Prefrosh, you’ll be fine.

spring at Cornell, featuring the obligatory cheery blossoms and clock tower.

Spring at Cornell smells mostly like manure.

I wonder if that would be my impression of Cornell springs 10 years from now: the smell of the blooming flowers only masked by the fresh manure laid down by the groundskeepers, but I am consoled by the fact that, well, for the first time in months, breathing in the outside air deeply (not that you’d really want to) doesn’t hurt the inside of my nose (though, going back again to the poop on the ground, it smells like poop, so don’t breathe in too deeply you know?)

Spring at Cornell looks like small birds and prefrosh, carrying their (probably free) bright red Cornell drawstring bags, with their five-by-eight index card name tags hung around their necks. It sounds like parents giving their kids advice, and it sounds like the pre-freshmen asking the current students for directions.

When I got my acceptance letter to Cornell four years ago, I wanted to go to Cornell days too, so I could “make the best decision” (was deciding between Vanderbilt, Cornell, and Georgia Tech). My parents said ‘no’ to spending the money to visit the schools (Other than Georgia Tech, of course, but that was in my own backyard). They told me that, outside of the programs themselves (ex: GT is known for engineering) there’s “very little difference” in all three of these institutions; whichever one I decide, I will probably be fine in and adapt to. At the time, I thought not being able to visit these schools put me at a severe disadvantage in terms of my final decision. I chose Cornell in the end solely based upon the fact that to me, it felt like the better option for pursuing pre-med and statistics at the same time, with the flexibility to switch majors if my plans change.

I ended up loving Cornell–I had my struggles and difficult days, sure, but that would have happened at any of the three schools I listed. I remember there was a period of time in my sophomore year when I felt particularly down–sophomore slump, I called it. That was when I wished I had visited another school, maybe came to another decision.

But the thing is, I also know I probably wouldn’t have made another decision if I had a chance to visit the schools. In addition, I think visiting the schools, while that might have been valuable, wouldn’t necessarily tell me everything I need to know about the school. Admitted/prospective students see a single snapshot of the campus. And at Cornell, that single snapshot also happens to be the most beautiful few days on campus (us students joke about Cornell owning a weather machine that turns on every year when prospective students are visiting), with cherry blossoms (and poop smells) on top. It also happens to be when the food at the dining halls are particularly good, and when the current students are particularly friendly (you can attribute that to the nice weather, I’m sure). Finally, I’m also fairly sure Cornell picks the professors with popular classes (or reputations of actually being good professors)–because you gotta protect the prospective students from the professors who are so smart and accomplished that they fail to recognize you as a human being.

What prospective students don’t see is the freshman year loneliness, the discouragement and burnout when yet again, you tried so hard on a prelim and still failed. The exhaustion that you still felt after consecutive all-nighters and multiple coffees in a single day. The times that you felt  so average and inadequate because your professor said the words “you know?” and “obviously…” far too many times in a lecture, and while the students around you nodded, you just don’t get it. The time when you approached a professor, obviously distressed, but you get a less-than-empathetic response. The times when you spent almost a week in the Olin Library stacks, surrounded by books and little social interaction because you had so many exams in a row. The time when you pretty much had a nervous breakdown after stepping in a foot-deep puddle, because the week was just too much and that was the breaking point for you (sounds really personal, so I will say that yes, this actually happened to me–my boyfriend will attest to that; and yes, it sounds incredibly crazy, but it felt valid to cry and break down at the time). Let’s not even begin on how little the administration cares about their students, starting from the subpar mental health services. Then there’s the toxic pre-med culture, competition, and probably some occasional grade-deflation thrown in between. Freshman and sophomore year, I also remembered feeling lost, unsupported and oh-so-far away from home.

