Self development: Grit & Personal Struggles

Grit can be defined as an individual’s ability to “maintain their determination and motivation over long periods despite experiences with failure and adversity” (Wikipedia). A mentor once told me that if she could grant me any superpower in the world, she would grant grit.  4 years later, I know appreciate grit as one of the most important traits that a person can develop.

Here’s an inspiring blog post from Anne that you should check out to highlight the importance of grit during the medical school application process:

I am always positive in my blog posts becauseI want to promote positivity rather than negativity. I try to be grateful and optimistic as much as possible but I do struggle and lack confidence in myself. Recently, I’ve been working to overcome the trap of comparing myself with others and falling into “not good enough” trap. Coming with a cultural background that values humility and self-deprecation, I (and likely others from the same background) easily admire the work ethic and talents of others and aspire to develop the same abilities. It’s  fantastic to aspire to the same high standards and to realize what areas need improvement. But, it’s important to be aware that we may be comparing our abilities while we are in midway through the journey of life to someone’s abilities while they are further along in the journey.

Specifically, I’ve been frustrated at myself for not being an eloquent enough speaker. I have been reaching out to numerous mentors that I am very grateful towards. The way that my mentors speak is so much more confident and contains ideas that are so brilliant.  I’ve caught myself thinking, “My answer was terrible because my answer was missing that point”.  Such a thought made me less confident the next time I talked, which is the opposite of what I wanted to become.

I am grateful to have met with a mentor yesterday who was also a younger applicant. She reminded me that I’ve become 20 recently but I’m comparing myself to individuals 10 years or more older than I am.  These individuals have had more years to live and experience more situations. If they are health care providers that speaks with many patients everyday, their speaking skills obviously are much more developed because  they’ve  been sharpening their skills for years . Her advice changed my mindset.

Yes, I still have a lot of room for improvement. Yes, I definitely am trying to learn from them and improve. But rather than over-compare, I have make sure that I’m staying in the healthy levels of comparison (“I like how they structured their answer in a way that I didn’t and so I’ll try to incorporate that to improve my own answer”). From now onward, I will work hard to improve my skills while maintaining a positive mindset.

The take-away message is: Whatever you are struggling with, remember to step back and check if your self-talk is helpful or not. You are smart, hard-working and motivated. You will be able to achieve your goal if you put in the right amount of effort and time.

If you want to read another person’s perspective on struggles, Tiffany at SecondHand inspiration wrote a heartfelt post about realizing that not being amazing at something right away is totally okay. Check it out here:

Best of luck,



New things I’ve been up to in starting this term of third year


Like last time, I’m enjoying my three year-long courses in pharmacology, physiology and neuroscience. This term, I’m taking a course in Darwinian Medicine which involves a ton of reading and thinking about what pressures may have led to the natural selection of some traits.  My project partner and I chose to do our project on evolution and myopia, and I got to read a bunch of interesting research papers. I’m also learning Greek and Latin medical terminology which is SO helpful.

Vision Health Volunteers

Since the very beginning of the school year, our team has been hard at working organizing our (hopefully impactful) initiatives to promote a more accurate depiction of individuals with vision loss and some top secret initiatives to achieve other missions. Stay tuned!  Our first event is next Thursday at 5:30 pm and it will feature a guest speaker who is navigating pharmacy school with vision loss. I hope that we can dispel some misconceptions by showing that while vision loss can definitely make some activities very challenging, individuals with vision loss should not be looked down upon because they are just as capable of pursuing challenging studies and careers.

Integrated Sciences Peer Mentoring Program

Since November 2017, I have been a mentor to 3 students. I enjoyed meeting them in person. I created guidelines and timelines to assist mentees to achieve their goals. I answered their questions regarding course selection and extracurricular activities, and provided editing and guidance on their degree proposals. If I could not answer their questions, I connected mentees to other experts. I recommend becoming a peer mentor as a way to give back to students who were just where you were only a short while back.

Speaking at the Operation Med School conference

I was invited to be a guest speaker at a  conference that will have ~ 350 attendees aiming to inform and inspire high school students aspiring to become the next generation of healthcare providers. At first, I was felt really doubtful about myself with thoughts such as “I am not a medical student and so can’t answer questions about medical school. What can I even say?” But I’m glad I pulled out some courage and accepted their kind invitation. If you’re a high schooler, this looks like a pretty well-organized event and the Dean of Medicine and the Dean of Medical Admissions will be Keynote speakers. So, check out Operation Med School Vancouver on February 10, 2018.

