Articles by Tom Hagerman

The Value of a Science Degree from DePaul

A few months ago I finished a medical school interview tour through more than 10 cities across the US. I was working as a tech at a hospital in Austin, Texas after completing my BS in Chemistry at DePaul. Mostly, I was seeking refuge from the winter for a year - exploring a new city and preparing myself for the next stage of my education. In two weeks I will start medical school in Pittsburgh. 

Since leaving DePaul I’ve had the chance to talk to a lot of students starting med school this fall from other universities around the country. At multiple schools I was interviewed by current students from an alphabet soup of prestigious universities. These conversations helped me better understand that there is something special about a science degree from a Vincentian University in one of the most vibrant cities in the world.

Spring quarter of my sophomore year at DePaul I took a seminar to prepare to lead a service immersion trip the next year. We met from eight in the morning until noon every Friday for 10 weeks. I was simultaneously taking organic chemistry, and the classes overlapped for an hour. It’s pretty much unheard of to be enrolled in overlapping classes, yet, each Friday morning I took an hour detour to my organic chemistry class. 

CSH 

The first day of the seminar we created “safe space guidelines" - values to which we would hold each other accountable. One week I left a discussion of the difference between service rooted in solidarity and charity to attend a lecture on carbonyl reactions. In the seminar we occasionally “checked-in” with each other on our current emotional, physical, and intellectual wellness. We once started our early morning with a massage train. 

Every Friday that semester I went from a room where reflection, human connection, transparency, and dialogue were goals to an organic chemistry lecture hall where we were studying the fundamentals of the chemistry behind human life.

I was quite confused about the sharp contrast in environments but invigorated by the switch in thought and the mental space shared by these two loves - science and social justice. 

These are the worlds that a doctor is part of. Medicine and healthcare are moving away from the hospital and into the communities and people’s lives who they serve. Doctors and healthcare providers of the future will need to better understand the forces that shape the health of their individual patients and community populations as a whole.

Before starting college at DePaul, I knew next to nothing about the Vincentian mission at DePaul. But my experiences outside of the science department at DePaul laid the foundation for my career in medicine. The Vincentian mission showed me the utility of studying science and helped me understand what I must do in this world - use that knowledge and privilege to directly impact the daily lives of people. 


Spots You Don't Get to See on Your DePaul Tour

I understand how college tours can be because I was also once looking for somewhere to go to college.  Colle​​ge tours​ are.... well, an interesting time.  They are busy days of possibly seeing a couple of schools, doing a lot of walking, and hearing a lot of people talk about college.  If you don't catch my drift, I didn't especially love touring colleges.  I felt like I couldn't always get a real feel of what it might be like going there.  Here's my biggest piece of advice - walk around campus by yourself to see how it feels!  That's what ultimately led me to making a decision about college. 

On the flip side, I was also a tour guide at DePaul.  With my experience as a prospective student on hand when I gave tours, I did my best to show students what it might feel like going to DePaul, as opposed to telling people how old a certain building is - because really, that doesn't necessarily inform how your experience will be.

To aid in the process of getting a better feel for DePaul, I went out and took photos of a few spots that you don't get to see on your one hour tour.  It's not that you don't get to see these spots because they are private, it's simply because there isn't enough time.  However, these are some important and neat places.  Scroll down for a short photo tour of some places that you probably didn't see on your DePaul tour.

Also, I'm no photography major and the photos aren't edited, so you really get a raw look at these places.  

Arts and Letters Hall Student Computer Lab

This is one of my favorite study spots on campus.  There's a ton of sunlight and NICE computers to work on.  Again, the best thing about this space is that the sunlight and windows are incredible. 

Arts and Letters computer 
lab
Arts
 and Letters computer lab










John T. Richardson Library​ Third Floor (just one hallway of the floor)

John T. Richardson Library 

The library is a stop on most tours, but you only get to see the first floor, if there is even time to step into the library.  But, given that we go to college to learn, this is probably an important space because you could find yourself spending a lot of time here.  The good news is that they just renovated the first and second floors, and I'm pretty sure there are plans to renovate other spaces in the library.  Again, this spot offers pretty large windows!



Here's a spot you definitely don't get to see until your freshman orientation over the summer.  The track is great for the cold winters.  Also, the basketball courts are where many of the intramural games are held (soccer, volleyball, dodgeball, basketball, etc).  Although the picture isn't fantastic and it was a bit cloudy out, you can see the city from the track (8 minute trip on the train)!

Ray Meyer Fitness 
Center
Ray
 Meyer Fitness Center











Arts and Letters Room 415 - Awesome Classroom on Campus

Not every classroom in the world offers you a view like this one.  It's a corner room with windows looking toward the city.  I've never had a class in here, but I still try to sneak up there once in a while.

Arts and Letters Room 415









Nice Outdoor Space in Front of McCabe Hall
McCabe is a hall typically reserved for sophomores, juniors, and seniors; however, the space in front of it is really nice and a perfect escape from the indoors. 

McCabe 
Hall
McCabe
 Hall
That's it for now.  But again, if you've got a little bit of extra time I highly recommend taking a stroll around campus and seeing how it feels for yourself. 
​​​​​​​​

CHE 362: Drugs and Toxicology

This has been one of the most exciting years of chemistry classes for me.  I was finally able to take a few major electives specific to the type of chemistry I’m interested in (chemistry with biological or medicinal applications).  Fall quarter I took chemical biology where we read many papers in the field about the development of chemical methods for studying biological systems.  Winter quarter I took medicinal chemistry where we learned the fundamentals of drug discovery, design, metabolism, and a few other aspects of how drugs work on their target and what our body does to the drugs to get rid of them.

