Being a Pre-Med in the College of Ag, Health & Natural Resources

By Kathleen Renna

Believe it or not, the amount of times I am sitting in a pre-med heavy course (organic chemistry, microbiology, you name it) and someone asks me why I have a CAHNR sticker on my laptop is more than I can count. People often assume that if you are considering a career in medicine, you are a PNB, MCB, or really any hard sciences major in CLAS. In reality, yes – those majors set you up for every course you need for medical school. So why on earth would I not just follow the pack?

I think this dilemma comes from a lack of understanding of two critical pieces of information. Firstly, CAHNR stands for the College of Agriculture, ​Health​, and Natural Resources. Allied health sciences (AHS) and its associated majors is a very real plan of study that prepares students for careers in various health professions, such as physical therapy, occupational therapy, or mental health counseling. You can find out more about these and other potential career options for AHS students on The Major Experience ​website​.

Personally, I am a diagnostic genetic sciences (DGS) major. So, even if people have heard of AHS, they look at me as if I have ten heads when I throw ​that​ doozy of a major out there. DGS is a professional degree program in the AHS department that students apply into their sophomore year. The program sets students up for ​careers​ as lab technologists, genetic counselors, and clinical geneticists, the latter being the one I am pursuing and which requires a medical degree. I decided on clinical genetics because I have always been interested in the genetic basis of disease; however, I have found out over time that I could not spend my whole life working in a lab. I spent a lot of time searching for a career that would meet my needs and stumbled upon clinical genetics. After some careful thought of whether medical school was for me, I decided that it was worth a shot. I enjoy engaging with people and like the fact that this is one of the few professions where you never stop learning because there are always things being discovered, so becoming a physician seemed like the right choice for me. Therefore by choosing to be in CAHNR, I made a choice to take classes more tailored to my individual interests!

Ultimately, I chose DGS because clinical genetics is a specialty I am not likely to encounter in medical school. In fact, doctors don’t typically get involved with clinical genetics until potentially the third or fourth year of ​residency.​ For me, that seemed like a long time (eight or nine years from right now) to wait and see if I was actually content with my career choice. Instead, I chose to pick an undergraduate school that gave me the opportunity to study exactly what I was interested in instead of waiting ten years and spending copious amounts of money on medical school just to find out I didn’t make the right decision. Even though I am only a few weeks into my DGS major, I am really enjoying the concepts that I am learning and am very excited to see what I learn next.

The second critical piece of information that people don’t fully understand is the one that I consider the most important: you can be ANY major and still get into medical school as long as you complete the required coursework for the schools you are applying to. So yes, being a PNB or MCB major is great because you are taking all of the typically required classes and then some, and I commend anyone who chooses to do this because they enjoy this plan of study. However, sometimes I feel as though students choose these majors because they feel as though this is what medical schools want to see rather than taking courses that genuinely spark their interests.

Truth be told, medical schools want to see a diversity of majors and interests. If you are taking only science classes and participating in solely medically-oriented organizations, you are not showing the admissions committee a diversity of interests. And, for your own sake, doesn’t taking all science classes get a little overwhelming or, some would even go as far to say, boring? Some of the most interesting courses that I have taken, like Sociology of Gender and Anglophone Literature, are not directly related to human cells or tissues, but they are intimately connected with the human condition. They sparked my interest in contemporary topics like gender fluidity and race while also providing me with a background that I wholeheartedly believe will make me a better physician.

One of my good friends, who is also pre-med and in CAHNR, works with animals and shows cows in her free time because it is something she has enjoyed doing since she was 5 years old and in FFA. She makes sure that she is accomplishing all of her medical school requirements but also sets aside time for recreational activities that truly make her who she is! Now, I don’t show cows, but that doesn’t mean I only do science. I have always seen the value in volunteering so here at UConn I made it a point to participate in community service days for Special Olympics Connecticut and for a 4-H program at an elementary school in Rockville. These activities have taught me a lot about working with diverse groups of people and how to empathize more with those who don’t share the same background as me. I also work for the cafes here on campus and for a bakery back at home, so I have been able to learn how to communicate effectively with others, especially in high-stress situations. One of the clubs I am involved in on campus has even allowed me the opportunity to volunteer at a homeless shelter, which both humbled and educated me on privilege and what it means to different people. Because of this, I can truly say that some of my most formative experiences, the ones that make a good doctor into a great one, have not been through science-related activities.

