September 19, 2022

PAPPAS | Confessions of an Ex Pre-Med 

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As an English major and pre-med student who, in less than 24 hours of writing this column, pulled herself off the pre-med track, I want to dedicate this week’s column to my pre-med experience at Cornell, in all its horror and glory — but mostly horror. 

I often write these columns for myself, for reflection and closure and all the cathartic release that comes with writing about my own experiences. But today, I write for my current pre-meds, my prospective pre-meds and my fellow ex-pre-meds, too. I hope that reading my brutally honest review of the pre-med path can offer you a smile or maybe even a small laugh as you take your first set of prelims this week. Though you will most definitely recognize parts of my pre-med journey in your own, I hope that my criticisms of these classes don’t resonate too closely with you. I know they will — and you, secretly, do too — but I hope that your desire to go to med school is strong enough to make it all worth it because I know mine wasn’t. 

1. First up, CHEM 2070: General Chemistry I: The professor often has “outbursts” in lecture  — small fits of frustration — which seem to me to be a pathetic attempt to scare the freshmen out of their first pre-med class. We’ve all been yelled at before, by parents, coaches, teachers, you name it. We might’ve tolerated that in high school, but certainly not in college. Students don’t respond well to abrasive lecturing like this, and pretty much no one did. Chem 2070 feels like a 10 credit course, with the not-so-optional “peer-led” group sessions to compensate for the material the professor didn’t think to cover in lecture. Stuffing a bunch of pre-meds in a room to solve problems alone is absolutely ineffective and absurd — most of us are just as confused as the next, and those who aren’t won’t help their neighbors anyway because the class is graded on a curve. The fact that Chem 2070 introduced me to the fabulous Carol Turse (professional lab TA) and some of my closest friends here at Cornell is the sole reason this class even got a rating. 1/10 

2. CHEM 2080: General Chemistry II: Ten times better than CHEM 2070. The content didn’t get easier, but the course structure got much more straightforward.The course follows the textbook practically to the page, making the material much less frustrating. That said, the lab component was pretty brutal, as you’re expected to perform experiments that are hardly intuitive with only a simple lab sheet for explanation. If your experience in the lab is anything like mine, you’ll stand there for three hours watching a reaction that doesn’t run, collect data that can’t be used for your calculations and redo the lab the next week. Again, I only got through the lab component of this course with the generous help of the completely competent Carol Turse. 6/10 

3. BIOMG 1350: Introductory Biology: Cell and Developmental Biology: This class was pretty uneventful as I took it online. My experience was probably different from that of the pre-meds now, who can no longer struggle with the material from the comfort of their bed. The support class run by Beth Ogata was a lifesaver; do yourself a favor and enroll in the Canvas course page ASAP. No one tells you that the practice questions from the support class resemble the actual exam questions quite closely, so I’m telling you now (at least this was the case when I took the class in fall 2020). 5/10

4. BIOG 1440: Introductory Biology: Comparative Physiology: Believe them when they say that this course is uncurved. I didn’t think that uncurved bio classes at Cornell were a thing… evidently they are. This class is taught by three professors who can’t seem to agree on a single method of lecturing. Their attempt at explaining muscle and non-muscle movement with an elaborate dance scene motif certainly did not do it for me. The vision was there, but the product — or performance, if you will — fell short. Don’t listen to the professors when they tell you that the in-person lectures are mandatory, that they’ll cover material you won’t find in the recorded lectures but that will, indeed, show up on the prelims later. As someone who actually attended every single in-person lecture, I can tell you that they were not at all worth going to. Not a single question was given on the choreography of flagella or the lead roles of tubulin and dynein in Act I (the eukaryotic cell). 3/10 

Reading these reviews, most of you probably think I failed every single one of these general STEM courses. I didn’t. You don’t have to believe me, but some of you might when you consider what kind of student would write a column like this … not one who didn’t care about her work or her academic performance, that’s for sure. And yet, academic success doesn’t necessarily correlate with every other kind of success. Just because I did well enough in these classes doesn’t mean I didn’t hate every minute of them. 

This column isn’t meant to discourage you from the pre-med track, though it may seem that way. If you really want to be a doctor, you won’t mind sitting through too many office hours to get the wrong answer from a TA who actually doesn’t know the material as well as they think they do. You won’t mind building molecules from red, white and blue balls, pretending that they’re carbons, hydrogens and nitrogens. Actually, you’ll mind it all quite a bit. But you won’t mind it as much as I did. 

To all my ladies and gents still on the pre-med path, stay on it until your story starts to sound too much like mine — if it ever does. 

Isabelle Pappas (she/her) is a junior in the College of Arts and Sciences. She can be reached at [email protected] Like It Iz runs every other Monday this semester.