This quarter’s elective is no disappointment.  Drugs and toxicology (CHE 362) is a continuation of medicinal chemistry where we are learning the specifics of the major classes of medicines and therapeutic drugs.  It’s incredibly exciting.  We started the class focusing on the metabolism of drugs, making sure that we understood the detoxification mechanisms that exist in our body.  Speaking of mechanisms, we learned arrow pushing mechanisms for how scientists think the enzymes in our body are modifying the drug for excretion (in urine or feces).  The picture with the crazy arrows shows how P450s (detoxi​​​fying enzymes)​ in our body modify drugs.    

 
The class is taught by Dr. Justin Maresh​.  I had him for biochemistry 2 and 3 as well as a proteins course.  His teaching style is fantastic and it really shows that he cares about students learning the material, not just for a test, but so that we are more informed citizens and scientists who can apply concepts to specific problems.  He’s certainly one of my favorite professors that I’ve had.  

We just spent a couple of weeks focusing on the major classes of antibiotics (drugs that target bacteria).  Of particular interest is knowing the target of the drug (for instance, pen​icillins​ disrupt the formation of the peptidoglycan, the protective layer of protein/sugars that bacteria have), the structural features characteristic of that class, and the ways that bacteria develop resistance to those antibiotics.  The content is highly relevant for anyone interested in health and medicine!  There are non-chemistry majors in the class as well, it’s that neat!  The picture below summarizes the major ways that different antibiotics target bacteria.​

 Don't get caught up in the specifics of what I've said above.  What I'm trying to say is that waiting for my elective classes has been well worth the wait.  Looking at my class list freshman year, it seemed like it would take forever until I got to the elective classes for my major.  But, the content I learned in those general classes was crucial for my electives, and I've really enjoyed getting to focus in on the type of science that I'm most interested in.  ​

Undergraduate Research

It’s not everyday (everywhere) that you get to learn one-on-one next to a professor in the research lab as an undergrad.  But, that’s how I spent my afternoon.  And that’s nothing new either.  I’d say it’s a common occurrence at DePaul.

One of my favorite things about the science program at DePaul is that the small size and teaching focus means more face time with professors.  It means having a faculty research mentor and advisor to help you learn outside of the classroom.  I get it that this blog is a bit cheesy, but I can’t explain any other way how special this is.  

I started working in Dr. Karver’s lab my sophomore year when I was in organic chemistry.  I realized that I really enjoyed organic and I wanted to see how that classroom information was actually put to use (outside of the teaching lab).  So, I went to Dr. Karver’s office hours and told her I was interested and a couple of weeks later I was starting my first reaction.  

Being a part of a research lab has impacted my experience at DePaul substantially.  Not only has it offered a community of peers to look up to, but it’s made the information I learn in all my science classes more relevant.  It’s given me more motivation to learn in class and has fueled an interest to do research in the future.  Before I started in the lab, I thought that I probably wouldn’t enjoy it.  I thought something along the lines of, “I like
working with people and talking to people and that’s not necessarily what you get to do in the lab.”  While it may be true that it’s not the most social activity in the world, doing research as an undergrad has really made my time at DePaul special.  It’s provided me with a professor that I can always go to for advice, even if it’s unrelated to research or her courses. 


Once you get started at DePaul, try to search what kind of research the people are doing that are teaching you in your lecture classes!  You may be surprised by the research that some professors are doing.  Then, go meet them!  Find their email and set up an appointment and convince them of your interest and you’re well on your way to an incredibly worthwhile opportunity. 

Three Pre-Health Resources You MUST Know About

One of my favorite things about DePaul is the relationships that are possible with professors and staff.  Because of the small size of the science/pre-health programs​, and DePaul's commitment to an individualized education, there's a bounty of invaluable resources to help you navigate your time in college and figure out what to do after college.  

My main point is that it's NEVER too early to start getting prepared for these things.  Professors are an excellent resource to help with class and getting involved outside of class.  However, sometimes you need to talk to someone that can provide you assistance that a professor can't necessarily provide.  These people are pros (literally) at what they do.  They know how to help students get involved, how to mentor students to be more professional and job-ready, and how to help students in their preparation for life after DePaul.  

Here they are, three resources that you MUST know about.  I recommend that you meet these women first thing at DePaul, how about the first month you're here?!
Lindsey Burdick
Lindsey is The Pre-Health Advisor at DePaul (I put a capital T in THE because she's a very important resource).  Lindsey is an incredible resource for anyone looking to go in to a health related field after college.  She'll help you make sure you are on track for success in the future.  I appreciate Lindsey because she is very approachable.  There have been many times in my admissions process for medical school that I needed to ask a question, maybe a silly question, and Lindsey has always been there to help.  A few times I have made appointments with Lindsey just to chat and make sure that I'm on the right track.  And the best part is that Lindsey has always been perfectly fine with this.  She's very informed of application processes and realistic with you about your progress and position.  She'll give you advice so that you're better informed and prepared for whatever will come after your time at DePaul. ​

 
Hilarie Longnecker
Hilarie is the Career Specialist for the College of Science and Health (CSH).  When I was receiving feedback for a committee letter recommendation, the major message from my advisor was to meet with Hilarie as much as possible.  My advisor spoke of Hilarie as a type of professionalism skills goddess.  My advisor said that Hilarie would be able to get me in the place I need to be with interview, professionalism, and confidence skills.  I've met with Hilarie multiple times and she's exceeded all the expectations I had from her based on my advisor's recommendation.  Hilarie was clear with specific actions I needed to take to improve, and she was encouraging yet realistic of how I can overcome some of my interview struggles.  Every meeting I have with Hilarie I walk out with a sense of excitement for the practical suggestions that Hilarie gave me on how to improve.    ​    ​

 
​Michelle Johnson
Michelle just started a new position as the Assistant Director of Undergraduate Resource.  I met Michelle because I started as a biology major at DePaul and Michelle was the biology academic advisor at the time.  Even when I switched my major to health sciences and then chemistry, I still went to see Michelle once (I probably technically wasn't supposed to do this) for her wisdom.  Michelle is really easy to talk to, yet you won't leaving a meeting not knowing the next steps.  I especially appreciate the way that Michelle makes you feel encouraged, supported, and motivated.  You can tell that Michelle really does care about the success of her students.   


