undergrad vs. grad

Write a post based on the contrast between two things — whether people, objects, emotions, places, or something else.

I suppose the two things I can compare and contrast would be undergrad me vs grad school me. Although I’m only in the 5th week of grad school, there are quite a few differences. I’ve mentioned them before in previous posts so if this seems familiar, well, it’s because it is.

So in undergrad, I was in the quarter system. That meant 10 weeks to cram everything possible, take two midterms and a final that usually constituted my grade and try to pass with at least a C+. That worked for the most part except for Calc II and physics. Back in undergrad, I didn’t care about my future. I was excited to finally move away from home, get away from all the stress and pressure of living with my parents and find out who I could be. I lived in an all girl dorm my first year, then moved around to different apartments. I made some great friends from the dorm, whom I still talk to and am relatively close to today. I accepted that getting a C+ was okay, as long as that meant I could graduate with a little piece of paper that said I got my Bachelor’s, then so be it.

I was cocky, probably arrogant as well. I was too proud to ask for help. I made a lot of mistakes academically that I wish I could take back. I wasted a lot of time and money just scraping by. I left with a terrible GPA that I knew wouldn’t get me anywhere. Then again, I had no desire to go to grad school or any kind of professional graduate school like med school. I just wanted a lab job where I could minimize the personal interaction and just get my work done and get paid.

Well, that clearly didn’t work out.

Skip ahead to now where I am in grad school and life is… quite different. I’m older, I’m a little more mature, especially in my thinking. I’ve learned humility. I know how to ask for help and while it sometimes still takes me a little bit to gain the courage to, I do at least ask now. I’ve learned that it doesn’t matter if I look stupid for asking questions because as long as I get the info I need, that’s all I care about. I know the value of grades (which, to be honest, I’ve always known, I suppose I just chose not to care in undergrad). I also had to find out what independent learning was. Embryology is online, so it means you can pace yourself, but make sure you don’t get too far behind or you’re really screwed. It’s heavy material and the textbook doesn’t explain concepts as well as I’d like. But anyway, that a rant for another time.

Graduate school is what I expected and yet it’s not. Right now, summer is a 10 week course, so that’s nothing new, except they call it a semester. It honestly feels like they’re cramming in a semester’s worth (16 weeks) of knowledge into out heads though. They sort of treat you as adults, yet the same old students at the same time. A lot is based on the honor system here. For example, we took the Embryology exam yesterday and instead of our instructor staying in the room as we took it, she went back to her office and occasionally popped her head in to check on us.

In Histology, we don’t get powerpoints/pdfs of lectures. We do get lecture outlines that she sends us and we have to print it out, but not full on lecture slides. They have higher expectations, which, duh, should happen. But they also treat us as equals. It’s sort of strange to find that balance of still being a student but at the same time we’re nearly at the same level as them.

In Lab Management, we have a fellow PathA (with something like 30 years of experience) teaching us some concepts, but he likes to keep the class really informal. Today, for example, he didn’t lecture at all. We spent the whole time talking about these job listings we had to look up, traveling agencies, and news articles on diseases. It literally was just a large group discussion where we got to give our two cents and ask him questions to which he would answer them completely if he could. It was incredibly laid back, but it’s also incredibly helpful. He gives us real world experience out in the field and cases he’s worked on to help us make better decisions and so we don’t go out there with stars in our eyes.

It’s a mixed bag really. Maybe this would be a more useful comparison after I complete summer.

But if I were talk to my younger self, it would probably go something like this:

Hey! Yo, yeah you, the one who thinks you’re so cool and knows everything.

Yeah right. What do you want?

Get good grades all right? Make it easier for you when you get older to get into grad school, okay?

Grad school? Are you freaking kidding me? I’m not going. I don’t need to. I’ll get a job when a graduate.

No. Seriously. Take undergrad seriously. You’re just gonna screw yourself over if you don’t.

Psh. Whatever. I got this. I don’t need to you tell me or nag me about school. I’ve gotten that my whole life. You’re not my mom.

No, but I am the future you who will curse you for a couple years for being so stupid.

Yeah, whatever. Grad school is for those that are really ambitious and wanna look cool.

Or it’s for your future job.

I don’t need a Masters to work in a lab. Are you kidding? Most of them just require a Bachelors.

In your fairy tale world. They lied to you.

Look, they said I could get a job when I graduate. I’m gonna do that. Don’t need to spend more years and money into school. I just want to be done with it forever.

You will after you get your Masters.

Not getting one. How many times have I told you that?

Just shut up and listen. Get one. It’ll do a body and your life some good.

*rolls eyes* Yeah, whatever.

I told you I was an idiot back then. I really was. But at the same time I keep telling myself that if I didn’t do this, if I didn’t make this harder on myself, I probably wouldn’t have gotten the same experience that I did. I probably would’ve gone in right after undergrad, no experience from shadowing or cadaver lab, and been completely overwhelmed and lost. I might’ve even dropped out. Those years after I realized my grave error made me stronger. We have a running joke now that everything we’re going through, all the exams and what have you, is all character building. So we throw that at each other every day, it’s hilarious. But it’s true. My profs at Mt. SAC were basically telling me the same thing. Fighting for classes, fighting to get those As, working my tail off to make sure I learned it all and came out on top, getting put on the wait list — all character building. It’ll strengthen you for when something hard truly comes in your way.

Or so they keep telling me.

At least now I’m coming in, eyes wide open, ready for the next hit. This isn’t some distant future or wish anymore. This is my reality. This is something I can see coming now. It’s no longer in my blind spot. I won’t be thrown off or too distracted. I mean, we all have to grow up some time, right?

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