Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Quick words on research and clubs

Alright people, time to make yourself even more presentable! Last time I covered basic academics. So let’s talk exracurriculars today. The great thing about college life is that you can be as involved as you want to be, and for the most part students take a pretty good advantage of it. Clearly, the amount of available activities varies campus to campus, so I will cover some basic things that every predent should be involved in.

Firstly, join your schools pre-health professions organization and be active – run for an office, organize activities, participate in sponsored outreach programs, etc. I know too many students that simply join and attend meetings. If you come from a big school, simply being a member of a 100-200 member club doesn’t say much. Express your ability to be a leader! The same is to be said about organizations such as your major club or honor society (in my case the Tri Beta Biological Honor Society, for which I was Historian, VP, Pres, and Regional Parlamentarian). The point here for me is not to brag, but to simply show that you want to express commitment year to year – don’t just join your senior year to put that on your application.

Next, let’s talk research. You can find people arguing about the importance of research in at least 2 threads on SDN any time you visit both the Predent and Dent sections. The simple answer is this – it’s better to do it than not to. That said, if you know that research is something that you have no affection for, then don’t do it – go shadow some more instead. I would, however, strongly advise you to give it a shot, just because it was a career shifter for me. So, when/where can you do research? There are many summer research programs available at most college campuses across the nation. Those are competitive, however. You can also approach your department faculty and see if any of them take students. Finally, just make things clear – doing a project for a science class is NOT research.

Well folks, sorry for a short one today, but I have about a million things going on.
Until tomorrow.

-Because I can.

Sunday, April 25, 2010

Academic Course Load

When I was in the process of interviewing, I tried to create this image of a perfect applicant. What was it that made the adcoms go “OOOH, We NEED this student.” In retrospect, I realize there is no such thing as a perfect student, nor is there a right type of a student. Thinking of my classmates, I am humbled to realize that there are many ways in which one can be extraordinary.

That said, there are a few key features that all adcoms like seeing. Of course, during the process of myself being an interviewer, I realized that even within one school, views vary between members of the admission committee. Now, let’s look at several key things that every student should strive to have in her/his portfolio.
Let’s begin with academics. The higher the GPA, the better you look. This is a no brainer. Also, the higher DAT score you get, the better – also not rocket science (for those who are not D-school applicants, the DAT is the Dental Aptitude Test, which is a universal dental school admission test, similar to MCAT). The point that does carry some variation of opinions is course load. I have heard plenty of questions along the lines of what is the right amount of science classes, which electives look better, should I take a given class over the summer or during the main academic year, or how do adcoms look at “fluff” classes. So this looks a good amount of questions to present my opinion on. And yes, it is just my opinion.
The right amount of science classes – funny one. First of all, make sure you know in advance which classes your future dental school requires you to have. This way you’ll avoid situations like the one I had, where the last semester of college, the golden time for any student who is already accepted in to D-school, I found out that Harvard required 1 year of calculus (I will need a whole new blog just to begin to surface the depths of my hate towards math). Thus, because I was not prepared, I spent 2 miserable weeks in an accelerated Calc 1&2 course. Then my UCSF acceptance came and I dropped that course in a heart beat. Now that we have required courses dropped, the remainder should be taken based on 3 principles – 1) requirement for graduation, 2) personal interest, and 3) ability to deal with course load. That’s it. Remember, you are getting a degree in this, which means you did enough science to be worthy of that BS!

Next, and this one is even funnier, is which science classes look better. The truth is mostly as follows – it doesn’t matter. Yes, it doesn’t matter if you take virology over histology or mycology over microbiology. I mean, clearly if you want to be a doctor and you take 15 botany courses and completely ignore the fact that your school offers human anatomy that might raise an eyebrow. But, like in my case, it mostly doesn’t matter. My degree is officially BS in Biology, but I basically shaped it to be zoology/field bio by taking classes like vertebrate zoology, evolution, marine biology, mammalogy, ecology, etc.

