This time of year is making me a little nostalgic because it was always my favorite part of life as an undergraduate. It’s finally May, the last of the snow is done with (probably), the bugs aren’t really out yet and it’s Slope Day week which means one last push before fun and friends and finals. While the first three are still true (with an emphasis on the probably for the snow…), we still have class for another couple of weeks so it’ll be a little while longer until I can go outside and lay on the grass and enjoy May in Ithaca. Anyways, while I was reminiscing about Nelly and senior week and graduation (all of which I seem to remember more clearly than what I learned in school last week), I started to think about how I viewed school differently back then than I do now.
There was really only one main shift in my attitude towards school when I was an undergrad. First semester freshman year, I was struck by the novelty of the whole concept that I was only accountable to myself and no one would stop me from skipping class if I wanted to. Fairly quickly however, I realized that I was paying a lot of money to go to class and should probably not let it go to waste. And that was pretty much how I viewed school for the rest of college. I signed up for classes I was interested in which gave me incentive to study and I would say that I had a fairly enjoyable academic career. (Maybe minus Orgo. I thought I would love orgo but I could never find a convincing reason to memorize everything they wanted us to know.)
So when I started vet school I thought I had the whole Cornell student thing down. I was, after all, a professional student now, and how different could it be from what I had been doing for the past four years? As it turned out, it could be a lot different. I went into the first set of exams thinking a little too much like an undergrad. There’s a point in studying when you know you’ve probably studied enough to be at least one standard deviation above the curve. Unfortunately, there are no curves in vet school, and studying like that just doesn’t cut it.
This left me doubting all of my study habits, which I really shouldn’t have. There are two things I wish I had known before vet school, and one of them is to have absolute faith in your study habits because you’ve spent 16 years developing them. (The other is to start studying from day one because no one is going to tell you what you need to know which usually means you need to know everything). So I started trying everything people were recommending — studying in groups, drawing on a whiteboard more, drawing less, going to the library, making flashcards — much of which was kind of a waste of time and left me stressed and not enjoying school like I thought I would.
I came to second semester armed with the studying-from-day-one and maintaining-study-habits knowledge and found that I enjoyed school a lot more. At the time, I thought it was because we just weren’t in Block I anymore (Block I is the first set of classes where we learn anatomy and it’s supposed to be one of the hardest parts of the curriculum), but looking back on it I think that I was actually enjoying the whole process of studying more. That being said, I still felt like I had something to prove and my studying was geared more towards learning for the exams than learning for myself.
Now that we’re in our third block of classes, I think that I’ve finally remembered that I enjoy learning because I like to know things, and as long as I keep that mentality I’ll (hopefully) know all that I need to know when it comes time for the exams. I’ve always wanted to try to be the best at whatever it is I’ve decided to do (who doesn’t want that?) but I’m starting to think that “best” can’t be measured quantitatively on tests, and instead I should look at how happy and proud I am of the depth of information that I’ve absorbed, instead of the breadth of information I’ve crammed. It’s possible that this is all just a nice philosophy that’s going to fly out the window when finals are a few days away, but even when I’m cramming for finals I hope I can keep it in the back of my head. I’ve definitely come a long way since freshman year, and I think I’ve finally found the state of mind that will let me stay sane and (relatively) happy through the rest of vet school.
I’d like to end this column by thanking everyone who’s read it in the past year. You’ve sometimes been a tough crowd, but I’ve learned a lot and hope I’ve given you some things to think about as well. I’ll always respond to e-mails as long as they’re not offensive or rude, but I love to hear your comments and constructive criticism. I wish I had one of those news anchor sign-offs right now, but since I don’t, I’ll just end with thanks and have a great summer!
Nikhita Parandekar graduated from Cornell in 2011 and is a first-year veterinary student in the Cornell College of Veterinary Medicine. She may be reached at email@example.com. Hoof in Mouth appears alternate Fridays this semester.