MCAT 2015 – Planning Ahead

UnknownYour planning and decisions regarding MCAT2015 are an excellent topic of conversation for a meeting with a pre-health advisor.  People have always made very different decisions about how to prepare for the MCAT and when to take it.  Everyone, though, should be aware of the current resources provided by the AAMC regarding the changing exam, outlined on the AAMC’s Preparing for the MCAT2015 Exam web page.  Here you can find a calendar showing when the new exam will be administered, a link to concepts covered on the exam, information about purchasing the Official Guide to MCAT2015 (available for review in our office), information about purchasing sample questions included in The Official Guide to the MCAT Exam (MCAT2015) ($10 separate from the Guide purchase), links to review materials available through MedEd PORTAL’s iCollaborative and Khan Academy, and information about the forthcoming Official MCAT2015 Practice Test #1 (should be available later this fall) and Official Study Questions (should be available early in 2015).  If you are taking this exam, following this web page.  You can also follow announcements via the AAMC on Facebook and Twitter.

Those of you planning to take the “old” MCAT in January: consider that if you are later in a position of needing to retake the MCAT, you will be studying for a very different exam.  Also, while many medical schools will accept the “old” MCAT for the usual amount of time (which varies by school), some are only accepting MCAT2015 during the next or following cycle.  The current information regarding how long scores from the “old” exam will be accepted, by school, is available here.  The same information for osteopathic medical schools is available via a pre-health advisor.  Note, as always, the small print:  “Policies subject to change. Contact individual medical schools for most current information.”  When in doubt, do not hesitate to contact individual schools with questions.

Feeling like a Champion – My summer in Germany 2014!

This is the next in a series of posts by recipients of the Career Services Summer Funding grant.  We’ve asked funding recipients to reflect on their summer experiences and talk about the industries in which they’ve been spending the summer.  You can read the entire series here.

This blog is by Ashlee Anderson, SEAS ’15

After traveling for almost 12 hours, arriving in Düsseldorf was a bit of a daze. As I walked into the arrivals hall, there stood a McDonalds and a couple feet away a Starbucks, so it didn’t quite feel like I was in a different country. It wasn’t until I walked into a supermarket and realized that I couldn’t understand anything that was being said or read anything that I saw, that it hit me – I was in Germany, and I was about to embark on one of the best experiences of my life!
By the first weekend I could tell that my time in Germany was going to be nothing short of extraordinary. I experienced a record-breaking heat wave, followed by a massive thunderstorm, the worst the region has seen in over twenty years. But that night as the rains fell and the winds blew I was too excited to be bogged down by the weather. In fact, watching the storm from my window was more intriguing than anything else. It seemed somehow like the lightening and the thunder were more impressive in Germany. And not to be disappointed, the marvel of German efficiency shone true over the next couple days as streets and railways were cleared in impeccable time and the city of Essen was back to normal in a matter of days!

As the month of June went on, the excitement of learning German, exploring the Ruhr area, making news friends, and of course, being in Germany for the World Cup, grew with every passing day. I love languages so it was a joy going to our German class everyday, learning the language and the culture, and seeing evidence of their efficiency everywhere, even in their grammar! The university tours, company visits and cultural excursions throughout the Ruhr area were equally as interesting. The Civil Engineering department at the University of Essen made the theory of stress and strain practical as we tested the yielding point of concrete samples; as a Mechanical Engineer I felt right at home as during our tour of TU Dortmund’s Institute of Forming and Lightweight Technologies; and the Ruhr University in Bochum knew that we wouldn’t be able to resist delicious ice-cream made from liquid nitrogen! The company visits left me awestruck. The vastness of the Thyssen Krupp steel manufacturing plant, the depth of the Prosper Haniel Coal Mine, and the simple genius of the Axel Springer printing press gave me a new appreciation for the manufacturing industry and a deeper understanding of why German products are so revered. And the cultural excursions were not to be out done! Our visit to Zeche Zollverein, an old coalmine that has been refurbished into a museum, was a perfect example of how old and new can co-exist; and the FC Shalke 04 football stadium was in one word – impressive. Not surprisingly, one of the most impressive things about the stadium was the amount of beer sold on a typical match day, and subsequently, their ingenious beer distribution system that keeps their fans happy and refreshed. There was truly no better place to enjoy good beer and exciting football than in Germany this summer.

