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Unofficial Guide to Pre-Med Life

Dear Harvard Pre-Meds,

This publication was written with all of you in mind. We wanted to

provide other students with an insider’s perspective of the premed
life at Harvard College, and complement the efforts of the advising
systems already in place. For this reason, we decided to let students
write the entire thing. The purpose is to offer candid advice that
students might not feel comfortable discussing with official advi-
sors on campus, such as premed advisors at the Office of Career
Services (OCS).
Thanks to contributions of many dedicated students, we have been
able to compile most of the secrets to success at Harvard. Every-
thing from volunteering in hospitals throughout the Cambridge/
Boston area, to studying abroad, to preparing for the MCAT is
discussed in this handbook. It is our hope that you will consider the
words of the people that have been in your shoes, yet also realize
that we, too, are only students. The advice given in this guidebook
is the work of students, and should only be considered as one per-
spective. We recommend that you discuss all of your questions and
concerns with friends, professors, and advisors. Only by openly
discussing the premed topics mentioned in this publication with a
wide array of people will you be able to hear enough perspectives.
This publication is meant to be insightful, honest, and resource-
ful. It is the result of over a year of work, and after the creation
of the First-Year Premed Peer-Advising Program, we gathered the
comments of all of the freshman students involved in order to put
together this handbook. With your help and support, we hope to
update this guidebook every year to cater to the students’ needs.
But most importantly, we hope this publication gives all of you an
advantage that we did not have during our freshman years. Good
luck to you all.

The Harvard Pre-Medical Society Executive Board

Harvard Pre
Table of Contents
Making Decisons
Is Med School For You? 4
Three Pre-Med Guidebooks 6
Concentration Advice 9
Secondary Fields for Pre-Meds 12

Academics and MCAT

Questions, Comments, Concerns? 14
Studying Abroad as a Pre-Med 17
MCAT Advice 20
Maybe You’re Not Premed...Yet 23

Student Organizations and Extracurricular Activities 24
Dyanmics of Hospital Volunteering 27
Volunteering Abroad 30
On Shadowing 32
Research and Funding Opportunities 35

eMed Society
Is Medical School For You?
The Question Kira Mengistu

I won’t lie to you. I’m one of those people who have always
known that medical school was in her future. Both my parents
are doctors, and it was naturally assumed that I would follow in
their footsteps someday. My parents subtly (or not so subtly in
some cases) encouraged this prospect by talking about interesting
diseases and promising new drugs over the dinner table—not to
mention the countless doctor play sets they so graciously furnished
me with while I was growing up. From a young age, I was primed to
want nothing more than to place that crisp white coat on my body,
that stethoscope around my neck, and the weighty responsibility of
someone’s wellbeing in my hands.
And then I got to Harvard.
It was my freshman year of college that I started to seriously
question my status as a pre-med. Now, I don’t mean to worry you;
some premeds go through college without a second thought about
other career paths, much less a minor identity crisis like I had. I can
trace my panic attack to a rainy week during reading period when,
in the midst of studying for finals, I sat back and took a long hard
look at the next four years of my life. Like many potential premeds,
I detested Life Sci 1a (not to say that there aren’t those who like the
class) and predicted the same sentiments about some of my future
premed classes. Still, there were other premed classes that I looked
forward to. If you’re even considering going to medical school, be
prepared to take the following courses:
• A year of Inorganic chemistry = Life Sci 1a + Physical Sciences 1
• A year of Organic Chemistry = Chem 17/27 or Chem 20/30 (hard
but interesting)
• A year of Biology = wide range of classes (ooo, fun)
• A year of Physics = lots of options here too, but usually Physical
Kira Mengistu (’11)
is a neurobiology
Sciences 2 and 3 (kill me now)
concentrator. She re- • A year of English = Expos 20 + a literature class (well, I like
searches endothelial writing)
cells and angiogene- • A year of Calculus or other advanced math classes,
sis, is a First Aid/CPR
instructor, in Harvard
including Statistics = Math 1a/1b and above
Model Congress, and There’s a rumor that 40% of Harvard’s freshmen come in with
in the Housing Op- medical school in mind, but drop the pre-med track after taking one
portunities Program. or more of the introductory courses. While I don’t know the exact
Her interests in medi-
cine include surgery
statistics, I know that many of my friends who were premed at the
and cardiology. beginning of freshman year are no longer premed. Though I, too,

4 Harvard Premed Society

questioned my status as a premed during freshman year, especially
after hating two of my premed classes, I have (so far) decided to
stick with it. My reasoning was the following: though premed classes
are not the most interesting or the easiest classes on the face of the
planet, they are the necessary grunt work you have to do before you
can learn the exciting stuff (how drugs interact with the body, how
to treat injuries, etc.).
Once you are positive that you want to go to medical school,
you have to get ready to take the Medical College Admissions Test
(MCAT). The MCAT has four sections: Physical Sciences section
(Physics + General Chemistry), Biological Sciences (Biology and
Organic Chemistry), Verbal Reasoning, and a Writing Sample
Section. Along with your GPA, this test will be an important
determinant of your attractiveness to medical schools. (For more on
the MCAT, please see MCAT Advice on page 33)
Before I move on to describing what medical school is going
to be like, let me first mention one particular aspect of the premed
life that rarely gets mentioned: the competition. Admission to
medical school is extremely competitive (nationally, less than 50%
of applicants get accepted), and this translates into competition
in the classroom. Though Harvard students are, as a whole, very
helpful and cooperative, Harvard is a high-stress (and competitive)
academic environment, particularly for premeds. That being said,
there are also lots of resources at Harvard to help students reach
their full potentials, both academically and otherwise.
Now, let’s flash forward in time. You’ve taken all your required
premed classes, taken the MCAT, and applied and even gotten into a
med school. What should you expect your next four years to be like?
You will spend the first two years of medical school in a classroom
learning the basics of medicine, while you will spend the last two
years in a clinical setting where you’ll learn patient care firsthand.
Once you finish med school, you will finally get that snazzy Dr. title
in front of your name and the M.D. title (or D.O., if you attend an
osteopathic medical school) behind your name.
The road to the white coat and the stethoscope around your neck
is long and rough. You’ll encounter many obstacles and countless
moments of self-doubt and anxiety about a career in medicine.
Somewhere along the path, you may decide that medicine really
isn’t your passion and you are destined to do something else with
your life–this is fine. But if you stick it out, you’ll find that medicine
is one of the most rewarding professions. Where else can you bring
in new life, save countless lives, and heal the maimed and broken?
I wish you the best of luck on your journey.

2008-2009 GUIDE 5
Three Pre-Med Guidebooks
Kimberly Murdaugh

The Office of Career Services (OCS) provides a wealth

of resources about the medical school application process,
including timelines, interview tips, and suggestions for preparing
for the Medical College Admission Test (MCAT), but several
comprehensive and useful guidebooks can supplement their advice
and provide you an even greater understanding of being a pre-med
student. The following books are just a sample of the numerous
pre-med guides available, but they provide an in-depth look at each
aspect of the application process while also addressing the overall
pre-med experience.

