Saturday, November 28, 2015

Genetics - Epigenetics - Molecular Biochem

A few years ago, 3.5 to be exact, I sat in my all time favorite professor's class, Biochem.  The posts from both of his classes are embedded on here, somewhere.  I stumbled into his 1010 class and was not prepared for him.  Meaning, the professor who had stalked me to my home in the middle of the night had set the bar pretty low.

But this man - every accolade available at the school - has been given to him.  There are awards that can only be awarded 1x per lifetime.  The students petitioned to have the rule broken, just for him.

Three years ago.  I was embarrassed to ask if I could take his class (long story).  He said he was honored that I'd ask.

On that first test, I had to draw all 20 amino acids along with the three and one letter abbreviations but also had to know how to link them via peptide bonds and what the end charges would be.  That was all worth 10 points on a 100 point test.

I got the 10 points, plus all the rest + the extra credit for a 125 points.  It's weird how setting that semester up for success turned into a difficult, soul sucking search for understanding of this path.

Between my contract ending shortly after the 1st midterm, to my parents own financial collapse due to my inability to take care of them anymore, and then ... I got a B.  He was clearly disappointed.  It was worse for me.

I quit being a premed.  Headed to the Galapagos on a field research trip I'd signed up for though the biology department with my biology professor, and 13 other students.  Sitting in a Pizza Hut in Guayaquil, Ecuador I'd told my bio prof I was quitting school, headed back to the corporate world, and moving 1600 miles to FL.

Stunned, he said nothing.  Looked off into space.  Sometime later, he muttered, "what a waste."

I came home from the Galapagos, packed the house, and moved to FL.  Left the premed path behind, focused on finding a job in FL and never really looked back.  Really.

Well, actually, I lived life in reverse.  I hated quitting but I hated worse, disappointing that biochem professor.

Over last summer, I took physics and nailed the beast. Actually, it's not really a beast.  It's more like a wild doberman with a mind of it's own that needs to consistent and earnest training. It needs love and attention every day.  Got an A+ (they actually give that here).

Using that good mojo, I asked to get into genetics.  See, that old biochem prof once told us that if we did well in his class, we'd do well in genetics.  And cell bio, he said.

After two weeks into the semester that old friend "Doubt" started kicking me in the shin again.  My contract was ending despite having been assured I was golden until January, my dad had a heart attack (see the pattern???), and someone else died.  I did not study for that first exam.  Got a B.

Second exam was looming, contract was for sure ending, was able to focus a little bit, got a B.

Before the 3rd exam, I stopped in to see my genetics professor.  He is also well liked by students.  On the wall was a newspaper page, full page at that, of the video he produced in 2008.

I'd seen it.  In 2010 with my biochem professor.  And again in 2012 with the same biochem professor.  I asked Dr. E if he produced that video and he kind of shyly said, "Um.  Yes?"  I think he was afraid I was going to say something ... I don't know, odd?

I laughed and said I'd been forced to watch it twice by my biochem professor.  He smiled broadly, "Really??  Oh man, that makes my day.  Do you still talk to him?"

"Yeah, all the time.  He's one of my letter writers."

"Please tell him thanks!  Really makes my day!"

Yea, I bet.  Even more so when that same student (me), nails his last midterm with an A+ which should make me solid for an A if I nail the final.

Its interesting to me, how small the world is.  Connected by two great professors who have made learning fun and damn hard (!!!), but how the one class taught me to stick with it and not give up.

The mantra for anyone midway through this path: don't stop, don't give up, give it one more step.

Now to write the biochem guy and tell him the news.  He'll probably smile a little, shake his head and think, "Not bad, not bad at all."

Wednesday, November 11, 2015

Kaplan MCAT Prep & Teachers :)

Yes, I know some of the instructors read here; Google Analytics does a great job of tracking people's footprints in the bytes and I'm pretty good at using GA.  Win-win.

Actually, Win-Win is the Kaplan course instructors.  (No, I'm not employed by the company nor am I sponsored in any manner.)

During the summer of 2014, my butt got kicked again to take the MCAT and apply to med school.  I'd given up on becoming a physician and thought I'd just work, retire someday, and be satisfied.  My cousin, an adcom at a med school somewhere in the US, suggested otherwise.

The story is buried elsewhere in here, so I won't belabor how I got back to taking the MCAT and going forward into the 2016 app cycle.

Getting to that point has been with the guidance, assistance, and support of my online Kaplan instructors (and a few others along the way - namely my son, and my genetic's class peers).

During the fall of 2014, my onsite class had an undergrad teaching the course who got mixed up in the physics details.  He then got mixed up on basic gen chem and I switched to online, live classes.  Worried as I'd never taken anything online, my apprehension was quickly put to rest.

