Bull in a Classroom

A new semester has begun.

You know when those horses bust out of their gates at the beginning of a race, the jockeys whipping them with a crop, screaming and kicking as the horses’ legs spring from the dirt like it’s lava they don’t want to touch? That’s kind of how I feel (except I am both the horse and the jockey in this case, I think). The gate has flung open and it’s all systems GO now. Back to school for me!

I’ve decided to take on this spring semester like a bull in a bull fight (uhoh, analogy overload?). I want so badly to conquer this semester, to keep my focus on the red cape, to attack it, to charge through it, so I’m going to do everything in my power to make that happen. Sometimes I feel more like a bull in a china shop flailing around trying to control this science thing, breaking lots of dishes along the way instead. But, hey, at least I’m going into the shop as a bull and I’m coming out a bull — no flimsy china can change that.

Bull in my path. Cotopaxi Province, Ecuador.

This whole post-bacc pre-med thing is HARD! (Oh right, I’ve mentioned that about 50 times already — but it’s worth repeating!) I hope to have more control over the material now. Last semester, I learned more than just science; I learned how to be a student all over again — a different kind of student than I had ever needed/wanted to be. Everything I knew — about studying, about what matters in a classroom, about how to do well, about how to be a top student — was all quickly thrown out the window a month or two in. The small class sizes I had experienced my whole life were suddenly replaced with 700-person lecture courses on a subject I knew the least about. Class participation now means nothing. Who you are as a student means nothing. Only numbers count. I am a student ID number, not a person. My grades are computed by a computer. Every test is multiple choice, filled out with #2 pencils in a new class room every test. Until last fall, I had never been in a class with more than 50 people — ever, and usually there were fewer than 25. I use the word “classroom” loosely, as all our biology and chemistry lectures take place in NYU’s largest theater, with the professor on stage, attendance taken by remote control devices called iClickers that we must bring to every class (both to click in and to answer multiple choice questions throughout the lecture, which appear on a spreadsheet for the professor when he/she gets to his/her office), and we have to grab black boards to rest on our laps so that we have a surface upon which to take notes.

Every week, there are at least three quizzes — two of which are online (laced with exasperating technical problems), one of which is during our Chemistry recitations on Friday mornings. You can never sit back and relax. You can never feel on top of the material because this place is like a factory set at a very high pace, and if one link in the sequence hits a snag and slows down, the whole contraption will fail. If you ever want to get ahead, you must teach yourself the material. In fact, most of my studying is trying to teach myself material. I’ve never experienced an academic environment like this, but apparently it is the pre-med way! I’m used to being taught. I’m used to asking questions as I go, having the material explained, learning piece by piece. This is all so different — it’s on YOU to learn. It’s on you to get help. It’s on you to do well, and even you (oh, I mean me) don’t ever feel like you have total control over that part of the equation. But somehow, in this giant system, there is a chance to do well if you can find a way to grab the golden ring while the Merry-Go-Round of science spins you in circles… and I’ve got to go for it.

Galapagos Hawks. Galapagos Islands, Ecuador.

When I began Chem I and Bio I in the fall, I can honestly say that for the first three weeks, I had absolutely no idea what was going on (particularly in biology). It was a horrible, disarming, humbling feeling. The amount of material that was referenced and breezed over because I was “supposed to” know it already (like the rest of the fresh-out-of-AP-Bio-pre-med-freshman surrounding me — the real ones) was beyond my expectations, even though I anticipated it would be this way (but not to the extent that it was!). Taking on my least-studied subject at this level at this age has clearly been an uphill battle from the start, and it took me weeks — even months — to find my footing in this new world of science that I had been dropped into like ET on Earth (without a cute kid feeding me candy), but I think I’ve finally found that footing.

All I can say is that the learning curve has been steep! But, here I am, ready to take everything I’ve learned — both about science and about being this new, different kind of student that I have to be in order to succeed in this foreign pre-med world — and apply it to this new semester. Such is life, no?

The look of determination.... on a giant tortoise in the Galapagos Islands.

Every week, when I leave the spinal injury rehab and brain trauma rehab centers of my hospital volunteer job, after working with brand new paraplegics who are learning things as basic as how to get back into their wheelchair if they fall out, and brain trauma patients with staples across their entire scalp whose toughest question every morning is what is their own name, I am reminded of how much I want to do this, of how much I want to learn the skills to be able to help these people, and of how much learning is still (always) ahead.

For now, I’m just happy to have something red to charge towards.

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Filed under Healthcare, Life Stuff, School, Uncategorized

7 responses to “Bull in a Classroom

  1. Beth Elliott

    Hi Rachel – Always love your posts. It reminded me of something I’m just now reading – a book about two Harvard PhD candidates who have a baby with Down Syndrome. I’m guessing it’s not on your must-read list, but I was struck by what I was reading in it just before reading your post. As the author is bemoaning the crushing work load at Harvard that is her life, she says …”every one of these things had much less power over me than my own ability to choose…..My responses to..(x,y,z)….were entirely under my own command. This left me nearly breathless with responsibility but also awed and exhilarated by freedom…..The realization that I was the captain of my own fate had some frightening implications.” This lady is obviously a bull-fighter as well. Sounds like you would have to be in that setting. Hang in there. What a wonderfully compassionate and smart PT you’ll make!

    • travelswithtavel

      Thank you so much Beth! Yes, I think my twenties have been sort of an odd realization that I am captain of my own fate, which I may have known, but to feel the effects of every decision you make for yourself (the good and the bad) has been both a terrifying and exhilarating realization. Sounds like this Harvard lady is a total bullfighter! Thank you for sharing that story. I’ll keep chugging along over here. Thank you, as always, for the encouragement! It really helps!!

  2. Geordie

    Hey T,
    Best of luck as you start this new term! Your attitude couldn’t be better so it sounds like you are stacking the deck in your favor. There’s a blog that I really like that talks about balancing work and personal life in order to lead “a remarkable life.” It’s called study hacks: http://calnewport.com/blog/. You might get a kick out of it. It takes a very practical approach to these questions and deliberately writes against a lot of the self-help cliches that we associate with things like “how to get the most out of life”. You might find it interesting. Good luck grabbing the bull by the horns as it were, and kicking some major ass in 2012!

    • travelswithtavel

      Thanks G! I’ll have to check out that blog, although I don’t think I have too much trouble balancing my personal life with school, but I guess we can always work on the “remarkable life” thing 🙂 Right now, I’m just trying to do remarkable in school! One semester at a time…

      Thanks again G!

  3. Margot Miranda

    Love it! Ready to take on the spring semester with you!!

  4. Pingback: Grit | Travels with Tavel

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