doc w/ Pen

journalist + medical student + artist

Tag: interview

Interview #6: University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign (MD/PhD)

Since early October of 2013, I have had six medical school interviews. I will write a post about each one. Note: a version of this content was originally posted on


UIUC_logoInterview #6: University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, MD/PhD (3/8/2014)
Status: Withdrew

Given that this was my second MD/PhD interview (the first being at University of Illinois at Chicago), I more or less knew what to expect – LOTS of interview sessions with researchers, and LOTS of questions about my research. Also: Why both degees? And less of an emphasis about the clinical side of things. This pretty much held true at UIUC as well.

A little about this program – it’s different than most MD/PhD programs. Most of them have you do 2 years of med school (the basic sciences), then grad school, then the 2 years of clinicals. UIUC’s program involves all of grad school first, THEN all of med school. This means that you immediately apply to a specific graduate school program. In my case, since I am interested in diabetes/metabolism, it is the Division of Nutritional Sciences (DNS).

First thing in the morning, I had a 30-minute panel interview with both MD and PhD people. Given that this was my sixth med school interview, that wasn’t such a big deal. The rest of the day was (mostly) DNS interviews. I met with five researchers, plus the assistant director of the program, as well as had lunch with DNS students and later dinner at the DNS director’s house. (There had also been a social event with DNS students the previous night.) These MD/PhD interviews are INTENSE, to say the least!

I was very impressed with the administrators of the MD/PhD program – they truly seem to care about their students, and to support them in every way possible. The DNS folks were also quite wonderful. The PIs I talked with are doing some incredible work, and the administrators (like on the MD/PhD side) seemed very supportive and helpful.

One drawback on the MD side, though, is that Champaign-Urbana is a college community (population ~180,000), so the clinical opportunities aren’t the same as they would be in Chicago, for example. A downside on the PhD side is that you have to commit to a PI immediately (rather than do multiple lab rotations, as is done at many institutions).

The admissions process to this program is three pronged. You have to be accepted to the MD/PhD program, to the graduate school program, and to the College of Medicine (which is separate from the MD/PhD program). UIUC and UIC are in the same state university system, and I was accepted at UIC, so the College of Medicine acceptance part is taken care of for me. The other two groups are making their decisions very soon, so I won’t have to wait long to know the outcome.

Interview #5: Cornell (MD)

Since early October of 2013, I have had six medical school interviews. I will write a post about each one. Note: a version of this content was originally posted on

Interview #5: Weill Cornell Medical College (2/26/2014)
Status: Accepted (off the wait list)

To my understanding, Cornell chooses its incoming class in March. Which is now. So even though I interviewed very late (the last interview session as a matter of fact), I’m not in a terrible place.

Which is good. Because I very much liked it there.

My interview day was … interesting. And simultaneously wonderful.

I have a (presumed) stress fracture in my foot, and my doctor told me that if I was going to be traveling, I had to be on crutches. This made everything more difficult, as many of you know. Having never been on crutches, I was quickly made aware of this reality. From the airport, to my hotel, to Cornell, I had to ask numerous people (strangers) for help. Being an independent woman, and rather self-sufficient, this was very hard for me. And certainly gave me some empathy for people who deal with a physical disability on a regular basis.

I was blown away by the helpfulness of my fellow interviewees, my interviewers, the Cornell students I met, and especially the admissions staff. From stowing my luggage, to getting a bottle of water, to slowing down while walking, to hailing a taxi, people could not have been more kind.

So there was that. Then there was the interview experience itself.

My tour was led by not one but TWO non-trads. Totally coincidental, but that plus the fact that one of their classmates, an MS1 now, started at age 53, and I am totally impressed with the diversity of age range and life experiences at Cornell. There were opening remarks with one of the deans, lunch with students, and the aforementioned tour, as well as two 30-minute interview sessions. My first session was with an MD. We talked some about my secondary application essays (which included one on my divorce – a touchy subject for some perhaps, but one I am fine discussing). So word to the wise: if you don’t want to talk about it, DON’T write about it. We also talked about a program he is involved in, Music in Medicine, which is a privately funded program aimed at encouraging medical students to stay involved in music (instrumental, vocal, whatever). Given that I have played the piano since I was 8, I was intrigued by that for sure. They also have a writing group (I sort of like writing, as you might have figured out). My second interview was with a 4th year med student who, while in medical school, had managed to publish in peer-reviewed journals, write a book, and then take a year off to work on the Dr. Oz show. His take-home message was that if you want to accomplish something – from research to going abroad to whatever else – Cornell will help you make it happen, or at least put you in touch with the right people.