Becoming Science Fair Judge   

On January 30, 2018, I’ll be judging Life Sciences-related projects by grade 8, 9, 10 students at the Point Grey Secondary Mini School Program Science Fair. I’m an alumna of Point Grey Mini School and grateful for the opportunity to apply what were we learning in class to projects and field trips.

These are some blog articles that I liked recently.

My blogger friend Cindy Wei is travelling all Asia. This is her most recent post about Cambodia.

Hoping for a better sense of self? Maybe applying to residency will help  is by a blogger that I really admire for her ability to achieve a great balance between the stress that is medical school and applying to residency and living a full life .  Ada is #goals.


I want my future work to meaningful like the works of these individuals

Somewhere far deep in the archives of my UBC Blog Squad blog, I wrote about mentors that I am grateful for. Today, I wanted to started a list of persons I want to look up and want to produce impactful work like they have!

This is just a starting list based on some articles and books that I’ve read lately. I’ve been growing an strong interest in ophthalmology for the last few years but there is an especially large proportion of ophthalmologists on this list since I’ve been reading a lot of research articles on myopia this past while.If you’re interested in learning more,  I suggest you look up their work 🙂

There are definitely more researchers and writers and philanthropists and other contributors to our world that I would love to gleam wisdom from.  I’ll just leave you with just a few since I should get back to studying the respiratory system now.

You tell me : who are some inspirational figures that you want to be like or to meet?

Live persons I want to meet

  • Dr. Nathan Congdon is an ophthalmologist whose research is focused on improving the quality of eyecare in places where resources are  limited such as in rural China. For those of you who know how passionate I am about preventing blindness and my interest in rural health, I really want to get involved in research like that.  In Vancouver, we see wealthy Chinese immigrants and forget that many regions in China, particularly rural areas, can be very poor. There, access to health care can be unavailable and even when available, the quality can has room for improvement despite the best efforts of the health care providers.  I feel especially strong about this since my family originates from rural areas of China (though these areas are likely no longer considered rural given the rapid development in recent times).
  • Dr.  Dennis Lam who started free vision screenings & surgery for economically-challenged Hong Kong citizens and established 100 charity eye centers in poverty-stricken areas of China. Think of how many people such initiatives benefitted! I wish that I can become a physician that not only helps individuals one-to-one in the clinic or OR, but also can help many people on a wider scale whether that is through research or community aid initiatives or BOTH. That’s the dream, guys, that’s the dream.
  • Dr. Andrea Tooley is an ophthalmologist whose blog I have followed all the way since her medical school days. She is an inspirational figure to many who dreams of medicine by producing multiple videos and posts on advice for students in different stages of their education.  I highly recommend checking her content if you are looking to learn more about what medical school or residency is like, or for her study tips, or how to stay motivated.
  • Dr. Henry Marsh is a British neurosurgeon who wrote the memoirs, “Do No Harm” and “Admissions”, which I loved reading.
  • Dr. Cal Newport wrote several books on topics such as “deep work” and “debunking the laundry list fallacy” that changed my life for the better.

Deceased figures that I want to meet

  • Dr. Harold Ridley was a British ophthalmologist who pioneered the use of artificial intraocular lens in cataract surgery and pioneered intraocular lens surgery. When I first shadowed in ophthalmology, I was so fascinated by the surgical procedure and by the technology involved. I got further interested when the resident I shadowed told me about the history of how they invented the surgical techniques used in ophthalmology today (thank you Dr. M!). Dr. Ridley was persistent about improving cataract surgery despite his colleagues and other member of the medical community trying to stop him. His persistence led to him to refine the surgical technique that is still used for cataract surgery today.
    • P.S. I would love to go Moorfields Eye Hospital in London, England one day!!!
  • Dr. Oliver Sacks was a British neurologist who wrote multiple best-selling books on fascinating neurological disorders.

