working in their lab over the summer. If you’re not from the tri-state area, and want to go home for the summer, think about contacting professors from labs in universities near your home. Be prepared to send out lots of emails, but don’t give up (especially if you follow our tips in the link above).
  • MCAT Prep: Are you applying to medical school next year (as in the summer after this one)? If so, you’re probably planning on taking the MCAT soon. The MCAT (Medical College Admission Test) is around 7 hours 30 minutes in length, and will test you on your knowledge from gen chem, bio, orgo, physics, psychology, and critical analysis/reasoning. Having a solid study plan for this massive test is absolutely required, and will take a few months of dedicated studying. The summer is the perfect time to grab some prep books, review some old courses, and build up your confidence for this test.

  • Clinical experience is an extracurricular requirement for medical school. These activities will expose you to a medical setting, and allow you to see what healthcare professionals do on a daily basis. You’ll be able to verify your own interests in medicine, and be able to talk about your passion for medicine more intelligently in medical school essays and interviews. Over the summer, you may want to try volunteering in a hospital or shadowing.
    • To volunteer in a hospital, check the individual websites of the hospitals near where you’ll be staying this summer. Hospitals usually have a website section detailing what it takes to get involved as a volunteer. Aim to get a volunteer position where you’ll be actively interacting directly with patients and healthcare professionals, rather than where you’re behind a desk or in a gift shop. Volunteer applications and medical clearance timelines can get lengthy, so now’s a perfect time to start researching your options!
    • Shadowing a doctor basically means following them through their day to get a sense of what doctors do. A good place to start would be to email your own healthcare provider, mention your interest in medicine, and see if they’d let you shadow them. You could also email other doctors in your area, or see if any of your friends’ parents are doctors. I’ve also heard that lots of doctors at the Columbia University Medical Center are receptive to pre-meds from Columbia.
  • Get a job (which doesn’t have to be related to medicine)! Relive your summer camp days as a camp counselor, work as a cashier at an ice cream parlor, or be the lifeguard at your local beach! These jobs impart skills such as dependability, professionalism, and an ability to work with people (all skills necessary in the medical profession). Having some hard-earned cash will come in handy during the academic year in this expensive, expensive city.
  • Find a balance from the options above. Last summer, I stayed in the city to conduct research in my lab on campus, and volunteered at the hospital on weekends. Find what works best for you in your circumstances, which will depend on whether or not you’re leaving the city, if you’re planning to take the MCAT soon, etc. If you applied to some competitive summer programs this year, it’s also good to have backup activities from the suggestions above.
  • Do something fun! It’s the summer, so this tip should be self-explanatory, but we’ll include it because being a pre-med (at Columbia to boot) is *stressful* af. Read for pleasure, do a road trip, go to a concert, have a summer fling, treat yourself.

These tips were compiled based on my personal experiences, my experiences with Columbia’s pre-professional advising, and the experiences of my pre-med friends and acquaintances. If we missed any activities that you’d recommend, please leave them in the comment section below.

santa monica pier via flickr.com