Another thing I like about the school is that nearly all medical students go abroad for a clinical, either to an established program, or to one of their making. Cornell is also piloting a new 18-month curriculum (as done at NYU, for example) that would allow for more flexibility in clinicals and other activities (such as going abroad). And who can beat subsidized housing in Manhattan, across the street from your classes?

Interview #4: University of Colorado (MD)

Since early October of 2013, I have had six medical school interviews. I will write a post about each one. Note: a version of this content was originally posted on

Interview #4:  University of Colorado (1/17/2014)
Status: Accepted

Colorado is like a second home to me. I was actually born there (in rural Colorado, near Pueblo). My dad’s whole family lives there. As a kid, we visited my relatives about once a year. I also have family ties to the University of Colorado (CU) – my dad went to medical school there, and my mom got her MSN there. One of my current PIs at Northwestern also went to CU for her MD/PhD.

But there is hearing about a school, and then there is actually seeing the school yourself. CU, which is now in Aurora at the Anschutz Medical Campus (just outside of Denver) on a nearly brand new campus, is a gorgeous school. The anatomy lab even has windows, which I’ve been told is a huge plus. There are multiple hospitals on the campus, and because CU is the only major medical center in the area, I was told a lot of interesting cases are brought (often flown) in. As a future physician-scientist, I also like that the school places a high value on research, offering a specific “track” in research (as well as other subjects).

I stayed the night before my interview with a student, who was a great host. For those of you on the pre-med journey, I very much recommend doing this if you can. She told me things about the school and the area I never would have heard otherwise.

As for the interview day itself, it was very relaxed. I had two 30-minute sessions, one with a retired MD, one with a JD. The JD asked me several thought-provoking ethical/hypothetical questions, but not onerous ones. I felt confident in my answers, and that I displayed a mature, well-thought-out response as opposed to a surface one. The MD interview was more laid back. He told me about his career (which spanned pediatrics and aerospace medicine … wow, just wow), and I told him about mine, past, present, and future. The associate dean of students also talked in between interview sessions. Turns out that he works part time as a family medicine physician in the same rural town where I was born, and where my dad worked in FP … such a strange coincidence. A clinical researcher (a non-trad, a former engineer) talked about some amazing work she is doing in obesity. There was also, of course, the obligatory financial aid presentation (those are always fun).

I really enjoyed my interview day, and the school in general.

I wound up staying with my cousin, who lives a few minutes from the medical school campus over the long Martin Luther King holiday weekend. I even got to go up to Rocky Mountain National Park on Sunday. Good times all around.

And a little more than three weeks later, my second acceptance!

Choices, choices, choices …

Interview #3: University of Illinois – Chicago (MSTP – MD/PhD)

Since early October of 2013, I have had six medical school interviews. I will write a post about each one. Note: a version of this content was originally posted on

Interview #3: University of Illinois – Chicago, MSTP (11/4/2013)
Status: Rejected

In November, I had my first MD/PhD interview, also at UIC. (UIC’s program is more specifically an MSTP – Medical Scientist Training Program – which is funded by the NIH.) I have had quite a bit of exposure to this program already, having attended its research seminars, met some of the students, etc. I think I have gotten a good sense of the program. I can see myself fitting in there.

I experienced a great deal of uncertainty, though, leading up to the interview. There were 12 interviewees; we received information about each other prior to interview day. When I saw people’s accomplishments – mainly, research experience – I felt out of place. (Not to mention that half of the applicants were biochem majors, one quarter engineering, one quarter biology … and then … me … journalism.) I realized that no matter how much preparation I did, I couldn’t compete with these other students in terms of scientific exposure or knowledge. That was impossible. What I could do, though, was talk about what other types of experience/skills I would bring to the program, and hope that resonated.

Unfortunately, I don’t feel like I had much of an opportunity to do that (or I didn’t seize it) during some of the interview sessions. And there were eight, yes, EIGHT, interview sessions total: three two-on-one sessions with adcoms, four sessions with faculty members of my choosing, and a session with the director of the program. I did talk about it with the program director, and he seemed very receptive to my being a non-trad, and told me that my enthusiasm shone through. I hope that counts for something.

Honestly, I don’t know how the interview went, overall. Some of the adcoms really seemed to appreciate and understand my story and path. Others were impossible to read. They interview people through February, so I may not hear until then, or even later. So I wait.

As of March 10, 2014: I still have yet to hear from the UIC MSTP, although I was told they wouldn’t even start extending offers until after the last interview date (in February). So I’m still hopeful.