By the time July came around German spirits were high as the national team advanced gallantly through the World Cup, and there was good weather for the lucky lot who were enjoying their three-week vacation. My high sprits however came from the excitement of starting my internship at TRIMET Aluminum AG Essen. At TRIMET, I was introduced to the primary manufacturing stage of aluminum, that is, the process of converting aluminum oxide (alumina) to molten aluminum via electrolysis. The molten aluminum is then transferred to the furnace where various alloying elements are added based on customer specifications. Finally the liquid metal is casted into either slabs, ingots or billets, heat treated, and packaged for customer delivery.

I worked on two main projects in the R&D division while at TRIMET. The first was an independent project: a literature review on the use of aluminum alloys in crash boxes and crash management systems in the automotive industry. As a senior planning to pursue graduate studies in Automotive Engineering this project was of particular interest to me. Though most of my initial days were spend siting at my desk reading, I enjoyed it and from it I gained a wealth of knowledge I would not have otherwise encountered. In addition, it gave me time to become acquainted with the machines and processes throughout the labs and to get to know my coworkers without the pressure of a hectic project. The second project was collaboration between myself and another student intern investigating the feasibility of implementing a new casting method. This project was a lot more hands on and I had the opportunity to be involved in each stage of the research and development process. Like the previous project, I started off reading a couple papers and reports, but by the time lunch rolled around I had donned my safety gear, hard hat, steel-toed boots, glasses and all, and I was on my way to the casting house. One of the fascinating things about doing R&D at TRIMET was that there were dedicated R&D furnaces and casting pits right alongside the furnaces and casting pits used in production, so I truly felt like I played a role in the entire process which was as important as the employee standing next to me. After setting up the casting table, adding the alloying elements to the furnace and casting the aluminum billets we took some samples back to the lab where I was taught how to grind, polish and etch the aluminum samples in order to analyze the microstructure.

Though I gained a lot of knowledge and practical skills in just a month, my experience at TRIMET would not have been the same without the people. The R&D division at TRIMET is a close-knit family and they welcomed me with open arms. The diligent handshakes each morning, the anticipated chorus of “Mahlzeit” (which translates to Mealtime) as we prepared for lunch, and the well needed coffee chats after lunch to give us that extra kick for the last couple hours of the day, each experience teaching me a little more about German culture and the warmth of the German people.

It seems that my time in Germany ended almost as soon as it begun, but not without a few more memorable moments: Germany being crowned World Cup Champions 2014, fireworks along the Rhine in Cologne, the sunrise in Vondelpark, Amsterdam, and pub hopping in Brussels, just to name a few. I guess it really is true that time flies when you’re having fun!

Balancing Act: thinking about the future and being present here, now

Last night at Penn Convocation, I listened to remarks by several senior leaders, all of whom offered good advice. Trustee Claire Lomax, Col ’84, greeted new students on behalf of the board and Penn alumni. One of her statements really resonated with me. She told the students to “be present,” to enjoy and fully participate in Penn and the Penn community. Oh, sure, you may be saying, of course I will do that. But too often, we meet students, be they undergraduates or graduate students, who are so focused on the future, on the next step, that they do not fully engage now in all that Penn has to offer, both academically and in the range of activities beyond the classroom or the lab.

This may seem counterintuitive for a Career Services person to be saying, but it really isn’t. Don’t select classes to protect your GPA. Learn something new, even though you may not get an A. Pick up a new skill or try a new activity (an intramural sport or a performing arts group, for example), as Provost Vincent Price suggested during his Convocation speech. The choices, both on campus and off, are well beyond anything a great many of you have seen before. Be here, and by fully engaging, you might serendipitously discover a path to your future. But don’t choose something for that reason alone. Being present is its own reward, one you don’t want to miss.

On behalf of everyone in Career Services, all the best for a great semester.

Lessons Learned from a Summer with the Civil Rights Bureau of the NYAG

This is the next in a series of posts by recipients of the Career Services Summer Funding grant.  We’ve asked funding recipients to reflect on their summer experiences and talk about the industries in which they’ve been spending the summer.  You can read the entire series here.