Medical School Admission Requirements (MSAR)
The American Association of Medical Colleges (AAMC)
annually publishes MSAR, a thorough guide that covers every facet
of the medical school application process. Since the AAMC also
administers the MCAT and oversees the American Medical College
Application Service (AMCAS), this book is an invaluable resource
recommended for every pre-med student.
In the first chapter of MSAR, the AAMC outlines the ideal
qualities and aspirations that doctors possess in order to give a
general idea of what being a physician is like. This section of the
guide can be beneficial if you are wondering if the profession is right
Kimberly Murdaugh for you, and if so, what specialty might compliment your interests.
(’11) is a Winthrop This chapter of MSAR also encourages you to consider if you would
House resident want to attend a public or private medical school and to carefully
concentrating in evaluate different institutions’ unique programs as you formulate
Organismic Evo-
lutionary Biology your list of schools.
(OEB). During the Medical School Admission Requirements describes the standard
year, she volunteers medical education, beginning with the pre-med curriculum and
at Brigham and culminating licensure certification. is also one of
Women’s Hospital,
is a member of the the best resources for learning about how to apply to medical school.
Harvard Cancer So- Some of the topics listed in the guide include: how to complete
ciety, and shadows your AMCAS application and when to submit it, the dates when
doctors through the the MCAT is offered, and when you will receive your scores. The
Harvard Premedi-
cal Society. In her application process may seem overwhelming, but MSAR guides
spare time, Kim- your through it, step by step, giving links to corresponding websites
berly enjoys watch- within each chapter to expand on each part of the process.
ing silent films from The crux of the MSAR consists of information about the
the 1920s.
129 accredfM

6 Harvard Premed Society

Canada. Two pages per institution are allotted to describe each The OCS library
school, giving information about the mission statement, curriculum, also offers
selection factors, campus information, and financial aid. MSAR guidebooks for
your reference
also highlights the medical schools’ pre-med requirements, the
application procedures, MCAT statistics, and the demographics of
- 2 copies of the
the matriculants.
latest MSAR

- Premedical
Med School Confidential, A Complete Guide to the Medical Information for
School Experience: By Students, for Students Harvard Students
Written by Robert H. Miller and Daniel M. Bissel, M.D., Med
School Confidential is an informal guide to every aspect of a medical
education, from asking yourself why you want to become a doctor
to the realities of being a medical student. Med School Confidential
is divided into seven all-encompassing sections that reveal how to
succeed in your pre-med classes and excel on the MCAT. One of
the guide’s strengths is its timeline for the application and interview
processes, as well as its tips for staying organized along the way.
Unlike most pre-med guides, Med School Confidential reminds
medical students that they are not alone on this arduous (yet
immensely rewarding) path by also providing advice for students’
families and loved ones. Although the last half of the guide provides
insight into medical school life, coursework, and, ultimately, clinical
years and residency, reading about these experiences can help you
decide if you are willing to accept the challenges associated with
pursuing a medical career.

The Medical School Interview: Secrets and a System for

According to the author of The Medical School Interview,
Jeremiah Fleenor, MD, MBA, the interview can make you stand out
among your fellow applicants who may have similar GPAs, MCAT
scores, and extracurricular activities. The Medical School Interview
describes what applicants should convey during their interviews,
as well as what they should avoid. Preparing for the interview
requires a thorough assessment of your motivation for wanting to
be a physician and the progress you have made towards achieving
this goal. Therefore, Fleenor provides an “Inventory Checklist” that
helps you consider your foundational, personal information (e.g.
your volunteer and research experience and your views about United
States healthcare policies). After you use the guide to establish and
compile background information about yourself, you can examine
several questions that are in almost every interview, and consider the
guide’s suggestions for the most effective ways to address them.

2008-2009 GUIDE 7
Medical School Admissions Requirements (MSAR), Medical
School Confidential, and The Medical School Interview are practical
resources to own during your freshman year, but it is not imperative
that you read these books from cover to cover. It can instead be most
useful to skim these books for a general overview of the application
process to make the experience less daunting in the future. At this
stage, perhaps the most important topic to consider in these guides is
to understand the reality of pursuing a medical career and to assess
your dedication to the long yet rewarding road ahead.

8 Harvard Premed Society

Concentration Advice
Alissa D’Gama

So, have you decided on a concentration? Are you going to

make it a joint concentration, add a secondary field, or complete a
Upon arriving at Harvard, you may be asked these questions.
To clarify, at Harvard, a concentration is a major, a secondary
field is a minor, and completing a certain number of courses in a
specific language earns you a citation. Unlike other colleges, where
double (and even triple) majors may be common, the closest thing
to a double major at Harvard is a joint concentration, but which
is different in that it involve writing an interdisciplinary thesis
that “joins” your two fields of concentration. At Harvard, you also
cannot pursue multiple secondary fields, but you can have multiple
citations and pursue a secondary field in addition to citation(s).

As a future doctor or someone considering attending medical
school, you might wonder if there is a perfect pre-med concentration
at Harvard. First of all, unlike at many colleges, there is no
concentration officially called “pre-med.” Instead, you are faced
with a multitude of options ranging from the traditional Molecular
and Cellular Biology or Chemistry to Women and Gender Studies
and Romance Languages. Alissa D’Gama
Most pre-medical students at Harvard (and most non pre-med (’11) is Molecular
students) would say that the most common concentrations for pre- and Cellular Biology
concentrator. She
medical students are in the Life Sciences, specifically Molecular and works in the neuro-
Cellular Biology. biology lab of Dr.
Prior to 2006, there were two concentrations that fell under Josh Sanes, writes
umbrella of typical premed concentration: Biology and Biochemistry. news stories for The
Harvard Crimson,
In 2006, a new cluster of Life Science concentrations was introduced, and is the Hospital
two of which are tracks within other broader concentrations. Volunteer Program
In Biological Anthropology, which is a track within Director for the
Anthropology, you study both human and primate biology. In Harvard Pre-Medical
Society. She hopes to
Chemistry, you study electrons and protons, bonds and free energy attend medical school
– the structure, properties, and reactions of matter. This and specialize in

2008-2009 GUIDE 9
concentration includes the infamous Organic Chemistry
sequence, which is a requirement for premedical students whether or
not you concentrate in Chemistry. In the similarly named Chemical
and Physical Biology, classical biology and chemistry are combined
with the more hard-hitting math and physics. Continuing along,
in Human Evolutionary Biology, you will learn how humans and
primates became they way they are with a focus on the evolutionary
perspective. In the eponymous Molecular and Cellular Biology, you
will study how molecules and cells in tissues interact and perform
their functions. In Neurobiology, you learn how the nervous system
organizes behavior. Organismic and Evolutionary Biology studies
how organisms (but not exclusively humans) evolve and function.
Finally, Social and Cognitive Neuroscience, which is a track within
Psychology, connects more traditional psychology to the other life
If you concentrate in the Life Sciences, you will learn to love
Rob Lue, whose animated movies of the inner working of the cell
have brought students and TFs (teaching fellows, who lead small
sections in the larger lecture classes) to tears. If you concentrate in
Chemistry, you might meet Dudley Herschbach, a Nobel Laureate.
These two professors are just a sampling of the amazing minds who
might teach you in a few of Harvard’s concentrations. (For more on
professors, see “Where to go for Advice” on page 6.)

Finding the Right Concentration

However, just because you are pre-med does not mean that you
have to concentrate in the Life Sciences. Taking a sampling of a
six-person freshman suite, in which three of the students are pre-
med, the “pre-med” concentrations include MCB, Economics, and
Chemistry. In another informal survey conducted in Annenberg,
among a group of students sitting together, one jokingly suggested
quantum physics, another said MCB was probably the most common,
and a third said, “do whatever you want!”
They all hit on the right idea. Obviously, more pre-medical
students will probably concentrate in biology rather than physics, but
in the end, your concentration is entirely up to you. Concentrating
in a science will not necessarily make you more prepared for medical
school – they just want to know that you are competent in the
sciences and can handle the medical school workload. On the other
hand, don’t concentrate in Folklore and Mythology just because you
think looking different will give you an upper hand in the medical
school admission process (Of course, if you are truly interested in
“African Women Storytellers,” by all means, go ahead!).

