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  • Amygdarya

  • Application cycles: 06/15/2013
  • Demographics: Female, 44, Caucasian
  • Home state: Texas
  • Last Active: 11/16/2014
  • Brief Profile: (I'm not terribly anonymous, but I have nothing to hide :))

    A non-traditional applicant:
    - look at my age above (sigh);
    - foreign native, US permanent resident (got my green card for my research contributions and potential);
    - a pretty difficult childhood: raised by a single mother during the economic tumult of the post-breakdown USSR, for most of my childhood lived in a single 150 square feet room with my mother and shared kitchen and bathroom facilities with 4 more families (I did not misspell: families, not people!), including some people with alcohol and mental health problems and a few criminals (true story; this kind of housing is called "kommunalka" in Russian); as a teenager, participated in rescuing a neighbor's suicide attempt;
    - came to the US all by myself at 21 after graduating from college with just enough money to live on for 1 month, I have no family here but I was able to make several good friends and adjust to the new country;
    - now changing careers from academic biomedical research to medicine because I realized that, while I enjoy the intellectual challenges of research, people are what matters most, and I want to be able to help them directly.

    - BS in Chemistry with concentrations in Biochemistry and Molecular Biology from one of the top Russian universities: plenty of basic and advanced undergrad courses in chemistry (inorganic chem with labs, o-chem with labs, analytical chem with labs, physical chem, chemical kinetics, chemical thermodynamics, quantum chemistry, chemical technology, crystallography etc.) and physics (3 semesters of calculus-based physics with labs + lots of physical chemistry courses), biochemistry, molecular and cell biology, virology, immunology etc. (~3.5 GPA - the classes were quite hard and I didn't know I would be applying to US medical schools and was just having fun :)) - transcripts were officially evaluated by AACRAO, but most US medical schools won't care about my Russian courses anyway;
    - PhD in Microbiology and Immunology from a US medical school: graduate courses in biochemistry, molecular biology, cell biology, microbiology, immunology, virology and biostatistics (~3.5 GPA - again, didn't know I would be applying to US medical schools and was focusing on my research rather than on my classes, which shows in the number of my grad school publications and presentations and, hopefully, my thesis mentor LOR) - not that med schools will care about my grad courses, either;
    - since the vast majority of US med schools require *US undergrad* credits and won't accept either my Russian or my graduate courses, I ended up taking 108 credits at community colleges between Summer 2011 and Spring 2014 (besides retaking prereqs, I took plenty of psychology, philosophy, 4 semesters of Spanish etc. - all As except for 1 B in one of the 4 Spanish classes - really stupid, I submitted an assignment an hour late, got a 0 for it, and there was no way I could get an A without those points);
    - I continue learning Spanish, as I want to be able to communicate with Spanish-speaking patients (self-learning, taking a few private lessons and communicating with my Spanish-speaking friends).

    - unfortunately, I didn't respect MCAT last year - hardly reviewed or practiced at all, hence the miserable result (30Q: 12/9/9); took it more seriously this year, reviewed everything and did a lot of practice for a retake on 05/18/13 - and got a 38 (13/12/13) as a result!!! Guess what? It turns out, studying for MCAT helps :) It is of note that even verbal scores can be improved, even for someone who is not a native English speaker. So happy about my new score, and so relieved.

    - 2 years of undergrad research in bioorganic chemistry/molecular biology/virology back in Russia (1 project, 1 paper, 1 first-author poster at an international conference);
    - 1 year as a full time research assistant in microbiology before grad school (2 projects, 2 papers, including 1 highly cited first author in a good journal);
    - 5 years of full time research in microbiology as PhD student (4 projects, 4 papers in good journals, including 2 highly cited first-author; 2 student research conference presentations and 8 major international conference presentations, 1 book chapter);
    - 3 years of full time postdoctoral work in bacterial pathogenesis (2 projects, 1 paper in a prestigious journal, 3 major international conference presentations);
    - almost 2 years of clinical research in AIDS and viral hepatitis (currently working here) (2 independent research projects, 1 conference presentation at a major clinical meeting, 1 paper just accepted for publication; now working on a conference abstract based on my second project).

