So…About Intercalation Year

You’d expect that after several months of radio (blog) silence, I should make up for it with quality content. Well, strap in, boys — here is a real saucy reflection on how intercalation year went for me…

Starting off ~wild~ with a quick heads-up: this is entirely my personal experience and should in no way be extrapolated to what yours is/will be like (I chose to do BSc Physiological Sciences, so that in itself will be different in both the degree you’ll choose, where you choose to do it, and even the units you pick).

So intercalation had its awesome bits, which I’ll dip into, but a lot of my friends have mentioned feeling this sort of ‘intellectual shock‘ — feeling misinformed, and almost even a sense of betrayal, from the people we’ve spoken to before beginning intercalation, who never told us it’d be like how we found it to be. So, I hope to give an honest account of how I found the year, which I wasn’t aware of when making my decision to intercalate.

Also, my creative writing has severely regressed due to the lack of leisure reading in the past term, so forgive my usage of simple terminology. I mean…I can quote a paper pensively speculating the role of aquaporins in the urothelium? Aren’t pathetic redemptions great? Anyway. Enough of me faffing about, and onto the main body.

Let’s start positive.

Intercalation year brutally forced me to learn tedious skills I would’ve never dreamt to sit down and teach myself. Reading scientific papers, then scrutinising their approach? Learning how to use SPSS, a statistics software, to analyse dreary data-sets? If it sounds dry, it definitely felt like that on several (all) occasions; however, they are skills I’m honestly so grateful to have learnt, and can now execute, albeit mediocrely.

When the relief of submitting dissertation is vastly greater than the distress of how awful it probably turned out (yes, that is a mini snickers you see at the side)

So this next pro is highly subjective, but I tremendously enjoyed how much time alone I had. Because my last lectures ended late January, I essentially had no more scheduled teaching for the rest of the academic year, unless you count the revision seminars before exam period. Of course, there were all these tiny niggly things to deal with (like a little something called a dissertation that determines, oh, I don’t know — 33.4% of your entire degree as an intercalator).

But that was what my Term 2 was like: a solid 4 months of however you decided to use your time. Don’t get me wrong — you can most definitely take this time to travel or indulge in other fun social shenanigans. But I’d enjoy early evenings on Brandon Hill wearing out the Irozuku Sekai no Ashita Kara soundtrack, try out little hippie restaurant hideouts for Sunday brunch, and unintentionally act as the most suspicious Geocacher ever. I probably attended a grand total of 2.5 actual social gatherings, but hey, if it counts for anything, hundreds of minutes worth of FaceTiming occurred (time differences still stress me out). So, that’s just my outlook, but it’s totally up to you in the end.

Okay, now onto things that aren’t necessarily negatives, but just general comments to bust in some real-talk.

Intercalation passed by like slime that a kid dumped way too much Borax in. Earlier in September, I volunteered at New Scientist Live and had the privilege of monitoring “The Great Slime Race” attraction (an unfortunate test of resilience. Troves and troves of kids…and me, not a fan of kids. Nor slime). Anyway, one of the games included plopping your personalised slime into a tiny mesh container, and timed to see whose slime would withstand gravity the longest. There were some which splatted down like bird poo in the first 2 seconds (then the dismaying OHhHhh’s from the parents, as they see that dreaded quiver of their child’s lips). Then there was slime which hardly made it past the metal rungs of the container itself — barely moving, barely indented, barely going anywhere. I can’t believe my duty was to stare at this stupidly sparkly amorphous blob for 20 minutes; my contact lenses were absolutely screeching.

I mean, good on you, kiddo – you’re winning the game. But it sure doesn’t feel like it, does it?

That was how intercalation felt to me: an absurdly never-ending, Borax-crazy slime. You’re giving it your absolute all and more, but progress seems microscopic at best. And you ‘win’ by simply sticking it through.

Admittedly mesmerising if they’ve got that Goldilocks’s ratio right, though…

Of course it feels like ‘time flies by’ when I’m comparing this current state of post-cortisol submersion, proportionately greater >10,000 lux days, and shockingly empty seats in Beacon House, to the drawl of introductory “Why are you even here BSc” lectures, 8-month early pep talks (thank you, but not yet), and being the weirdo at Fresher’s Fair who knew way too much about where the freebies were. But it felt begrudgingly slow throughout the year for me, and it was the first time I’ve ever had so many recallable moments of “When will this ever end?” in an academic setting.

Be smart about your revision; you cannot cover everything. “Do not put all your eggs in one basket!” was the prevailing message hammered into us during revision period. So I thought, duh — I’m the kind of person who never wants to leave things untouched anyway; why would I not go through everything!?

…because, sadly, we’re no Spider-Man. Sigh. Teach us, Tom.

It’s really not the same as high school. See, everybody is incredibly bright, but it is utterly unfeasible to cover all the bases in the context of the university’s caliber, and then having to go above & beyond for a higher mark. This, of course, is unsettling if you have a similar mindset to me — having to gamble on topics that will come up in the exam, and selectively revising only half of an entire unit!? What a recipe for anxiety.