It’s also not possible for prospective students to feel the joy of sledding down Libe Slope on a snowy day on a plastic storage bin lid. Feeling the connection with some of the brightest, kindest minds. Playing in a quartet, then meeting your significant other and best friends through music, then having all of your friends accompany you in your senior recital in your piano solo debut. Meeting incredibly interesting people, all the time. Beating the 9PM boba rush at UTea and just laughing and bumming around with your friends after the last organic chemistry prelim you’d ever have to take. Admiring the gorges and nature on the day-to-day. Taking a class with only the most famous Mozart scholar of our time before he retires. Learning, living, breathing, simply taking in a wonderful learning experience.

Cornell can be a wonderful place, and it has helped me grow–but I also had some dark days here, when I felt like I was just barely surviving. You can’t experience either of those sides, good or bad, fully, by coming to Cornell for a few days. Furthermore, it’s impossible to anticipate how you will fit in, or even what your days will be like here. Sure, you know what the campus looks like, you might attend a lecture or two, you might ask some students for advice–but you won’t truly experience life as a student here until you’re actually a student here. You may have a wonderful visit, commit to Cornell, then hate it. You may hate the visit, end up committing for some reason, then absolutely love it. You could end up somewhere else, hate that place, wish you come to Cornell instead.

And here’s the thing: I probably would have a similar experience at Vanderbilt or Georgia Tech too. Change the proper nouns and place names, and that’s probably exactly what would’ve happened. I’m not saying I made a bad decision, or that I wish I had gone somewhere else–but, if all else was kept equal (for example, degree programs, my career aspirations, etc), and we looked at experience alone, it would probably have been the same. I would have met cool people no matter what, I would have had hard days, good days, sad days, no matter what. I probably would still meet a best friend, still met people I liked enough to hang out with. I would still have met a horrible professor, and probably some good ones too.

So, Prefrosh–don’t worry so much about the college experience itself. It isn’t that there is no value at all to visiting, but if you’re worried about not being able to visit, I promise you will be OK. DO consider the program itself, your career aspirations, where you want to be after graduation, and the cost of attending.

(Feel free to reach out if you do have any questions for me though! ask away while I’m still here~)

Food Diaries Friday: Koko


Koko is a Korean restaurant in collegetown, and as somebody who has never tried Korean food prior to coming to Cornell, the two Korean restaurants in collegetown, Koko and Four Seasons, has changed me into a hardcore Korean food fan (I actually prefer it to Chinese food…). The restaurant has also quickly became a date-night favorite between me and my boyfriend.

Koko has a small storefront, but on any Friday it would be packed, mostly with students. The ambiance of the restaurant is quite cozy, and actually, between the other Korean restaurant in collegetown, the service is actually better. The food has a sort of ‘rustic’ and ‘home made’ vibe to it, and in all the times I’ve been here, I have not been disappointed.

My go-to order here is the dolsot Bibimbap. It’s a pretty ‘classic’ Korean rice dish with an egg, veggies, and your protein of choice. I went with tofu of course–in the case of this dish it’s also cooked in a sizzling stone bowl. If you just get the regular bibimbap, that is just cooked rice with the toppings in a normal ceramic bowl. I usually find that the regular version isn’t hot enough to fully cook the egg, even after mixing.

Bibimbap with tofu, vegetables, and spicy red chili sauce

Topped with the spicy and tangy (with a slightest bit of sweet) red-chili sauce, it’s a delight in my mouth. As for portion size, this is what I get when I’m hungry and it’s very filling.

I also really like this restaurant because it’s vegetarian friendly! Though not catered to only vegetarians, there are a wide selection of dishes that could be made vegetarian. Many of the dishes will allow you to customize with no meat, or add tofu as the protein. My other favorites on the menu are the kimchi pajun (a savory kimchi pancake) and the soondubu jjigae (it’s a soft tofu stew, and you can add other proteins if you would like as well).

Overall, Koko is a great restaurant to eat at for a chill Friday evening and may just get you to fall in love with Korean food.


Ratings:
Vegetarian Friendly? 4/5 (YES!)
Ambiance: 4/5
Price: $$/$$$
Food: 5/5
Service: 4/5


Food Diaries Friday is a series on my blog where I write about my “food adventures” in my last semester at Cornell.

