Train in Vein

How To Succeed In Science

If you are reading this, please know that in my fantasy world the Beastie Boys’ ‘Sounds Of Science’ would start playing once you clicked on this link. Thus, the photo of the three guys that have had no small part in getting me through life via their music.

Let’s get one thing straight: Science isn’t nerdy. It isn’t geeky. It is awesome. It also isn’t “too hard” for anyone who loves it. You don’t need to be a super genius. (Okay, well in some areas you do. Yes I am talking to you, oh Biomedical Engineer Computer Genius brother of mine.)  I am by no means a genius, not even super smart. But I do have a mind for science. If I read an article about politics, I am lost. If I devour a book for fun and love it, I can’t even tell you the plot a week later. However, if you give me an article on Acute Respiratory Distress Syndrome, I will quote it and have questions. Ask me about anatomy or innervation or analysis of a thromboelastogram? No problem.

As with anything else, you need to love science it to commit to it. You need curiosity and dedication. If you are drawn to the sciences, pay attention to that. We are usually drawn to things we can do well. So grab your narrow ruled notebooks, get some multicolored pens and trick out your backpack. It’s science time.

1. Make friends.

I, too, thought that only nerds and geeks were in science classes. The truth is we are all nerds and geeks, therefore none of us are. I found some of the most interesting, most hilarious and best friends in science classes and in the medical field who I wouldn’t have met otherwise. On the flipside of this, I struggled to find common ground with people in my non-science courses (and sometimes I still do in my every day life). You need to bond with you colleagues and fellow students to bounce ideas of each other, to vent, to advise each other and to stay inspired.

2. It’s a marathon, not a sprint.

After a while, “cramming” doesn’t work for science. So much of what you learn relies on memory and repetition that you really do need to work at it every day. You need to work at your science fitness, if you will. Train your brain and ingrain. That’s my new slogan. When you go over organic chemistry over and over, you finally get it. It becomes a part of you. It’s the same with calculus. It’s the same with the Krebs Cycle… And so on, and so forth.

3. Get creative, too.

I made endless piles of charts and intricate notes. This was my creative outlet. We are talking poster board, multicolored pens, notecards, heavy stock narrow ruled paper, graph paper and the finest ballpoint pen tips made. Going back over my college and medical school notes, it’s easy to mistake them for the obsessive documentation of a serial killer. It’s also kind of beautiful. I intend to make a collage someday and homage to obsession (and fear of failure).

4. Try to keep some hobbies.

All work and no play… We all know how that ends. Since you are already taking serial killer-obsessive notes, you need to keep it light with some extracurricular activities. I keep up with yoga and running, and I make one or two intense drawings or paintings or projects every year or so. I also continue to obsess over fashion and pop culture. I knit, too, which is very good for anxious hands when you need a study break. When all else fails, remember to relax and watch a movie or talk with friends (not about school) every now and then.

5. Befriend mnemonics.

Oh, mnemonics. The things medical school legends are made of.  I could go on and on. They really get you by. Especially the ones that you make up that are beyond ridiculous, you will remember them forever. To list a few classics off the top of my head:

SALFOPMS – Branches of the external carotid artery

ADCVANDIMSL – Admitting orders

Some Lovers Try Positions That They Can’t Handle – Carpal bones

NAVEL – Order of structures, lateral to medial, in the femoral triangle

VAN – Veins, Arteries, Nerve bundle under each rib

6. Surround yourself with supportive people.

This is kind of a given for any endeavor, but I think it’s a good thing to remind ourselves that we really can improve our chances for success with a strong support system. You need people who understand that you need to go into your self-imposed solitary confinement for studying a few times a year. People need to understand that you can’t just blow studying off for a day. You need friends who won’t take it personally when you disappear off the face of the earth during exam time, or that you can rarely make plans. You can’t be pressured to drink or party when you have work to do.

7. Take care of yourself.

I know I always write this. I write it because it is the hardest thing to do. You are only as good and as able as you let yourself be. Try your hardest to eat right, sleep and manage your stress in healthy ways. Take it from me – I struggle with this to this very day. It’s so hard when you are putting everything you need to do first. You can’t do anything for long if you aren’t healthy and if you don’t have support.

8. Enjoy what you do.

It’s no more complicated than just that. Do what you love. Keep your passion and curiosity kindled. Find ways to keep yourself inspired. This is difficult, but necessary for you and to advance the different fields of science. What is science without questions?

9. Don’t be afraid to fail.

Yes, grades matter to a certain extent. But you can’t live and die by them. Do what you need to do to understand, and try your hardest. There is always help, no one wants you to fail (except the rare psycho competitive classmates, but ignore them). Yes you need to worry about grades and doing well, but if you try your hardest the grades and more importantly the understanding, will come.