10 Harvard Premed Society

As long as you satisfy your premedical requirements, which
include one year of inorganic chemistry with lab, one year of organic
chemistry with lab, one year of biology with lab, one year of math,
and one year of English, any concentration is the perfect one if you
are excited about it. As you’ve no, doubtedly heard, genuine interest
in a field generally leads to a more enjoyable and successful path.
Medical schools want to see that you took a wide variety of classes
including advanced classes in your area of concentration, pursued
your interests, or participated in research. Let me say it one more
time: your concentration will not make or break your medical school
To learn more about concentrations, talk with your freshman
advisor, attend the Concentration Fair during orientation week,
and take advantage of Advising Fortnight, two weeks during your
freshman spring when all 44 concentrations will hold open houses
with tutors and faculty. Other great resources include current
concentrators, concentration advisers, and head tutors. Plus, you do
not have to decide your concentration until after sophomore fall,
so take the introductory courses to explore. Lastly, changing your
concentration after declaring is accessible and quite common.
Don’t spend your time at Harvard taking classes for a
concentration you don’t love. With so many options, you can find
your perfect match and show medical schools why you and your
concentration were meant to be.

2008-2009 GUIDE 11
Secondary Fields For Premeds!
Sara Gallant

While most of your undergraduate studies will focus on your

concentration courses, the newly instituted secondary field program
offers opportunities to explore your other interests and gain formal
recognition for these efforts.
There is no reason to choose a secondary field you aren’t
interested in, however. Doing so will eat up precious slots in your
course schedule and prevent you from taking all of the diverse,
seemingly random (but perhaps life changing) electives that are the
hallmarks of a liberal arts education. Nor is there reason to believe
that, because you are a pre-med, you are limited to secondary fields
that clearly complement your future in the medical community.
Some secondary fields, such as Economics and English, do not seem
as if they are obviously linked to medicine. However, the world
of medicine has a very complicated economic landscape, which
makes Economics relevant; English and verbal skills are incredibly
important in academic medical writing, and when listening to and
communicating with patients (I learned this in my “Medicine and
Literature” freshman seminar). If you’re creative, you can probably
link any secondary field with medicine, although this is entirely
unnecessary. Dramatic Arts, Sanskrit, or anything else that might
jingle your academic bells are worthwhile pursuits as secondary
fields, simply because they may stimulate you and will round you
out as a student. That said, there are some secondary fields which
Sara Gallant (’10)
is a neurobiol-
clearly complement an interest in medicine:
ogy concentrator
living in pfabulous Medical Anthropology – 4 half courses.
Pforzheimer House. If you are interested in global health comparisons, how health
Her medical inter-
ests include her job
and medicine are related to society, how medical practices have
as an EMT, surgery, evolved and differ across cultures, cultural barriers to medical
and global health. advances, the societal experience of the ill, or any interaction
When not busy with between human society and culture and medicine, this secondary
those interests or
studying, Sara can
field might be for you.
usually be found
dancing with the Health Policy – 5 half-courses including a research course.
Harvard Ballet Domestic health policy has been a key factor in the 2008
Company, partici-
pating in Harvard
presidential race, and for good reason. All kinds of crises seem to
Model Congress, be on the horizon when it comes to health care systems and the
or playing way too economics thereof; if you are interested in solving these, strongly
much ping pong. consider this Secondary Field! You will explore the general theories

12 Harvard Premed Society

relating to health and health care systems, as well as policies that affect
these systems and how to shape good policies. This secondary also
allows you to dabble in a broad distribution of fields; anthropology,
economics, government, history, psychology, sociology, and ethics.

History of Science – 5 half-courses.

As the name suggests, this secondary allows investigation into
the historical contexts of scientific advancements. Since many of
these advancements had big effects on medicine, this secondary is
great for the pre-med history buff.

The Sciences:
If your concentration is in something that diverges significantly
from the sciences, and you feel that the pre-med requirements
aren’t quite satisfying your scientific hunger, consider one of the
biologically focused secondaries, like Human and Evolutionary
Biology, Molecular and Cellular Biology, Neurobiology, and Mind/
Brain/Behavior. Not only will they enhance your understanding of
biology and allow you to take smaller classes within the departments,
they are a great place to get ideas and make contacts for research,
which is an attractive and enriching experience for future med school
applicants. Chemistry and Physics are also options that are great for
the same reasons if your scientific tastes lie more in that direction.

Visit for a great outline of

all these programs as well as contact information for each secondary

2008-2009 GUIDE 13
Questions, Comments, & Concerns
Where To Go for Advice at Harvard Bianca VermA

Need advice? If you’re a pre-med–or any undergraduate student

– my advice is to take full advantage of all of the resources Harvard
has to offer. The one thing that I learned is that you must be proactive
in your quest for help. No one is going to hold your hand to make
sure that you are doing okay. However, with that said, there are more
than enough resources and people available who want to help. You
just have to ask.

Your Advising Network

When in doubt, go to your peers. They are the easiest and most
readily available resources you will find on campus. Upperclassmen
Bianca Verma
(’10) is concen-
know where to go for help, what classes to take, and which professors
trating in Social to avoid. As a freshman, Harvard provides you with a peer advisor,
Anthropology and academic advisor, and proctor. Peer advisors offer extracurricular,
working towards a academic, and college-life advice, proctors live with you in your
certificate in Health
Policy. Her interest
dorm and organize study breaks and try to resolve any dorm
in medicine is inter- disputes, while academic advisors are either proctors or members
national and along of the faculty who offer freshmen advice and approve their class
the lines of public schedule. Additionally, upperclassmen houses have tutors involved
health and policy.
She involved in a
in professions such as medicine, law, and business. For example, I
several activities at can walk up one flight of stairs to ask my entryway tutor, a dentist/
Harvard including maxillofacial surgeon, any burning pre-med/medical questions, and
the Harvard Col- if I ever have a question regarding law, his wife, a lawyer, is usually
lege Global Health
and AIDS Coali-
somewhere close by.
tion, the Harvard For more pre-med advice, you can also go to the OCS’s two
Women’s Ultimate premedical advisors, Lee Ann Michelson and Jeff Glenn. They
Frisbee Team, the provide advising for prefrosh through alumni, with resources that
Harvard College
Dance Marathon
include workshops, individual appointments, walk-ins, data reports
board, and PBHA’s on Harvard applicants, premed guide for Harvard students, alumni
LEADERS. One evaluations, listserv for Harvard premeds, sample course schedules,
amazing quote she and many more.
would like to share
with all Harvard
premeds is: “When Professors and TF’s
nothing is certain, As an undergrad, taking advantage of the faculty is the best
everything is way to enhance your learning experience. TF’s are teaching fellows
possible” – If you
take those words to
that lead additional class discussion sections and, in some science
heart, she promises, classes, organize labs as well. They are generally graduate students,
they will change or in some cases, upperclassmen with expertise in the subject. For
your life. larger classes, TF’s are the people that grade your papers, problem

14 Harvard Premed Society

sets, and exams, and who you will likely be in contact with the most.
TF’s are useful because they tend to be a little more flexible than
professors and often times live in the houses as tutors or students, so
they are readily available for questions or appointments. If for some
reason, however, you do not vibe with your TF, you can generally
switch sections to a “more convenient time” or audit another section,
although this policy depends on the course.
Professors and TF’s will often offer additional office hours to
supplement your learning experience. These are a great way to get
a better understanding of the material and better acquaint yourself
with the faculty in a one-on-one, or in some cases, a small group-
on-one setting. Office hours are the first step in establishing a
relationship with your professor, and before you know it, you’ll be
inviting them to your house’s student/faculty dinner. Chances are,
you’ll win over a potential candidate to write you an excellent letter
of recommendation for medical school!

Where else can I go?