I’m so sorry olfaction, but it was an easy decision to selectively avoid you, there’s just way too much content already okay 😦

But you have to trust yourself. It’s not that I hated the topics I didn’t revise, but you’d be fooling yourself to go over absolutely everything and not feel alarmingly overwhelmed. With a bit of deduction, instinct, and hints from the unit structure/lecturers, you can somewhat predict the essay questions. For example, it was an offhand remark by the unit head, “…so because each lecturer set a question…”, that clued us into conducting smarter revision by just looking at the content of 3 out of 5 lecturers, because you’re bound to hit at least one of them even in the worst case scenario. But then other units are not as predictable, so once again, every exam is different even if they’re set-up the same — your revision approach will vary with each test.

It’s a break — from medicine. Not a break in general. So, know why you are doing it. It isn’t an easy year, and everybody has different motivations starting out. You are told to drive by passion, and indeed what you choose to do ultimately stems from some sort of inkling interest — but why intercalate? The reasons vary. Some want the experience of research, some just want a year out before starting clinical years, others find the idea “pretty cool”, or one person told me “I’m not *physically* ready” (yeah, whatever that means). There are obviously discrepancies between courses, with some coming out feeling absolutely lush (I’m looking at you, Childhood Studies — we get you had a great year, okay!?), and some…some looking like they need help.

Nah, but all in all, everybody gets through it one way or the other; the main take-home message is that intercalation is not a break, though how close you lie to this statement on the spectrum will obviously depend on your personal experience. I chose to intercalate for a few reasons, the main one being the challenge it posed and the subsequent experience of resilience. So, just figure out why you’re intercalating and know it isn’t close-my-eyes easy — but not to disregard everything else you get from it.

You become a ‘normal’ student for a year. Initially, I wasn’t entirely sure what this meant when a lot of my fellow intercalating pals cited this to be a positive reason. I assumed maybe this was because of the minimal contact hours per week compared to medicine and the workload flexibility (it boggles my mind that my Thursdays & Fridays were empty during Term 1, albeit meant for dissertation research). But, now having come to the end of this 5-week transition hospital training where I’ve reunited with familiar faces from pre-clinical years, I sort of now realise what this ‘being a normal student’ means: the false pretence in posing as a final year undergraduate student gives you a greater connection to the rest of the university, from the irks of submitting our dissertations in the wee hours of the morning, to the rushing sense of finality stepping out of Coombe Dingle for (what I hope to be) the last time. But, medical school does something different, secondary to this well-established subject isolation when we longingly wave our non-medics good-bye: fostering a strong sense of community in its entirely own misunderstood entity, to feel like a family, because we’re in it for the long-run. Ugh, I know, so wholesome!

Anyhow, here I am, having finished the last day of hospital training. The ratio of panini press to smoothie blender usage has considerably plummeted in the last couple weeks since the weather melted into humidity; the town has gotten as arm-y and leg-y as I’ve ever seen it. Ah, it finally feels like *real* summer has officially begun.

Oh, and about graduation. Well, results were released on Monday…and I’m glad to report that I didn’t order that £45 graduation gown for nothing.

©TMK

The Introvert (or Extrovert) ‘Hangover’

“Go hard or go home!”

I definitely go home.

In these past couple weeks, I have never felt much more blatantly aware of my introverted self. Having begun my intercalation year in physiological sciences, I’ve essentially become a fresher again, but not without an unattractively scornful attitude. It’s highly likely to have arisen from the premise of “This may be my third year here, but I still want the privileges of a fresher to justify my lack of boldness with”, but boy has it made me ponder. 

The introvert hangover makes such profound sense as to why I feel utterly drained and exhausted after any kind of context involving people, but it’s upon the assumption I’m an introvert myself. I’ve taken those 4-hour long personality tests every Asian tutoring school seems to offer up to the ubiquitously crude Buzzfeed-style quizzes that have tried to bedazzle by defining who I am. Like a ping-pong match, the results cast me back and forth — you’re an introvert! You’re an extrovert! “You are such an extrovert!” “Are you an introvert, too?” And it’s only gotten much more absurdly complex: in parade the ambiverts, the extroverted introverts, the social ambiverts. Typical perennial human obsession flaunting to the world a justification for their attributes.

However, I’m no exception. During middle school, I unashamedly went through an addictive phase of doing online quizzes – but beyond visionary extrapolation, vanity and harmless fun, I was a superbly low self-esteem teen much too worried and much too serious about the future. Personality quizzes were a fork-lift out of the rubble of imploding thoughts; they’d get me out of my own head. See whether my experiences levelled with how others perceived me. And funnily enough, there was almost this sense of awe and wonder to every buffered result – this psychological need for self-reflection, a paralleled OASIS avatar of everything I can be.

Because there, you are assigned an identity, and everybody’s a winner. ESTJ? The performer. INFJ? The advocate. An inborn sense of morality and idealism,” 16personalities.com writes. Hogwarts House: Slytherin. “You possess a remarkably unique blend of imagination and reliability,” some random job recruitment service site spews. Because there, everybody wants to believe they possess some remarkable personality trait, as if it grants them VIP access to unlocking the secrets of society and reality.

Because there, you bask in a sense of innate superiority, in which the world simply must acknowledge and validate. It’s flattering, but probably more to do with the Barnum effect.

So here I am, after a whirlwind of several taster sessions, social events, and meeting new course-mates, and I quickly realised how great of a proportion I spent my 5-month summer engaging in serene, single-player activities. And I’ve also become consciously aware of what a convincing pretence I can muster up in the headlight moment somebody catches me cautiously roaming the room’s perimeter to ask if I’m enjoying the party. Too many introvert hangovers have I experienced from the over-stimulation of social environments (and the only kind of hangover I can relate to, for that matter).