Interview #2: University of Illinois – Chicago (MD)

Since early October of 2013, I have had six medical school interviews. I will write a post about each one. Note: a version of this content was originally posted on

Interview #2: University of Illinois – Chicago (10/16/2013)
Status: Accepted

Having worked at University of Illinois – Chicago (UIC) off and on for three years as a research assistant, I’m quite familiar with the campus, the medical school admission offices, where to park, etc. So that definitely took a lot of the uncertainty out of the day.

Another funny experience – I ran into an applicant who was at my IUSM interview. Which might have not been so strange except that he is not from the Midwest – he’s from Connecticut. Strange coincidence. It was nice, though, to see a familiar face.

The UIC interview day lasted from 9 a.m. to 2 p.m., and included three, half-hour, one-on-one interview sessions (with an MD, a PhD, and an MS4). There was also a tour, an admissions office presentation, and lunch (Chicago-style deep dish pizza, of course). This was a (mostly) “blind” interview, meaning that the interviewers had read only our personal statements, but had not seen grades, extracurricular activities, and so on. I asked the rationale for this, and was told that the idea is to give them the opportunity to make their decision solely based on your interview, rather than have a pre-determined idea about what kind of candidate you are prior to the interview. I can see pros and cons for both types of interviews, and now have had both. At UIC, I was a practically blank slate to these people. That made for some interesting conversations, but also put pressure on me to make sure I brought up some of the highlights of what I have done.

The interviewers’ styles were extremely different. The first (with the MD) was both off the cuff and spontaneous, while at the same time extremely professional. The MS4 created a more relaxed and casual atmosphere. While we talked about serious medicine/medical school topics, he also wanted to know my hobbies, music tastes, etc. The PhD asked more traditional questions, which was fine and I was (mostly) prepared for.

The campus tour was mostly old hat to me, although we got to see the cadaver lab, which was new to me – very cool. I had never seen a cadaver before, and wasn’t sure what to expect. It was fascinating, and got me excited to dig into Gross Anatomy this coming fall.

After the interview was over, I felt that it had gone well. And about two weeks later, I had proof of that in my hands – in the form of a letter stating that I had been accepted to the UIC class of 2018! No matter what happens the rest of the application season, I’m going to be a doctor. Holy shit.

Interview #1: Indiana University (MD)

Since early October of 2013, I have had six medical school interviews. I will write a post about each one. Note: a version of this content was originally posted on

Interview #1: Indiana University (10/2/2013)
Status: Rejected

My first medical school interview was at Indiana University School of Medicine (this was an MD program interview). IUSM has 9 campuses across the state, and I interviewed in Muncie, which is about 4.5 hours from where I live in the Chicago suburbs.

Funny story before I get to the interview part – Because Muncie is several hours away, the night before my interview I stayed at the Ball State University student union hotel, which is very close to the IUSM medical facilities. When I was checking in, the hotel clerk saw I was from Chicago and asked what brought me to Muncie.

“I have a medical school interview tomorrow!” I told her.

“Oh, you want to teach there?” she asked.

Ha. I’d heard of non-traditional pre-medical students being mistaken for faculty, but this is the first time it had happened to me. At least I look mature, right?

In spite of the fact that I’ve been on countless job interviews, and as a journalist have interviewed countless people (and thus am familiar with the interview process), I’ll admit – I was a tad nervous going in to the interview. I just wasn’t sure what to expect. The staff at Muncie though, as well as the faculty, were quite warm and welcoming and that helped put me at ease.

All of us interviewees were together in a conference room while we waited for our interviews, watched a financial aid presentation, etc. I was (by several years) the oldest in the room, which I had pretty much expected. The thing that did shock me was that one young woman brought her father. Yes, into the conference room. Where we were all waiting. Talk about awkward. Now, I get that they drove from several states away and probably had to check out of their hotel, but he could have gone to a restaurant, one of the university lounges, etc. Bringing your dad just doesn’t seem to send the right message, in my opinion. It seems inappropriate, like you’re not grown up yet.

After a brief tour, I had my interview. The moment I walked into the interview room and shook hands with the interviewers, my nerves disappeared. I felt in my element, in a way. Two people interviewed me, an MD and a PhD. It was very conversational and comfortable. There were some difficult questions, but I think I handled them well. The interview lasted about an hour, and then I was headed back to Chicago.