Amit was that instructor.  The old MCAT prep was very content detailed, very equational and mathematical.  Amit did everything to prep us, to make sure we knew the tricks to getting to the right answer without having to use a TI-85 graphing calculator with LED screen.  He used funny quips and examples to enhance the ideology behind the material.  He made fun of himself; made fun of the ambulances that often screamed by his house during class; made fun of his midwestern roots often saying an answer choice is "hinky"; that was solely his, though, I'm from the midwest and I've never heard the word.

However, now I see an answer choice on the new MCAT prep and think, "HINKY" ...  Amit also could read my concern in the private Q&A.  As bold and confident as people think I am, underneath I worry what people think (a little) and really worry when I tick off people in the admissions world.  I've been told throughout my life that I'm very polite, very understated, and very kind.  But, I'd irked some adcoms online and thought, "I'm doomed."

Amit's comments were: "Eh, no."  then laughed and said, "No."  Followed up by some sage wisdom and email.  I never looked back.  (Coincidentally, that adcom is now a supporter of mine, and I can see how my first post back then could come across as arrogant; which was certainly not my intent).

Did not sit for the 1/15/15 exam. It was the last date for the old MCAT.  In April 2015, the new MCAT was administered.  Less physics, more biochem = win.  In prep for that, I re-enrolled in Kaplan and got #TeamEli.

Make no mistake, he is the best that there is.  Make no mistake, he knows his stuff and so well, he can integrate other aspects of the MCAT areas into a question and make you think.  I had him for the online class and then with Kaplan there are MCAT channel sessions which are specific focus areas.  So, I don't get into trouble with the company, I'll only say that the areas are the most commonly tested on the MCAT.  And very detailed, comprehensive and complete.  Eli taught those, off and on, as well.

Through those channel sessions, I got to see the other instructors: John, Tami, and N.  They are talented, engaging, funny, using anecdotal quips to reinforce concepts.  Throughout all of the courses and sessions I've taken, each one of them has contributed to many of us as we prep for the beast known as the MCAT.

On 1/23/16, I will slay the beast and be thankful I got the best in the business from Kaplan.

Saturday, November 7, 2015

Last Days - Moving On

My contract came to a close a few weeks ago.  Sixteen months after I started, 16 months after it was inferred that I was a hooker or a prostitute, 16 months after ... I am done.  For the record, I'm neither a hooker or a prostitute!  I will be always thankful for the executives that hired and retained me for without them, their support, I could not have continued on this path.  Med school would be all but dead.  I'm not sure, but Lazarus only got resurrected once!

In the midst of closing out the contract, looking for a new opportunity, and resigning up for Kaplan's MCAT course, I had a genetics test.

Genetics is my worst subject.  I still am fuzzy on some aspects of it but am eeking out an A right now (seriously, how does one do that?).  Eeking is the appropriate word.  What I'm finding in preparing for the genetics tests is this:

1)  preparing for the tests is a lot like the MCAT prep I do
2)  the stress I encounter is managed by tips and tricks that I have worked on over the past summer
3)  I have learned a s@#$-ton this semester

So, let's start in how I study for genetics and how that is similar to the MCAT

The AAMC has an official guide that is about 65 pages long.  Within the guide, is every single topic listing of what COULD be on the MCAT in some form.

That guide is here:  MCAT Topics Listing

I downloaded the document, printed it out, 3-hole punched it, put it into my binder called MCAT Prep.  In one section, I have it.  In another section, I have my Kaplan online course screen shots (things like the kidney, liver, parasympathetic, sympathetic systems, nerves, optics, electrostatics, etc).

In the final section, I have my notes from each practice test or section I take.

With each question that I get wrong, I write it down.  What did I get wrong?  Why?  Then after the entire section or test is done, I go back to review those areas.  Doing this, I shore up where I'm weak and only review my strengths every few weeks.

My hope is that come 1/23 I will be more than prepared.

With Genetics, I do the same thing.  Our lectures are .ppt based so the fill in the blank on the decks, is done in class.  After class, I rewrite the notes that are salient, leaving out the easier topics and details.

Then, I do the homework problems to see if I can answer without the answer guide.  If I can, nothing gets written down.  If I can't, or my details are not enough, then I write what the guide has.

Finally, I take the quizzes and do them the same way.

It's only an A- at this time.  (Dad's heart attack, death in the family, contract ending the first time, + lawsuit loss - another story = did not care about 1st two exams).

However, I do believe by the time the end of the semester rolls around that minus sign will be gone.  And by the time, the MCAT test rolls around, I will do well.

Very well.