But in jarring contrast, I’m a big fan of initiating conversations with total strangers outside of lecture theatres – I despise small-talk, but because I crave authenticity, I’ll tolerate it and can most certainly conjure small-talk with genuine enjoyment when it’s expected of me. At a totally different birthday party, you can find me wildly busting out the dance sequence to “We’re All In This Together” in front of people I just met. And possibly the most convincing example of extraversion for you Bristol medics out there, I auditioned for CLIC last year (and proud to say I did not get in; 10/10 will definitely go again this year).

That being said, I’ve always known myself to be more of an introvert at heart. And despite everything I’ve said, whatever the consensus on the whole introvert/extrovert faff, I experience introvert hangovers all the time. At the end of the day (quite literally), I’d much rather be doing laundry whilst listening to the “Horizon Zero Dawn” soundtrack instead of clubbing with Nick Grimshaw on a Thursday night. Oddly specific? That’s because it is precisely what I did.

Like a brick-load of things in life, ambiversion is a spectrum. I can’t deny having binged on Buzzfeed quizzes, because let’s admit we’re all a little bit narcissistic and need nonsense in this stupidly stressed life; my issue lies with those quizzes or tests claiming they’re the real deal with a prediction of your future career, relationships and goals. We’re all wired to seek out ways to reflect on who we are — and fair enough, yet this vulnerability is exactly what those companies, tuition centres and other organisations exploit. There’s no denying the very real need people seek to figure out the mess of who they are, but who I am is not a calculation, nor is it a summation of what we know. You don’t need some overpriced test result to articulate your own identity as if you were hearing about if for the first time. The way quizzes guide you through with a nurturing hand, as if a momentous self-discovery process?  It’s an illusion of truth; a botched pseudo-science that rarely tells you anything you didn’t know before, but simply articulates who you know yourself to be. 

You know yourself better than anybody, and more importantly, you know exactly what you don’t know. So, Heaven forbid you sincerely believe your complexity of an existence can be contained by four tiny letters, but please, by all means go right ahead and make a pizza to decide if you’d survive a zombie apocalypse.

©TMK

Put Up Your (Manic) Defence!

I distinctly remember that middle school phase where inspirational sayings overlying a natural landscape was a staple of every social media timeline (i.e. highly stylised memes for the gullible); suddenly, you were the righteously self-titled “deep thinker”, reflecting much more than a mirror ever could. Admittedly, many pseudo-intellectual Tumblr quotes were saved to my camera roll despite its mild insult to great sayings by actual influential figures of history. Anyways, that was a much longer than anticipated trajectory to this wonderful quote by Oscar Wilde: “To do nothing at all is the most difficult thing in the world, the most difficult and the most intellectual.” And, sir, I can finally truly appreciate your words.

Being idle and content with doing nothing is something I’ve aspired to for years. Curated by Disney’s “School’s out, scream & shout!” ideology and agonising exam periods, it’s bizarre to think how relaxation can be difficult. It’s almost been a month since I’ve touched down in Bangkok, where I resolutely told myself, “Now, I can finally relax.” However, I’m still periodically plagued with Raven Baxter-like precognition (except it’s a stabbing pain in my temples, not a vision, and I have that hideous look of a sneeze). I mean, my goodness – exams are over. Pre-clinical years have finished. I’m back at home for the summer holidays with limitless hugs from my family. So, why do I still feel like I’m subconsciously pushing ridiculous deadlines and complicating personal projects to unnecessarily create stress? Stress withdrawal symptoms, is this what this is?

Do I like being stressed?

An infuriating no! resounds, but even the immediacy in this response seems defensive. Maybe my whack hormones enjoy the high of stress, but my mental health does not find satisfaction in reaching a new high score on the scoreboard.

I guess I never really conceptualized it before, but holidays are weird. What are these short periods of unstructured time, and how does one simply do…nothing? My childhood summers filled up with personal projects that began as plain fun, which rapidly escalated to the infuriating high school summers where the same projects caused my eyebrows to furrow thinking, “What’s the point of this?” Because if the sole point was just to unwind, guaranteed I’d find it a waste of time. 

It’s partially my own values and personality, but it’s also partially the environment we surround ourselves in. “Taking breaks is so important in avoiding burnouts!” numerous teachers, friends, and Business Insider articles have stressed (ha). What a load of flapjacks, my body always thought, though never consciously. My helpless and despairing mind engages in warfare, grabbing pitchforks and desperately charges towards this utopia of nothingness, but it’s too late – once again, omnipotent control and overwhelming stress has won. The go-to war strategy has always been manic defence, especially in the predominantly Western mindset that there is supreme nobility in sprinting from one task to the next. Relax, but then the next person will beat you to whatever you were trying to accomplish. Demands of daily life are intense, never-ending, and relentless; thus, the guilt of relaxing really is a guise of your inability to master your agenda despite the ambition. It makes sense why when we stop, stress doesn’t. It would explain the scene of me shuffling pathetically through Suvarnabhumi Airport with a luggage in better condition than me, feeling absolutely battered and broken not from the 12-hour flight, but the 5-month fight, because it still isn’t over.

