MEI: Feeling around in the dark: my pre-med experience

I have received a variety of reactions when I tell people I am pre-med, most involving some pity for the “suffering” we pre-meds undergo. As a second-semester senior who will matriculate into medical school in August, I have been pre-med since stepping foot on Yale’s campus, but the past seven semesters have not been a smooth ride.

In many ways, I feel very lucky to have had my particular path as a pre-med. I have received wonderful advice from upperclassmen and continuous support from my academic adviser. I have also met other pre-meds I consider great friends and trust enough to share the details of our pre-med experience. Taking “Physiological Systems,” by far my favorite science class at Yale, picked me back up when I was at the nadir of my pre-med existence. (As a side note, every pre-med should take that class before they truly decide if medicine is academically the path for them.)

And yet, I rarely felt secure as a pre-med here. Never once did I feel on track or sure that I was doing the right thing. There was never a clear sense of how to navigate the pre-med track smoothly — and the resources in place to help me never gave me a satisfactory answer.

In fact, the first time my entire pre-med class came together in an organized meeting was in November of junior year, when UCS mandated that people applying in the 2012–’13 application cycle attend several meetings and application workshops. “We will finally hold your hand and guide you,” they seemed to say.

Well, that’s great. But where was UCS from the very beginning? Who was there to guide us from the start? Why didn’t anybody talk to us as freshmen? I am not saying that UCS should tell students exactly what classes to take and what extracurricular activities to join, but a vast majority of the pre-med guidelines seemed vague and difficult to figure out on our own. UCS should clearly lay out our options from the beginning, rather than forcing pre-meds to feel around in the dark.

And after those November meetings, we never met as a group again. We were once again on our own.

Another issue in the pre-med track is the lack of grading consistency in the same subject, or even the same class. For instance, the rotating professors for “Organic Chemistry” always create contention. One semester, a professor might grade on a rather harsh curve, but the next semester’s professor would curve almost a full letter grade higher. Furthermore, while some faculty and many science students have been proposing small classes and experimenting with seminar-style courses, freshmen and sophomores were handed a 300-person “Introductory Biology” lecture this year.

The very topic of grading transparency elicits groans among STEM majors. One science lab I took last semester was a horrendous experience in this department. We trudged through many more hours of lab work than we spend in any nonscience class (although this is begrudgingly accepted as part of the Yale STEM experience), then completed two meticulous, lengthy lab reports. Even though the lab manual supposedly laid out the guidelines for a successful lab report, only students with experience writing actual research papers in that topic could know the small nuances needed to succeed.

We were handed the average and standard deviation for the course, but nothing else helping us understand our final grade. I emailed the professor three times to inquire about the grading curve to no avail. As a member of the YCC Science and Engineering Subcommittee, I am working with other committee members to address such glaring faults in grading transparency. While the comments we received on last year’s grading transparency report showed an overwhelming displeasure towards the lack of transparency in STEM classes, any progress we could possibly make is slow in the face of the hurdles between student opinion and administrative action.

Yale, on the whole, has done a lot for me as a pre-med; I am not trying to bite the hand that feeds me. However, the issues with the pre-med track forced me to feel around in the dark, hoping that what I grabbed onto was beneficial.

I want Yale, or UCS, or someone, to turn on the lights and show pre-meds exactly what options we have, so we can confidently make choices we will not regret, so someone can hold our hand and actually guide us down a path, and so pre-meds can leave Yale feeling like confident winners, rather than worn survivors.

Jenny Mei is a senior in Berkeley College. Contact her at jenny.mei@yale.edu .

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