Timing of a course - make sure you have taken the majority of your prerequisites by the time you apply. As for summer vs school year – it doesn’t matter. The school gets accredited for every class based on the syllabus, which should have the same amount of taught material regardless of when it’s taught.
Finally, a few words on “fluff” classes. Obviously, taking film appreciation or PE for ½ of your electives is absurd. That aside, there are no fluff classes, and you are disrespecting the department and the professors who teach those classes. That’s all I have to say on that matter.

This is already a pretty significant post, and I have a huge midterm tomorrow. So, let’s continue this discussion tomorrow.

P.S. Someone asked me about the reasons for the people mentioned in the previous post leaving D-school in the first year. All I know is that some had a late realization that this was not their cup of tea, a couple failed out (it's a pass/FAIL school, after all), and one student wanted to finish her/his Master's degree. The latter student did so and is currently a D1.

-Because I can.

Saturday, April 24, 2010

Giving back.

While many of my readers are current dental students, a significant portion of you guys are predents or people simply interested in health professions. As I am studying for my national boards exam, I cannot but remember the stressful time of my life when I was just a biology undergraduate student hoping to get into dental school. During that time I lurked websites like SDN as well as local bookstores to find that one holy grail for any Pre- student – HOW TO GET INTO DENTAL SCHOOL? While I vaguely recall scanning through a book on Medical school admission, my sole source of information came from piecing the puzzles of know-how from the aforementioned website.

So, as I sit at my office desk on this beautiful San Francisco Saturday, I present you with a series of blog entries on that very subject – what are the steps that I need to take to make sure that dentistry is for me, and if so, how do I get into dental school? I will cover topics such as proper class load in undergrad, preparation for the DAT, how to pick a good research or community service project, and how to ace your interview. The target audience for this is entry to mid level college students.

Before I begin, I think a little more proper introduction is in order. I am a second (almost third) year DDS/PhD student at UCSF. I have interviewed dental school applicants for my school. I come from the University of Central Oklahoma, where I graduated Summa Cum Laude with a degree in Biology. The latter part of the information hopefully will make you see that it is possible to end up in a top notch school even if you are from a less than prestigious undergrad, assuming you apply yourself well and maybe use some of my advice.

Now let’s dive in to today’s topic.

How do I know if being a dentist is right for me? This be the most overlooked and undervalued question, while being perhaps the most important one. In my case, I somehow knew I wanted to drill people’s teeth since I was 5. Clearly, my case cannot be taken seriously since up until about the age of 18, I had no real clue of what that profession entails. The danger of not understand what dentistry and dental school is like is real. In my class of 88 alone, we had 5 people drop the program after the first year (2 after orientation!). That’s years of stress and preparation as well as thousands of dollars down the drain because they didn’t do proper research on what it’s like to be a dental professional.

So, back the question then – how do I know? Go shadow a dentist. Seriously. I know this may sound primitive but you’d be surprised how many people I know that haven’t shadowed an hour up until after taking the DAT! As you shadow, ask questions ranging to the scope of practice to lifestyle outside work. Try to see what the whole life of a dentist is like, not just the 8-5 part. Also, visit your local dental school and talk to the students. Trust me, professional students love to pet their egos in front of you guys, and will spill all kinds of helpful information. Another great way to get familiar with your future profession (and dental school admissions LOVE this bit) is to shadow other professions. Imagine being asked at the interview:
– Well, Timmy, what other profession have you looked at.
–None, just shadowed a dentist.
– So, then you don’t really know if you would like medicine or research any better or worse, can you?
Sure, if you are half-intelligent, you can wiggle out that one. But wouldn’t it be able to say that you explored other professions and came to the conclusion that Dentistry is truly your thing?

I encourage you to think of additional ways to get closer to the profession of your choice. The aforementioned, however, should get your pretty comfortable with what Dental school is all about. Finally, I’ll add that no matter how much you research, the best way to know is to be a dental student. ;)

Next, I’ll cover the basic features that admission committees look for in students. So stay tuned and feel free to ask questions.

-Because I can.