So be it if I must voluntarily delude myself in “You miss 100% of the shots you don’t make” quotes to help unstrap the belt around my head, to practice the art of doing nothing. Who would’ve guessed, that years later, my name is enrolled in a fight I never thought I’d sign up for: learning and practicing what it all means to simply relax, just like finding happiness.

©TMK

Year 2 Bristol Med School | Summer Exams

It has only been a few days since completing the final summer exams, and you bet your sweet bippy I’m still experiencing severe withdrawal symptoms. These episodes are of an unfortunate recurrence after every exam season, and leave me chaotically conflicted. I’m gonna call it…post-exam subjection trauma (PEST). You know what I mean; how every little ordinary detail in daily life triggers this automatic all-out regurgitation of lecture knowledge where you completely blackout, before snapping back into reality dry-heaving “May 16th please be kind to me”.

*sees a mother breastfeeding her baby in public*

Okay oestrogen = ductal system, progesterone = secretory system? Ooooo but don’t be fooled since progesterone & oestrogen actually inhibit lactation. Nice one. And then, what was it? Oh, dopamine inhibition due to suckling relieves restraint on PRH, prolactin release causes milk production, oxytocin causes that weird “milk ejection reflex”…that reminds me of the “viscous fingering” mechanism in the parietal cells of the stomach, omg that lecture was kinda weird, ha ha ha *still staring at the breastfeeding*

Sigh. This is what PEST does to you – you only see science, not people. 

Anyways, I did a similar review last year of the Year 1 summer exams. Thus, as a sucker for continuity, here’s another.

Systems of the Body 2: Paper 1 (April 23rd)

Structure: 70 best-of-five questions | 1 hour 45 mins

What: Gastrointestinal, respiratory, renal

Remarks: Because we had January mocks on Systems 2, this was just a smidge less terrifying than the others. I have to say, it was much more clinical than I prepared for, but I was definitely expecting it. There was one question where it said a man came in with fever, diarrhoea, etc. and we had to figure out which bacteria he is most likely to be infected with. At this point, it could be any of the options. But then, the vital bit of information is that upon history-taking, it is learned he works in a lab…with lizards.

…so, okay. I get medical school is all about lateral thinking, but the lizard thing was just a little bizarre. Can’t get over it. Lizards.

With drug names, I can safely say this on behalf on all of us: we don’t remember them entirely, and just commit the first syllable to memory. It’s best-of-five, after all. For example, one of the cysteine leukotriene antagonists for asthma is montelukast, but I just think its that Monte Carlo drug, or the synthetic analogue of PGE1 protecting the stomach mucosa for peptic ulcers is misoprostol but I remember miso soup. And then, we all have our idiotic tactics of remembering a list of drugs. Anti-emetics, for example: the 5-HT receptor antagonists. One of them is Nabilone, which sounds like Naboo, that planet in the Star Wars universe, so extraordinarily picturesque it’s almost euphoric (one of the side-effects of the drug). Or furosemide is a loop diuretic; I remember this by the thinking “fur” = dogs, one of my favourite dog breeds are shiba inus, and they have curly tails (“loop” diuretics)…

A lot of the tactics used are incredibly crude, linking up selective information required for exam purposes only in a strange way. And then for others, you go over and over them again, until they just suddenly give way. Like, for me, I didn’t want to just accept the definitions of SaO2, CaO2 & PaO2 – we’re told it’s saturation, content and partial pressure, respectively. I never really properly understood this in relation to the equations given, but one day, it just randomly fell into place for me: SaO2 = the oxygen binding to Hb, PaO2 = the oxygen actually dissolved in plasma, and CaO2 = summation of SaO2 & PaO2. Highly likely I’m just really slow, but I never really got it until I kept staring at it.

Systems of the Body 2 & 3: Anatomy & Histology Spot Test (April 25th)

Structure: 80 MCQ questions | 45 seconds per station (1 hour exam) | Includes topographical anatomy, case scenarios, pathology cases, clinical examinations, radiology, and histology

What: Gastrointestinal, respiratory, renal (Systems 2); nervous system, endocrine & reproduction (Systems 3)

Remarks: Right, so this was the exam I was more disappointed at myself in compared to the others. Anatomy tends to be the slightly (better subject for me than the written papers (keyword: slightly), but I walked out feeling absolute dismay; it didn’t feel like the dozens of hours spent revising, especially on the topics you make an extra effort to understand, paid off. Things that we spent a lot of time in the DR learning (“You need to know this!”), like the various strictures of the oesophagus & its multi blood supply or the lumbosacral plexus roots, didn’t even come up. We had a whole practical dedicated to ears & eyes, and only 2 questions max came up in total for both. My friend said she only knew the answer to another question because she happened to overhear someone directly ask the demos; so unless prompted, there would be no explicit answer that wasn’t even in the booklet (but apparently on the exam).

The questions came at obscure angles, like the innervation of the ureter (only PSNS, only SNS, both PSNS & SNS, etc.) – not even joking when I say it’s this tiny, vague statement at the bottom of the renal booklet “Nerve supply via autonomic plexuses”. There was one station displaying a radiograph of the thorax, and the right lung clearly showed pleural effusion. The question was, “What is the pathology in the left lung?”, in which the correct answer was simply “Normal”, which I didn’t even realise was a trick question until somebody asked me after the exam, “Hey, that trick question though, right?!” I think what irks me is that the formative spot questions in the sessions give the wrong impression of the style of questions that actually came up. But then again, this was just my experience; a lot of people came out feeling pretty good, and that it went better than expected, so I could just be an unpopular opinion (story of my life).

