January 26, 2012

My Semester in the (Relatively) Real World

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The first semester of vet school officially ended earlier this month, when we had our last set of final exams.  People ask me if it lived up to my expectations, and I find that a hard question to answer.  I dreamed of going to vet school on and off for as long as I can remember, and I don’t think I really ever formed expectations about it beyond the hazy ideas I had when I was five years old and saw vet school as this giant black box where you go in one side and come out the other a few years later as a fully fledged veterinarian.  I told people that I chose to come to Cornell because I was impressed with the quality of education that it offers.  If pressed I would say that it seemed to have access to more resources and the problem-based learning approach was intriguing, but I don’t classify those as expectations of the process of vet school as a whole.  So I can’t compare the first semester of vet school to what I thought it should be like.  What I can do is unveil a little bit of that black box, because I can say with absolute certainty that I already feel like a different person.

On an objective level, life is not dramatically different from when I was an undergrad.  I go to school, study and hang out with friends — okay, that last one a little less than before.  I lived off campus last year so paying rent/bills/feeding myself isn’t a new experience, and I didn’t even have to adjust to a new city.  It was to the point that I thought I wouldn’t really “grow up” over the next four years, I would just watch my friends with jobs maturing and envy their ability to buy fancy work clothes in pricey stores — really, where do you shop when you’re a college graduate but not working yet and still on a student budget?  So I was surprised to go home for Christmas and find everyone suddenly treating me like I really deserved to sit at the adult table.

I think the most significant change is that my classmates and I feel like we need to remember everything we learn because it might come up some day when an animal’s life is on the line.  Studying is much more serious, because it’s not just a means to get an A anymore. Everyone really wants to be here and do well.  The whole “cram so you can forget it after the test” mentality is almost gone, because it’s no longer our job to get good grades so we can get into vet school, but to remember things so we can be good vets when we graduate.

To clarify, here are some examples of how I’ve noticed distinct changes in the way I think now, compared to when I was an undergrad.  For starters, the level of respect my class members have for each other, especially in an academic setting, is incredible.  In the past there were always people in classes who didn’t seem like they cared to be there, or who you could never really trust to do their share of the work, or who were just occasionally blatantly disrespectful.   However, everyone in my vet school class is completely dedicated to the work and even when we disagree about things people tend to argue rationally and not spitefully.  It’s to the point that we call each other out when we feel like the class needs to modify its behavior in school.  I was thinking about this the other day, and realized that technically we will all be part of each other’s professional careers for the rest of our lives, which adds a dimension to class dynamics that I’ve never encountered before.

Also, for the first time I’ve really had to think about what I want to do with my life.  Until now, getting into vet school had been my ultimate goal.  I had an idea of what field of veterinary medicine I was most interested in, and although it hasn’t changed, it seems very much more real to me now than it ever did before.  The obstacle of admission to vet school has been removed, and I suddenly have my whole life in front of me.

Lastly, I’ve felt like I’ve been suddenly immersed into a professional culture that I previously had no idea even existed. I follow the major veterinary news sources on Twitter and Google Reader, and learn about current issues in veterinary medicine at school. My classmates and I interact with world-renowned faculty and visiting lecturers and have free journals e-mailed to us. On top of that, the names of pet food, drug companies and common anatomical terms have become household words. I’ve complained in the past about how I feel like vet school is isolated from the rest of the world and we spend too much time with each other and not enough with anyone else. Now I’m starting to think that this isolation makes us feel like we’re becoming part of a profession that can make a real difference in the world.

So there’s a little bit of my evolution — in the literary rather than scientific sense — as a vet student.  I’m excited about the changes I’ve noticed and look forward to seeing what else is going to happen.

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 protected]. Hoof in Mouth appears alternate Fridays this semester.

Original Author: Nikhita Parandekar