As of March 10, 2014 (more than five months after my interview), I still haven’t heard from IUSM. I’m thinking that’s not a good sign. While disappointing, it’s not the end of the world because my next interview, just two weeks after Indiana, went much better …

ADCOM Q&A: Why our program?

racial diversityA dear friend of mine is Muslim, and is currently fasting for Ramadan. The last couple of weeks, I have learned so much about this period of fasting, as well as other aspects of Muslim culture and religion. This morning, I was sharing some of my new-found knowledge with my mom. I told her I was so thankful to have this wonderful friend, and to be exposed to another culture. “I only wish I had a more diverse group of friends!” I told her. Then it hit me: my closest friends in the Chicago area, the ones I actually hang out with and see on a regular basis, ARE indeed very diverse. I just don’t think of them that way, if that makes sense – when I see my friends, I see them as people, not as a different skin color or ethnic background. In fact, none of my closest friends here are white. (Not that I’m prejudiced against my own skin color, and I have plenty of white friends, but they’re not the ones I spend the most time with.) One of my best friends here is Indian by ethnicity but South African by geography, another is Latino, another is half black and half Polish, another is Nigerian, and my Muslim friend has roots in Pakistan and India. Talk about a diverse crowd.

I thank my parents for helping me see people as people, not as a skin color or ethnic background. You see, I was raised going to an African-American church in the inner city of Chicago. At this amazing Baptist church, there were two white families who regularly attended. The vast majority of my friends there were black. I went to their houses, and they to mine. Their families came over for dinner. We had picnics together on the lake. This did not at all seem strange to me.

So having a diverse crowd of friends now doesn’t seem odd, either. And clearly, as I was talking with my mom about my current group of friends, I even forgot that we are all “different” by race and ethnicity. Not that I don’t appreciate, or celebrate, our differences. I enjoy learning about my friends’ backgrounds, cultures, languages, etc. I simply don’t see them as “other,” to use the anthropological term. They are people, and I love them for who they are.

Which brings me to my ADCOM Q&A for the day: What drew you to our program?

Of course, my answer to this question would be multifaceted. I would talk about the medical school curriciulum, the laboratory opportunities, and so on. But one thing I also want to be able to say about this question, one thing that I want in a medical school, is that it offers a diverse environment, hopefully both in terms of its student body and the surrounding community.

I don’t want to make it sound like I don’t enjoy the company of people who share my own skin color. As I said, I have close friends who are white as well. And there is diversity to be found within the same skin color, if you think about it – diversity in religious beliefs, sexual orientation, and ancestry, as well as seemingly less important (but actually significant, I think) factors such as music tastes, food preferences, that sort of thing.

My point is that differences, as well as similarities, should be celebrated. I look forward to celebrating all of those things in my future as an MD/PhD student.

Diversity should not divide us; diversity should unite us. I firmly believe this.

ADCOM Q&A: Reading a Book (for Pleasure?!)

One theme I have noticed in admissions interview questions for medical school is that they want to see that applicants are well rounded, and do things other than study, work in a lab, or volunteer. I.e., that they involve themselves in activities that don’t necessarily strengthen their med school applications. That they know how to decompress and relax. Because these are skills that are so important, especially in such a high-pressure field. So, one of the ADCOM questions I want to answer is this: Discuss a book that you have recently read for pleasure. Why does this book interest you?

And here was my answer, as of a few days ago: Uhhhh … pleasure? I don’t have TIME to read for pleasure!

Thankfully, I do have a little more time now, as I am not in school (and inundated with the requirement of reading textbooks). So I picked up a of book a few days ago, and started reading for “pleasure” again. And it’s felt absolutely wonderful. While I haven’t finished it, I will tell you a little bit about it, and what I have learned thus far. I will also share my reading list, books that I hope to read throughout the next months (when I will still have more time, before the insanity of medical school starts).

What I’m Currently Reading:

book 1Nature’s Robots: A History of Proteins

(Charles Tanford and Jacqueline Reynolds, 2004)

I downloaded this Kindle book (to read on my iPad) on Dec. 25, 2011, according to my account. And honestly, I totally forgot I had it. But I was looking at my Kindle books a few days ago, and there it was! I was thrilled, it was like Christmas (even though I bought it for myself). I started reading it that evening. And was pleasantly surprised. It’s definitely a history book, at least thus far. But there’s a lot of science – especially chemistry and biochemistry – in there, which makes me happy. And the authors detail a lot of the theories, and arguments over theories, that were proposed in the past regarding proteins. I’ve made it through chapter 5, and am quite pleased with how the book is going. Proteins were my first “love” in science, and they continue to fascinate me. They are such an important part of our lives, and anyone who is in the biological sciences needs to have a good understanding of them. Learning about their history, in terms of scientific advances, is a way for me to understand where we have been, as a scientific community, and also to be inspired about where we are going in the future.