You can read the previous installment here: Pho at Saigon Kitchen

My 22nd Birthday!

Like most Cornell students who weren’t born in the summer months, I’ve spent my birthdays here among my friends. I’m not the type of person to be into big-birthday-bashes, but I have had the blessing to have some of the best friends (and boyfriend) who’ve managed to make these birthdays away from home special.

But first… brunch!

My birthday this year fell on February break for the first time since I started my undergrad education. This was amazing because I just had a relaxing day with no stress of homework or exams.

My boyfriend took me to Waffle Frolic for brunch in the late-morning. It was crowded (a Sunday, after all) but I’ve always found it easy to wait in line with someone you love. Plus, I had never been there before, and my birthday was as good of a time as any.

I ended up ordering an Egg Florentine Waffle, just a sunny side up egg and spinach on top of a waffle with some hollandaise sauce. I also ordered a mocha (a little too sweet for my taste, but good!) It was well worth the wait, and despite the crowd, there were plenty of seats in the restaurant.

Me holding my Egg FlorentineWaffle!

Work, Work, Work

I know I totally said that it was February break and I didn’t have the stress of work, but I did want to get ahead in work. So, after brunch, I headed back to my room to grade for the class I TA for.

Dinner, for those who were in town

Birthday on February break does have a drawback though, that being that a lot of my friends were traveling. Still, we made reservations for dinner at my favorite Thai restaurant, Thai Basil, in Ithaca.

My friends and I at my favorite Thai restaurant

The food was totally awesome, and since it was Sunday night, we were actually the only group in the restaurant for a really long time. The wait staff was quite passionate about getting this picture–both the elephant tapestry in the background and the Thai king. As you can see here, the food looked beautiful. It tasted just as good too!

One special thing about having your birthday here is that they treat you to a fun fried ice-cream dessert. When dinner was done and the wait-staff collected our plates, I saw a disco ball flashing in the corner of my eye. Music started playing, and the staff started singing a rendition of “happy birthday to you” while lighting up a fried ice-cream dessert in front of me. The whole experience was so over-the-top and ostentatious that I couldn’t help but laugh the whole way through. My boyfriend felt exactly the same.

I didn’t get a picture of this as I was too “in the moment”–but I assure you, if you’re ever having a birthday in Ithaca, come here and ask them the birthday dessert! Once the ice cream flames have gone out, we passed the little glass around and each got a taste of the fried icecream. It tasted a little boozy: they definitely put way too much alcohol to get it lit up.

Finally, my friends bought me a cake: a chocolate cake with vanilla frosting from Wegmans:

Yummy cake with my name written on it

It was heartwarming to know my friends thought of this little detail and had gone out to buy a cake for me.

After dinner, I thanked my friends and returned home. It was truly a special birthday!

Final Thoughts

My 22nd birthday was a little heavy on the food, but it was a really fun time spent with friends. It makes me think about all the things I have to be thankful for at Cornell. I’m gunna miss this!

[Part 3] Navigating Pre-Med at Cornell: Summer Experiences (Internships & Volunteering)

Welcome!

Hello and welcome! This is Part 3 of my six-part, “Navigating Pre-med” series that I will be publishing on my blog.

If you are new here, be sure to check out Part 0: My Background to learn more about my motivations for publishing this series, and information that would give a LOT more context to the information that I will be discussing!

Previous Part: INSERT LINK

And if you missed it: Part 0 – Part 1


My “Unconventional” Internships

I feel that out of all of the things I did in undergrad, the one thing that made me the most “insecure” was my unconventional internships–unconventional as in, while other pre-med students opted for full-time volunteering over the summer, MCAT studying, or biomedical research opportunities, I had spent all three of my summers before senior year in the realm of public health, two of which (summers before junior and senior year) with a consulting firm.

