If I could redo my college experience, I would do a few things differently! I was a collegiate athlete for four years, I competed in archery throughout my entire degree and also wrestling for one year. I was involved in many clubs and organizations; for my last two years of college, I was the president of two honor societies, our student body, peer mentor, collegiate athlete, Senior Resident Assistant, and a few more extracurriculars. I do not regret being involved in any of these, I only regret not stepping down from several leadership positions my last semester. I think my senior year wouldn’t have been so difficult if I could have just focused on my studies and preparing for graduate school. This would also have allowed more time to study for the MCAT.
Based on my experience here are some things that can help you stand out:
Sports, leadership on your campus, showing initiative, your research project and community service.
There are so many things that students can do to stand out, however, I believe that you need to keep your number small, that way you can be the best at what you do. If you spread yourself too thin you will end up being mediocre at everything. I chose to focus on sports, several leadership positions, showing initiative, my research, and completing a LOT of community service.
Sports demonstrate work ethic, leadership, and your long term dedication. Having leadership positions on your campus is essential because Medical or Graduate schools obviously want to work with the best and especially with those who create organizations where there is a need. Everyone applying is trying to make their application stand out from the crowd! An example of how I demonstrated initiative: student representation was limited in my undergraduate institution, so I helped initiate my College’s Student Governing Body and served as President for two years. I had a personal mission of getting representation for every student to improve the quality of college life, create a forum for students to provide visionary leadership, and develop a vehicle to strengthen relationships across the campus community. I made sure to include this in my statement of purpose and bring this up in my interviews.
During my undergraduate program, I conducted a research project with a long term goal of exploring therapeutic drug strategies to combat skeletal muscle atrophy, which results from a myriad of conditions such as recovery from surgery, the aging process, and most importantly, cancer treatments. I made sure to include in my statement of purpose that my passion for developing this project grew out of my wish to improve healthcare for patients struggling with the side effects of chemotherapy, specifically muscle atrophy. I had seen this first hand when my father passed away from cancer. This demonstrated a personal connection to my project and enabled my interviewers to see my passion for working in cancer research. The mechanistic target of rapamycin (mTOR) pathway is involved in muscle hypertrophy by increasing protein synthesis. Current research demonstrates that the presence of multiple activators leads to higher stimulation of mTORC1; however, no research directly explores the effect that simultaneous activation and inhibition has on mTORC1. My hypothesis was “Concurrent inhibitory and stimulatory signals to TSC1/2 will result in upregulation of mTORC1 signaling.” I used Rat2 fibroblasts to serve as a model for muscle atrophy, treating them with insulin to upregulate Akt and 5-Aminoimidazole-4-carboxamide ribonucleotide (AICAR) to activate AMPK. The research results supported my hypothesis and fueled my passion to continue the research, but with a focus on therapeutic strategies for type II diabetes. Doing research in undergraduate is essential for entrance into a fully-funded high ranking Ph.D. program. You should also try and work in a lab over the summer, and get your name published on the paper the lab is working on. (This is something that I wasn’t able to do!) I did not have as much practical lab experience as I wanted coming into the interview process for grad school.
Lastly: large amounts of community service demonstrate your willingness to get your hands dirty. This is something that is important both for medical and graduate school. An extreme quantity of community service will make you stand out. I have over 500+ hours of community service on my application and interviewers definitely pointed it out!