Critical Point, but really Lab Classes

Up until the other day, I had forgotten how mysterious science can be.  I was studying for an upcoming physical chemistry exam and I was reading up on "real gases" (as opposed to ideal gases... which is what we spend a lot of time studying).  Maybe I lost the art because of the intense quarter I was having, but I was amazed when I stumbled on this video (skip to about 3:40).

The video is of water at it critical point​a specific temperature and pressure (705 °F, 212.7 atm) at which the liquid and gas phases have the same density and the interface between them becomes non-distinguishable.  Pretty insane right?  In general chemistry you spend some time drawing phase diagrams, but it's not every day that you get to see what something looks like at its critical point.  One of the experiments in physical chemistry lab does something similar to the video above, except using carbon dioxide (and without the crazy music).  I bring it up because it was a sharp moment where my experience in lab really helped me understand course content.  The concept of a critical point is clearly pretty abstract, and it really helps to see and use the concepts you learn in lecture. 
If you're a science major there's no doubt that you'll spend a good amount of time in lab classes.  They are an essential part of our science training and lab experiments help us connect lecture material to how it is practiced in science.  After all, we're learning these things to put them to practice in our future professional life.  While lab requirements vary depending on your major, there's a good chance that if you're studying Health Sciences, Biology, or Chemistry that you'll take the general biology and general chemistry lecture and lab sequences.  

My first couple of years I thought of labs as a burden.  They were just an extra 3-4 hours of time that I would spend in class (not to mention that they are generally worth just one credit).  But, they really are essential to our education.  They are the main way that we improve our writing skills as science majors.  More importantly, lab is another place to develop critical thinking skills.  After doing a lab it's common that you'll have to write a report about the lab, and that is where we develop our ability to analyze many factors of the experiment and use the concepts that we learn in lecture.  Lab is also one of the best times to get to know professors well.  It's time where you get 1:1 attention from a professor and it's a great opportunity to build a relationship with them, which is important if you want to get involved in research as an undergrad (also a very gratifying experience).  

Have questions about lab classes at DePaul?  Let me know, leave a comment!    


CHE 360: Medicinal Chemistry

This year it was finally time for me to take my chemistry electives, the classes that will afford me a "biochemistry/medicinal chemistry" concentration under my chemistry degree.  While those words likely won't show up on my transcript, these classes are ultimately the reason I chose to study chemistry.  

Sophomore year I was confused about how I wanted to spend my time as an undergraduate.  I knew that I wanted to go to medical school, but I enjoyed general chemistry more than general biology, yet at the time I was a biology major.  I took this as a sign that I might want to study chemistry, and subsequently I changed my major to chemistry halfway through my sophomore year while I was taking organic chemistry.  I started doing research in a medicinal chemist's lab, and I was convinced enough to change my major.

My favorite chemistry class has been the yearlong sequence of biochemistry, and this year I am taking three chemistry electives in fulfillment of my concentration.  Last quarter I wrote about chemical biology.  This quarter I'm taking medicinal chemistry.

The class has changed my perspective on the pharmaceutical industry because I now actually realize how difficult the drug design and approval process is.  The class is an introduction to the drug development and design process, from finding a target to finding a drug that acts at that target.  We're learning to analyze pharmacodynamics and pharmacokinetic ​data.  Pharmacodynamics is the investigation of how well a drug works once it gets to its target (could be an enzyme in a specific tissue or cell type, or a receptor for neurotransmitters, among many things).  Pharmacokinetics deals with what the body does to the drug before it gets to its target.  After all, we're putting foreign substances in to our body so our body is going to do everything it can to get rid of that drug.  

You can watch a video below about medicinal chemistry:

This class has built extensively on knowledge from organic chemistry.  Not a class goes by where we don't explain something using organic chemistry principles.  We're learning the ways that chemists can alter drug solubility, polarity, reactivity with off-target enzymes, and acid-base properties.  These methods and many others yield an understanding of how the structure of a drug can be altered to make it more potent at its target tissue and more selective/less toxic (less side effects).

In the next few weeks we will examine computer aided drug design and development.  I'm especially excited for this portion of the class because of the role that technology will continue to play in science and medicine. ​It's a really neat way to bridge between my chemistry studies and my future studies in medical school.  The analytical skills we're developing in this class, and many others, will translate in our future careers and academic pursuits.  



53% Office Hour Turnout

10/19 (53%) students in my thermochemistry ​class attended Dr. French's office hour on Wednesday this past week.  That's a pretty exceptional number of students, given that the professor has three days with office hours during the week.  It wasn't so much of an office hour, as we had to move down the hall to the conference room.  And this isn't the first time this has happened this quarter.  This was just a single office hour out of three for the week.  I bet by the end of the week every single student will have attended one of Dr. French's office hours. 

