Tuesday, December 18, 2007

The D-1 Experience II

A lot of people have been asking what my daily routine is so here goes. The semester seems to have had four major phases: The initial (lag) phase, the first whippings, the calm before the storm, and the clout of doom (finals).

The initial (lag) phase:

Seriously, it is like jet lag, read my post on orientation week and you will get the idea. Since all classes are just beginning and it is the very first semester – things begin at a reasonable pace. Our first three weeks or so were test free.

Wake up: 7am
Class: 8-12pm
Lunch: Usually would go home
Class: 1:30-4:30
The end time was quite variable actually, on Fridays we had no class after noon, and other days we would often get out early. However on more than one occasion, I found myself in the anatomy lab or stuck in the pre-clinic till 5 or 6pm.
Relaxing, 1-2 hours studying: 5-11pm
Sleep – 11-7

As you can see, life is quite manageable during the lag portion of the D1 semester. This is also a great time to participate in class-wide events and social activities. Ultimately, you make friends through these experiences coupled with small group work at school. I have already made more ‘good’ friends at this school than I did in 4 years of undergrad. Partially because we are all subjected to the same torturous lifestyle, and partially because we have no other options (yea I know that sounds bad, but it isn’t meant to be).

Use this lag phase to be social, find your class niche.. I can’t imagine doing this by myself (although I usually do study solo). You need people to vent with, people to drink with, people to just shoot the breeze with, and really, you need people that understand WHY you are so busy. The public has NO idea that dental school is actually difficult and explaining things is impossible; you need to live it, or be close friends/spouse with someone who is living it.

A note about the lag phase – DON’T get behind. Read ahead if you can, go to class, pay attention, the shit is about to hit the fan.

Also note all dental schools are not created equal and neither are the students. The gunners will already be living in the library; you will rarely see them out with the class on weekends. This doesn’t make them assholes; it just makes them gunners (always exceptions). However, you will find that the most intelligent kids in the class usually are quite sociable as well because they are aware that networking pulls some serious weight in getting residencies or just a decent a job straight out of school.

Generally the entire class gets along during this phase as well; everyone is helping each other out.

The first whippings:

Here comes the first wave of tests. We were pretty fortunate to have only 1-2 tests a week as the classes managed to spread them out. Everyone is nervous before the first exam, but you start getting used to it right away. My schedule remains the same except I am spending closer to 3-4 hours a night studying. Obviously this fluctuates with test proximity…but I generally begin reviewing lecture material a week in advance during the first whippings because there still is time to do so.

I was chugging along just fine until that first anatomy practical..whew, go to lab a LOT people, and try to orient your cadaver in many views because those instructors will try to confuse the hell out of you by simply orienting the cadaver or random appendage in a really strange way.

During the first whippings, you will see the class going out after big tests, but smaller groups are now beginning to form and little niches are developing ala highschool. There are jocks, class clowns, cheerleaders, band nerds, strangebees, cool kids (like me), and total slackers/moochers.

Of course since we are ‘adults’ there is a lot more intermingling between castes, but don’t get me wrong, it still feels highschooly. You may also notice during the first whippings that people are starting to get on each other’s nerves. There is also an abhorrent amount of gossip flying around, about who is sleeping with who, and who is the most annoying, and on and on and on – like a soap opera, except in real time and minus commercials. I did a pretty good job distancing myself from rumor mongering, and I am relatively under the radar in terms of class talk. This is good.

The stress comes and goes in waves, much like your intestinal tract after eating white castle sliders. Generally, there will be at least one test of some sort every week during the first whippings. Weekends are still spent doing whatever with some light studying (unless there is a Monday test). The end of this phase usually cumulates with a massive week of tests, followed by a nice 1-2 week break from tests.

The calm before the storm:

This title is misleading, only because it makes one believe that there is nothing really going on. Trust me, there is plenty – but there still are a few breaks intermingled. We had a week of no tests somewhere in mid-October which almost felt like summer vacation. There still are tests, but they feel even more spread out.

