Me, on the last morning of classes!
Post-bac re-cap conveniently rhymes.
Remember that time in August when I posted three times in 10 days? That was during my second week of MCAT prep before I had my omg I need to learn everything in the world in the next four weeks moment.
This year was hard. I am so thankful to my friends and family who were so supportive.
Thank you, thank you!
I started this post after I finished the ochem final in the spring of 2015 so let’s pick up there!
Over the last year, I completed two semesters of general chemistry, organic chemistry, physics and a semester each of biology and biochemistry. And I survived. I feel great. Like. On top of the world. I didn’t meet all my goals — I didn’t get an A in all of my classes, but I am a few steps closer to medical school and for the moment I don’t have any more quizzes or exams.
I am certainly feeling mixed emotions though.
I wish I could go back and do it all over again knowing what I know now about how I learn best. But hey, I’ll carry those lessons with me to med school and beyond.
Do I still want to be a doctor?
Yes! I am even more sure now but that’s a topic for a different post.
I should preface this whole post by saying that I really, really struggled with all things science related. I had wanted to be a doctor for as long as I could remember, but my confidence took a hit in high school. When I first attempted General Chemistry 1 at NYU, I received a 50 something on my first test. Although I had struggled in high school, this was the lowest score I had ever received, like ever. Although people told me there would be a curve, I immediately switched to pass/fail. I received a C+ in the lab portion that was separate and that I couldn’t take pass/fail.
It was a weed out class of 500 students and I was “successfully” weeded out.
So, I used to be really scared of science. I used to think there was just something wrong with that part of my brain. I am obsessed now. It’s kind of like this:
Does watching this make you all tingly inside? My favorite line:
“In the face of overwhelming odds, I am left with only one option. I am going to have to science the shit out of this.”
Science is exhilarating. It feels like magic. And I am so excited to delve into the magic of the human body and medicine. I get this high when I finally understand something I have been struggling to understand for days or when I recognize a pattern between reaction mechanisms that I hadn’t noticed before. At this point I can’t imagine doing anything that does not include “science” in some form.
I have talked to a few friends of friends considering doing a post-bac year so I thought it would be helpful for me to share my experience here.
A post-bac year is (usually) designed for those who have already graduated college but still need to take the pre-requisites required to apply to medical school. There are special masters programs (SMP) for those who need to repeat coursework or boost their GPA so for the most part, post-bac programs are designed for “non-traditional students” who are “career changers”. Right now, the science requirements for medical school are:
General Chemistry 1 & 2 with Labs
Physics 1 & 2 with Labs (some require you to have taken Calculus already)
Biology 1 & 2 with Labs
Organic Chemistry 1 & 2 with Labs
Biochemistry & Psychology *not required by all schools*
There are post-bac programs all over the country and some have stronger reputations than others. I only considered programs in the Bay Area: SFSU, Mills College, Berkeley Extension, and the community colleges. Although I have had very positive experiences with classes at community colleges, I had heard that medical schools may or may not consider them to be as rigorous and I wasn’t sure how that would effect my application. So in an effort to save money while still proving myself capable, I took Gen Chemistry 1 and 2 over the summer at a community college, and then enrolled at Mills for the academic year.
Overall I absolutely loved biology, organic chemistry, and biochemistry. They were hard, but now I feel like I understand the world in a completely new way. I wish we started teaching ochem and biochem to children in the form of educational games.
For those considering summer classes:
- While it seems like an impossible amount of information to fit in your brain in a short period of time (two semesters in 10 weeks), it was doable for me. I think the nursing pre-reqs I had taken prepared me well and I loved completely immersing myself in the material. With my undivided attention on general chemistry, I think I learned it even better than I would have if I had taken it over the semester with other coursework competing for my attention. Also, there’s more light outside. After being in class from 8am-2pm, I could then head home to study outside on the porch from 3pm-9pm, all with the sun still mostly up!
- I did all of my summer coursework at Westchester Community College. For the most part, I had really wonderful teachers. WCC has a free science tutorial center with tutors who helped me understand some of the more difficult and boring parts of chemistry. Very, very helpful!