Though I certainly felt like it was a disadvantage to do two summers with a consulting firm, I feel like there were a few pros in doing so. In addition, for a while, I genuinely thought I would be spending my gap years in life science/healthcare/public health consulting, so it was a valuable career-exploration period for me. Furthermore, it gave me real-life work experience in the corporate/professional setting–something I don’t see a lot of pre-med students going out to do because most people opt for, like I said, research or volunteering over the summers.

Why Consulting?

I think I initially came to the field of consulting because I wanted to be able to apply statistics into some form of health-related field. The job itself (both summers) actually turned out to be not-at-all statistics related, which was disappointing, but I did a lot of thinking and learning on my feet. If you could think about learning in your undergrad to be learning with depth, consulting was definitely about learning breadth. It’s not my favorite, but useful and valuable in its own way.

Through consulting, I also had a lot of professional experiences (whether that be conflict resolution, professionalism, meeting etiquette, or just the ins-and-outs of working in a firm: believe it or not, there’s some nuances there) that I doubt I would be exposed to if I had chosen a summer internship in research or volunteering.

The Impacts

Going into my gap-year job search, I panicked a little bit because my experiences were so “unconventional”; the “cornerstone” activities on my resume was business research (you can read more about that in my previous blog post) and two summers of consulting. Sure, there does exist doctors who worked in finance or consulting before, but I almost felt like those individuals decided to go for a career change after they’ve established an initial career in finance or consulting. I, on the other hand, wanted my initial career to be in medicine.

I had an interview with a doctor regarding a gap-year research position, and he noted that on my CV, I spent a chunk of time with these experiences. Instinctively, I mentioned that “I know it’s not conventional…” and he cut me off–“not at all,” he said. He told me there were plenty of doctors like that, and not to worry.

In any case, my experience with consulting gave me a compelling reason and good work experience in my gap year job search. I wouldn’t say it’s 100% related to what I want to do, but pursuing this in the past hasn’t held me back in any way. Sure, having never worked in a wet-lab meant that I got rejected from all the wet-lab jobs, but that was never my intention (bench work) anyway.

I’m thankful to have been exposed to a field that seemed entirely unrelated to medicine. If I were to do this differently, I think I would have chosen to do something different my last summer (i.e., only did consulting for one summer and done research the last one). However, it was an experience for growth and I don’t think I would have realized such a push towards medicine without it. This brings me to my next point:

Volunteering

I mentioned in my last post (where I specifically talked more about volunteering during the school year) that I became interested in volunteering with older individuals the summer before my senior year.

I was looking for volunteering opportunities near me online and realized that there were a lot of hospice agencies looking for volunteers (later, my volunteer coordinator explained to me that they have to actively seek out volunteers–it’s funding related, if I recall correctly). I contacted a couple, and one of them got back to me before too long.

From there, there was an informal interview/orientation, and I was matched with an older individual part of the hospice agency. My job was simple–it was just to be a friend to them, and visit every so often.

I don’t think I realized how this would shape my views on wanting to become a physician. I knew early on in my life that I wanted to be a physician, but while working full-time in the summer with the consulting firm and volunteering with hospice in the weekends, the difference in my heart was so clear and obvious to me: I loved waking up on the weekends to visit the older individual I was paired up with, and I didn’t feel the same way going to my nine-to-five job. It just brought a sense of happiness in my heart, knowing that I was able to help someone in some small way. This was something I never felt in the summers during my full-time job, and this was the push I really needed to start (more aggressively) pursuing my dream of becoming a physician.

Conclusion

This post was a little bit more anecdotal than I intended, though I feel like what I had to say throughout all of this is to not be afraid to be “different”–even if it’s something as strange or “unrelated” as consulting. It has taught me a lot, but moreover it gave me a sense of direction, something I really needed.

Yes, there are things I would change about my summer internship decisions, but I don’t regret how I’ve spent my summers. At the end of the day, it didn’t hold me back in any big way when it came to searching for gap year positions, and I feel like it brought me invaluable insight with regards to the professional working environment.