When to write the MCAT

Disclaimer: I am not an expert on and do not possess insider information on the MCAT or on medical school admissions. This is only based on my personal experience.  I am merely provide some opinion that might help out a fellow premed out there. 
A highly motivated reader sent in a question on when to write the MCAT.  This is a follow-up to my original post: How to study for the MCAT
 Many people I know have written it first or second week of August, and I was planning to do so. I did notice on your blog, that you suggested earlier times, such as the last week of July. Is there a reason that you took it in July, and even recommend June over August?  (Thank you and credits to the reader who asked this question.)
First of all, since you're a second year,  are you applying for medicine at the beginning of third year? And if so, are you planning to apply to UBC med exclusively? Or will you also be applying to Toronto, MacMaster, etc? If you're not applying until 4th year, then August anytime is fine. It won't really matter to you when you write it because you'll have your MCAT score report well before you apply. Study burn-out can still be a problem that applies to you.
If you are applying in third year, then there are several reasons why you might want to write the MCAT earlier than in August.
  1. It takes a month to get your score back.  Knowing your score before working on your applications can save you a lot of money and time that you can instead spend on just your top choice schools.  For example, if your CARS is not higher than 128, UCalgary Medical School and U Alberta explicitly do not accept out of province applicants with a CARS score lower than 128 (for proof see ). On the other hand, if you have a highly competitive score, then you may feel more comfortable investing the money in applying to multiple schools.
  2. There can be an accident at the testing center that may require you to rewrite. I heard of this actually happening in the form of a power outage (the MCAT is computer based). What if you can't get a test date early enough to meet your application deadlines?
  3. Filling in your medical school applications take a lot of time. There is a lot of work to do for your applications that can't be finished in just 2 weeks at the end of August. - Well technically, it can be done but it would be much stressful than if you had a greater amount of time to work on them. This is the key reasons that I sometimes wish that I wrote my MCAT in June rather than in July. If you're exclusively applying to one school e.g. UBC Med, then this is less of an issue since you won't need to spread out your time among multiple applications. 
  4. Study burn-out is a big problem. I think studying too long for the MCAT can be a bad idea. If you're just too sick and tired of studying for so many months and have trouble focusing/feeling motivated, your score might go down. You also start to forget material that you learned early in your study regime. This is similar to the experience of trying to remember something you learned all the way back in September when you're studying for December finals. 
  5. The law of diminishing returns applies here. If you study for longer than what is sufficient, you might only see a slight improvement or no improvement at all. Most of us hit a plateau when studying for the MCAT and it may be an unwise investment of time to studying for a whole extra month just for a 1 point improvement.
  6. You want time to relax before school begins. Imagine studying intensely for the MCAT and then starting school without any time to rest and recharge. You don't want to start your semester off on the wrong foot!  If you are a nontraditional applicant, this likely does not matter to you.
Take my advice with a grain of salt because picking your MCAT date ultimately depends on your personal preferences and what will happening in your life at that time. But in conclusion, if you are a second year intending to apply to medicine in third year, then the earlier you can write your test the better.

How to study for the MCAT

 When should I take the MCAT? How long should I study for the MCAT? How do I study for the MCAT? What courses should I take to prepare for the MCAT? How do I stay motivated to study for the MCAT?
While preparing for the MCAT, I relied on blog posts like this to plan how to study and so  this is how I will give back 🙂
Start with a positive attitude towards the MCAT
My GPA isn't a 4.0 so I treated the MCAT as a great chance to prove that my academic abilities to medical schools. The MCAT was a gift, rather an obstacle, that I was grateful for. Though there were definitely times I wished I was out hiking in the glorious weather, I still enjoyed studying for the MCAT overall.  There are a ton of reasons why I enjoy studying for the MCAT, including the fact that my learning is all self-directed and the content and questions are genuinely interesting, and I got to make a new friend/study buddy! It was important to set a good mindset for  my studying - make studying for the MCAT is fun and nothing to dread. 
When should I write the MCAT? 
I wrote my test on July 28th after my second year.  That said, if you don't have heavy travel in May and then work full-time like I did, I highly recommend picking June 30th. A June 30th date would allow you to get your score back before you start writing your medical school applications and so you know which schools are you competitive for. For example, if your CARS score is lower than 130, you might decide not to apply to Alberta, Calgary and McMaster.
The first reason I chose to write after my second year because I freshly completed course content tested on the MCAT including physics, biochemistry, psychology and sociology.  The second reason is that I wanted to try applying to medical school in my third year, which may or may not be what you want to do - the pros and cons of that choice would need a post of their own.
 How should I study? 
I studied intensely for 2.5 months. I started doing practice questions 2.5 months before my test. The start of content review is technically winter break of second year when I made a first pass through the Psychology /Sociology content review.  Studying for my university courses was doubled as studying for the MCAT since most of my courses were topics tested on the MCAT.
Try to avoid taking the test more than once. There is a popular suggestion on the forums to test without studying at all or only studying for a couple weeks just to "get a feel of the test" and then re-taking the test. I think you should just do once but do it right. Here's why:
  1. It is very expensive  as it costs ~$490 to write the MCAT each time.
  2. It can un-demotivating to write a test when you feel unprepared and come out with a score you are not happy with.
  3. You can't erase a bad score from your records and some schools look at all your scores regardless of a better score on a later re-write.  
Do a practice full-length before you register for your exam date.
In January or February if you're aiming to test in the summer.  I think it’s important to get a feel for the exam early on rather than wait until you’ve finished all your content review first before taking an exam. 
Don't Push Back Your Exam Date I think burnout would have unavoidable if I studied any longer. Three people I knew pushed their test date back and all did not feel a substantial benefit to their studying. You might procrastinate more if you tell yourself that if that if you're not ready, you can just push back your date. Choose wisely and stick to it.
How do I stay motivated?
Staying motivated to focus for hours that is hard. I honestly believe that it was really important that I kept having a lot of fun during my months I was studying for the MCAT! I want to emphasize it is not the actual content review or the questions that are. Your biggest hurdle is to keep yourself studying hour after hour, day after day, week after week.
My one piece of unconventional advice is make fun plans for your time off from studying. You can still see your family/friends/significant other and do things you love if you wake up before everyone else and get a chunk of studying done.
It's possible to travel while studying for the MCAT if you want to. Early in my studying, I travelled for a research conference. During off times, I was completing my target number of practice questions while lounging by blue water before going to the conference BBQ with my co-workers. I extended my travels to shadow a physician in another city and visit a friend. I kept my priorities in line and said no to nights out in order to study (and to be alert for shadowing) but I still got to fit in sight seeing and quality time with my friend.
When I was back to work at home in Vancouver, I still had spent time with my grandpa and brother and rest of family, was there for friends who needed me, did things I enjoyed and slept a decent amount. I don't like the popular premed saying, "You can only pick two: Enough studying - social life - sleep". Yes, you do have to say to fun plans quite a bit but if you're budgeting your time right, you should be able to block out the time to relax. Go do all the fun things a summer ought to include, which is critical for warding off burn out!!