Therefore, who’s to say that a student in CAHNR majoring in environmental studies or natural resources is not qualified for medical school, especially as we increasingly recognize the intimate connections between the environment and our health? You should absolutely focus on your academics with a goal in mind, but you should also explore other areas of interest throughout your coursework and extracurricular activities that will help to shape you as a whole person. College is about doing what is most enjoyable for ​you,​ so make the most of it!

Thank you, UConn Men’s Crew

The infamous dirty four cruising at sunrise
The infamous dirty four cruising at sunrise

I’m graduating a week from Saturday, so that means I’ll be seeing one of my last sunrises on Coventry Lake in the next few days. I have spent three out of my four years at UConn on the Men’s Crew team. Joining the ranks of this club sport was the best decision I made during my undergraduate career. After a rocky first semester in college, I decided that I wanted to be part of something bigger and worthwhile, so I decided to try rowing.

Over the years, crew has instilled in me discipline to strive for bigger goals, taught me how to be passionate about what I care about, believe in myself, and introduced me to the people who make me love my Alma Mater.

Crew is pretty intense. It’s a two-season sport, meaning that we have races in both the fall and the spring. To prepare for races, we practice every day at 5:00am. During the off-season, we also practice 3-4 days a week indoors in the wee hours of the morning as well.

Spring break training at Camp Bob Cooper
Spring break training at Camp Bob Cooper

Now, I am not a morning person, but, once you get hooked, crew is almost addicting. The people that stick with crew are athletes that are driven not only by winning medals, but by the kinship and comradery that comes with being part of the team. These athletes can also roll with the punches too because rowing does not come without making sacrifices. While balancing classes, work, and other activities, many athletes do not get the normal eight hours of sleep on a nightly basis that most people are used to. In addition, while some of your non-crew friends are going out two or three days a week, you won’t risk disappointing your teammates, and stay in on weeknights and nights before races. This is not to say we don’t have fun (or that we don’t go out), though.

As soon as we start warming up for practice, teammates are talking and laughing the whole way until we pick up the boat and carry it into the water. Coventry lake blesses UConn Crew with water that is typically calm and glassy; however, the windy, rainy, and snowy mornings are at some point inevitable. At the end of every practice, the team heads to Northwest or South dining halls for team breakfast. We apologize to all UConn students for being the most awake, loquacious people while you’re trying to ignore every single person ever at 7:30 in the morning. For new members of the team, this can be first point when you start to appreciate that being a part of this team is worth it. You realize that the day has hardly started already, and you’ve already accomplished so much.

First place at Fall Metropolitan races
First place at Fall Metropolitan races

As much as rowers compete against other crews, they also compete against themselves. This is very comparable to runners who are constantly trying to get their time down. What’s different about rowing is that each boat has a coxswain, the typically smaller person that steers the boat and motivates his or her teammates to row faster. Last fall, in the Metropolitan races, my boat immediately pulled ahead of four of our competitors right off the starting line. This was extremely exhilarating to me, someone who had never won a medal. Soon we’re more than halfway through the race and in second place. Our coxswain, Christine, bellows that we are inching up on the boat in first place and that only first place receives a medal. Previously oblivious of this fact, a switch turned on in my mind bringing me to a state in which I suddenly could not feel the burning sensation in my muscles. With several powerful strokes, we edged ahead of the boat, winning by a fraction of a second. Together we beat the odds, and I won my first race with most extraordinary group of oarsmen. In this regard, crew has helped me unleash potential in myself that I didn’t know I had. Through the sport and through my teammates, I have found courage in myself to achieve accolades I used to only dream about. This concept materializes not only in my success at rowing competitions, but in the classroom and the laboratory as well.

In this environment, I grew as a person and as a young professional as well. As a student and budding scientist, I know that this culture has been instilled into how I live. When it comes to academics and research, this means studying and getting lab work done late at night. Nonetheless, just like striving to get faster to earn those medals, I became more comfortable with working relentlessly towards academic and scientific goals. I will take this valuable wisdom with me beyond commencement into my next endeavor.

I get the impression that perspective of non-rowers about rowers is that they’re crazy considering the early mornings, the commitment to a club activity, and the intense workouts. Yet, when I see my teammates, my best friends, I see the most dedicated people that I’ve met at UConn. Rowers are people that have found a passion that drives them to want more from themselves and from others. Over time, the sport teaches you discipline and passion that translates to conducting yourself and approaching everything you do with determined conviction.

5 Things to do In Maui, Hawaii

My first dip at Kaanapali Beach!
My first dip at Kaanapali Beach!

With the semester ending in a few weeks, most students (including myself) are looking forward to making summer plans! Ever since I visited Hawaii in 2015 after graduating from high school, I have been planning my next trip to return. If you are planning on venturing out to this beautiful island, here are my Top 5 favorite things to do in Maui, Hawaii!