My schedule still remains the same, although I am going out to eat lunch with classmates rather than home – partly because there are a TON of food options out here, and partly because I don’t have time to grocery shop.

The main difference is that I am now devoting a lot more weekend time to studying. This is still a calm though because I am now used to sacrificing weekends for the glory of arbitrary grades. You also begin to realize how your grades might shape up. This serves as both moral-breaking, and boosting at the same time. Knowing you are still in ‘A’ range is nice…but knowing you have so much more to study and perform on is still mentally draining. You may notice many of your classmates no longer attending lectures, a strategy I would not recommend – although it works out fine for many of them. People are beginning to ‘freak’ out a little bit more often because the threat of finals is looming nearer and nearer. This stage of the semester ended with a beautiful 2 weeks of no tests including thanksgiving break.

The Clout of Doom (Finals)

As far as I’m concerned, finals lasted for four weeks, straight after thanksgiving. A total of 13 tests - 10 of which are in the final 2 weeks.

Now that number is rather subjective, because some of those tests did not involve much studying. They ALL do have an impact on your grade though, and they all still involve showing up, and performing. Taking this many tests is physically and mentally draining. You just get tired…and instead of being able to unwind, you have to get ready for the next test. I cleaned off my kitchen table last weekend and spread out all the anatomy notes for the final…the table is COVERED in crap.

As soon as I got home from the THREE HOUR written anatomy final, I just threw all the papers off the table (literally) and piled up my micro notes because that test is next.

Another problem now that I didn’t have until this phase is keeping your studying straight. It is very difficult to only study ONE subject because there are too many exams. I can’t pull 14 days of all-nighters…hell I can’t even pull one. Different strokes for different folks of course, but I will not retain anything if I only have one day to prepare. This however, makes finals really challenging because I am juggling all these courses and trying to divide my time effectively.

Oh and schedule wise, it is essentially school/study/sleep every day. I don’t have time to do much else. I only have time for this post because I have been slowly typing it up over the last week and I’ve been using this post as a ‘break’ in between bouts with anatomy and BHD. I haven’t even touched the histo pile yet. Can’t leave out micro either…bleh.

You may notice that many of your classmates (including yourself) are looking quite disheveled, even zombie-like. I love looking at our class composite, when we were all fresh and eager..then going to school and looking at how worn down everyone looks. Physical appearance is no longer really a concern at this point. AND THIS IS ONLY ONE SEMESTER!!

My apartment looks so shitty too it is depressing me. I just have papers and dust balls and garbage piled up everywhere. I simply haven't found the time to tidy up. Luckily, come Friday, I will have 2 full weeks to get this place looking spit-spot.

As you get closer to the end, things just get harder. The anatomy final literally felt like it sucked my soul from my body. I am having trouble focusing on anything. We have no class this last week which means I can’t use time as an excuse. I just find myself looking at the pages and blurring out. Yea I’m bitching a lot, but this is probably the most difficult challenge I have ever faced in terms of sheer work and mental fortitude. I’m GOING to make it, as many before me have, and many more to follow – but you cannot imagine how insane this much school feels.

This just forces me to reiterate a very important value since this is a post geared towards pre-dents. Once you get that first acceptance, for the love of god, do NOT start asking me what books you should be reading to ‘get a head start.’ I will reach through my monitor and throttle you. If I could redo one thing from last dec 1st – present day; it would have been how I spent that time. I would have gone out more, celebrated more, read more books (of the non-science persuasion), and LIVED more. Once you start school, your life will change – and change fast. Before you know it, you will be passing on sagely advice to the next batch of pre-dents while thinking…wow, has it already been a year?

I could go on, but I must return to the table of knowledge and continue to memorize random factoids. Hopefully I won’t just start watching TV or sneak off to the 3 minute-walk-from-here bar.

Almost 1/11 of the way done!