Balancing Classes and Work On the Fly

On the last day of my research fellowship in Michigan Medical School’s Summer Undergraduate Research Program, I was offered a continuing part-time position as an undergraduate research assistant in my lab! I think every intern’s dream is to eventually land a job offer at their company (that is, if they enjoyed their time there) and I am so grateful that I have been given that opportunity. I have developed many valuable technical skills over the summer, and the fact that my post-docs and PI trust me enough to want me to stay is a huge compliment, especially when you think about how delicate some of these techniques and assays are.

I never really considered working during college. I recognize that I am very fortunate to have that luxury. My past three years have consisted of pure focus on classes during the fall and winter semesters, and then full-time work during the summers in order to save money. My previous summer jobs haven’t necessarily been glamorous simply because the goal was financial: I had a minimum earning goal, mainly for housing, and took on loans for uncovered portions of tuition. Not having much spending money of my own during school was reality but never too much of a bummer — I’d consider myself to be extremely frugal. I had an Amazon Prime account for a while when I got a student discount, but cancelled it because I used it to buy one textbook and literally one “fun” item for myself (a tee shirt) over the course of the school year. With medical school approaching, though, I am not sure where I will end up. Unless I end up at Michigan (wouldn’t that be a dream!) I will be paying out-of-state or private school tuition and almost certainly be living in an area just as if not more expensive than Ann Arbor. Now is a great time to work during the school year too; I’ll need all the help I can get!

I am interested to see how balance with my classes and other commitments will work out. Surely there will be a learning curve, even if I’m only working 9 hours per week. Luckily, the post-doc I work under is ridiculously understanding of academic commitments and has assured me multiple times that he will do his best to accommodate my more stressful periods during the semester when I may have large projects or exams due. I couldn’t have a better “boss” for a first-time school year job.

Besides getting a job offer this week, I also had the opportunity to present my research at a symposium. I was a bit nervous at first, but I generally don’t get terrible stage fright or testing anxiety, so I do well in environments where I feel some pressure. Even before the MCAT this May, I felt some last-minute, very brief terror, and then just dove in. My presentation went even better than my two practice presentations, which I thought were decent too, so I couldn’t have been more satisfied. I had my opening slide memorized, but as soon as data started coming up on the third slide I felt myself gain some spontaneity. I even got a few laughs from the crowd (in places I wanted them to laugh, of course) which isn’t always the goal in a physiology presentation but was a bonus. They were engaged, even at 9am! In the end, I got three awesome questions. Two were from a PI from a cardiology lab at the medical school. He asked about a potential larvae isolation project, which I got to respond to confidently by citing some previous literature in the field about larvae social behavior. I was grateful in that moment that I pay close attention to conversations in lab meetings, since a similar topic had come up very briefly before. His second question was about the molecular mechanism of one of our neuronal tracing techniques. I’d done a lot of homework to understand the system we used, so again was able to add some detail and provide a clear explanation to his question. He seemed satisfied with my answers, and proceeded to ask some tricky questions during other presentations.

I was surprised by how much I genuinely enjoyed presenting. I’ve obviously presented for classes, but this group was “bigger” not only in a numbers sense but also in the audience type. The room was populated with plenty of PhD’s, MD’s, and MD/PhD’s in my department. I never seriously considered teaching at any point in my career, but talking about something I was very passionate about and somewhat knowledgable on was truly fun and made me decide to keep any teaching doors open. I wouldn’t mind giving a lecture or two at the graduate level someday. Who knows?

Overall, I couldn’t have asked for a better end to the program! I am amazingly thankful to the LSA Opportunity Hub for helping make this summer possible. As mentioned earlier, my goal for the summer is to pay for rent for the coming school year, and my generous scholarship has been an integral part of me feeling secure financially going into the fall. I’d also like to acknowledge the NIH National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute for funding support (Grant Number #R25HL108842).

Here’s to another year of exploring with some the brightest, kindest people I’ve met!

One thought on “Balancing Classes and Work On the Fly

  • August 28, 2018 at 2:54 pm

    Congrats on receiving an offer to join part-time during the academic year! I know that balancing school and work will be challenging; but I know that you are up to it. Please do not hesitate to drop into the Hub to speak with one our coaches about achieving that balance. Lastly, all of us at the Hub appreciate your words of support! Best of luck this academic year and beyond. – Jake


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