    Clinical experience:
    - more than 4 years of ER volunteering and training of new volunteers;
    - shadowing HIV clinic visits with several ID specialists and primary care docs;
    - working in clinical trials in HIV and viral hepatitis for almost 2 years;
    - attending lots of grand rounds, seminars and clinical case discussions in internal medicine, pediatrics and psychiatry at the med school I've been working as postdoc and now clinical researcher.

    - member/secretary/chair of a postdoctoral committee organizing events for postdocs (2.5 years total) - these are not nominal positions, we actually organized many highly acclaimed informative seminars, workshops and social events for postdocs.

    Teaching and mentoring:
    - several semesters of medical microbiology lab and infectious disease conference teaching for med students at 2 med schools;
    - leading workshops, seminars and journal club discussions for grad students;
    - formal high school student and grad student research project mentoring;
    - informal mentoring of graduate students.

    - health fairs (explaining vaccinations to people in the underserved community);
    - science fairs (judge);
    - events raising awareness about HIV infection prevention;
    - very active dispelling vaccination myths and explaining immunization in online forums :)

    - first place in oral presentations at a graduate student conference;
    - travel award as a postdoc for research and leadership;
    - Phi Theta Kappa member;
    - President's Honor List;
    - not an award per se, but I was granted US permanent residency based on my research contributions and promise, which is kind of a big deal;
    - since I only got my green card recently, I was severely limited in my options to apply for fellowships, so no research fellowships for me :(

    - yoga;
    - classical guitar (used to play balalaika, a Russian folk instrument, years ago);
    - culture buff: traveling to major cities in the US, UK, Russia and Ukraine, classical music concerts and opera, museums and all that stuff;
    - foreign languages (studied and successfully forgot German and Italian, currently working on my Spanish);
    - taking lots of MOOCs - viva Coursera, edX and Stanford online!
    - a special interest in psychology, philosophy and religions.

    I'm currently working in clinical research and finishing my prereqs at community colleges (will be done with OChem and all the prereqs in the Spring of 2014).

    I got LORs from my PhD adviser, 2 grad school professors and my current PI who's a med school clinical professor. I believe that all but my current PI's letters are as strong as they get: these people have known me both personally and professionally for years, they have a high opinion of me and are very enthusiastic about helping me. My current PI's letter may not be quite as strong, though neither is it weak, - she's so busy we don't interact that much, so we just don't have that kind of a strong personal relationship that helps with writing a really strong letter; but I think the letter should still be fine.

    Regarding community college classes: I know it's not ideal to take them, but it's the only option I have considering that I support myself by working full time (and research is not a 9-to-5 job). I hope that my high course load while working full time and my (almost) straight As will prove I'm doing community colleges not because I'm a slacker. Besides, I already passed more advanced versions of these courses before with good grades, I'm only retaking them because I took them outside of the US or in grad school.
  • // Applications //

    Application Cycle One: 06/15/2013

    • Undergraduate college: a top Russian university
    • Undergraduate Area of study: Physical Sciences
    • Institution: US medical school
    • Area of Study: Biological/Life Sciences
    • Degree Obtained: PhD
    • Total MCAT SCORE: 522
    • MCAT Section Scores: B/B 130, C/P 130, CARS 130  
    • Overall GPA: 3.96
    • Science GPA: 4.00

    Summary of Application Experience

    Submitted AMCAS on 06/16/2013 and TMDSAS on 06/27/2012. All transcripts were in by the time of submission, all LORs were in by the time of verification. AMCAS verified and made available to schools on 07/17/2013, TMDSAS verified and transferred to schools on 07/16/2013.

    Undergrad GPA: 3.95
    Undergrad Science GPA: 4.00
    Undergrad Non-Science GPA: 3.93
    Graduate GPA: 3.53 (I was really involved in my lab work and didn't pay much attention to studying - multiple publications and a dismal GPA as a result)
    Graduate Science GPA: 3.5
    Graduate Non-Science GPA: 4.00 (where did this come from?)

    Overall GPA: 3.81
    Overall Science GPA: 3.67 (eh)
    Undergrad GPA: 3.95
    Undergrad Science GPA: 4.00
    Undergrad Non-Science GPA: 3.93
    Graduate Total GPA: 3.43 (lower than I expected... TMDSAS and AMCAS calculate GPA differently)
    Graduate Science GPA: 3.43
    Graduate Non-Science GPA: 0.00

    I applied mostly to research-oriented schools, as I'm very much into research and would like to ultimately combine clinical practice with clinical/translational research and possibly teaching (i.e. academic medicine all the way).