 Balancing work and studying
 I'm glad that I had a conversation with my supervisors know about my careers goals and the MCAT, and was then able to adjust my schedule so that I would be able to do a practice test at 8 am each week. I was originally afraid having such a conversation would seem like I had poor work ethic but in fact it was not seen as a big deal at all. So, don't be afraid to ask for what is needed!Balancing other obligations with the amount of studying. Even though during the year, I, like every other student, juggle multiple commitments but in the end, I am a full time student with dedicated time to attend class and learn. Studying for the MCAT was more challenging because in the summer, I wedged studying in pockets of time when I wasn't working at my job. I now have a much deeper respect for individuals that work full time and work towards a degree on the side – if that’s you, you’re incredible! It’s totally do-able but not a walk in the park!
Exam Day
I felt totally calm and not nervous at all on my exam day. If you think of all intense studying you have behind you, you too will feel invincible against the MCAT. One of the exam centre representatives cracked jokes with me so I got a good laugh or at least a smile before I started and at every break. I actually expected to score lower from my practice scores but was pleasantly surprised. I think I was more positive and calm mood the day of the MCAT than during my practice tests and that made a big difference!
What I want to tell discouraged studiers
I know you're going through periods of ups and downs of motivation. I personally felt down when I got lots of questions wrong.  I did question whether I was "smart enough" to be suitable for medical school a good number of times, and I regret wasting time on a thought like that.
So, don't beat yourself up over the down periods when you felt like you made so little progress during your study session. Don't beat yourself up too much if you get distracted. It's natural to be imperfect. Sometimes you will get distracted. Sometimes you will fall behind. If you're getting distracted, it actually means you need to go take a break instead of pushing yourself to exhaustion!
 When you don’t do as well you would like on tests or feel unmotivated to study, remind yourself of the reasons that you are pursuing your dream of medical school. When you are struggling, don't be afraid to talk out your feelings with the incredible and loving people that have and are putting their support behind you.
To the next MCAT writer, you believe in you!
I am grateful

2017: A year of being grateful & self growth

2017 was a year of gratitude and great self growth. I developed greater self-confidence and courage to take action in both my professional and personal pursuits.  I’ve gained a sharper picture of my own identity: what I like to do, what is important to me, who I like to be around, which traits in my mentors I want to emulate,  and what I want from my life. I’ve learned both how to more independent and how to appreciate my support network.