Other useful resources on campus include the Bureau of Study Preview:
Counsel (BSC), the Writing Center, and various class-related help - Bureau of Study
rooms. If there is one thing you need not feel ashamed of, it is Counsel
recognizing when you need help. The Bureau of Study Counsel is - Writing Center
- Class-Provided
there to guide you in times of crises if you ever need someone to
question center
talk to, or if you need some extra help in a class. BSC tutors are and help rooms
members of your peers who have taken your class already and have - Women's Center
done well. I found them helpful because they knew exactly how - Internet (eg:
to help you. They had been through the same class not too long
before me, often with the same professor and format, had a good
grasp of the material, knew of the common trouble areas, and had
already worked out the kinks to solving particular problems. Since
they have already walked in your shoes, they often can offer the
best advice and guidance to do well. I have never felt intimated or
inferior by having a tutor—it was just a way to keep me disciplined
and on top of my work. Another plus is that Harvard subsidizes BSC
tutoring, so it only costs you $4/hour.
Additionally, Harvard has a Writing Center where “writing
experts” will read and edit your drafts before they are due. Early
weekday mornings, you can submit your paper and enjoy a free cup
of coffee from the café before 10 AM.
Similarly, math and science classes will offer question centers
and help rooms to assist you on your homework. These centers are
run by your TF’s or undergraduate facilitators, so you are sure to
receive the help and, for the most part, the answers that you need.
Course-specific help can usually be found on your course syallabi.
The Women’s Center is also another great place to go. Guys, don’t

2008-2009 GUIDE 15
be intimidated, the women’s center is welcome to everyone. It is a good
place to chat, watch TV, study, and enjoy the amenities of free printing,
free coffee, tea, hot chocolate, and good, friendly company.
Lastly, Harvard has made obtaining information via the Internet
extremely effortless. is essential for all Harvard
students. Whether you need a class website, shuttle schedules, the
dinner menu, or an online library catalog, you can access a vast
variety of information pertaining to campus from your dorm room
or out on the Yard. I find the website most useful to find an academic
resource, or to access my classes’ websites to check on any upcoming
announcements, syllabus changes, or upcoming readings.
Attending Harvard can be a big transition for many. It’s a top
university with a competitive student body, but remember: you got
in. You made it over the biggest hurdle already. I’m not going to
say it will to be an easy ride because, for the most part, it is not.
However, keep in mind that, as you navigate through the next 4
years, there are endless resources available to make your journey a
successful one!

16 Harvard Premed Society

Studying Abroad
Jamie Greenwald

It has become an all-too-common misconception amongst not
only students, but faculty and administrators, that studying abroad
for an undergraduate semester while at Harvard is not an experience
achievable by pre-medical students. The fact that medical schools
will not accept pre-med courses taken abroad, the sheer number of
courses required of a pre-med student, or the (incorrect) belief that
taking a semester away from Harvard could potentially reflect poorly
on a student’s academic record are all reasons cited against studying
abroad as a pre-med at Harvard. These reasons, and the many
others used, are WRONG! Although it is true that you should not
take any pre-med requirements abroad, this does not mean that you
cannot take ANY science courses while abroad; yes, there are many
courses to take as a pre-med student, but there are also many, many
ways one can finish these requirements AND still take a semester
Jamie Greenwald
to study abroad; and finally, it is absolutely ridiculous to think that (’08) gradu-
studying abroad may reflect poorly on one’s academic record! In ated Harvard with
the following paragraphs, the process of studying abroad while at a degree in Human
Harvard will be outlined in brief, and special considerations for pre- Evolutionary Biol-
ogy. Jamie studied
medical students studying abroad will be highlighted. However, in Gaborone, Bo-
for more detailed information, and/or if you do indeed decide to tswana during the
study abroad, I encourage you to drop by the Office of International spring semester of
Programs, located on the ground floor of University Hall, or visit the her junior year, pri-
marily conducting
OIP website at biomedical research
in the Botswana-
ship HIV Research
Deciding to study abroad involves realizing what you would Laboratory. Upon
like to get out of your abroad experience, which will help dictate the returning from Bo-
type of study abroad programs you consider, as well as choosing a tswana, and com-
mencing her senior
location in which to study abroad. There are two types of abroad year, Jamie became
experiences that represent the extremes of the abroad program a student adviser
spectrum: in Harvard’s Office
of International
- First, there are programs organized by national study Programs. Post-
abroad organizations, such as CIEE or SIT, dedicated to creating graduation, and
pre-medical school,
structured programs in hundreds of different countries that bring Jamie will spend
a group of 15-20 American students to the country and guide two years as a
them through a cultural immersion. research fellow at
the National Insti-
- On the other end of the spectrum are the programs known tutes of Health in
as “direct enrollment” programs. Direct enrollment refers to Bethesda, MD.

2008-2009 GUIDE 17
students who enroll in a host country university and subsequently
become just like a local student.
As mentioned above, reflecting on how you envision your
abroad experience will help direct you toward one end of the
program spectrum. Of course, another criterion used to narrow
program options is the world region in which you would like to
These credit study. Once you have a good idea of the type of program you would
approval and like and the region in which you would like to study, visit the OIP
program deadlines website where you will find detailed lists of all the study abroad
are NOT the same, programs approved by Harvard, organized by world region. When
and often program
you have identified several programs that fit your interests it is
specific deadlines
come before advisable to visit the OIP to take advantage of the resources that are
Harvard credit not available online, such as one-on-one discussion with program
deadlines, so BE advisors, student evaluations of past abroad experiences, and student
ALERT! contact lists organized by world region and specific program. The
next step is applying to the program, or programs of interest, as well
as applying for credit approval from Harvard.
1. You must take a full semester course load in order to receive
full credit while abroad. (Full course loads translates differently
depending on where and in what institution you are studying. Talk
to a member of the OIP staff to make sure that the classes you are
taking while abroad translates to a full load.)
2. You must take an equivalent of 2 half courses while studying
abroad during a summer term. Consult the OIP to determine the
appropriate equivalence of 2 half courses.
3. You may receive concentration credit for the courses you take while
abroad. The number of courses that you will receive concentration
credit for will be decided by your concentration advisor. All courses
taken abroad that you do NOT receive concentration credit for will
count as electives.
4. Courses taken while abroad MUST be taken for a letter grade.
However, your grades received while abroad will appear as PASS or
FAIL on your official Harvard transcript. Furthermore, your grades
received while abroad will NOT factor into your Harvard GPA. This
is not to say however that grades received abroad are insignificant,
many times graduate school will ask for transcripts from abroad
institutions which will contain the letter grades received at these
5. You will be able to exempt yourself from ONE core (ANY core)
requirement if you study abroad during a semester.

18 Harvard Premed Society

1. As mentioned earlier, pre-medical course requirements cannot be
fulfilled while abroad.
2. There is a plethora of different ways in which to fit a study abroad
semester into your four-year plan of study. Drop by the OIP to
pick up handouts that detail sample plans of study for pre-medical
students taking a semester to study abroad!
3. Although a semester abroad may serve as a much needed break
from the science-heavy academic schedules of most pre-med
students at Harvard, some students may still want to continue their
science education while abroad, or even enhance their knowledge
in the field of public health. There are so many ways to have both
of these experiences while abroad; to explore abroad programs that
can offer you these experiences, browse the OIP website or go into
the OIP office and speak to a knowledgeable study abroad program
Studying abroad is an invaluable experience for those who chose
to do so during their undergraduate careers. Not only will you add
to your repertoire an in-depth understanding and appreciation for
another culture and its people, but you will return to Harvard with a
unique spectrum of knowledge to share with your peers, professors
and family. As a pre-medical student, a study-abroad experience
will not only be an asset to you in your classrooms and conversations
while at Harvard, but it will prove to be one of the most important
aspects of your application to medical schools (we couldn’t avoid
the inevitable mention of the resume!). Harvard alumni who studied
abroad while at Harvard and who matriculated into medical school
post Harvard often mention their abroad experience as one of the
primary topics of conversation in their medical school interviews.
It’s true! All resumes and interviews aside, however, studying
abroad is an incredible experience and one that every student, pre-
med or not, should at least consider while at Harvard.

If you are interested in a opportunity to study abroad but are want

to do it outside of coursework, the OCS also has information on
international programs at
global-opportunities.htm. The Weisman International Internship
Program in particularly is especially popular with premeds.