Systems of the Body 3: Paper 2 (April 27th)

Structure: 70 best-of-five questions | 1 hour 45 mins

What: Nervous system, endocrine & reproduction

Remarks: Held in the grandiose Will’s Memorial Great Hall, it was a pretty adorable way to finish the gruelling pre-clinical years. Most of us were tremendously jittery beforehand, because of the fact we have handbooks the length of your average 3.5/5 Goodreads YA novel and tedious 9-5 lectures that happily shoved us off the cliff into anxiety. So, it was a shocker to say the paper went much better than anticipated for the majority of us. Once again, a rather clinical paper – there were quite a few questions on contraception applying theory to legitimate context useful in practice, which I appreciated (though mind-boggling at points). The first question threw everybody off – “How does alcohol cross the blood-brain barrier?” For some reason, I thought drawing the molecule for ethanol would help me decipher the answer (it didn’t). Ask us about the basal ganglia pathways in relation to Parkinson’s disease, and we’ll give you this immaculate answer all backed up with Vancouver referencing. But a stupidly easy question about alcohol’s solubility properties? Well-played, examiners, you’ve caught 228 med students off-guard. My favourite question asked how a patient with mania would present at the GP – one of the options had convoluted SAT words with way too many vowels, but the real star answer was “Staring at the wall and counting”. Not the right answer, but just…right.

There were other little bits I picked up on, like how there were equations the lecturers specifically said to commit to memory, like % ionised, that they just straight up gave in the paper anyway. Then various pathways, including the motor & sensory tracts, auditory & optic pathway, or the spermatogenesis & oogenesis processes, barely made appearances, if not at all. Embryology was absent. It was a little frustrating, because with those topics,  it actually took a substantial amount of time to methodically learn them step-by-step. Then there were those one-off questions, like what the uterus fundal height is by 20 weeks – it’s this tiny sub-bullet point on a slide amongst 37 others, let alone in a booklet of 225 pages. Or which condition can cause increased feet width; intuitively, most would choose acromegaly anyway, but this information was in a video the lecturer showed, not on the actual lecture slides given.

••••••••••

I know a lot of this was nit-picking and complaining about parts of the paper, but overall, I understand exams will always be like this. The really wishy-washy, extremely unpredictable questions that you’ll feel are unfair, but you gotta play the game whether you like it or not. What I’m basically saying is, no matter how much you revise, it’ll never be enough – the learning isn’t necessarily harder than IB or A-levels, but probably down to the sheer quantity and conceptualisation of certain ideas (e.g. the reticular formation or the basal ganglia). It’s learning how to cover everything effectively (but not beating yourself up if you don’t, either), preparing to accept there isn’t always a correct answer, but most importantly, being able to not always want to know why. I say this with a conviction suitable only in this context; this is a mindset that our high school curriculums set us up to think, that there is always some kind of explanation for every question-mark – it’s the whole “big fish small pond” syndrome shaking up the high-achieving kids who tumble down the pyramid. Falling isn’t the issue, but trying to climb to the top again purely out of familiarity, most definitely is. Whether you agree or disagree, hopefully it’s something to think about.

©TMK

5 Things Every Student Must Do In 2018

*This is a Liberty Living competition entry.

1. Sponsor a dog!

…because 2018 is the Year of the Dog! That’s right – on Friday, February 16th, the vibrant festivities of Chinese New Year commences. Regardless whether you celebrate this momentous occasion or not, sponsoring a dog will brighten up a furry friend’s day as well as yours. A quick Google search will give you hundreds of hits: Blue Cross for Pets, Support Dogs, Oldies Club… and that’s just to name a few of these wonderful shelters.

Processed with MOLDIV
Currently lots of “Year of the Dog” merch on sale…

2. Read a book – no, textbooks don’t count

Tell me: when was the last time you’ve read a book for leisure? When you’ve properly indulged in the pages of a beguiling novel until 3am because you keep telling yourself, “Just until the end of this chapter!” and you become overly attached to fictional characters? Yep – ages ago, right? No more I Don’t Have Time’s and I Have So Much Other Academic Stuff To Read’s, because let’s face it: you probably could use that 20 minutes of mindless scrolling through Instagram’s discover page for reading instead.

3. Vlog; filmmaker status not required

Because despite the constant dilemma of being broke, university life is too invaluable to forget – and no, you don’t need to start marketing a YouTube channel brand and do obscure MacBook giveaways for subscribers (do people actually even receive them?). It is integral you do this for the right reasons, though. The very definition of being an entertainer has radically fluctuated in the past couple years – with some ex-Viners attempting to continue their careers on YouTube as ‘influencers’ and prank videos being entirely staged or highly disrespectful in some aspect, it’s easy to feel like you must live by the stats. However, that being said, there are definitely some incredible YouTubers out there who possess no ulterior motive; they simply create videos, because they like creating videos. And as a university student, this is an integral mindset to have – pursue something, because you want to. 