I’ll see you guys back here next week with some resources of planning out our health career!

[Part 2] Navigating Pre-Med at Cornell: Semester Experiences (Research, Teaching, Volunteering)

Welcome!

Hello and welcome! This is Part 2 of my “Navigating Pre-med” series that I will be publishing on my blog.

If you are new here, be sure to check out Part 0: My Background to learn more about my motivations for publishing this series, and information that would give a LOT more context to the information that I will be discussing!

Previous Part: Coursework


Overview

I would say that beyond coursework, the activities that I have done during the semester that was related to pre-med falls into three main categories: research, teaching, and volunteering. In this part I will be discussing my experiences, how I came to get these opportunities, my general thoughts on them, and finally, more information/resources on things you can do as a Cornell student that falls into these categories.


Research

In freshman year spring, I was introduced by my peer adviser to a professor in the Cornell SC Johnson School of Business. Though I only had one semester of Biological Statistics under my belt, and I explained to the professor I was considering pre-med (as you might be able to imagine, his research had very little to do with medicine–also side note, it’s might be a hit-or-miss to mention pre-med to a research professor; you don’t want to seem like you’re only doing research for pre-med), he took a chance with me and allowed me to be a part of his lab.

I’ve been doing research with the same professor for six semesters now, investigating various business topics with data science. Through this research experience I was able to concretely apply my interest for statistics, and my professor was able to introduce me to someone who does do medical research. This resulted in my first published paper where I was responsible for the statistics, and of course more connections!

Thoughts and Advice

In general, it really doesn’t matter what field you do your research in. I will admit it still makes me wonder if adcoms will really take me seriously since the majority of my research was done in the business field, but as I had thought initially, the concepts I learned through my experience could easily be applied to the medical field since data is universal.

There are plenty of my friends who do wet-lab biomedical research, but there are also plenty that work in psych and nutritional sciences. Here is a few piece of general advice when going into research during your undergrad:

  1. Make sure it’s something you’re interested in: or at least, something that you enjoy doing. Though the context of business is still a little bit foreign to me, and I wouldn’t say that looking at different business phenomenons and concepts is my calling, I do enjoy the critical thinking aspect of each of my projects as well as the technical (coding) portions of it. This all contributed to me really building a relationship with my professor and fellow lab mates, and of course is the reason why I remained so long in this lab.
  2. When approaching professors… don’t straight up offer them your resume. Usually it helps to look over their publications, and then send them an email asking if you could talk to them about their work. Also, if you take a professor’s class and really enjoyed the content, see if they have any research positions available! Alternatively, see if someone can introduce you to a professor you’re interested in working in.
  3. The Cornell Student Employment portal usually will list some professors who are looking for paid research help. These can range from cleaning glassware to an actual research assistant. If picking up a job that focuses on lab maintenance, see if you can ask if you can “get promoted” to a research assistant and do research with the professor after a certain amount of time working with them.
  4. Finally, stay consistent and persistent! You may not get the first research assistant position you apply for, and you may not LIKE the first professor or position you work as. However, if you can, settle down fairly early (perhaps sophomore year) so you can work on building not just skills but connections throughout the rest of your time in undergrad!

Teaching

I started as a teaching assistant for ILRST/STSCI 2100: Introductory Statistics in my sophomore spring semester (so going into my senior spring, I would be a fifth semester TA). I worked with the same professor for the last four semesters, taught the same class, and really, really enjoyed it.

My responsibilities include leading a weekly discussion, replying to piazza posts, grading (homeworks and exams) and holding office hours. It was definitely very, very intimidating at first since I was responsible for creating lesson plans for my students and teaching them without the professor or graduate student, but after four semesters, I would say that I’m definitely getting the hang of it. It helped me build a lot of confidence as well as solidify my understanding of the fundamentals of statistics.