2008-2009 GUIDE 19
MCAT Advice

If you are consid- Having just taken the April administration of the new computer-
ering applying to based MCAT, I still have not recovered completely from my MCAT
medical school ordeal. I can say that it’s not as bad as it may seem. We’ve been
your senior year
taking standardized tests all our lives, we know the drill. So take a
(as more and
more Harvard
deep breath, it will all be over in a few months.
undergrads are
beginning to do), Deciding when to take the MCATs
you can take your
Junior year of college is the time to take the MCATs. Now
MCATs a year
later during your
with the MCAT completely computerized, there are about 25
senior year. administrations each year as opposed to 2 administrations of the
paper version. Tests are available April-September and January.
Many students like to take the MCAT the summer before their junior
year, either taking a class or utilizing the extra time while school is
not in session to study on their own. I would definitely recommend
this, as it allows you to really focus all your efforts on preparing
for the MCAT without worrying about midterms, papers, or finals.
You’ll be done early and not have to worry about it again; and if you
Yangyang Yu do need to take it again, you will have plenty of opportunities.
(’09) is a resident of One reason why students are hesitant to take the MCATs is that
Pforzheimer house they haven not completed all the relevant science classes. Taking
concentrating in
organic chemistry, general chemistry, physics, and biology are good
biochemical scienc-
es with a secondary preparations for the exam. They help—but if you are missing a
field in economics. semester of, say, physics, I would not worry too much. I found that,
She plays the violin, even though I had taken those classes, after two years I had forgotten
is involved with
a lot of the material anyway. If you do the appropriate studying,
the Foundation
for International learn the material, and practice persistently, you will be ready.
Medical Relief If you do decide to take it during the semester, make studying
of Children and for the MCATs a priority. Professors, TFs and employers are very
Association for US
understanding about the MCATs, and if you let them know early,
China Relations,
as well as spends they will help you.
time volunteering
on campus. She is Registering
interested in pediat-
rics and orthope- Since all exams are computer-based, there are a limited number
dic surgery and of seats available at each administration. Once you decide on a date,
currently performs
clinical research make sure you register early! I registered for my April exam over
in orthopedics at two months before the test date, and could only get the third closest
Harvard Medical site in Burlington, MA. There is enough to worry about without
School. having to worry about traveling, so you should visit your test site

20 Harvard Premed Society

beforehand. I took public transportation a week before my test date
to learn how to get there, but I ended up taking a taxi the morning of
the exam. This was definitely the better choice. It took half as long
and I could enjoy a quiet ride. You definitely not want to be bounced
around on noisy public transportation right before your exam.

There are many MCAT preparation courses offered nowadays,
but with price tags over $2000 (Kaplan has a summer intensive
program for $8000!) not everyone can afford to take a class. You do
not need a prep class to do well on the MCATs. If you need some sort
of structure to help you set aside time each day to study, consider
forming a MCAT study group with your friends. If you plan to take
the MCAT in the spring semester, the Harvard Bureau of Study
Council and the Harvard Pre-med Society offer a nine week course
taught by students who scored in the 99th percentile. This course
costs $45 per class -- Physical Sciences or Biological Sciences—
and runs from February to April. I took both classes, and though
sometimes a bit dry, they helped enforce 6 hours of dedicated MCAT
time each week. To get the most out of any type of prep course, you
need to attend the course meetings. I think, by April, there were only
a handful of students left in each class. This is unfortunate because
you learn more when you are physically there, even if you’re just
sponge-absorbing everything. Another key to maximizing the
effectiveness of a course is to do the homework problems when
they are assigned. You not only get practice answering MCAT type
questions, but they reinforce what you learned in class, helping you
consolidate the information into long-term memory so it will last
you at least until you’ve taken the MCATs.
In studying for the MCAT, be consistent. Decide on a study
schedule and stick to it. Also, don’t base your entire studying on one
review book. Each review book has its own strengths. The Kaplan
Premier Program gives a great overview of all the topics you need
to know, although sometimes in too much detail. However, there are
no questions interspersed with the readings to test if you understood
the material. Examkrackers is good if you are a visual learner as it
provides color diagrams. It also contains plenty of practice problems
specific to the section you just read. I really liked the Princeton
Review HyperLearning Biological Sciences and Physical Sciences
Review books. They were clear and concise and had lots of practice
problems. The practice problems test whether you can apply the
concepts and gives a variety of scenarios in which you will be called
upon to apply them in.

2008-2009 GUIDE 21
Also, don’t neglect the writing component. It’s pretty
straightforward but definitely do some practice before going into the
exam, even if only to get a feel for the timing. A poor writing section
reflects badly on you especially if you ace all the other sections.

Taking a computer-based exam

Finally, just reading and doing practice problems is not sufficient.
It’s really important that you get a lot of practice on real tests. I
personally prefer paper exams because I like to scribble, cross-out,
circle and write margin notes. Unfortunately, you can’t do any of
these things. You can only highlight passages and for some reason
these highlights disappear after you leave the page. The best way
to prepare for the computer-based MCAT interface is to purchase
online exams from There is one free online
exam that you have unlimited access to.
There are many resources at Harvard for you including OCS,
house pre-med tutors, and seniors or recent graduates who have
gone through the entire process. More information about the MCAT
can be found at:
Remember: consistency, perseverance and confidence are key.
Don’t stress. You’ll do fine. The MCAT is only one tiny piece of a
greater picture that you’ll present to the Medical School admission

22 Harvard Premed Society

Maybe You’re Not Premed...Yet
THeadora Sakata

Some people seem to know from the time they get an Apgar
score (a health test for newborn children) that becoming a medical
professional is in their future. For others, the premed bug doesn’t
bite until later on in their lives, sometimes after they have already
had successful careers in fields ranging from business and teaching
to music and media. If you think you might be in this latter group
and are unable to decide whether or not to be premed during your
undergraduate years, don’t despair. Instead, keep a few things in
First: medical schools will not view you as a less-desirable can-
didate if you explore other career options first. In fact, many medical
schools celebrate the life experiences that non-traditional students
bring to the table.
Second: know that college is not your only chance for being
able to complete premedical course requirements. Several schools
across the country offer post-baccalaureate enrollment in a variety
of arrangements. On one end of the spectrum are schools that simply
allow you to pick and choose courses to take with the rest of the
undergraduate population. On the other end are schools that offer
full-time schedules complete with post-bac-specific advising and
linkage programs with medical schools. You should choose a pro-
gram that fits your needs, but consider looking into several different
options and don’t be shy about asking programs for their medical Theadora Sakata
school admissions rates. For a list of colleges and universities that (’02) concentrated
offer post-bac courses, see the AAMC website at http://www.ser- in ESPP and gradu-
ated from college
while still wonder-
Finally, remember that OCS and the House premed advis- ing what to do
ing system are always there for you, even years after graduation. after college. After
Through these resources, not only will you be able to get in touch getting a master’s
degree at Cam-
with medical students who have taken a non-traditional route, but
bridge University in
you will also be sure to have good advising regardless of which Land Economy and
post-bac program you do. generally messing
around for a year,
she decided that she
liked people after
all and enrolled
in a postbac-
premed program
at Barnard. She is
currently in medical
school at North-
western University.