That’s it for my science tips. I’ve loved the stuff since Dynamath and the school science fair. I’m consistently blown away and inspired by my peers, but I have also held my own staying true to my self and the above guidelines. Come join the dark side! Also, share your tips. As always, thanks for reading… And dropping science like Galileo dropped the orange! Seriously, listen to Beastie Boys “Sounds of Science” right now. Get excited.

Featured image via

  • Ceci Morandeira

    Love this article!

    • Alexandra Anderson Conrad

      Awesome! Thanks!

  • Delfina Gaxiola

    I woke up at 5a today to study Ochem II/Physics II before work. You made me realize that my posterboard and mnemonic game is lacking. Thank you!!! I love your posts!

    • Alexandra Anderson Conrad

      But your 5 am study game isn’t lacking, go get em!

  • Elisabeth Miller

    I LOVED biology (and, to a lesser extent, Chemistry). I was pre-med until I hit physics. It’s supposed to be common sense. Apparently, I have none.

    • Alexandra Anderson Conrad

      Oh I totally hit a wall with physics. Not compatible with my brain at all!

  • Jennifer Hogue

    thank you for the article. there can never be enough role models encouraging girls into math and science careers. don’t give up, you can do it! i study wildlife and could not be more proud or nerdy about my awesome science job.

    • Alexandra Anderson Conrad

      Your job sounds AWESOME. I had many alternate career fantasies after watching “Planet Earth”!

  • Alyson Hockenberry

    i’m a ph.d. student in molecular biology. whenever i go to a bar and explain what i do, people get this grandiose idea that i am a genius. i always try clarify that social ineptitude and a high iq is neither necessary nor sufficient to enjoy science, cause really, it just comes down to curiosity. and if you don’t do well in your science classes, it doesn’t mean you can’t be a scientist! i find that most undergraduate level courses are very unclear and difficult for anyone to understand, even if you do have that fire in your belly for science.

    • Alexandra Anderson Conrad

      Haha! I 100% agree with all of this!

  • Gabriela Varela

    after doing no maths or science in my final years of high school i’m about to start a health science degree and am kind of worried that i worried i won’t be able to handle the science but this article just made me feel 100 times better, thanks!

    • Alexandra Anderson Conrad

      You’ve got this! Don’t worry. Everyone is in the same boat, and it all feels like starting from scratch no matter what. Good luck!

  • Jenna Dimler

    Aaaaa this is just what I needed! I’m taking a Biochemistry undergrad degree right now and I feel like bashing my head against a wall at the moment! I truly love science, but I get so overwhelmed when I have organic chem II, biochem I, microbiology, and genetics (as well as 3 hour labs for 3 of those courses!) going on all at once! It’s seriously nuts!

    • Alexandra Anderson Conrad

      …And somehow you just make it work! You always have, you always will. Hang in there!

  • Anneth Garza

    I agree with you, most of people are afraid of mathematics and engineering , but once you seriously pay attention, science subjects are really easy and interesting. I’m in college studying Digital Graphic Design Engineering and the programming subjects are the most interesting and challenging, I’m not saying that I’m the smartest of my class but I try to keep me in line, because my career involves programming, maths, and the graphic design part, but how you said it before, when you love what you do, everything is easier.

    • Alexandra

      Yes! What you are doing sounds so cool… I always wanted to be a graphic designer when I was young…

  • Ashley Daniels

    My favorite “scientific” mnemonic is for the cranial nerves (taught to me by my nurse mother)- “oh oh oh, to touch and feel a goat’s vagina, aha!” I also think it’s important for people to know that you can work in a science field and not be stuck doing research. There are so many exciting fields to go into!

    • Alexandra

      Haha! Exactly.

  • Mark Whitener

    I teach chemistry in college. I don’t think the word appears here,
    Butt I most enjoyed the passion that shines throughout
    your article. Very good advice.

    • Mark Whitener

      ***but***, sorry.

    • Alexandra

      I LOVED Chemistry!!! Especially O Chem :)

    • Mark Whitener

      Ha, I don’t hear that very often. I liked organic, but I like inorganic more so that’ my specialty. I enjoy reading you positive view of science and medicine.

  • Erin Lambert

    I love your articles, if that’s what we’re calling them. I saw a comment you made a long time ago from another entry that if anyone is starting a career in medicine, you can explain some things. Well, I have lots of questions, and I’m hoping you can answer them!

    • Alexandra Anderson Conrad

      Questions? Fire away! Or send me a Twitter message!

    • Erin Lambert

      I tried to sent you a Twitter message but it didn’t work! It says that you have to be following me for me to send you a message. Oh darn Twitter.

  • Harmony Xie

    loved your article and agreed with so many of your points!! Printed it and posted it on my class to remind me of these very important points :) Especially number 8!

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