Occasionally it seems to a pre-health advisor that medical school is regarded as a prize for being really good in science classes. It isn’t; it’s a big commitment that nobody should make without having carefully explored what a career in medicine involves, including the sacrifices made by physicians and some of the frustrations they might face, in addition to what makes the profession rewarding.

And it’s a good idea to remember that there are many different roles in health care; being a physician is just one of them. An excellent resource that helps you see what other possibilities exist in health care is the web site www.ExploreHealthCareers.org which lists every health profession under the sun, and gives you information about them, as well as an excellent list of resources related to each one.

Continue reading “ExploreHealthCareers”

Learning from Grad Students About Graduate School

Peter Stokes

An essential part of figuring out if you are really interested in graduate school, and getting advice about how to get there, is to talk to people in the field that you want to get into. If you want to get a Ph.D., it’s vital to talk to faculty in a relevant field. If you’re considering an MBA, for example, it makes sense to talk with people in the industry you plan to go into, to investigate what the MBA will do for you, if there are specific programs to be recommended in your field—and even if you will actually need the MBA at all.

It’s also an excellent idea to talk to current graduate students in the field you’re interested in. They have been through this process of making decisions, and submitting applications, quite recently, after all. They can share their experiences of that—and also let you know what life really is like as a graduate student. A superb resource for Penn undergraduates who want to connect with graduate or professional students at Penn in any of a very wide variety of fields is the Graduate/Undergraduate Mentoring Program, run out of the Graduate Student Center. If you go to www.gsc.upenn.edu/mentoring you’ll find information about the program, and the form to fill out if you want to be assigned a graduate student mentor. It’s a terrific way to meet and learn from someone doing what you hope to do.

For Those About To Apply…

by Peter Stokes

If you’re a junior or senior even considering applying to medical or dental school this summer, in order to be admitted in 2013, then make sure you come to one of our mandatory workshops for applicants that are coming up soon. For medical school, you have a choice of any of 5 different workshops. There is one workshop for dental applicants; if you really can’t make it, let us know in advance. The workshops are listed on the pre-graduate/professional school advising calendar, here: http://www.vpul.upenn.edu/careerservices/gradprof/calendar.html#medprograms

At the workshops we will explain the application process in detail. We will also explain the process that you go through with this office this spring. Basically, after you’ve come to a workshop, you’ll meet with a pre-health advisor for an in-depth conversation about the things you’ve done in the classroom and extra-curricularly, and you’ll also meet for a relatively formal interview with a faculty or staff member who has generously volunteered time to help with this process. That latter interview will serve as valuable practice for you; it is good preparation to have to talk about yourself and reflect on why you are pursuing this field and the choices you have made in preparing for it.

Before you meet with your pre-health advisor, we also require you to prepare some documents. We ask you to respond to a questionnaire, designed to help you reflect on your application and what your strengths are. We ask for an expanded resume, very much along the lines of what ultimately you will enter into your actual application. And we ask you to calculate your science GPA. All of these things are designed to help you submit a good, thoughtful application later. They also help us write an official, Penn HPAB (Health Professions Advisory Board) letter in support of your application, as is expected by medical and dental schools for those still in undergrad, which goes out along with the letters written by your teachers and mentors and so forth.

So in exchange for attending a workshop and two interviews, preparing some documents, and meeting some necessary deadlines, you get a detailed, official letter written to advocate for you, as well as extensive guidance and support in putting together your applications thoughtfully and well. We look forward to working with you!

In a nutshell: deciding to go to graduate school

by Peter Stokes

The vast majority of Penn alumni go on to graduate/professional school at some point (roughly 20% go immediately after graduation, and 70%+ go within 10 years of graduating). These are high numbers, and this seems to me an excellent thing, but it’s important that people go to the right kind of graduate school, and at the right time—and think carefully about what will happen after graduate school. Graduate school is demanding and can be expensive, and it’s important that you make an informed choice to make sure that the investment of time, effort and money is worthwhile. That may well mean waiting until after you have gained some experience other than being a student (a job, service work) before applying.