2008-2009 GUIDE 23
Student Organizations
and Extracurricular Activities
Christi Butler

Imagine: spending all of Saturday holed up in the library

studying for the next Life Sciences 1b midterm, or spending hours
upon hours on a Physical Sciences 2 pset, only to go to the help
room and discover that half of your work is wrong…yeah, we’ve
all been there.
Amidst the overwhelming desire to burn our books and throw
our hands up in frustration, we ask ourselves: “How do these classes
actually translate to medical school?” As easy as it can be to become
jaded and disillusioned by the apparent disconnection, the student
organizations offered at Harvard help ground our experience in
awareness, advocacy, and service related to the wider field of
healthcare and medicine.
Sure, there are the typical premed resumes building activities:
research, hospital volunteering, etc. (See corresponding articles on
14, 16, 25) But you may ask: where can I find extracurricular activities
that expand and supplement my premedical experience, but are not
Christi Butler so run-of-the-mill? We’ve provided a very basic list of resources at
(’09) is a Leverett Harvard and health-related student organizations that can hopefully
House resident begin to direct your premedical experience towards one that reminds
concentrating in
Human Evolution-
you why it may be worth it to sit down with your Organic Chemistry
ary Biology. Her textbook and push through the long days of labs.
activities include However, remember that these student organizations are
Harvard Pre-med only for your consideration and should in no way constrain your
Society, cheerlead-
ing, and volunteer-
search for worthwhile student activities! For the sake of your
ing in the Stroke happiness, we would highly recommend that you do not sign up
Center at MGH. for all of these organizations, but, rather, explore the diverse array
Her medical of groups at Harvard with an open mind. As obvious as it may
interests include
neurology and
seem, we want to emphasize that choosing the right combination
surgery, however, of student organizations to get involved with can really help or hurt
she is keeping her your overall Harvard experience. Find a manageable and satisfying
options open as balance between health-related and personally fulfilling activities,
far as choosing a
career specialty.
and don’t worry about whether or not you’re doing enough or too
For aspiring pre- much or involved with the “right” or “wrong” activities. You should
med’s she advises strive to make the most of your time here, in whatever way seems
to “Take advantage right for YOU. Trust that your resume will inherently reflect the
of every available
passion and enthusiasm that drives you!

24 Harvard Premed Society

Resources that contain lists and lists of activities,
and people to talk to:

• Student Activities Fair – Your first taste of the amazing di-

versity and sheer number of student-run activities at Harvard.
This typically happens sometime during the week before class-
es start. Most clubs and organizations on campus have a table
that they man and decorate. You can go up and talk to the club
reps, look at their club info, sign up for their mailing lists, take
their candy/free stuff, etc. This is a great time to scope our pos-
sible extracurricular activities
• PBHA (in the Philips Brooks House, in the Yard) – THE
place for all of your volunteering and service related needs.
They publish a list of all the organizations on campus that have
any component related to direct service in the greater Boston
areas. A great place to start your extracurricular quest!
• Student Activities Office (
dent/organizations/list.html) – The website is very thorough and
contains all of the student organizations that are registered with
Harvard. The filters are helpful in narrowing your searches. As
intimidating as it may appear, its definitely worth a long look. You
may discover a really interesting group you never knew existed!
• Academic Advisors, Peer Advising Fellows, Proctors, Resident
Tutors – All of the members of the advising programs at Harvard
are incredibly knowledgeable about all aspects of life at Harvard
and they want to help, so definitely ask them for names of student
organizations that they think could fit your individual interests!
• Roommates, Entryway, Friends – Talking to the people di-
rectly around you about events they are attending or planning
and student organizations they are involved with is a great way
to find out the ins and outs of certain organizations (the person-
alities involved, the time commitment, etc.). Student groups are
much more intricate and complex than descriptions on a page
may suggest!

When choosing student organizations to get involved with, it is

important to keep in mind the time that you have to commit to
each one, the extent to which you’d like to be involved. If you
feel stretched too thin (which often happens, with the hundreds
of interesting activities available to us), it is important to be
honest with yourself, and reflect upon the reasons why you are
involved with each organization. Don’t feel like you are locked
into any position in any organization.

2008-2009 GUIDE 25
Resources that contain lists and lists of activities,
and people to talk to:

• Harvard Premedical Society (HPS) – Connects premeds to

the resources that can deepen their understanding of life as a
premed and physician (including the Guide to Premed Life at
• Harvard Society of Black Scientists and Engineers (HSBSE)
– Develops service and advocacy events to promote scholastic
achievement and mentorship among black students interested
in pursuing degrees in the applied sciences and engineering.
• Harvard Cancer Society (HCS) – Promotes an understanding
of issues surrounding cancer through service opportunities,
and support for existing cancer-related nonprofit or research
institutions through fundraisers.
• Harvard College Global Health and AIDS Coalition
(HCGHAC) and the Harvard Undergraduate Global Health
Forum (HUGHF) – Deeply committed to mobilizing
undergraduate students around service, advocacy, and awareness
projects related to global health and human rights issues.
• Harvard Health Policy Society (HHPS) – Brings students
together to discuss health policy issues and educate the greater
Harvard community.
• The Harvard Undergraduate Research Journal (THURJ)
– Publishes peer-reviewed research conducted by Harvard
students and faculty in the scientific disciplines.
• Harvard College Undergraduate Research Association
(HCURA) – Sponsors monthly faculty talks and organizes the
fall Undergraduate Research Symposiun
• Mental Health Awareness and Advocacy Group (MHAAG) –
Increases attention to mental health issues, both on campus and
in the greater Boston community.
• Community Health Initiative (CHI) – Advocates for student
health on campus through outreach and education events
throughout the year.
• Project HEALTH – Unites undergraduate students with the
underserved Boston community to greatly improve their access
to proper healthcare resources.
• …. and many, many more!

26 Harvard Premed Society

Research and Funding Opportunities
Jonathan Mayer

Arguably the number one research institution in the world,

Harvard has an ample amount of research opportunities across all
disciplines, from philosophy to cell biology. Here, I will focus
primarily on research in the sciences, but the principles can be applied
to any type of research. Harvard has laboratories north of the Science
Center in the Biolabs, at the Medical School, at associated hospitals
in Longwood, and at Massachusetts General Hospital. Additionally,
if you are interested in engineering or robotics research, MIT might
be of interest too.

Do I need prior research experience?

No. While prior experience can only help by allowing you
to jump into a lab and start doing higher-level research, a student
with no previous experience is generally welcomed into a lab.
Most researchers are happy to train freshmen and sophomores with
minimal experience because they are hoping the relationship will
last many years to come .

How do I decide what area of research to pursue??

It all depends on what you’re interested in. If you have always
been interested in how cancer works, there are countless labs
studying cancer (especially at the Dana Farber Cancer Institute).
If the formation of new planets interests you, there are many
astrophysics labs where you may find your niche. Suffice it to say
that there are many, many options. Premeds generally do biology-
related research because of its close connection with medicine, but Jonathan Mayer
if you’re interested in something else, by all means it is better to (’10) is concentrating
in Human Evolution-
research something you are passionate about. Introductory science
ary Biology with a
courses generally give you a good feel for what the subject area is secondary field in
like. If, in a course, there was one area that interested you more than Dramatic Arts. He
the others, perhaps you can do cutting-edge research on this topic. did cell biology
research as a PRISE
Fellow and performs
in hospitals with the
Harvard Story-Time

2008-2009 GUIDE 27
How do I find a lab?
Although this may seem like the hardest challenge, I would
say that this task is much easier than the previous task. Harvard
has what seems like an infinite number of science labs, but once
you narrow your focus, finding a lab becomes pretty easy. For
example, if you are interested in molecular biology research, you
can find the Harvard Department of Molecular and Cellular Biology
and navigate to the “Faculty and Research” page. Here, you can
read through faculties’ research interests and find a faculty member
whose research you are most interested in. Next, you can email
this faculty member, basically introducing that you are a Harvard
undergrad and are interested in doing research in your lab. While
getting a position in a research “superstar’s” lab may be difficult
because they have a waiting-list of post-docs wanting to work in
their lab, finding a position in a good lab should not be impossible.
If the first researcher says he has no room, then try another. Often,
even if a professor has no room in his lab, he will recommend other
professors you could work with.

Will I get paid?

Some primary investigators (PI’s, the professors who run
their own labs) may be able to pay you per hour for your time. If
so, great! However, some may only accept volunteers. In either
case, you are always able to apply for Harvard College Research
Program (HCRP) grants. These are available each semester and
during the summer. Term time awards are normally between $500-
$1000. Summer awards are between $1000-$2500. In addition,
during the summer, you can apply for a Herschel Smith Summer
Undergraduate Research Fellowship, which can pay around
$5000. Students receiving Herchel Smith grants can do research at
Harvard, elsewhere domestically, or abroad where they may also
be used to defer lving costs. If you stay at Harvard, the Harvard
College Program for Research in Science and Engineering (PRISE)
is a wonderful opportunity where 120 undergrads doing summer
research live for free together in one dorm (normally Leverett
House) and eat together. There are also free planned events such as
Red Sox games, seminars, and talks from distinguished speakers. If
you are on financial aid, PRISE and Herchel Smith will cover your
summer savings requirement.