I didn't start taking advant​age of my professor’s office hours until my sophomore year in organic chemistry.  During first quarter organic I realized that I needed direction in how to study for the course and Dr. Karver had a few office hours that I was able to attend.  It was a slow process through my sophomore to junior years to realize just how useful and unique office hours are.  It's the chance to, often times, sit down one on one with the professor to get help with the class.  Some of the times I walk in with a specific question, other times I just want to check in with the professor.  Either way, it's unique because how much face time is available with professors.

Given that professors have, on average, three office hours per week, there's not been a quarter at DePaul that I haven't been able to make it to a professor's hours.  This year I started to take better advantage of the extra time that professors at DePaul provide, and I put the office hours that I could attend in to my weekly calendar. It's become part of my schedule, almost as if it was another class.  I know which days of the week I will be attending office hours, and it's benefited my learning experience greatly.  

Last quarter in quantum chemistry I visited Dr. Southern at least once a week (in addition to the 4 hours of lecture and 8 hours of lab that I saw her in the week).  Sophomore year I visit Dr. Cohn in cell biology once in a while, but I was still learning just how valuable office hours are.  

There are two major things about the turnout at office hours this past week.  First, it signifies the fact that senior students are often more comfortable approaching a professor for help.  If I have any advice for you, whether you're soon to enter college or already in college, take the step to drop by a professor's office.  You likely won't regret it.  In fact, when I did this for the first time sophomore year to my organic chemistry professor, Dr. Karver, I ended up getting a spot in her research lab a few weeks later.  

More important, it signifies how the science program at DePaul is unique.  Even in classes with 60-80 students there is time to meet with the professor one on one in their office hours.  In my experience at DePaul, I've found science professors to be easily accessible outside of class and it has made my experience in class with them better.  It's clear that the professors care about our progress in their class, but also about our development as students and future contributors.


Sometime vs. Some Time

A couple of weeks ago I was completing an assessment for a potential job.  One of the sections measured my proficiency in English by asking me to correct sentences if necessary.  In one question I was given a sentence containing the word sometime and asked to correct the sentence if it was used incorrectly.

It's unfortunate that it wasn't until then that I really wanted to investigate the difference between sometime and some time.  It's also unfortunate that I couldn't just Google it because the exam was proctored via the internet by a company that had control of my computer and webcam. 

As students growing up in a world where we can search the internet for almost any fact or information that we're looking for, our approach to education is certainly going to have to change.  This isn't a novel idea, people have been talking about it for a long time.  Check out this short video about that. 

But, here's why this is so relevant.  As learners and future productive members of society, we have to figure out how we're going to adapt.  We have to figure out what it means if we're not sure how to use sometime and some time.  Today in the clinic I volunteer at another volunteer was translating for a patient.  The volunteer knew Spanish well, but there were a few words that were difficult.  I had Google translate on call, ready for the moments when I was asked to look up a word.  And it worked.  The communication was much faster and easier than looking up the words in the Spanish medical dictionary sitting right next to us. 

Thinking about how we (as students) should respond is kind of frightening.  Not only do we have to think about how we will adapt to these changes, but we will have to think about how to teach our kids.  In biochemistry it's imperative to know the amino acids structure, pKas, and properties without having to look them up.  It's part of the language.  It's not possible to effectively interpret biological/ chemical information without "knowing" these things.  In this case, knowing definitely implies knowledge that require no consultation of external resources.  But, using this definition, I didn't "know" the difference between the uses of sometime and some time when I was taking my assessment, and I kind of felt ashamed.

I offer no answer or solution.  I'm just beginning to think about what all of this means.  This fascinating issue is becoming increasingly relevant to us as students.  We need to figure out how to find, process, interpret, and store the information that we come across.  It's our job as students to figure out how we'll use the technology we have to enhance our education.  We'll have to adapt to learn new skills applicable to the jobs we'll be performing. 

You must be wondering, if you haven't Googled it yet. Here's the difference between sometime and some time:
(Source: Grammarly.com)



My Friday Experiments

About a year ago I read the book Drive: The Surprising Truth About What Motivates Us by Daniel Pink.  While the book is most pertinent to business people, it’s also highly applicable to us as students.  The book helped me better understand work ethic and motivation as they relate to life as a student. 

You can watch a video about the book below:
​I surprisingly found the most applicable advice in a section of the book discussing improvement in organizations.  An idea of using non-commissioned work as a stimulus of productivity and creativity was explained in the context of a physics lab at the University of Manchester.  The scientists put aside about 10% of their time for “Friday evening experiments”.  ”.  It was time devoted to projects with no funding and no real goal, yet it lead to an incredibly important discovery for the lab.  They discovered graphene one "Friday afternoon", a two-dimensional material that has hopeful applications for the future​.

In the grind of school, working a couple of jobs, and other commitments, I found that I wasn’t engaging in activities that allowed me to develop and exploit my curiosity.  I wasn’t using my imagination in a way that I wanted.  I was caught up in finishing tasks for deadlines, studying for tests, and making sure that I was fulfilling all of my responsibilities.  Yet, I lacked activities and experiences that allowed me to explore without a cause.  My imagination wasn’t being cultivated and I needed a change.

That cycle of realization has repeated since I read the book about a year ago.  Each quarter, in about the seventh week of classes, I realize how much time has flown without taking time to let my mind wander.

It’s time that I start my own “Friday afternoon experiments”.  Maybe I should be doing real experiments on Friday afternoons, but that's the point, to intentionally not do something that I've made a commitment to.  The point is to explore something new, to feed and stimulate my curiosity, to renew creativity, and to awake my imagination. 