Here, in as small a nutshell as I can manage, are some good, and some much less good, approaches to deciding on graduate school:

  • Good reasons to go to graduate school:
    • You have figured out the career path you want to follow, at least in the medium term. You have done plenty of research, including talking with people who have advanced in your chosen field, and know that you need a graduate degree, and which one.
    • You love scholarly work with a passion (crucial for a Ph.D.), and are confident you will continue to for 2-5+ years of study of a narrow topic.
  • Bad reasons to go to graduate school:
    • You don’t know what else to do, or you assume there are no decent jobs for people with Bachelor’s degrees anyway. (Have you come in to talk to a counselor in Career Services?)
    • You’re really good at school, so you think you should keep on doing it. And maybe as a result, family or friends, not necessarily experts in the career(s) you’re interested in, have said you should go to grad school.

See also: http://www.vpul.upenn.edu/careerservices/gradprof/grad/consider.html  and of course feel free to connect with a pre-graduate school advisor!

The Revised GRE

by Peter M. Stokes

As any of you who have heard me speak may have guessed, I hail from the United Kingdom, a magical land where Harry Potter casts his spells, entire summers pass without the sun appearing, and graduate schools don’t require the GRE[*]. Here in the real world of the USA, however, most of you planning on applying to graduate schools that don’t have their own kind of standardized test will need at some point to take the Graduate Record Examination.  In fact, though, if you take the test after August 1st, 2011, you will take the GRE Revised General Test.

The test is changing this summer, both in the way that questions are structured and in scoring.  Scary as change can be, this actually looks like a good thing.  Gone from the verbal section will be, for example, antonym questions that permit allow test-takers to succeed purely through memorization.  Instead the test will emphasize things like text completion and reading comprehension that require a more global understanding of the English language in context.  In the quantitative section the emphasis will be on data interpretation and problems explained in terms of real-world scenarios.  There will actually be an on-screen calculator so as to de-emphasize basic calculation in favor of the ability to reason through problems.

In terms of scoring, the 200-800 scale with 10 point increments will be replaced by a 130-170 scale in 1-point increments.  The idea, evidently, is that small differences in scores aren’t really very significant, and they want to make that clear by having differences of, say, 2-3 points instead of 20-30 because the zero makes the difference seem big (really, no kidding here).  Presumably this won’t provide problems in comparing scores across the old and new tests since schools will also be able to look at percentiles as well as the raw scores.

For much more information on the revised test, see: http://www.ets.org/gre/revised_general/know

But what should you do?  Take the test now?  After August 1st?  Run screaming in panic down Locust Walk?

One concrete reason to take the test before August would be if you need your score before mid-November (which is before most grad school deadlines—but that’s something to check).  I assume they want to wait that long before giving scores so that they have a big batch of scores and can make sure they’re scoring equitably. In any event, they won’t release any revised GRE scores until November.

A concrete reason to take the test after August 1 is that between then and the end of September, they sweeten the deal by giving you 50% off (and the thing costs $160).

More generally, though, I don’t see a particular reason to rush to take the current test this year if you weren’t already going to do it that soon.  As I say, the test looks like it will actually improve.  However, you might want to take the test this summer, perhaps because you’re planning on applying in the fall and the summer is when you have time, or because you’re graduating and just want to make sure you have the test done before applying later.  In that case, you might consider shooting for before August 1 just because there are plenty of preparation materials and practice tests available for the current, soon-to-be-superseded test.

Having said that, though, there are already some materials and practice tests for the revised GRE too, and you’ll find some available for free by scrolling to the bottom of the page linked above.  And as always, if you’re perplexed about the GRE or any aspects of planning for graduate school, please make use of the pre-grad advising services here in Career Services.

[*] OK, a couple programs at places like LSE might just ask for it, so if you want to apply to programs in the UK, do check, and buy an umbrella.