Once I join a lab, will I be able to publish a paper pretty soon?

Unfortunately, probably not, unless you have had substantial
research experience. Generally, you will get assigned a grad student

28 Harvard Premed Society

or post-doc to work with. You will help them out with small parts of
their project. Once you have gained a good amount of experience,
you will probably be assigned your own project to work on with the
guidance of your grad student or post-doc, and for some students
this project may turn into their senior thesis. If you contribute
significantly to a project that is going to be published, you might get
your name included as one of the authors. However, as experienced
researchers will attest, getting publish is a long and difficult path.

Do I have to do research to get into medical school?

No. If you think you willl enjoy doing research or just want to
give it a try, then join a lab. While working in a lab might look good
on a resume because it shows a strong interest in science, dancing in
the ballet might look better if that is what you are really passionate

When should I start working in a lab?

Generally, labs are hesitant to hire first semester freshmen because
they think they have not adjusted to college yet and they may be
overloaded. Therefore, it may be best to wait until freshman spring.
That leaves you plenty of time (3.5 years) of your undergraduate
pursue to do research. If you do not become interested in research
until junior year, then that is fine too. Most science concentrators do
a research thesis, so many conduct research their senior year.

Any other tips?

Only do research in something you are actually interested in. If
you do not, it may become boring very quickly. Good luck and go
get ‘em!

2008-2009 GUIDE 29
Dynamics of Hospital Volunteering
Frank Chen
For premedical students, exposure to a clinical setting is
considered a must. Oftentimes, the best way to approach this is to
pursue the opportunity to volunteering at a hospital or local health
clinic. Volunteering is also a great opportunity to take the initiative
HPS also offers to interact more proactively with doctors, nurses, and the rest of
a Hospital the medical health professions team – something you may not have
Volunteer Manual done before.
that offers the However, before you begin pursuing volunteer opportunities,
chance to learn
you must keep a few things in mind. Many of you may not be familiar
more about the
details of specific
with the local area, and familiarizing yourself with the setting,
locations and location, and personality of a health care facility and its surrounding
what to keep an areas should be taken into account beforehand. Hospital volunteering
eye out for! is a time-commitment and you should approach it strategically.
First, decide for yourself what you want to get out of the experience.
Different health care facilities offer you different opportunities. You
should consider hospital volunteering as a time-commitment that
goes both ways. Thus, it would be in everyone’s best interests to
approach it strategically from the get-go. Some hospitals may be
large and impersonal, but offer large-scale resources that you would
be hard-pressed to find elsewhere. Health clinics, on the other
Frank Chen (’10) hand, offer a great deal of intimacy that volunteers generally find
is a resident of extremely welcoming, but not suited for those interested in a busy,
Dunster House active experience. Also, certain factors like convenience in access,
concentrating in
Molecular and
populations the center serves, and personality may play a large role
Cellular Biol- in whether the hospital or health clinic is the right fit for you. While
ogy and pursuing a reading through this article is important, it would be a great idea to
secondary field in talk to upperclassmen, or anyone on the Harvard Premedical Society
Health Policy. He
is actively involved
board for more information on intangibles.
in the Harvard Most hospitals require students to fill out a general application
Premedical Society, and some mandate one or two letters of recommendation to
Harvard College complement this. One program that the Harvard Pre-Medical
Team HBV, and
the Chinatown Big
Society offers, in conjunction with Boston Medical Center, is the
Sibling Program. Harvard Hospital Volunteer Program. This revolutionary program
He works in the Zon seeks to provide Harvard undergraduates with ample opportunities
Lab at Children’s to work with a highly diverse patient population, with its widely
Hospital Boston
on studying cancer
varying cultural and medical needs, all while working in a highly
biology and also reputable hospital with vast resources in its arsenal. Among many
volunteers at Bos- other benefits, applying to this program allows students to bypass
ton Medical Center the need to submit letters of reference and to speed the process to
in the Emergency
begin actual volunteering. Please contact the Harvard Pre-Medical
Society Hospital Volunteer Director with any further questions.

30 Harvard Premed Society

After applying to become a volunteer, most hospitals require
students to attend at least one orientation at their hospital to begin
the initiation process as well as to inform volunteers of hospital
guidelines and regulations. They also tend to use this time to
verify immunization record requirements, which vary from hospital
to hospital, and to allow volunteers who may need additional
tuberculosis tests to take them at their Occupational Health
Department. Once all this paperwork has been passed, hospitals
assign volunteers to departments, which may also require additional
training specific to their area of expertise.
Not surprisingly, this all amounts to quite a lengthy process
before students even get a chance to begin volunteering. As such,
we recommend being extremely proactive and decisive in getting
started. One way to ease the time involved in getting started is to
immediately acquaint yourself with the requirements that each
hospital mandates of volunteers. Doing so will save you enormous
amounts of time and paperwork along the way. For example, Due to the nature of
many hospitals require that applicants submit proof of two recent the exams, a series
tuberculosis tests, along with many standard immunization of tests can take
records. In many cases, you do not even need to wait until hospital two to three weeks
orientations to begin this process. One convenient way is to walk total. Be sure to
into University Health Services and request an immunization record start early and
from your student profile. They can also administer tuberculosis
tests and readings free of charge.
Read through the profiles listed below to get a better feel
for different vibes and personalities associated with these major
hospitals in the Boston area. Some are more small and intimate,
while others are larger but offer a wider range of departmental
options to work in. Also, please do not hesitate to contact either
the Harvard Pre-Medical Society for personal advice or the contacts
listed below at individual hospital volunteer departments. As stated
above, we highly recommend considering the Harvard Hospital
Volunteer Program, which facilitates the process of beginning to
volunteer and provides ample opportunity to work with a hospital
that has a rich reputation for working with a significantly diverse
patient population, allowing volunteers to observe and experience a
wide range of services.
Hospital volunteering is, in many ways, a rite of passage for
undergraduates. Clinical exposure is an invaluable opportunity to
take advantage of in order to ascertain that medicine is the right career
pathway for you, and you yourself. Explore the Boston community
and keep an open mind to what lies ahead; take advantage of the
chance to fuse public service and the ability to interact with patients
in a clinical setting to experience, firsthand, the dynamics of a future
lifestyle as a doctor!

2008-2009 GUIDE 31
Volunteering Abroad
Carlos Becerril

“It will change your life.” “You’ll come back a new person.”
For years, the benefits of volunteering abroad have been described in
these words. Coming back from my internship in Peru, I did indeed
feel that my experience was amazing, but to be honest, I initially
did not feel like a different person. Now, in retrospect, I can really
say that volunteering abroad has been one of the most life-changing
experiences in my life.
In Lima, Peru, I volunteered in an orphanage for HIV patients
as well as in a hospital for patients with physical disabilities. I
helped patients in and out of their beds and tutored them in math
and science. Every morning I would take the “Chama” (Peruvian
mini bus), start at the hospital around 9 A.M., and volunteer for five
hours. I would then have lunch with my host parents and spend my
afternoons immersed in Peruvian culture. The nightlife was also
great, and there was always something new to do.
It has been more than a year since I went to Peru, and while I
often reminisce about those crazy nights, my best memories are the
faces of the children I helped. Every now and then, I think about
their words, their love, their eyes full of gratitude, their hugs, and
their smiles. Though I volunteered for only two months, I felt I made
a significant difference in their life, and they changed me in return.
I learned more about myself than I did during my entire freshman
Carlos Becerril year in college. I became a more responsible and mature person.
(’10) lives in Eliot My experience in Peru has inspired me to keep volunteering abroad,
House and enjoys
traveling and ex-
especially in third world countries where the help is most needed.
periencing life in It is very easy to feel overwhelmed by the diverse and numerous
unique places. His arrays of volunteer opportunities available around the world. Here is
interest in other some advice from my own experiences:
cultures inspired
him to concentrate Pick your destination.
in Social Anthropol- When choosing your destination, avoid looking at a map (you
ogy. His future goal
is to become a doc- might find it too overwhelming). Instead, think about which
tor and help others countries you have always wanted to visit or learn about.
in third world
countries. During
Explore the resources offered by Harvard.
school, when he is Once you have decided where to go, take advantage of the many
not stressing about tools Harvard has to determine your exact project:
classes, he enjoys
swimming, running, - Attend the International Fair offered every fall in front of
and listening to the Science Center. In this fair, you can learn about several
music. volunteering abroad organizations including programs in

32 Harvard Premed Society

Latin America, Africa, and Asia.
- The Office of International Programs website (http:// lists many volunteer projects in
your country of choice.