Taking the leap to apply to medical school
In Canada, you are allowed to apply to a handful of medical schools while in third year but the number of third years that get in is not very high because you’ve had less time to do extracurriculars, boost your GPA, etc.  I was and am still not confident that I’m competitive enough to get in but I decided to try my best anyway! Wayne Gretsky once said “You miss all the shots you don’t take”. If I just give an earnest effort to applying, I still get a better chance than not trying at all right?
I don’t want to fail so I will try hard to prepare well. But I’m okay with failure because I can learn from failureEven if I get rejected,  trying to apply and trying to interview is the best practice that I can with the application processes. A wise mentor that advised me to go try even if I wasn’t good enough to get experience that will help me prepare me for future challenges. He also reminded me that despite each failure, I’ll get there to my desired destination eventually.   I am going to try my hardest to do what I can but I’m thankful that if things don’t work out (which is always possible but nothing is 100% certain!), I have chances to try again! 
What really pushed me to apply was my experience shadowing several physicians. I was enraptured by how fascinating it is to  hunt for clues to make a diagnosis, how delicate yet intense surgery is, and how precious it is to interact with patients. After multiple  experiences, I strongly felt like this is my life’s calling. I want to spend the rest of my life spend my rest of life helping others recover and cope with health conditions.  I will work hard to become a doctor who is committed to making patients feel like they are being listened to, feels comfortable with the skills and knowledge expected me for my level of training at the point, finding meaning and joy in my job helping people, and be part of a work environment with colleagues that support each other.
So, If you’re actively trying to pave a path to your dream career, you are happy to climb the little obstacles to get there.  At the end of August, my friend, Veena, had a birthday party during which there was a lot of “wow schools starts again in just over a week!” and “back to the study grind!”. Veena and I had the same thought and glanced at each other at the same time and had a little laugh since we have been studying for our MCAT most of the summer. As Kala put it, this summer is our “sacrificial lamb”  that we would give up all over again. We chose to pursue this path out of our own free will so we don’t regret it at all.
Misaki who always has my back!
I’m grateful for a team of us working together toward the same dream. 
I am grateful for my friends who studied with me for 12 hours at a time for the MCAT, share advice and resources and all sorts of help, and be each other’s cheerleaders to remind each other that we can overcome things that seem scary at the moment but aren’t that bad once we can see psst them. I’m Super proud of them  and I’m so glad we’re in this together. Looking at how awesome it is to be around the friends around me, I dream of one day all of us working our butts off to get into med school will one day all get in together and keep supporting each other towards our dreams of becoming a doctor. We can do it, Kala, Jeremy, Veena, Andrew, Aishwi and others!
So, despite feeling insecure about how I stood against all the amazing candidates,  this year I applied to medical school and am grateful to have received an interview invite this year.  This means there is still a 56% chance (as calculated by Kala) that I will be rejected post-interview. I also don’t know if I’ll even receive an interview from other schools. But, I am still grateful to have had the opportunity to apply, the opportunity to try interviewing, the opportunity to connect with mentors and with fellow applicants. I am privileged that everyday I get to work to get closer and closer to my goals.
UBC Medical School Interview Invite
UBC Medical School Interview Invite

I have so grateful for a strong support network. 

I am very grateful to receive opportunities because progressing to each step symbolizes the huge amount of support everyone has provided me. Pursuing a competitive program definitely is not just one person’s effort. It takes a village of people who gave me advice, helped me proof-read, provided a reference and offered so much other support. I’m generally optimistic but life is not and will not be pleasant all the time but I think it’ll feel better if I keep reminding myself why I’m doing what I’m doing. I think about the experiences that have led me to want to spend my rest of life helping others recover and cope with health conditions. When I lose faith in myself, I think of the colleagues, friends and family who  have been incredible in believing in me. I’m very grateful to our non-MCAT writing friends who have been so understanding about the decline in the social scene and not minding that phone calls to us happen while we simultaneously do chores.

While I worked towards my goals, I consciously enjoyed the journey. 

I am grateful to be where I am right here right now. If I only believe that happiness is if I hold an acceptance letter, then I would be miserable! I am happy that I have the opportunity to chase a dream that isn’t possible for some people with different circumstances, such as those living in places where woman can’t attend school, or whose family obligations made it impossible. I’m lucky to have had the chance to study at university, to have the option of choosing my own path in my life, to be able to believe that I can make my dream a reality. And so, I am happy. Younger me said “one day I’ll write the MCAT” and “one day I’ll apply to med school”. I’m already at “one day” which feels crazy and I’m grateful to be. 

I try to constantly remind myself that I’m grateful for the opportunity to study at an university and to fulfill my love of learning in a variety of cool subjects. It’s a privilege that I should never forget is a privilege but sometimes do. I forget because the pressure surrounding studying and doing well on tests is no fun but I do love the actual studying, learning and going to school a lot!

