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.
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.
This time of year is pretty exciting because of all the looming change. Whether you're getting ready to graduate high school or to start your senior year, it's time to start transitioning. Change is fun!
Here are five things that I wish I did before starting college at DePaul:
(1) Identify a mentor for the next four years, someone that you will be able to look up to for guidance. This may be someone in your potential career field or someone from back home that you're particularly fond of. Whoever it is, it may be best that they are a bit older and ready to give honest advice. This could also be a DePaul professor. In fact, that would be excellent because they can help you navigate your four years while also being someone that will see you change through your time here. I've had a faculty mentor (Dr. Caitlin Karver) and I can't stress enough how thankful for her I am. So, take a leap and reach out to someone (a professor, someone in Chicago, someone back home). Think about your support system, who you go to when you need help or support.
(2) Do some introspection. Think about the core of who you are. You're going to be challenged by a lot of new things in college, but what are some things that you're not willing to give up? What are some things you're ready to move past? College is a fantastic time to let these changes happen :)
Make a list of goals. Like real, solid goals. They could be long term (4 years and above) or short term (1 year) goals. Even goals that may seem impossible. Challenge yourself to set expectations. It may help you start taking advantage of the incredible things that DePaul and Chicago offer! For example, "Tom's goal #1 as an entering freshman at DePaul: Ride on every single CTA
bus line start to finish"- Such a great way to see new neighborhoods. Goal status: incomplete (because I didn't articulate this goal before starting college!) :(
(4) Summer, Summer, Summer. This summer you should do something life-giving. Something that will give you energy that you can take with when you go to college. For example, maybe get a job working at a summer camp. You'll have countless stories when you get to college. Or, get a fun job where you learn something new. Make memories with your parents, family, loved ones. Then, document your memories! I can't tell you how many times freshman year I went through the pictures from my summer before. It was comforting and helped me remember some of the people I loved when I wasn't seeing them all the time.
(5) Get ready for a hell of an incredible experience! I'm not sure how to prepare for this, but just get excited. You're soon to embark on a fantastic journey. Celebrate your success so far and prepare so that you can thrive in college.
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 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 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 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.
1) You're about to have access to one of the biggest cities in the US. Take advantage of it, it's what makes DePaul unique. The fun events, the food, the cultures, the companies, the volunteer opportunities. Of course it depends on what you're studying, but the point is that there's something for almost everyone. Unless you're hoping to work exploring the mountains, there's a good chance that you can find something to do off campus. I waited too long to get involved in things off campus, and I regret doing so.
The Vincentian mission
can have an impact on your experience, if you choose so. I knew nothing about the mission before coming to DePaul, but freshman year I got involved in DCSA
(DePaul Community Service Association) and went on a service immersion trip to New Orleans. These experiences started something that made my time extra special at DePaul. The experiences helped me better understand what I want to do after college and how I see myself staying connected to the values that DePaul is founded on. The two pictures below are of my group on a service immersion trip to Philadelphia.
You're going to have more options of what type of people you're surrounded by, and they will deeply impact you. Your friends and their interests, work ethic, and choices will change you, and it's important to be ready for that. In some cases this might require adaptability and in other it will require strength to move on from new friendships. There are a lot of different people here. Some people are really
passionate about social justice, some are looking to be top business executives, some are here for more fun, and many are figuring out who they are. You get to choose how to spend your four years and who to spend them around, but know that they go dang fast. The picture below is of some of my closest friends at DePaul after our intramural inner tube water polo championship game.
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.
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.
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.
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.