1. Projects Abroad
2. Child Family Health International
3. Cross Cultural Conditions
Volunteer projects range from helping in an orphanage to
learning local medical practices in remote villages. Many of my
closest friends have volunteered with these organizations and have
had amazing experiences. You can generally volunteer for one or
two months at a time, so if you decide to go during the summer, you
can still have a little time to relax before or after your project. A fee
is usually required to cover the cost of the program plus airplane
tickets, but many grants are available to help defer these costs. One
of the best place to look for grants is the Harvard funding database:


1. The David Rockefeller Center of Latin American Studies
(DRCLAS) runs a Summer Internship Program (SIP) every
year. The DRCLAS Internship Program facilitates summer
placement of Harvard College students with organizations
across South America. Students are immersed in the local
culture, context, and language of the country where they are
working while actively contributing to a project defined by the
local organization (
internships). Internships are offered in Argentina, Bolivia, Brazil,
Chile, and Peru. Applications are usually due mid-February. If
you are in need of financial assistant, DRCLAS will cover the
program fee, housing fee, and help with travel costs.
2. The Harvard Institute of Politics runs the Director’s Internship
Program, which offers great opportunities in Mexico, Chile,
and South Africa working in Global Health Issues. You
would perform research on Health Policy and Health reforms.
Applications are usually due mid-February and if you are
accepted, the IOP awards you a stipend, which will help you
cover all your expenses.

2008-2009 GUIDE 33
3. If you are interested in volunteering in Africa through Harvard,
I highly recommend that you to contact Bisola Ojikutu, MD,
Director of the Office of International Programs (bojikutu@ She is great at answering emails and gives
excellent advice about working on HIV/AIDS related issues in
Africa. Two of the most popular international programs in Africa
are iTEACH and Umndeni Care Program; both programs are
related to the care of HIV/AIDS in South Africa. Since these
programs are competitive, I recommend you to contact Bisola
Ojikutu in the fall and express your interest.

If you are the adventurous type, you can volunteer abroad

independently. After picking your destination you can search
the Internet for an NGO or a hospital you can work with. If you
would like to volunteer with an NGO, I recommend from personal
experience you start researching early since a lot of communication
with NGOs is via email and not everyone responds immediately.
Contacting NGOs early will help you secure a supervisor who can
help you finalize the details of your project and guide you through
the paperwork that might be required. For housing, the NGOs will
usually help you find a host family close to the site of your project.

My final advice is to start your research early in the fall. Many

of the grant applications and summer internship programs abroad
are due early February. Don’t wait until the last minute or else it
will be extremely stressful applying to internships or developing an
independent project.

If you volunteer abroad, I guarantee you will have an

unforgettable experience!

34 Harvard Premed Society

On Shadowing
Sandra Mumanachit

You’re on the homestretch. Everything, well, almost everything
is figured out. You’re close to definitively deciding what your
concentration will be, you’ve taken all your premed classes, and
you’ve even incorporated MCAT studying into your schedule. You
can almost taste medical school. However, in the hubbub of what
characterizes the life of a premed, you may lose sight of the most
important thing: why you want to be a doctor.
It is sometimes difficult to formulate why you want to become
a doctor into words, but it is something that you must be able to
talk and write about with substance and purpose (your personal
statement to medical school).
There are a number of ways you wrap yourself around this
question with, the best of which perhaps is through shadowing. By
standing side by side with a physician and seeing their everyday
work, you will realize what is most important to you in becoming
a doctor. Connecting with a physician and talking to them about
why he decided to pursue the career may also provide insight for
you as well. Medical schools want to see that you know what
you are getting yourself into for the next few years and beyond.
They want to know that you have seen what really goes on and not
just what you have “experienced” on your favorite shows (Grey’s
Anatomy, Scrubs, Nip/Tuck…). These shows may inspire us, but it
is important to see what a real physician does everyday.
Once you’ve decided you want to shadow, it’s time to seek out
a program that can arrange that. A number of programs on campus
offer undergrads the opportunity to shadow physicians. Here are Sandra Mumanachit
just a few programs: (’10) is an Adams
House concentrating
-Harvard Pre-Medical Society Physician Mentor Program in neurobiology and
-Radcliffe Mentor Program doing a secondary
-WISHR (Women in Science at Harvard-Radcliffe) field in Chemistry.
All these programs can match you up with a physician who Aside from academ-
ics, she also plays
you can talk to (depending on his schedule and your schedule) and for Harvard Women’s
shadow once you’ve worked everything out. But if these programs Squash, tutors for
do not interest you, you can also take action yourself. ESL, and volunteers
Taking your own initiative is key. Contact a doctor yourself. for PBHA’s China-
town Afterschool Pro-
There are many great hospitals in the area: Mass General Hospital, gram. She hopes you
Brigham’s Women Hospital, Beth Israel, Mount Auburn Hospital, find this Unofficial
etc. Each hospital has a website where you can Find a Doctor. If Guide helpful for your
pre-med route here at

2008-2009 GUIDE 35
If you’re interested in one day becoming a cardiologist or
neurologist, you can email these doctors yourself, explaining that
you’re an undergraduate and would like to shadow them if possible.
Email a couple of doctors, some will reply and some may not. If you
need help getting in touch with doctors who are interested in helping,
Crimson Compass (
networking) is an online database of alumni willing to speak with
students about careers. After you register for a free account, you can
use this tool to search for Harvard alumni in your area who may be
interested in helping you out and perhaps allow you to shadow.
Shadowing helps you discover more reasons on why you want to
become a doctor. As for the med school application, it may also give
you some life-changing experiences to write about in your personal
statement and talk about in the interview. Either way, you definitely
have something to gain from shadowing because it provides you
hands-on clinical experience, something med schools like to see.
Remember, shadowing is not the only way to gain this experience;
volunteering is also another great way. (See Dynamics of Hospital
Volunteering on page 14) Just remember, though, that formulating
your reasons for becoming a physician are imperative to your med
school application, but, most importantly, they are vital to yourself,
to why you personally want to become a doctor.

36 Harvard Premed Society

HPS Guide Staff
Peter Cai ’10
Steve Teng ‘10

Associate Editors
Alissa D'Gama ‘11
Bianca Verma ‘10
Kim Murdaugh ‘11
Kira Mengistu ‘11
Sara Gallant ‘10
David Mattos ‘09

Harvard Pre-Medical Society Board

President David Mattos '09
VP of Programming Chiamaka Nwakeze '10
VP of Development Frank Chen '10
Secretary Christine Li '10
Treasurer JP Chilazi '10
First-Year Premed Peer-Advising Program Director Xun Zhou, '10
Hospital Volunteer Program Director Alissa D'Gama ‘11
"Day in the Life of a Physician" Series Coordinator Jonathan Mayer '10
AMSA Liason Christi Butler '09
Public Relations and Community Outreach Chair Qi Yu '11
Special Projects Manager Eric Shieh '11
Pre-Med Publication Editors Peter Cai '10, Steve Teng '10

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