This blog is by Iris Zhang, CAS ’16.

I spent this summer as an economics and statistics intern with the civil rights bureau of the New York State Attorney General’s Office. As someone who grew up in Hong Kong, I felt incredible nostalgia to be back in a big city, although my personal biases dictate that New York City doesn’t even compare to one-tenth of how amazing Hong Kong is. The civil rights bureau, though, that’s something else. I am a rising junior, and ever since freshman year when I took the Benjamin Frnaklin Seminar, “Race, Crime and Punishment”, with Professor Marie Gottschalk, I became incredibly driven to civil rights issues, in addition to my passion for women’s rights. After spending my freshman summer interning with the Institute for Women’s Policy Research in D.C., I became highly aware of the important role numbers play in impacting policy. Discouraged by the political climate in which not much gets done regardless, I was interested in the use of numbers and statistics to make forceful legal arguments – the legal arena, it seems, is a much more effective (though not always more efficient) way of ensuring our rights and liberties through enforcement.

The civil rights bureau was the perfect place for me to test this instinct – I met some of the most passionate and talented attorneys who use their gift for a truly important cause. My role as an economics/statistics intern was to analyze large sets of data to extract meaningful statistics that indicated evidence of discrimination in aid of the bureau’s various legal investigations. I started the summer hoping to find out more how lawyers build numbers and statistics into their arguments, and now that I have tearfully bid farewell to the summer, I have come to a few conclusions about statistics and the law.

1. The application of statistics can be hard!
This is probably because I am neither a lawyer nor a statistician. All of the sets of data that I worked with were completely new to me (and in some cases, new to the attorneys too). The problem with this is I didn’t quite know how and where to start. You have the data, but this might be a new type of litigation or a new type of data, and you go into it not even knowing if there is anything meaningful contained within the numbers. For example, there was a discrimination case we were working on, and we had this data set with well over a million entries in the excel spreadsheet. The investigation had already cycled through 4 or 5 interns. I had never seen that data before or even heard about this type of legal issue. It was a lot of finding my way in the dark, and that in itself pushed me to want to learn more about statistics, because part of the learning process is developing the mindset to see a big body of data and think – okay, what can I find out? The lawyer’s mindset is surprisingly well-adapted to that. They would ask, “do we have information on how many people who were hired are minority applicants?” “Okay, so do we have information on how many people who applied were minority applicants?” “Do we know the demographics of the market pertaining to this job?” These are easy enough questions to ask if you are a lawyer because they are grounded in legal theory, and it was so interesting to churn out numbers for the attorneys to analyze. I was learning – okay, if you want to prove employment discrimination, the law says this – at the same time as I was learning whether the numbers complement that legal theory. But it was hard. Government bureaus don’t have that much money, so they find some 20-year-old hack (me) to try to make sense of the data, and I was really grateful for the experience.

2. Numbers lie
You can’t always trust numbers – they can be easily manipulated. In a discrimination investigation we conducted, we wanted to compare our target to its peers to prove that their discriminatory practices were yielding disparate impact, and statistically significant differences are a good way of supplementing observations. The numbers can lie if you alter what you define as “peer”. If you compare the target to their stronger, bigger competitors, they most certainly will fall short. The target wants to be compared against their weaker, smaller competitors to come out on top. So the question is – which peers do we compare them to? In this case, one really has to peruse the data carefully and base that determination on strong theory. But perhaps the better way to phrase this conclusion is to borrow the catchphrase from the NRA – numbers don’t lie, people do.

3. You can’t rely on numbers too much
Bouncing off the previous thought, if numbers lie, then you really can’t rely on numbers. On top of that, there can also be human error. For example, we had a data set that had total occurrences of a particular incident in 3 years, and also population information for 3 years. Do get the rate per unit of population, you can either use the total occurrences in 3 years divided by the total population in 3 years; or the average occurrences divided by the average population. In my initial analysis, I used the total occurrences divided by the average population, so the rate became way, way inflated. I was so embarrassed when I double-checked the data and noticed my mistake because it seemed so basic, but luckily, despite my frantic explanation, the attorneys didn’t seem to have an idea what I was talking about. This was a silly error, but on a more serious note, the experience solidified what a mentor had once cautioned me about using numbers. She said that numbers can certainly make a point, but numbers can be a convenient way for people to stave off having to make more important moral calculations. Even with no mistakes, on paper, the numbers might make it seem justified to take an action when it might not be the most morally sound idea.