Road to Hana

The Road to Hana trail takes you around the rural half of the island Maui, where you can stop and venture out to see the natural sights of the island. There are about 30 different sites that you can stop and see, all ranging from different types of scenery. Although this trip is very popular amongst tourist, it is a grueling journey. Traveling by car pretty much all day on Continue reading

It Takes a Herd to Make A Difference

Vaccines are considered to be one of the greatest achievements in the history of public health. Smallpox was officially declared to be an eradicated disease in 1980 (the last recorded case was in Somalia in 1979) (1). Cases of poliomyelitis (polio) have dropped to only 22 reported cases in 2017 from nearly 350,000 cases in 1988 (2). These landmark achievements can be attributed to the success of modern vaccines.  Despite these huge successes, anti-vaccination movements have been around since Edward Jenner created the first smallpox vaccine in the early 1800s. Although times have changed, anti-vaccination movements have remained relatively consistent (3). Vaccine critics have expressed a wide variety of concerns, most of which are with regards to safety and efficacy (3,4).

“If vaccines are so effective, why are there so many people that refuse vaccines?”

The modern anti-vaccination movement can be Continue reading

Impostor syndrome: Feeling like a fraud is common among students

Amtec StaffingIt wasn’t until a mentor mentioned to me, it sounds like you have impostor syndrome that I realized what I had been feeling about my work ethic is actually a common phenomenon shared by many people. It’s disorder that is actually documented in scientific literature. As an aspiring scientist, documentation in scientific journals tells me that this syndrome isn’t some rumor or fad, but is observed in many people, especially students. It reassured me to know that other people feel the same way I do about my work ethic. However, I did not really understand impostor’s syndrome until I was watching a Talks with Google presentation given by Frank Abgnale, current FBI agent and former fraudulent commercial air pilot, doctor, lawyer, and expert check counterfeiter. Anyone who’s ever seen Catch Me if You Can with Leonardo DiCaprio knows that Abgnale did not just feel like a fraud, he literally was one. It wasn’t Mr. Abgnale that was consoling me, but a computer engineer at Google that asked him for advice about her impostor syndrome. For me this was huge, Google is a world renowned, transformative company that must hire some of the most creative and intelligent people. Yet some still feel that they are not good enough at their jobs.

Dr. Valerie Young explains that there are five different types of impostor syndrome; you can read about all five types in this Fast Company article. The type that I find myself expressing is titled “the expert.” People with this type of impostor syndrome struggle with Continue reading

It’s Okay to Not Be Okay

Growing up, I was someone that held very high expectations of myself and was very much a perfectionist. I did very well in school and always aimed to be an overachiever. I would pack my daily schedule with as much as I could so that somedays, I would be at school from 7am until 10pm. I, of course, graduated, and came to UConn.

Coming to college was a huge step towards my career and life goals and a huge step away from many familiar things in my life. Being born in raised in a small town in Connecticut, and growing up with the same pool of kids you knew from pre-K all the way through graduation made leaving, even if it wasn’t too far, a challenge for me. Freshman year was difficult because I had a very hard time adapting to college life. Sophomore year arrived and I had adapted well enough to make my way through classes and extracurriculars, but yet something was still not quite right. As stress started to pile up from homework, exams, and keeping track of daily “this and that’s,” I found myself spiraling out of control. I started not being able to sleep very well and had very little appetite from the “unsettled” feeling I constantly had, and panic attacks were a common occurrence. I felt uncomfortable speaking about Continue reading

UConn’s First Agriculture Awareness Week

Vice President Mindy (left) and President Erin (middle) are shown tabling at the annual animal science ice cream social for agriculture advocacy club in Fall 2017.
Vice President Mindy (left) and President Erin (middle) are shown tabling at the annual animal science ice cream social for agriculture advocacy club in Fall 2017.

Being within the College of Agriculture, Health and Natural Resources, I have learned a lot about One Health issues that I did not know much about previously. Specifically, the importance of agriculture and how it affects our everyday lives. In addition to learning about this in classes, my roommate Erin – an animal science major and dairy farm owner – taught me about agriculture. My interest and unawareness and Erin’s drive to educate others in agriculture, inspired the idea to spread the word about this industry through creating an agriculture advocacy club. In Fall 2017, UConn’s agriculture advocacy club was formed with the mission of planning an agriculture awareness week to engage students that may not be exposed to agriculture or realize how it affects their everyday lives. This would give students the opportunity to learn about food, sustainable agriculture, and livestock.