So, even if it’s creating ridiculous, badly-edited iPhone filmed videos (an example of my terrible iMovie skills below) to share with friends & family, you’ll thank yourself later; seeing how you’ve changed over the course of your degree will possibly be one of the most dramatic transformations in your life.

4. Write letters

Because surprisingly, Snapchat isn’t enough. The hindrance for most is, “Ugh, but I have get a stamp and posting it costs money!”; but, trust me – it’s much less of a hassle once you’ve done it once. Taking a little time out of your day to handwrite a letter to your friends in another city, or a whole other country, is simultaneously nostalgic and exciting; I cannot describe the feelings of delight when you receive an envelope from an unfamiliar country written in very familiar handwriting.

5. Start a campaign or a charity

We are millennials. The generation who downright exploited that shirtless scene in “The Last Jedi” resulting in numerous Facebook notifications of being tagged in yet another Ben Swolo meme. The generation who made the panoramic way of seasoning steaks with salt absurdly viral, catapulting Nusr-Et Steakhouse’s Turkish butcher sensation Nusret Gökçe, known more colloquially as #saltbae, into Instagram fame (he has close to 11 million Instagram followers – no, that is not a joke). And we are the cheeky generation who, in response to Twitter user Makenna posting a photo of herself cleaning President Trump’s Hollywood Walk of Fame star under the caption “Nothing but respect for MY president #RaisedRight”, didn’t choose the lazier route by responding with some variation of “You support a racist” or “That’s so dumb” which would’ve done little but further exacerbate the exact polarised hatred we’re trying to back-pedal from, but instead, showcased millennial ingenuity at its finest: taking a blatant patriotic claim like Makenna’s tweet, and memifying it to reveal its inherent absurdity – because Shrek for President, anyone? Britney Spears? You name it.

Yes, we are millennials. We’re an erratic bunch who are seen as politically disengaged, more focused on materialistic values, and less concerned about helping the larger community. People may see self-entered, but I see individualism. Perhaps we’re oddballs fuelled by ridiculous memes, but it isn’t mutually exclusive with intellect; we’re more open-minded, more liberal, and more receptive to new ways of living. It’s those who make the news in stunningly stupid manners that people will grasp onto and project the assumed negative stereotype on the rest of us.

Millennials are doing selfless, incredible things every-day, including revolutionising charitable giving. We’ve drifted slightly from institutional giving to philanthropic organisations, towards positioning ourselves as part of the solution instead through volunteering and lending our own social networks to a cause we believe in. See Tom Holland and his brothers, for instance – they launched their own charity, “The Brother Trust” in July last year.

So, if you feel strongly about something a cause, take it on yourself to begin a campaign or a charity; it’ll easily be one of the most humbling, insightful experiences. Especially as college students constantly under stress and pressure, you’ll be incredibly grateful to give back, when perhaps you felt you had nothing to give at all.

©TMK

 

Term 1 • Year 2 Bristol Med School | Reflection

 

So, I don’t do these much – a solid year has passed since the last one. Well, here I am, giving you my less-than-wise perspective on how I found the last few months. So, it’s rumoured Term 1 of Year 2 is objectively the most leisurely time of your entire medical school experience in Bristol, to which is a statement I do not object – but it’s not saying much compared to everything else.

Let’s skip over explaining all that standard lecture curriculum stuff you can read on the website; what’s differed from Year 1 is that after finishing a lecture-based teaching block studying a particular system in the body (i.e. respiratory, gastrointestinal, renal) lasting between two to three weeks, we all get placed into a hospital in or around Bristol. Our stethoscopes slung proudly around our necks (£90 worth of the hypocritical attitude “Just don’t ask us to properly use it”), it’s the ultimate committal point-of-no-return investment.

I’d really like to point out how it positively warms my heart to watch my medic colleagues take a history and do clinical examinations on actual patients – everybody slowly emerges with their little personality quirks. Like that intimidatingly buff dude who got in Clicendales last year who is actually adorably soft-spoken and displays great open body language. Or that girl always rocking denim overalls you’ve never really properly talked to who unconsciously leans very far forward, engaging far more with the patient. Or the legend card guy on nights out, who consistently makes sure to repeat back the information to put the patient at ease she/he is being actively understood. I’ll even say it’s humbling to being a part of the beginnings of my peers’ medical career – sappy? Yep.

Aside from that, you’d think medical students would find the clinical environment extremely exciting; and don’t get me wrong, we did desperately yearn for those hospital placements after living in E29 (groggily waiting as the clock ticks a few minutes after the scheduled hour before somebody shouts “LECTURE CANCELLED, CHECK YO EMAILS!” which unfortunately happened far too often). However, there was a surprising collective thought a few of my fellow colleagues had about the 3-day formalities:

“I’ve realised people are just…so tiring. Is that bad?”