Thoughts and Advice

I highly recommend some sort of experience teaching or tutoring in undergrad. It holds you accountable for your knowledge in the subject, and then you get extremely familiar with it after several semesters. From what I know, here are some classes at Cornell that look for undergraduate TA’s:

  • The Learning Strategies Center — they look for statistics tutors, chemistry (general and organic chemistry), and bio tutors.
  • BIOG 1500 (Investigative Lab) — Look for undergraduate TAs to assist graduate TAs during labs
  • CHEM 1070/1080 — They’re officially called “course assistants”, and they TA the workshops for CHEM 1070/1080, generally “float” around the room to help students with chemistry as they write it out on the boards. They seem really tight-knit (together and with the professor!) though the time commitment also seems to be pretty great.
  • Undergrad physics TAs — they assist grad TAs in running discussions (and I think office hours?)
  • BIOMG 3300 TAs — This is an autotutorial biochemistry course, so they need a LOT of undergraduate staff to run the study center. You will need to take the class before you apply as a TA, and it looks like the time commitment is somewhere a little more than 3 hours a week.
  • Introductory Statistics — besides what I TA’d (ILRST 2100), another intro biostats course also looks for undergrad TAs (STSCI 2150).
  • Computer Science courses — They’re separated up into “consultants” and “TA’s”–it seems pretty competitive especially for non-CS majors, as I was rejected for both positions after getting an A in the course I was applying for. (I’m not completely sure what the criteria was but there didn’t seem to be a major criteria when the professor talked about it in class)

Finally, some courses (I know in particular, the stats department does it) look for graders, so it may be a way to get some experience and cash at the same time too.


Volunteering

I did pre-med related volunteering in high school (hospital, hippotherapy) though I got into this fairly late in undergrad. I did miscellaneous volunteering for three of my years in undergrad (mainly involving the Asian American community/some political activism) but unfortunately did not really love/get into it enough.

I started volunteering with a hospice agency the summer before my senior year, and that was a game-changer–I realized I loved working with the older population, and joined a few service oriented clubs once I got back to campus (yup, it’s never too late…!) in order to continue volunteering with organizations that serve older individuals (hospice/retirement homes etc!). This is something that became really near and dear to my heart in a short period of time and something I intend on doing throughout my gap year(s). I wish I realized this a lot sooner, but I still feel like it’s better late than never.

I also volunteer with Crisis Text Line, which is fulfilling and fairly easy to get trained/qualified though not a part of Cornell. It’s also really easy to jump on and volunteer whenever you want as long as you have a stable internet connection and some privacy (like your dormroom/bedroom).

Thoughts and Advice

Try a bunch of things Freshmen year–go to Club Fest, try out some (or a lot of) service clubs, and pick one or two to stick with for the entire undergrad (especially important if you’re planning on going straight into med school). You’re probably going to need both clinical and non-clinical volunteering, (Clinical = some face-to-face patient interactions) and amass a not-insignificant number of hours and stay committed to it for a few years.

There are certainly a lot of really creative volunteering opportunities at Cornell: there are music groups that visit senior homes, groups that translate for patients, groups that work with kids with special needs, so on and so forth. I definitely wish I got out there and tried some of these out earlier in the game!

My advice though, is still that you should like what you’re doing, if not really love/connect with it. I really enjoy volunteering both with CTL and visiting residents at the retirement home/hospice–and in fact, the latter was the reason I wake up in the mornings on the weekends the summer before my senior year. It’s not that loving what you’re doing is a requirement, but it’s certainly a lot less painless (yes I still have off-days! I don’t love it all the time, and yes sometimes I would rather be lazy too!) since you do have to commit to it.


Closing Thoughts

I spent a lot of time in my undergrad doing research and TAing, and less time on volunteering, though I’m slowly starting to catch up. I think the most important takeaway with this installment is just that you should always, always enjoy what you’re doing in terms of those three things, because otherwise it would seriously be painful because you would have to devote so much time to it. But, if done well it can definitely be fulfilling and an incredibly positive experience, not just as a “pre-med” but for life as well.


I’ll be back soon to discuss