Being more proactive

This year, I’ve been more proactive about reaching out and making (totally awesome) new friends. I’ve also been proactive about reconnecting with old friends. In multiple domains of life, I’ve learned to be braver and to take initiative. I wish you lovely readers can also be more ourageous in taking action towards your goals whether that is chasing a career goal or turning your ideas into reality. I also wish that you are courageous in your personal life. Be the first to talk to resolve a conflict.  Send a message to that friend you want to hear from. Say yes to as many things of value as you can. If you can make time for it, say yes to that lunch. Say yes to that free ticket to the cultural festival even if you’re not sure if it’s “your thing”. Try it and you might just like it. My life became more like what I wanted it to look like when I took action. This sounds super obvious but I really wish that 2016 me knew that! Rather than wait and wonder when you have adventures, go run after adventures! Happiness came only when I was open to it and chased for it.

I got to connect with new friends and colleagues such as

  •  the accomplished yet humble Cindy Wei
  • Amanda who I am so glad to have had study + coffee/food adventures with
  • Sarah, Thilda, Amanda, Par, Sarra, our visiting medical students from Sweden and France

I got to maintain and re-connect with old friends such as

  • Sharleen -wow,  we’ve known each other for 16 years!!
  • Jeremy and Andy – they are both wacky but soft-hearted
  • Chanon – we experimented with a takoyaki recipe that didn’t turn out very well – oh well!
  • Rachel who I’ve gone to several cool networking events this year with including the tasting at Pacific Poke and the Chinese Student Association Social

I presented a research project at a conference in Florida and enjoyed the beautiful weather with my colleagues.

On my way to the conference, I shadowed two physicians (one was a surgeon!) and re-connected with Amy. Amy, Misaki, Rachel and I have been close friends for the last 11 years. The magic of technology has allowed us to

I ran the Lululemon half-Marathon with Veena

Ran a half-marathon!
A significant portion of 2017 was dedicated to advocating for people to give someone dear to me a chance to pursue his dreams and to treated fairly compared to his peers. I learned how difficult it is to change strangers’ preconceived stereotypes but also that a lot of persistence and patience can solve situations that seem impossible to face. There have been tears and sacrifice that have ultimately made me a more resilient person today. I’m really proud of what we’ve accomplished together.

We also fulfilled my grandma’s wish to visit Yellow Stone Park!

My family at Yellowstone


Now tell me: How did you grow this year? What fun travels and adventures do you have? Who were important people in your life this year?
Never give up, and start seeking and chasing what you want 🙂 



A busy semester passes like a blur

Does this sound familiar at you? Each day sprints past you as you go from class to the library to a meeting and so on. Each day is not long enough for all the things you want to accomplish. You start a little sleepy Monday and before you know it’s Wednesday – one of those days so long that as soon as your head hits the pillow, you instantly fall asleep from exhaustion. Then, you’re at another end of the week and you can’t wait to use the weekend to do all the things you wanted to catch up on during the week. But the weekend always feels shorter than you would like. Each week passes by in a blur. Each month passes by in a blur. How is it the end of the semester this year?

I have only one final exam left to go! It’s been a very fun semester and I’ve loved my classes.


How to prepare an Integrated Sciences Proposal

I am in the Integrated Sciences program meaning that I designed my own degree.  The concept is similar to pursuing a double major because you integrate 2-3 disciplines (essentially majors).  Integrated Sciences requires a bit more initiative because you have to pick and justify every single course that you plan to take, and find a faculty member to back up your proposal.

After creating my Integrated Science proposal, I was pretty excited and happy to be studying exactly what I am passionate about so I also hope that anyone lobbying for a custom design major will also end up with a major of all courses that you’re interested in and passionate about. I was beyond excited to part of a program of such supportive staff and faculty and of older students willing to mentor ( and of other students like me who took the initiative to build the major of their dreams!

