On the first day of organic chemistry during my junior year, the professor spent the entire lecture telling us about how hard organic chemistry is, how many hours we would have to dedicate to studying for it, and that he only gives out a couple of A’s every semester. I had heard a lot of rumors about organic chemistry being the hardest class ever. I was scared. And to top it off, he said that if we didn’t get an A in this class, we should consider other options (rather than applying to medical school) and to not even bother asking him for a recommendation letter. I went home that first day and spent hours and hours thinking about the words he said. Am I really smart enough? I started to doubt myself more than ever. I became quiet in class, didn’t sit in the front like I normally would and struggled more as a result. I wasn’t getting the grades I wanted and after a month of utter frustration, I asked some of the “smart” people what they’re doing to study. Their study methods matched up completely with what I was doing. The only difference between us was our confidence. Once I had figured this out, it was difficult to change the impression I had already created. I don’t remember much of junior year now, other than studying endlessly, thinking that I’m not smart and having extreme emotional reactions to every bad quiz grade I got. I did end up getting the grades I wanted, but I learned a lot from this nightmare that was organic chemistry.
Everything you’ve heard about organic chemistry is a lie. In fact, pre-med culture itself is full of lies. There are too many lies for me to get into right now so I’m going to stick to a few. Your grades don’t depend on how ‘smart” you are but do depend on your study habits and self concept. If you go into a class with the mindset that you cannot get an A, you probably won’t. And if you truly believe that you will, you probably will. This is not to say that you don’t need to study, but it does mean that your mindset will change who you are in class. It will also motivate you and make you more resilient when you get a grade you don’t want. This isn’t as easy as it sounds and it actually takes a lot of practice, but the best way to start is to just constantly remind yourself that you are capable and you are smart. You deserve to be in that class, and any other science class, just as much as everyone else.
The second lie here is that getting anything less than an A will prevent you from getting into medical school. If you know the application process then it’s easy to understand why this isn’t true. But basically, one science class does not make up your entire science gpa. It’s a cumulative average of all the science you have taken in undergrad. And this is just one tiny part of the whole application. There are many, many factors that go into the decision making.
The third lie is that as a pre-med, you have to constantly be working or studying. There is a saying “work smart, not hard,” and this applies to being a pre-med student. If you’re spending 10 hours a day, every single day, sitting at a desk, studying for your classes, you are doing it wrong. Studying all day everyday is definitely not how you should define your productivity. Sleeping the right amount and giving yourself time to rest and eat also makes you productive. The “grind” culture that we believe in right now is extremely toxic and isn’t helping us at all. So let’s change it and start taking time off, unapologetically when we need it. Let’s stop romanticizing the idea of being unstable, busy and sleep deprived and instead, romanticize the idea of taking care of ourselves and having a fulfilling life, even in the process.