For friends taking OChem:
- Go over your notes from class at the end of every day and figure out what you just covered. If you don’t understand something, make a note to ask the teacher or TA the next day. I found that this is best accomplished with little colored stickies that you can remove once you’ve asked your question.
- Meet with a friend as often as you can to talk through the concepts and to come up with tricks for remembering reagents and reactions (1. Br2, PBr3 2. H2O — “you need water with your Peanut Butter”).
- Read everything your teacher gives you (like the syllabus and other random handouts). And then read them again a few weeks later when the words may make more sense.
- Do the homework even if it is not mandatory — and make sure you understand it.
- Use color! Seriously.
- Do not get behind in the first semester. During the first few months of OChem 1, you are creating a foundation of essential concepts that you will need to fall back on for the rest of the year.
- Get Organic Chemistry as a Second Language I
- If you are taking it at Mills and your teacher gives you solution guides to the assigned homework — use it. Even if you bought the solution guide for the textbook. Her solution guides are much more detailed and very helpful! I didn’t realize this until pretty late in the year.
Doesn’t that look fun? It really was. Not all the time. But a lot of the time.
I had a great teacher and great learning assistants (TAs) and great friends and I’m sure that helped. =)
For friends taking Biochemistry:
- Read the chapters before class and if your teacher gives you outlines of the material for the next class, work really hard to understand it before class (I didn’t do this but wish I had!).
- Re-write your notes from class and add material from the textbook that connects it all.
- Use color and draw pictures.
- Buy the loose-leaf version of the textbook. For the most part, I rent my textbooks because it is the cheapest option, but for this class I really wanted to underline, highlight, and write in the margins. I also wanted to bring chapters at a time into the bathtub to read out loud.
- Also consider buying/renting a textbook that goes more in depth if your class uses a condensed textbook.
- I tried a bunch of different things for Biochem. I made notecards. I rewrote my notes in one book that I could easily read before bed. I re-read some chapters multiple times and other chapters not at all.
- By far, the most helpful thing was meeting up with classmates and quizzing each other. I started doing this the last few weeks of the semester, and if I could do it again, I would have met with them two times a week from the beginning.
Here we are studying for our Biochem final together:
- Also, this book really helped me synthesize information for the MCAT and I wish I had been using it all during Biochem:
For friends taking Physics:
- If you have a choice, take physics with a professor who makes the material accessible to you because physics can be HARD! Many people in my class didn’t struggle as much as I did and I felt pretty alone (and sometimes just plain stupid–not a good feeling). I invested so much time in trying to understand physics that my performance in bio and ochem suffered. I decided to take Physics II over the summer at WCC and I did phenomenally better (although this did push me back a year). I think I did better because it was non-calculus based and the teacher posted solution guides to homework problems and the textbook just made more sense. For first semester, I would get lost in the algebra (not the calculus! the algebra!) and spend hours on one problem, determined that I would eventually get it, but I often didn’t. Even the solution guide provided by the textbook creators didn’t make sense to me and going to office hours didn’t help.
- Another huge difference was that my second semester physics professor allowed students to bring in a notecard or piece of paper with formulas on it. Apparently this is VERY common. I think this made all the difference. Instead of stressing about memorization, I could really focus on understanding what was going on. Developing an understanding of physics was important for the MCAT.
- On that note… you may have heard there is barely any physics on the MCAT. I had at least two full passages on second semester physics topics and multiple stand alone questions (the important physics topics: fluids (blood), electrostatics and electromagnetism (charge is important for a lot of biological reactions), optics (eyes). Maybe 15 total physics questions on my test. But others who took the test the same day had very few!
- This advice is specific to Mills students: focus on the notes and quizzes more than the homework.
- Don’t give up!
- This comic is relevant. And this one. And this has some good advice.
My lovely study spot in the library:
Immediately post-finals last spring! We were so exhausted and so, so happy!
This magnificent pool is on campus. Swimming every few days kept me sane.
This post was way too long so I created a new post for all my MCAT tips.