General Timeline for your Integrated Sciences Proposal 

  1. As you take classes in first and second year and gain experiences outside of school, reflect on what your academic interests are.  I realized that I loved Pharmacology and Neuroscience/Psychology.
  2. By October, find and get guidance from a faculty member who is generously willing to back-up your proposal to create this custom major (thanks Dr. Horne!!)
  3. Obtain a Peer Mentor to advise you on how to improve your application
  4. By November, write up a draft of your statement on what your educational and career goals are (lots of thinking about what you want to do with the rest of your life -eek!) –> don’t worry, this will probably change drastically by the time you submit your official application
  5. By the end of winter break, write up a coursework rationale. You will write why each and every one of the courses you plan to take from now until you graduate is important for achieving your goal. Quadruple check that your custom degree fit all the graduation requirements and Faculty of Science of requirements
  6. By end of the first week of January, send your proposal to your Peer Mentor for edits and your Peer Mentor should get back to you within a week.
  7.  By the second week of January, Your Faculty Mentor must officially sign on to your degree proposal online to indicate he or she is your mentor. At this point, you should review your proposal with your Faculty mentor  -> make edits as needed.
  8. By Mid-February, you must have completed and submitted your Degree Proposal to your mentor for official approval by this date. 
  9. By Mid-March, you must have submitted your Degree Proposal to the ISci program for approval
  10. You will receive feedback from the proposal reviewers on to change. Make this edits and re-submit as soon as possible.
  11. Receive your official approval. Welcome to Integrated Sciences!

How to efficiently utilize your time with your Peer Mentor

You will be matched with a senior students integrating areas the same/similar to your interests. This year I will be a Peer Mentor to 3 students.
The most efficient plan of action would probably be:
  1. Tell your mentor where you are in your Integrated Sciences proposal timeline. E.g. do you have already have a draft and looking for edits on your curriculum rationale? Do you want suggestions on courses?
  2. If you don’t have a draft yet, when do you plan to complete it? i.e. November? Winter break? Early January?  Give him/her an honest estimate based on your personality. That way, they know when to set aside time for you and when to be conscious about checking for emails from you.
  3. Try to finish a draft of your proposal on your own first 
  4. Email your questions about specifics e.g. you want to know what extra courses you can use for pharmacology discipline or about the breadth requirement
  5. If you would like edits, email me your proposal and I’ll try to send it back to you within the week (even sooner if earlier in the semester)
  6. Optional: we can also meet to discuss edits at this point over Skype


Quadruple-check that you will be able to graduate!

  1. Check that you meet the Faculty of Science requirements for graduation. This is a helpful checklist:
    • Pay special attention to the “Breadth requirements” (courses outside of your major area)
    • Make sure you have 3 courses of Math or Statistics
    • Arts credits used in your disciplines can be used as arts credits for graduation.
  2. Check that you meet all the Integrated Sciences requirements:
  3. Physically go to the Science Advising office and ask an advisor to check that you will meet all the requirements for graduation
  4. Physically go to Integrated Science Advising to check that everything is good with them.
The hidden perk of Integrated Sciences.
  • This program is so sweet that they have courses where you and your class can travel to Iceland or Hawaii for course credit! Y’all should rush to apply.
Integrated Sciences vs. Double Majoring
  • The Integrated Sciences program is all about combining different science disciplines. If you are more interested in blending Arts and Sciences, check out this post by my fellow Blog Squad writer on her cool blend of Behavioural Neuroscience and English!
Let Me Know in comments! Would you be interested in mentoring services being offered on this blog for anyone wanting help with:
  • the MCAT
  • Organizing your study routine & becoming a more efficient studier 
  • applying to university and scholarships
  • applying to Integrated Sciences
  • Anything else 🙂
  • My wish is to “pay it forward” in thanks to the older students who mentored me!
 Shout out to Iris for being a reader of this blog and my mentee! I’m always thrilled and grateful to those of you who actually read this blog! 

Applying to Medical school: Preparing your application

In Canada, you are allowed to apply to a handful of medical schools while in third year but the number of third years that get in is not very high because you’ve had less time to do extracurriculars, boost your GPA, etc.  I’m not confident that I’m competitive to get in but I’m still going to try because as Wayne Gretsky said “You miss all the shots you don’t take”. If I just give an earnest effort to applying, I still get a better chance than not trying at all right? Most importantly, I’m going to apply this year to get a practice run to familiarize myself with the application process. All the information I gather together, I can hold on and make applying to next year easier 🙂 Here are some things I learned so far – some of these are things I wish I did so I hope these help you : )

