Transitioning to Graduate Life

Poster Presentation-M. AyyashBy Mariam Ayyash

It was during this time last year when I started considering my options after college. I had already planned on applying to medical school that summer. I debated a lot about my future during my undergraduate studies, between medical school and graduate school as a means of applying science. Finally, I settled on a plan of trying to do both! I gave myself one year in between completing my undergraduate studies and starting medical school, leaving me with the task of finding a one-year graduate program.

I expected the hunt for the perfect program to be easy. It turned out quite difficult to find a one-year graduate program in the sciences. My research interest as a component for the program did not make things any easier. However, after lengthy nights of searching for the perfect fit, I stumbled across the Biological Chemistry Master’s Program at the University of Michigan Medical School. What fascinated me about it was the fact that it was a research-based program that required a thesis and full time research commitment. Aside from the research portion, it also required rigorous coursework to be fulfilled to supplement the research component. This program was new to the medical school and this was its first year running. Hence, it was a nice challenge to take and so I applied and was luckily accepted.

Undergraduate vs. Graduate School
When the program started in September, I couldn’t help but reflect on my undergraduate studies. Gone were the days of memorizing a bunch of facts or pathways within Biochemistry. Instead, what the graduate faculty were mainly concerned with was understanding the material and being able to apply it to publications and recent work within the scientific field. As undergraduates, the focus was on creating the building blocks in science. It required heavy memorization of the facts and the biochemical processes. Analysis is of course important, however the extent to which analysis is applied as opposed to learning the facts is negligible. Graduate education, on the other hand, tends to focus more on analysis of papers and recent topics to allow students to apply their learning in the moment.

Another significant difference between undergraduate and graduate education involved the value of teamwork. Group work was a very minor component of my undergrad life. Graduate school required us to discuss some of the very recent, not fully unraveled topics and necessitated a group effort. It was very important to work in a group to fully understand the purposes the authors were trying to convey as each one of the students had a very different perspective and experience with the issue. In fact, being one of only five students within the masters program allowed us to create a special bond that facilitated our learning experiences. We created our own Facebook private group; we held our own group meetings and gathering. This year marks the first time I visit the library as frequently. I could only realize the value of teamwork this year and it was great to always ask each other questions, share notes and study together as a group. Had I worked independently this semester, I wouldn’t have gotten to learn some very different aspects and facts about my courses or recent papers that my colleagues had to offer.

A Broader Perspective
Ultimately, this program introduced me to a very different learning experience. I got to do lots of critical thinking, analysis, and know where to apply facts and background information in understanding literature work. I admire the fact that the program focuses on modern issues in the biochemical field through the seminars we attend and some papers we discuss in our classes. Regardless of the fact that medical school will be a very different route, this program has definitely given me an extremely strong preparation for it: I learned to approach scientific work from multiple perspectives; it made me appreciate group work and encourage it under various conditions; it improved my thought process through deeper critical thinking and analysis; and it gave me a much broader mindset in the sciences.

Make sure you check out the program with the link below:

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