Fridays are beautiful because they signify the end of a (hopefully) productive week.  They’re a moment to step back and be thankful for what the week brought.  This quarter I have back to back commitments from 9 am until 1 pm on Fridays, so I’m especially in the mood to be active.   Autonomy, Challenge, Mastery, Making a Contribution.  Daniel Pink says that these are things that fuel our motivation.  So, I’m going to use these as guidelines for my Friday explorations. 

This Friday’s experiment: Barnes and Noble.  I'm going to set up a nice playlist on Spotify for browsing the shelves at the local book store.  There's something wildly energizing about searching through stacks of books.  I'll see where it goes.  I'm going to use the books as Wikipedia links.  When I read something intriguing in a book, I'll jump to another section of the store to read more about that.  I can't wait. 

My DePaul Lenses

As a senior, it’s increasingly on my mind that I will be moving on after the next two quarters.  A lot of conversations with friends (and family members) these days are about what's next.  There’s not much of a unifying theme to this entry.  I wanted to talk about how my experience at DePaul is getting me ready for the next step, and this is what I’ve ended up with.

I’m incredibly grateful for my time at DePaul.  Going to college in Chicago has changed who I am.  I’ve been exposed to the realities of people in the world that I may not have if I wasn't at DePaul.  Of course there are things that I wish I did differently, but I’ll save that for another time.  Overall, DePaul has made me think differently about how I will contribute to this world.  Not only have I drank the DePaul Kool-Aid, but I’ve purchased a pair of DePaul lenses (this is supposed to be symbolic). 

My mind has been exploding with interests and thoughts lately.  Over break I became interested in learning about computer programming.  I know that in the future world we will live in, if not this one already, it will be necessary for everyone to understand programming.  My kids will be learning coding at the same time they’re learning basic math and (hopefully) Spanish.  I’m also increasingly interested in statistics and data analysis.  I do lots of data analysis as a chemistry major, but I’m especially interested more about data analysis outside of a scientific context.  I want to be more literate as a data consumer, more aware and critical of the information I take in.  Over break I took a religion class taught by a historian, and I realized just how little I know about US history and world history, for that matter.  The world changed a lot since I was born, but I feel like I missed out on the significance of those changes because I wasn’t thinking broadly enough.  I started listening to PlanetMoney (from NPR) podcasts religiously, and I realized that I wish I knew more about economics.

So, how does this relate to DePaul?  My curiosity to learn is symbolic of my time at DePaul.  There’s no way that I could have spent time exploring all of these things in college.  That’s the point though, right?  We’re in college to become more prepared for continued learning.  I would like to think that because of my experience at DePaul I’m prepared to continue my learning journey.  Even more, DePaul has shaped the lenses through which I will take in new information and experiences.  The Vincentian mission at DePaul constantly comes up in my head when I listen to an economics talk.  There seems to be a contradiction between the growth that economics calls for and the human dignity that may be exploited in that growth.  My experiences at DePaul have caused those thoughts, and I couldn’t be more thankful because I know that those reminders will continue to help shape the decisions that I make.  


Pre-Test Routine

Given that I've had about three exams in the past couple of weeks, it seems appropriate to talk about my pre-test routine.  As a science major you're bound to have more exams than papers, so it's not a bad idea to develop a routine sooner rather than later.  I started to develop a routine when I was in the biochemistry year-long sequence.  We had exams pretty often, and I found that when I had a little bit of regularity before the exams I was more relaxed during the exam. 

Here are the steps to my pre-test routine:

A Couple of Days Before Test:
I make a playlist of 3-4 songs that get me pumped.  These might be songs that help me relax or songs that get my blood flowing.  I posted the two songs on my playlist for my most recent p-chem final below.

The Night Before:
I generally start studying pretty hard core for an exam one week out, so the night before I try to stay relaxed and just review the most important concepts.  In the days leading up to the test I make notes (no more than 10 pages total) of the most important things.  I try to look at that sheet when I'm on the train, and I'll always make sure to look at the list again before the test.  The night before an exam I try to get 6ish hours of sleep.  I want to be able to tell myself that I worked hard, but I also want to make sure my brain is awake for the exam.  I try to tell myself the night before that I've worked hard and have learned the things I need to already.  


The Morning Of:
 If it's a morning test I will get up a little bit early to study (maybe 30 minutes).  If it's an afternoon exam I take whatever time I have to go over any materials that the instructor made (like worksheets or old homework).  After all, they are the person writing the test. I try to get in their mind and think about what they might ask me.

An Hour Before:
ICED COFFEE! I never fail to grab a small iced coffee just before the test.  It gives me a burst of energy, and maybe at this point I just need it for a sense of security.  I try to bring some walnuts or almonds for during the test, if the professor will let you eat.  Water, too – I hate when I forget to grab a water bottle for during the test.  Sometimes it's nice to just sit back in your chair, take a little break from the test, and have a big gulp of water.

10 Minutes Before:
One thing I've learned to avoid is getting to the classroom early on a test day.  It's always a little stressful in the room and I don't like to be around that right before I'm about to take a test.  Ten minutes before the test I crank up my playlist, pretty much as loud as my headphones will go, and jam out.  Sometimes I like to watch a video or look at pictures that make me happy.  It's always nice to go in to the test feeling positive and energized. 

So, if you don't yet have a pre-test ritual I'd recommend that you figure out whatever puts you in the best mood in the hours before an exam.  I like to listen to music and sip on coffee, but maybe you'd prefer something else.  Whatever it is, I'm pretty sure you'll be thankful for having a ritual already in place. That way, there's no need to get freaked out or anxious about the test.

Here are my pre-test songs for my most recent exam.