I was extremely grateful to have had this learning experience, and it only served to solidify my interest in the application of statistics in law and social sciences. Without funding from Career Services, however, I would never have been able to afford the exorbitance of New York City.

How I Made Networking Feel Good

This is the next in a series of posts by recipients of the Career Services Summer Funding grant.  We’ve asked funding recipients to reflect on their summer experiences and talk about the industries in which they’ve been spending the summer.  You can read the entire series here.

This blog is by Jessica Schneider, CAS ’15

No longer are your qualifications enough. In a tough job market, especially for young people, it’s essential. You likely never met someone who enjoys networking. If name tags, business cards, and forced conversation is unappealing, I’m here to say why you’ve probably just been doing it wrong.

I gave OCR (On-Campus Recruiting) at Penn a first try this past year. It was a total disaster. We stood around with company representatives in little groups, and one eager-beaver asked of questions while the rest of us listened uncomfortably to their one-on-one banter. At some point, I would try to break in to shake the representative’s hand and blurt out, “thank you so much, it was great meeting you!”

This is wrong, I thought. There has to be a better way!

That’s when I resolved use my internship this summer in the U.S. Senate to learn how to network. After all, it’s the honest-to-goodness folks in politics who say: it’s all about who you know. This is what I learned.

Have a goal in mind: Networking starts before you are looking for a job. Building your network, you will:

  • ž   Explore your options in a general field
  • ž   Learn more about particular professions
  • ž   Meet other professionals

I always keep these things in mind, and use them to avoid the scary term “networking.”

Where to start: I signed up for every networking event on my radar—sometimes three per day! Penn has great communities of alumni and organizations like Career Services who put together events and make this easy. Office parties count also. Practice, practice, practice! The first five or even ten events that I attended felt uncomfortable, but eventually I caught on. It’s a learning curve; I recommend that you get this phase over with a.s.a.p.

The next steps: Reach out to people individually. I spoke with my own friends, recent grads, family, coworkers, and former offices first, and then asked for suggestions of people in my field whom I should meet, along with a connection request. Start a running checklist.

About that “awkward”: Do you remember your goals? You aren’t networking; you are exploring, learning, and meeting. Events and meetings are not about you, they are about the person with whom you are meeting and their experiences.

  • ž   Avoid vague questions such as, “What is it like to work at ____?” Instead, ask about their personal experiences, their tricks of the trade, their favorite experiences, their rookie mistakes, them, them, and them. Each person is different and speaks best about her/his own experiences.
  • ž   Do not ask people about advice for yourself such as, “Do you suggest I pursue a law degree?” because only you know what is best for you. Instead, ask about what they did/would do in that situation.
  • ž   Never ask something that you can Google—it wastes both your time and theirs. Instead, ask about their own personal experience with the subject.
  • ž   At events, don’t spend the whole time with one person; that’s what one-on-ones are for. Meet, ask a few questions, and spend some time, but don’t stay for her/his life story.
  • ž   Relax, and smile!

Be outgoing—at an event or meeting, you already know that people are friendly and ready to share. The only way that you can turn someone cold is by dominating the conversation, making it about yourself, or dismissing what they have to say, but these are general rules about being nice.

On following up: Follow up so much that you find yourself sending friends a thank you text after a fun Saturday night. Eventually, this became second nature for me, and now I feel rude if I don’t follow up in a timely manner. It sure comes off rude if I don’t. Typing my follow up in the same language that I use to speak makes this speedy, saying thank you again, what I took away from the conversation, maybe a reminder to send something we spoke about, or perhaps attaching my resume if she/he asked. I never, never, never send form emails. Following up is the Holy Grail, so don’t forget it on the kitchen counter.

Networking can be fun. You’ll meet interesting people, hear fun stories, learn the real ins and outs of a job, and get lots of free hors d’oeuvres! I could not be any more grateful for the opportunity to spend the summer in Washington, DC and take a crash course in making professional friends. Reach out to me any time, and I’ll be happy to tell you more about my experience in learning to network.