My Future Reading List:


book 2The Life All Around Me by Ellen Foster
(Kaye Gibbons, 2011)

One of my favorite authors is Flannery O’Connor, and Kaye Gibbons reminds me of O’Connor (very high praise, in my book – pun intended). This book is a follow-up to the book Ellen Foster, which I read several years ago. After reading that, I flew through several other Gibbons novels. I look forward to reading more about this lonely girl, and the struggles she goes through.

book 3A Wizard of Earthsea
(Ursula Le Guin, 1970)

I was first exposed to Ursula Le Guin when I was a textbook editor, and worked on the American Literature lesson for the hilarious but disturbing short story SQ. “SQ” stands for “sanity quotient,” and the story is a wonderful parody. I highly recommend it, even if you are not a huge short story lover (I am not). I immediately checked out Le Guin’s Earthsea series, and this book is the first of that series. I have read it before, but I want to read it again. And I rarely read books twice, simply because there are so many books I want to sample.
On your Facebook info page, you can list favorite quotations. I have only one listed, and it’s from this book, from the creation story that is entwined throughout. I find it beautiful, poignant, and enigmatic, something to ponder:

Only in silence the word,
only in dark the light,
only in dying life:
bright the hawk’s flight
on the empty sky.

– The Creation of Éa


book 4Genetic Rounds: A Doctor’s Encounters in the Field That Revolutionized Medicine
(Robert Marion, 2009)

This book, which I found rather randomly while searching my library’s online catalog, looks fascinating to me. I don’t know much about it, don’t know whether it’s well written, but the topic is definitely something that interests me. I enjoy a good medical memoir for sure, because it gives me a glimpse into the field I will be entering soon. And this one piqued my curiosity in particular because it marries medicine and genetics, which is something I am interested in doing myself in the future.

book 5The Spirit Catches You and You Fall Down
(Anne Fadiman, 2012)

This was recommended to me by a physician I highly respect as “must read” for any physician, or physician-to-be. According to Amazon, its “explores the clash between a small county hospital in California and a refugee family from Laos over the care of Lia Lee, a Hmong child diagnosed with severe epilepsy. Lia’s parents and her doctors both wanted what was best for Lia, but the lack of understanding between them led to tragedy.” Given my interest in multicultural issues, and health literacy, it seems a poignant book to read right now.


book 6The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks
(Rebecca Skloot, 2011)

One of my dear friends – who is most definitely not a science person – read this book and told me it was amazing. Here is a portion of the summary posted on Amazon: “Her name was Henrietta Lacks, but scientists know her as HeLa. She was a poor Southern tobacco farmer who worked the same land as her slave ancestors, yet her cells—taken without her knowledge—became one of the most important tools in medicine. The first “immortal” human cells grown in culture, they are still alive today, though she has been dead for more than sixty years. If you could pile all HeLa cells ever grown onto a scale, they’d weigh more than 50 million metric tons—as much as a hundred Empire State Buildings. HeLa cells were vital for developing the polio vaccine; uncovered secrets of cancer, viruses, and the atom bomb’s effects; helped lead to important advances like in vitro fertilization, cloning, and gene mapping; and have been bought and sold by the billions.”
If you read any scientific literature, you are bound to come across HeLa cells as a subject of study. Reading the story of their “birth,” so to speak, and such a controversial and heartbreaking one, seems like a natural thing to do for a budding scientist such as myself.

book 7The Disappearing Spoon: And Other True Tales of Madness, Love, and the History of the World from the Periodic Table of the Elements
(Sam Kean, 2011)

It was my chemistry major friend who recommended this one to me. And as you know from some of my previous posts, chemistry – and the periodic table – have piqued my interest of late. I look forward to reading the history of this seminal scientific tool. This is what the Amazon summary says about the book: “The Periodic Table is a crowning scientific achievement, but it’s also a treasure trove of adventure, betrayal, and obsession. These fascinating tales follow every element on the table as they play out their parts in human history, and in the lives of the (frequently) mad scientists who discovered them. THE DISAPPEARING SPOON masterfully fuses science with the classic lore of invention, investigation, and discovery–from the Big Bang through the end of time.” Sounds pretty cool, eh?


Clearly, I have plenty to keep myself busy. The wonderful thing is, I’m not afraid to use my local library (or the wonderful library loan system). So reading all of these amazing books won’t cost me anything. In addition, a couple of these books are available through my library’s digital lending center, which will allow me to read them on my iPad. As I read these treasures, I will definitely post about them. So stay tuned …