Week 9-10 Craziness

There's Jess working on her iodine lab report.​
Getting through the last week or two of every quarter is certainly a challenge.  It is a time when you’ve become pretty tired from the previous weeks, yet you can taste the freedom that's to come in the end.  It's also unfortunately a time when generally 30-40% of your grade for a class is determined, so it’s not a time to start slacking.  With that said, here’s a little update of what I’ve been up to this past week.  I've spent my time studying at the library, eating lunch/dinner out way too much, pulling an all-nighter for a lab report, and occasionally getting off campus (to study…).  

I’ve gone to the Bourgeois Pig a few times in the past couple of weeks.  It’s nice because it is real close to campus and there’s lots of space to study.  It’s generally pretty quiet in there, and it’s a big bonus that they have tasty food.  It’s pretty busy on Sundays, but it's a great place to go during the week if you want to get out of the library for a little while.

Bourgeous Pig... or the Pig for short. A snuggly coffee shop pretty close to campus.

Thursday night was a pretty long one for me…  The best part about my all-nighter was that I had the company of Jess and Huanna.  They’re both in my quantum chemistry class and senior chemistry majors as well.  We started our night in the library and were there until 2am (when the library closes).  Thankfully there is a chemistry computer lab in McGowan South that we have access to, and we were able to spend the night working there.  I had class from 9am until 1pm the next day, and then I was able to work on my report until it was due at 5pm.  It was a great feeling to turn in my report and rush home to sleep (for 18 hours... oops).

I’ve spent a good amount of time these last two weekends at a coffee shop in Wicker Park called Wormhole.  I try to take the opportunity on the weekends to spend time outside of the DePaul area.  This past weekend I had dinner at Dimo’s Pizza with my sister and friend Delaney before doing some work at Wormhole.  I also spent some time at a coffee shop near my apartment called Intelligentsia.  It's pretty great there too.

Wormhole, in Wicker Park.


Intelligentsia!

With that said, I’ve still spent the biggest majority of my time at the library on campus, and thankfully it’s quite a nice place to study.  It’s nice to be around people that you know, and the environment is pretty productive in general.  I know I’m going to miss being in this type of college environment next year, so I’m trying to soak it up as much as possible.

So, there’s a little eclectic taste of my past couple weeks of the quarter.  Finals start this coming Wednesday (November 19th), and then it’s time for six blissful weeks of winter break!  Those weeks are some of the best weeks of the year.  Not to say that school isn’t great, but let’s be honest, who doesn’t like six weeks of freedom.  I’ve got some fun things planned, but first it’s time to get through finals week.  


CHE 348: Chemical Biology

As a senior chemistry major I am getting to some of the coolest classes for my degree.  This quarter I’m in my first of three concentration electives, chemical biology.  Chemical biology seems like a silly name, considering that there is a field called biochemistry, but I promise there is a difference!

The class is taught by Dr. Caitlin Karver.  I had Dr. Karver for the organic chemistry sequence my sophomore year (one year, three quarters of organic chemistry) and I now TA for her organic chemistry 3 class.  Dr. Karver is also my research advisor.  It’s really nice to know the professor well for my concentration classes ​because I feel comfortable asking questions in and out of class, and I also feel more engaged knowing how excited the professor is about the subject. 

We’ve read some incredible papers, and we’ve also read some not so incredible papers (only two or so).   Each week of the class has been devoted to a certain topic in chemical biology, ranging from activity-based probes to target identification and all sorts of combinations in between. I’ve been able to investigate things from a chemist’s standpoint, but everything that we have talked about has medical applications.  For instance, we read a paper by that talked about a probe that may be able to identify the margins of specific tumors.  We also read a paper that developed a method to identify antibody biomarkers for Alzheimer’s disease.  The method they developed could potentially be used to determine if a person has Alzheimer’s or if they may soon develop Alzheimer’s.  Another paper used fatty acid content in blood samples of mice to determine the effect of potential inhibitors.  All of the papers we have discussed have brought up tons of interesting applications of chemistry and the ways people all over the world are investigating different biological phenomena. 

The class has absolutely affirmed my choice two years ago to change my major to chemistry.  Essentially, this class is what I was looking for from my chemistry undergraduate education.  I wanted to be able to connect my interest in chemistry to my interest in medicine, and this class has absolutely shown how chemists are so intimately connected to the medical field.

Below are a few of the recent covers from four of the many journals that we’ve been reading from throughout the quarter.  


MSU-R Undergraduate Research Symposium

​This past weekend I went to an undergraduate research symposium at Michigan State University.  I traveled to East Lansing with two other DePaul students, Shrasta and Sanna, who also work in research labs in the chemistry department.  

In preparation for the symposium I updated a poster of the lab work that I’ve been doing since my sophomore year.   Putting the poster together was a bit tough, but it was nice to have something that shows the work I’ve done over the last couple of years.  

We left Chicago Friday evening and got to MSU pretty late that night.  Our hotel was paid for through the symposium, so the only expense we had was getting to the symposium.  The next morning felt pretty early, especially after a busy school week.  Before the poster presentation session there was an introduction from MSU staff and a brief Q&A with current MSU chemistry graduate students.  

I was a bit nervous for the poster session, but it went pretty well.  It was nice to have an opportunity to practice my presentation skills in such a low risk setting.  What was most interesting was to talk to different students and gauge their interest level in their research.  From the people I talked to, it looked like there were a good amount of students that wanted to go to medical school and another good chunk of students that wanted to go to graduate school in chemistry.  It was interesting (in a good way) to talk to the students that wanted to go to graduate school because they were so excited about their research and you could tell that graduate school is right up their alley.  It was also a nice reflection time for me, because it helped me realize that graduate school probably isn’t for me.  