We’re still figuring it out. Even myself, I found the weekend leading up to ICS Placement was a bit of a dreaded countdown – it’s the culmination of having not finished going through the Respiratory Element and then we’re expected to know Gastrointestinal pathologies for the following Monday; exhaustion from everything else in our lives not medically-related; fear of the much-too-real insight into the lives we will lead in the many years ahead…

I guess it’s some mild form of empathetic burnout – honestly, actually sitting down with patients is always incredibly humbling and we would never be insincere about it. And yet, at the end of the day, you flop onto your bed in bare-below-the-elbows attire with the lanyard uneven around your neck, utterly exhausted. And I swear, if I met somebody new during that period, I would’ve immediately blurted out the preprogrammed “Hi-my-name-is-Holly-I’m-a-second-year-medical-student-etc-etc-etc”

Anatomy was chill as always. Top tip: no matter how weird your question, ask. Really. As long as you use anatomical terms, you can practically ask anything whilst sounding vaguely intellectual – the demonstrators will possibly be the more openminded people you’ll meet, given the niche nature of their job. And even though your friends (you know who you are) are cackling at your sincere curiosity of the science behind certain, ahem, activities, you’ll certainly thank yourself for not needing to do an uncomfortable Google deep-dive without UV protection from the bare exposure to everything but the science.

And now, January exams have ended (before I hightailed into London – what is it with me escaping to that city after tests?) and Term 2 has begun with the highly anticipated neuro (negatively rumour-drenched from older years). A brief review of Week 1 so far? Let’s just say, I’m seriously enticed to do work rather than celebrate my birthday next week.

’til next time.

©TMK

Once Explorers, Always Explorers | Colin Pillinger Memorial Talk

In typical fashion, I had overslept a nap – rushing up the steps inside Will’s Memorial, I made it inside the Big Hall just in time to attend an event I had been looking forward to for months. Titled “Once Explorers, Always Explorers – Europe’s Role in Space Exploration”, it is part of a lecture series established by the Pillinger family in 2015 in memory of Colin Pillinger. Born in Bristol, he attended Kingswood Grammar school (now King’s Oak Academy), and graduated with a BSc and PhD in Chemistry from University College of Swansea and was a post-doctoral fellow in the University of Bristol School of Chemistry, Organic Geochemistry Unit from 1968 to 1974. A pioneering figure with an illustrious career in instrument development and analysis of extra-terrestrial samples at the University of Cambridge, and later at the Open University where he founded the Planetary and Space Sciences Research Institute, he is probably best known as the leader of the Beagle 2 Mars mission. His legacy lives on, and as Dr David Parker so perfectly summarised, Colin possessed “sheer bloody mindedness”.

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Colin Pillinger. Photo credits: http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/science-environment-27322166

That being said, the main speaker of the night was the fantastic Dr David Parker himself, Director of Human and Robotic Exploration in the European Space Agency. With fervent passion, he delivered such engaging insight into what projects are currently being undertaken, and where we are going in Europe’s space exploration. He began with highlighting the many successes of ESA, including the Cassini-Huygens mission exploring the Saturnian system, the historical Rosetta mission gathering data surrounding the Jupiter-family comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko, and of course, the huge international collaboration of the ISS itself.  Attempting to be discreet as I hastily scribbled notes in my battered notebook, Dr Parker zoomed ahead to talk about the challenges space exploration still currently presents, analogs here on Earth, and potentially going back to the Moon (build a base, anyone?). My favourite analogy of the night was that if Earth were the size of his hands balled together, the distance to Mars would be the equivalent to the distance between Will’s Memorial and IKEA (1:12,133,333 km scale). Love me some #justbristolthings geography.

Then we got to watch some amazing videos of Tim Peake and Thomas Pesquet, emphasising the overview effect and how “…it takes all of this technology to allow us to understand the simplicity of us.” It was only then appropriate for Dr Parker to now look to the future – more than ever, international cooperation is required for ambitious projects like the ExoMars programme to put the 2020 rover on Mawrth Vallis, planning the first roundtrip to Mars, and hopefully, undertaking the proposed Deep Space Gateway. You should’ve seen number of jaw drops around the room.

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Left to right: ESA’s Director for Human Spaceflight Frank De Winne, Thomas Pesquet and Timothy Peake. Photo Credit: Jacques van Oene / SpaceFlight Insider

After Dr Parker’s compelling talk, there was a Q&A hosted by Tim Gregory – you may know him as the finalist on BBC Two’s riveting program, Astronauts: Do You Have What It Takes?, but he is also currently completing his PhD in cosmochemistry right here at the University of Bristol. The selected audience members had intriguing questions, including the future of planetary protection and how investment into the space program compares with current pressing issues today (e.g. poverty and famine). I especially loved Dr Parker’s answer to the age-old question “Are we alone?”, which was that either way – whether yes, there are other species out there, or no, humans are a unique entity – both answers will be just as extraordinary as the other. Tim ended the event with, “I hope you all have a safe journey back home…and beyond!” and the claps were thunderous.

Before I could talk myself out of it, I beelined towards the front and went up to Dr David Parker – surrounded by a huddle of middle-aged people discussing the technical aspects of spaceflight, I kept thinking to myself, “I am definitely not intelligent enough to talk to these people.” And at that point, Dr Parker looked at me expectantly during a lull in the conversation. So, I thanked him for the awesome talk, introduced myself, and began rambling on about Beth Healey, space medicine and the Concordia Station since he mentioned it during the lecture – he replied with a chuckle, “Oh, you probably know much more about this stuff than I do!” to which I promptly disagreed with a smile. I then quickly asked him, “Do you think one day we’re going to have to genetically modify the perfect astronaut?”, to which Dr Parker threw his head back in laughter, and responded, “Well, isn’t that the question!? I think we’ll all be walking around more cyborg than human, and that’s something I can’t quite wrap my head around!”