    Some thoughts as I'm going through this process:
    1. I'm absolutely honored, totally amazed and unbearably happy to receive 8 IIs from such awesome schools, some of which have been my top choices both pre- and post-interview! I'm even more amazed and excited about the 4 (!!!) acceptances I have.
    2. I perceive that there is a lot of randomness in the medical school application process. I mean, especially after the interview stage, there are so many highly qualified applicants, adcoms may as well throw darts at their names to select a class. Who knows, maybe that's what they really do? :)
    3. While I'm totally burnt out from writing secondaries (didn't complete many of them), I sort enjoyed the more difficult ones more. It seems to me that schools that ask more probing, more introspective questions are the ones that really do care about the values and personalities of their applicants. I also wrote all the optional essays because I had a lot to write about :) Diversity? Disadvantaged? Bring it on!
    4. I've noticed that the activity in school-specific threads, the kind of things discussed there, the kind of applicants, how willing the current students are to answer questions and how good these questions and answers are - all of these kind of correlate with how enthusiastic I am about a particular school. I think you can kind of tell the quality of the students and the applicants from these threads.

    The damage (so far):
    MCAT - prepared DYI using TBR ($276), EK (~$150) and TPRH (bought them used, don't exactly remember how much I spent - I'm sure I got lots of TPRH materials for well under $100)
    community college classes (I took them specifically for my med school application; I had already earned my degrees earlier) - ~$5000
    AMCAS - $860
    TMDSAS - $135 (gotta love TX!)
    secondaries - $1425
    suit - ~$230 (black pant suit + some shirt)
    shoes - $140+$110 ("nice" shoes and comfy but still professional looking shoes for those long school tours)
    bag - $188 (hey, a girl gotta have a nice professional bag!)
    (I admit that the shoe and bag budget could have been smaller, but I feel more confident when I have nice comfortable shoes and a nice practical bag. At least my suit didn't break the bank, and it's a quality CK suit.)
    UTSW interview: free! (hometown advantage)
    Pitt interview: ~$350 air + the really cheap public transportation from airport to campus + staying with a student host (I treated her to a dinner the night before the interview and gave her an Amazon gift card)
    CCLCM and Case interviews: $500 air (I figured it's a bargain for 2 interviews) + the $35 shuttle from airport to campus and public transportation back to the airport + $184 hotel (no rooms were left at either of the Intercontinental hotels when I tried booking - and I did that more than 4 week in advance! - I ended up booking DoubleTree Tudor Arms which is right next to LRI and costs about the same as Intercontinental), staying with Case student host for the second night (yay student hosts! we went out to a bar the night before the interview and I left 2 Amazon gift cards)
    Penn interview: $360 air + $0 lodging (stayed with a friend) + friend giving a ride and public transportation to get from the airport to the city etc.
    WashU interview: $280 air + $0 lodging (one night at Olin hall is free, and it's literally next door to the admissions office! Kudos to WashU for making this easy and affordable for interviewees!) + public transportation to get from the airport and back (MetroLink train station is right on campus, and it takes only 30 minutes to the airport)
    Cornell interview: $326 air + $315 hotel


    Texas Tech University, El Paso
    Texas A & M University
    Texas Tech University
    Georgetown University
    New York University
    Vanderbilt University
    Yale University
    Harvard University
    University of Michigan

    Application Complete, Rejected

    University of California, San Francisco
    Emory University
    Baylor College
    Tulane University
    University of Chicago
    Columbia University
    Mount Sinai School of Medicine
    Northwestern University

    Application Complete, Withdrew

    Albert Einstein of Yeshiva University
    New York Medical College
    Long School of Medicine - University of Texas Health Sciences Center, San Antonio
    University of Texas, Houston

    Invited for Interview, Withdrew

    University of Texas, Galveston

    Attended Interview, Waitlisted, Withdrew

    Cleveland Clinic Medical School
    Case Western Reserve University
    University of Pennsylvania

    Accepted off Waitlist

    University of Pittsburgh


    Washington University in St. Louis
    University of Texas, Southwestern
    Cornell University

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