Lunch came around and I randomly ended up sitting with Dr. Viktor V. Poltavets, who was in charge of the symposium.  He was a hoot.  He was quite talkative and high energy, but also humble and easy to talk to.  My conversation with him pointed out quite a few differences between DePaul and a school like MSU.  I had never been in an academic environment as big as MSU, but I don’t mean that in a positive or negative way.  What I’m trying to say is that it’s going to be important to think about what kind of environment you want to be in.  The science program at DePaul is not all that large, and there are pros and cons to that.  It means more face time with the professors, but it also means there is less opportunity to do some of the types of research that a large R1 school is able to do.  Either way, it’s something to think about.  

 
Sanna and Shrasta next to their poster.


Overall, my trip to MSU for their undergraduate research symposium was pretty important for me to think about the future and to appreciate my experience at DePaul.  



 

MCAT Bootcamp

​I promise this is my last every post about the MCAT.  Just one more.  

This summer was a bit lame for me, as I spent 10 weeks studying hardcore for the MCAT.  I took the test a couple of days before school started this quarter, and therefore ended up spending all but about a week of my summer studying for the MCAT.

Apart from the psychological experience of trying to figure out what score I was going to get, it was actually a pretty worthwhile experience.  It was the first time I had every really condensed everything I was learning in my classes (even in high school) into concrete knowledge and a basic understanding of the body.  The other day in lab we were talking about mass spectrometry, and I made a connection to physics principles that I wouldn’t have made had I not studied MCAT physics.  It was the first time that I really had to bring together material from multiple disciplines.

My good friend/current roommate Delaney was studying for the MCAT at the same time I was, except she was in Cincinnati (at home).  It was incredibly nice to have a friend to relate to and to go through the experience with.  My test date was a week before hers, and I swear we were going through the same emotions just a week apart.  

Now that the MCAT is all over, I’ll share a couple of things specific to DePaul that might be useful if you’re going to have to take the MCAT at some point.  Everyone and their mom will give you their advice for the MCAT and tell you everything you “should” do, so take everything I say lightly (some of what I say may not even apply to the new MCAT).  

  • If you can, avoid trying to study during school.  It seems hard to focus on the MCAT and your regular classes at the same time, and you don’t want your GPA to suffer.  I’ve been told that med schools care, in addition to many other things, about two numbers: your MCAT and your GPA.  You don’t want to let them both suffer.

  • Find a study friend; not necessarily to study with but someone who you can talk about the test with, or about how the last practice test you took was hard.  I thankfully had about 20 people to vent with.

  • Take your general science classes seriously and try to learn instead of memorize content, because you’ll just have to memorize the content again for the MCAT if you didn’t learn it the first time through.
My MCAT class comrades; this is the room I spent most of my summer in…

Happy studying!


Laundry and P-Chem

​This past week my room smelled so bad that my roommates did my laundry.  I don’t know if I should be embarrassed or just happy that they did my laundry.  Unfortunately, my room is right next to the front door, so it’s hard to go by and not pick up any odors, good or bad.  I’m not sure that it actually smelt bad, but they thought so.  

I called this blog post laundry and p-chem because they are actually pretty related for me right now.  I’m in the first quarter of two (for me, because I’m a biochemistry/medicinal chemistry concentration) of physical chemistry, more specifically called quantum chemistry, and it’s perhaps taken a toll on my personal hygiene.  I’m not some disgusting person that never does laundry, you should know that.  I simply got a little behind.  

Every chemistry major gets to have this experience, some just may keep up with their laundry better than others.  I wanted to write about p-chem because it has a silly reputation as being a crazy impossible class.  In fact, it might convince some people to not be chemistry majors, and that’s unfortunate.  Physical chemistry is really a quite advanced version of general chemistry where you finally begin to explore the WHY of many of the things that you are just told in general chemistry.  I wouldn’t say that it’s my favorite chemistry class that I’ve ever taken, but I am beginning to appreciate the concepts that we are talking about.  The reason I switched to chemistry was to have a more concrete and focused understanding of biological processes, and physical chemistry so far has been very relevant to everything else I’ve learned as a chemistry major.  It hasn’t been a walk in the park, but I know that I’ll be appreciative of the concepts that I have learned.  And, maybe I will even pick up a regular laundry schedule once it’s all over!

I would put a picture of the state of my room on here, but you don’t want to see that. 


My Pre-Health Advising Committee Letter Interview

This past Wednesday I had my Pre-health Advising Committee (PAC) letter of recommendation interview.  The letter is a component of the medical school application process that is important for showing schools who I am outside of my academic experience.  My committee adviser is Dr. Southern in the Chemistry department.  She has been my main point of contact in the committee as well as the person who I will meet with to receive feedback from the interview.

The process for a PAC letter of recommendation started a couple of months ago when I submitted four letters of recommendation from individuals (two from professors, one from a current doctor, and one from my current work supervisor).  I also submitted a personal statement, a few essay responses, my transcripts, and my resume.   

Most medical schools are now looking for a committee letter of recommendation from a pre-health committee at your school, so it's an important process and I'm happy to have the chance to bring many voices into one letter.  I've definitely felt supported by my professors and advisers in the process of applying to medical school.  The PAC letter is something students generally do as juniors or seniors, depending on when you are looking to apply to medical school.  So far, my main piece of advice in the PAC letter process is to start thinking early about your decision to apply to medical school and to think deeply about why you want to become a physician.


MCAT Time

 
(That's not me in the video....)​

​Well, now that I’m a junior it’s time that I get serious about studying for the MCAT.  This coming Wednesday I have my interview with the Pre-Health Advising Committee (PAC)  to get a committee letter of recommendation.  I started the process with the PAC at the beginning of this quarter when I submitted an application packet, a personal statement, and four letters of recommendation to the committee.  My interview this Wednesday will be the final step in getting a committee letter. 

