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
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.