  1. Keep all your emails, or else you’ll regret having trouble finding that exact day you gave a presentation.
  2. Keep meticulous records of all volunteering & employment. Record the date, hours, the contact information of someone that can be a verifier.
  3. Your application takes a lot of time (~2 months). A friend of mine finished her application in a weekend so I thought I could finish it in a week working on it in the evenings after work. Nope. Nope. Nope. Some of you awesome writers probably can. The rest of us  need more time than that to write and revise.
  4. You will spend a lot of time emailing/calling to find a verifier.
  5.  When your old contact has changed jobs/disappeared/changed their email address/phone number, don’t panic. Spend your energy looking for an alternate verifier instead.
  6. You may feel feel like everything you’ve done so far sounds lame on paper or feel like you’ve so uncompetitive compared to the profiles of accepted applicants. I try to keep in mind that it’s NOT a competition of who’s better – you’re competing with yourself to present the best picture of yourself! If you feel a hit to your self-confidence at times, it’s okay!! I think it’s pretty normal. Talk to a friend that can cheer you up 🙂
  7. Ask for help if you need it. No one in my family has gone with through this application process so I asked some friends & colleagues to look over my application – which I am grateful to the moon and back that they are willing to do so.
  8. See your weak areas as places to grow 🙂 Filling in the application has made me realize what areas I am weak and what kind of experiences I should look to gain this upcoming year.
  9. It’s probably better to know your MCAT score before you start working on your application. I’m starting to work on it without knowing my MCAT score and I wish that I know my score so that I could know which schools I am eligible for and just focus on those. My scores don’t come out until the end of August. So if you have the luxury of choice, I would advise you to write the MCAT earlier in the summer, e.g. at or before mid-late June so that you know you stand.
  10. Make a giant spreadsheet to track deadlines and interview dates.

Good luck!

P.S. Does the fact that I quote Gretsky instead of an European philosopher make it painfully obvious that I’m a Canadian? Hockey is basically a philosophy for living here in Canada, at least for hockey players (hahaha).


Study Tips: How to Stay on top of your assignments and studying

Today’s post is a reply to a question posted by Shaun.

” Hi Shanna,

I have been reading your posts about UBC advice and I have been loving it! You seem to truly know your stuff. Currently, I am a first-year student (just started this month), so naturally, I am curious about all sorts of things.
How are Anki flashcards working for you?
How do you keep track of assignments from all of your classes?
and Do you find blogging to be helpful to your personal growth?



Thanks so much for reading and commenting Shaun. First of all, congrats on starting at UBC! How exciting! I wish you a great year full of fun adventures, new friendships, and figuring out how to ace your classes!

Thank you for your kind words. I hope this is okay with you that I’ll split up my answer into several posts, so I can take some time to give you a quality reply!

MOST IMPORTANT TIP: Set multiple email alerts for your small weekly assignments. I find that getting an email is much more helpful than a phone notification. If an alert about an upcoming assignment comes in as the same idea as a text from your boss or your best friend, you might forget about it! This is the email system that  I use with automatic email alerts. Note that I get 3 alerts! So that if I’m lazy and ignore the first email, my alerts refuse to let me forgot about that assignment!


For midterms and big papers, set 4 alerts. The first alert will come should be set for 2 weeks in advance.


Regarding weekly biology and psychology Launchpad/physics and calculus and statistics problem sets, do your assignment as soon as it’s available. If it opens Friday afternoon at 4 pm, do it before you relax for the evening.

Batch them together. If the professor releases 2 weeks of assignments at a time, I would do both of them at the same time since I’m doing it anyway. Getting yourself started is harder than continuing so if you have time, utilizing your good momentum can save you time in the long run.

My opinion only: Paper planners are superior to a cellphone calendar. I have friends that are brilliant students such as Veena and Kelsey that keep track of their due dates and exams all on their cellphone so that might work for you too. I tried the app too but I find it too much of a hassle to type something in and repeatedly check. When you have a paper planner, you can take it out as soon as the professor mentions it and write it down. Part of this is that I feel rude pulling my phone during a lecture but that might be a personal opinion and maybe everyone will doing that in a couple years.

When needed, keep a blank notebook for long to do lists . In busy periods of your life, a planner may temporarily not have enough space. For example, I used a blank notebook to plan out my estimated timeline for writing and editing my application. When you have a ton of projects in different realms in your life, you can have a page just about “urgent school assignments”, “to-dos for Vision Health Volunteers Club”, “Home life to-dos”, “Finalizing your major/other school admin things”, “General finance to-dos”.. Having a multi-purpose notebook on you at all times proves very useful though when you have a meeting and need to write something down.


I do want to note that in first year,  you have the most weekly assignments that you need to keep track of it that you can forget about because your professor will not remind you! If you utilize automatic alerts, you won’t forget. Each year, my classes get less and less assignments and put more weight on exams. For instance, in third year, only 2 of my classes have assignments. My PATH class has only a midterm and final. My physiology class is literally only based on final exam marks . So the further you go along, the less you have to care about little assignments.

Best of luck!