I’m registered to take the MCAT August 28th, which gives me about 15 weeks to study.  I am taking a class through the Princeton Review this summer, but I know there is a lot to do on my own.  I only want to take the test once so it’s pretty important to me to really buckle down.  I’ve created a study schedule for these last four weeks of school and the two weeks of the summer before I start my class.  

My classes at DePaul have helped prepare me for the MCAT, and now it's really time to devote my personal time to areas that I need it the most (definitely physics).  I've gotten help from the pre-health adviser at DePaul as well as other students that have gone through the process.  Talking to other students has been really helpful because they understand the reality of juggling classes with studying for the MCAT.  

I'll keep you updated on my PAC committee letter interview this Wednesday and explain more about that process in the future.​

Applications of Calculus: The Gini Index

In calculus right now we are talking about the area between two curves as an application of integrals.  I was excited when we started talking about something called the Gini coefficient and the Lorenz curve.  It’s a crude, yet revealing, measure of inequality in a country.  There are many different things that a Gini index can be calculated for, but today we talked about the Gini index of income inequality in the US.  

We took data from the 2010 US Census based on the percent of income that various groups earn.  For example, the bottom 80% of the earners received about 49.8% of the total income, meaning that the top 20% earned about 50.2% of the total income (AHHHHH!).  We fit a few different best -fit lines to the data in order to calculate the Gini index, a number from 0 to 1.  An index closer to zero signifies less income inequality while a Gini index close to 1 would be indicative of a substantial amount of income inequality. 

 
To connect the class to the bigger picture… It was interesting to hear about income inequality from my calculus professor as well as from the perspective of mathematics.  I wish I could 100% say that the Vincentian mission is embedded in all of my classes, but there are probably classes where the Vincentian values aren’t necessarily applicable to the course content.  Yet, the the mission in other classes and in general interactions of people at DePaul has certainly been present.  ​
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Three Classes: Wooohoooo

As we start the third week of Spring Quarter I'm just beginning to get into my classes.  I'm trying to focus but for some reason this quarter has been a little different.  I was enrolled in four classes but decided to drop my fourth this past week, just before the deadline to drop a class. 

I'd say it's pretty common for me to change up my class schedule within the first week of classes.  I like to get a feel for the class and the professor, and if I need to change something I generally do what I can. 

This quarter I'm taking biochem 3, calculus 3, and doing in junior year experiential learning (JYEL) research (something you can choose depending on your major and interests).  This will definitely be one of the calmer quarters of my college career, and I'm going to try to take full advantage of that. 

Besides working a couple of jobs, I'm really trying to do a few other things.  I'm taking the MCAT this summer so I am spending about five hours or so a week right now studying as well.
 
Here's a little weekly goal list that I have:
- have a routine for taking a second to pause each day
- wake up at least an hour before my first committment each day
- watch one Khan Academy video a week
- read a book, not for school, at a new coffee shop or somewhere that I haven't been
- catch up with friends that I haven't seen in a while


Well, here's to a great quarter and hopefully a successful break from being 100% devoted to school.  I'll let you know how it's going.

You Heard of Khan Academy?

Khan Academy is hot stuff these days.  In the past two weeks at least five people have brought it up in conversation.  I first heard of it from my calculus professor this year that always includes a link to a few Khan Academy videos in the material he sends us every week.  Education is definitely changing and it's going to be interesting to see how things like Khan Academy factor in.
 
Khan academy brings this incredible means of education to essentially anyone with access to a computer and to internet.  It allows students to spend less time listening to lectures in the classroom and more time practicing knowledge and discussing things in the classroom.  I've got a slower quarter this Spring and I've made a goal to watch one video a week, just like 10-15 minutes or so.
 
I've used Khan Academy to supplement the materials I had for organic chemistry and for some of biochemistry.  It's nice to consult resources outside of what the professor provides because it helps me know that I'm not alone in what I am learning, and can also give me a different way of thinking about things than what might be presented by the professor.  This is cool because then we now have a few ways to look at something, like GPCRs (G-protein coupled receptors), for instance. 
 
I'm just beginning to explore the Khan Academy website.  In so many ways this is incredible.  There is even a section with videos all pertaining to the MCAT!  I think it's going to be pretty interesting to see how modes of education like Khan Academy will continue to be more integrated in to our education.  There's no doubt that these forms of education are going to become more prevalent in our lifetime.

I Think the Library Is Almost Full...

It's 2:00 in the morning on Sunday (I guess now Monday) March 17th.  Today a lot of us will start finals week.  This is my 8th finals week at DePaul and every one of them gets a little more intense.  Before now I've always tried to avoid the library during finals week because it has seemed so stressful in there, but it's been pretty nice to spend most of the day here.  I can take a break from studying and walk around to chat with friends and other people that I don't see very often.  It's great.  The first floor of the library was renovated this past year and it's a whole new world.  It's perfect because if you need a really quite place to study then that is available upstairs, but there's also space to chat with friend or group members and not feel bad about disturbing the people around you.   

The pictures below are just the first floor, but it's this busy on the 2nd, 3rd, and 4th floors.  I creeped so hard so that you could all see the real life of the library.  I'm no photographer so I apologize for the horrible lighting.  You should know that there's some real nice space in the JTR (the John T. Richardson library) that doesn't have fluorescent lighting. 

There's a ton of white board space in the library. There are walls of white board, moving white boards, and personal white boards. And you can rent out markers. It's awesome.
Sanna and Delaney "studying hard" for their organic II exam. But no really, they were working hard.