It is currently Agriculture Awareness week on campus and Wednesday, March 21  is National Agriculture day. Everyday for the rest of this week there will be Continue reading

Keys for a Successful Interview

Flickr CCAs springtime approaches, so do interviews for internships, jobs, and graduate schools.  Like other elements of job-searching such as resumes, cover letters, and applications there are fundamental techniques and components to a successful interview.  No matter how good you appear on paper, a successful interview is the last key to landing the position you desire and can make or break an employer’s decision to hire you.  So, what can you do to ace an interview? Here are some simple steps to make your interview a success.

 

  1. Research
  • Research the employer or organization.  Know about the products, services, or culture of the organization.  This will provide background knowledge that can be used to show your understanding and display how you would fit into their work environment.
  • Research the position including qualifications and expectations. This will allow you to tailor your responses to showcase skills or experiences that make you a suitable candidate.
  • Research the type of interview. Knowing whether you are interviewing in a group, on the phone, or in a one-on-one setting can allow you to analyze how to communicate effectively in each setting.
  1. Preparation
  • The more prepared you are for an interview, the more confidently and clearly you can market yourself.  One simple way to begin the preparation process is to list out all the skills and qualifications that the employer is looking for.
  • Next, list out your experiences, activities, and skills that correlate to each of the qualifications the employer is looking for.
  • Begin to develop a list of commonly asked interview questions and other questions oriented toward the specific employer.  Develop a narrative or story for each question highlighting key points you want to address.
  • Make an appointment at the UConn Center for Career Development for a mock interview or practice a mock interview with a friend or family member.  Mock interviews are a great resource to practice a formal interview.  The Center for Career Development will even record your interview and provide personalized feedback.
  • Additionally, be sure to prepare a handful of questions for when your interview is over.

Continue reading

A Part of Something Greater

Working on the isolation of fatty acids from Arctic Greenland Killer Whale samples.
Working on the isolation of fatty acids from Arctic Greenland Killer Whale samples.

Two years ago, I began looking for research opportunities to get involved with. As a pre-veterinary student, I was looking for research experience to add to my resume. But unbeknownst to me, this opportunity opened my eyes to something bigger than just working in a laboratory. I now perceive the world in a different light and understand the importance of research. I have grown as an individual because of the knowledge I have attained.

When I inquired on the types of research professors at UConn are conducting came across a topic that really interested me. Dr. Melissa McKinney, an assistant professor in the Natural Resources Department, explained how she collects data to evaluate the anthropogenic effects on Killer Whale feeding habits and bio-accumulation of chemical contamination.

As a new student, I worked on an experiment that resulted in the isolation of fatty acids from blubber samples of killer whales and several other kinds of marine mammals, as well as samples from prey fish species. The measurement and comparison of fatty acids is a useful tool in obtaining the fatty acid profile of an individual animal. We can compare each individual’s profile and determine their food source. Due to global warming and Continue reading

Fitness Goals for the Athletically Challenged

View of Valentine’s Meadow on one of my favorite running routes.

For those who know me, the word “athletic” would certainly not come to mind if asked to describe me. I’ve always loved the outdoors and recreational activities like horseback riding, swimming, and kayaking, but never participated in any competitive organized sports. Despite not being gifted in the area of hand-eye coordination, I possess other strengths and came to accept that athleticism was not one of them. That is until I decided to start running. I came to the conclusion that I should try running about two years ago, after hearing person after person tout its magical impacts on both physical and mental health. “Running is the best stress reliever” or “You’ll never experience anything like a runner’s high” they would say. I hoped that running would be a feasible activity (given my incoordination) that I could fit into my busy pre-veterinary student schedule to alleviate school-related stress and anxiety as well as improve my physical fitness. Mental health is a huge topic of concern in the field of veterinary medicine, and I hoped that taking proactive measures to establish a consistent self-care routine would place myself ahead of the curve. Given my interests in pursuing exotic or large animal medicine, I figured it also wouldn’t hurt to be physically prepared for the rigors of fieldwork.

In the beginning, I doubted that I would ever experience these alleged benefits. I dreaded running and had to force myself to keep going every minute that I ran. Various body parts would hurt, and I would consult friends and running experts via Google to determine that I needed new shoes or that my form was off.  After a lot of trial and error, persistence, and assorted aches and pains, I finally began to enjoy running. As my mileage increased and runs became easier, I was finally able to focus less on the physical aspect and allow my mind to wander into introspection, which has been incredibly cathartic. Many people admit that running is how they confront their demons and I’d be inclined to say the same. Continue reading