I then turned around, and spotted Tim Gregory – we immediately geeked over the lecture for a bit, before I told him I attempted to read his publication “Geochemistry and petrology of howardite Miller Range 11100” (to which I confessed a single sentence took me an unfortunate amount of time to understand). Thirty seconds into the conversation, and I already understood why Tim was nothing short of extraordinary – with such powerful maturity simultaneously coupled with an endearing child-like enthusiasm, he spoke about the psychological impact going through vigorous astronaut training, the importance of keeping up your hobbies, and how Will’s Memorial can be slightly unsettling in the wee hours of the morning (there is no denying the paranormal activity).

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Meeting the lovely Tim Gregory!

I finally asked him, “What’s your motivation when you’re completely down?”, and  without any hesitation, he looked me straight in the eye before replying, “Just always remember why you began in the first place.” Incredibly optimistic, humble and kind-hearted, I cannot wait to see what other fantastic contributions Tim will make for science in the future. And then as we said our goodbyes, he enthused about how we could one day be working together on the Moon, as geologist and doctor – needless to say, describing my elation as ‘over the moon’ seems paradoxically unbefitting.

Throughout the night, I remember feeling a little out of place – bustling with an older generation, it could’ve been mistaken for just another humdrum event. But instead, looking around, I did not just see an audience – I was looking at the spirits of restless kids staying up way past their bedtime; I was looking at the wide-eyed children lying much too closely to the grainy television, chins resting on palms and legs swinging back & forth; I was looking at the generation of children who, united together on that one Sunday evening in 1969, witnessed the history-defining moment when Armstrong stepped down off that pad onto the Moon.

 

And even though I couldn’t join in to fondly chuckle at the memories of “Space: 1999” or reminisce back to collecting Brooke Bond & Company’s “The Race to Space” tea card set  in 1971, there was something universally compelling about the night’s events – this powerful hope that united every single one of us, rooted back in time to the ancient dreamers who looked up at the night-sky all the way to the tinkerers of the future, is what eventually got us from “I wonder…” to “What next?”. We’re going to keep innovating as long as we remain curious, and as Queen perfectly summarises, I don’t want to stop at all.

©TMK

 

 

The Dirt On Clean Eating

“I’m eating clean,” the postgrad says, not for the first time that week. Six of us are crammed around this tiny three-person IKEA table in the Chulalongkorn Biomedical Laboratory, eating a spread of grilled fishballs, red pork covered with gravy, and spicy somtam. I slurp a mouthful of tom yum noodles, briefly tasting the phrase before moving on. She proceeds to enviously eye the others eating blissfully carefree, but not before she pulls out a homemade salad, completely drenched in Caesar salad dressing. The overwhelming stench of mayo made me nauseous; I had to hold back a gag.

“Yeah, you guys should try clean eating,” she says with this smug expression, popping open a can of Diet Coke; it froths over slightly and trickles down lazily. “Like, I feel so much healthier, instead of putting junk in my body.”

Hoo boy.

Perhaps my mind was completely enraptured on my lovely E. coli battlefields holding little wars between the awesome antioxidants and the feisty free radicals, but I didn’t realise at the time “clean eating” would soon be taking over the minds of millennials in years to come. Fast forward, shall we?

***

Year 2 has begun, and consequently, so have the diets.

Besides all the How Was Your Summer?’s, It’s So Nice To See You!’s, Did You Do Anything Cool?’s talk that becomes heavily saturated between lectures, I see a bunch of loaded veggie wraps, skinny lattes, and quivering self-control. And if this was the scenario a few months ago, my mind would’ve crumbled from the toxicity my relationship with food was creating.

I’m all for eating clean. I’m happy that people are striving to nourish their bodies with nutritious ingredients and are spending a little longer looking at supermarket food labels. This is an awareness I admire, but “clean eating” is a little different from your quack conspiracy-theory-like diets; it has challenged mainstream ways of eating, powered by the ever so convenient social media, and has become absolutist in its claims.

The phrase “clean eating” must’ve began with good intentions; to eat fresh, natural, whole foods minimally processed – vegetables, fruits, whole-grains, animal & plant-based protein, oils, nuts, pulses. Eating as close to nature as possible; cooking at home and seeking high-quality ingredients for your own health. This healthy approach towards nutrition is fantastic. Eating clean sounds modest, almost like Mum’s cooking – no calorie calculators, but simply eating as much nutritious home-cooked substances as possible.

So, #eatingclean, #eatclean, #clean – what the heck happened?

This definition has become incredibly misguided and misconstrued. It’s clear “clean eating” is more than a diet; it’s a belief system. That if you’re not “eating clean”, you’re the very opposite – sloppy, careless, and damaging your body. And that’s when this becomes a dangerous game to play. It’s morphed into a beneficial sense of awareness of food into this diet-driven caste system. Not only is “clean eating” establishing a hierarchical model for eating healthily, but it is yet another bolstering means for food-shaming. And just to make it all worse, its taking over the entire Instagram platform, shovelled into the mouths of millennials, resulting in a heightened paranoia about the foods we eat consequently falling onto an obsession with the way we look. It’s the latest fad to prompt nationwide lack of self-acceptance in this millennial generation. I miss the days when “eating clean” simply meant not getting nachos down your front (napkin, miss?).

What I realised from my personal experience – the hours and hours of searching up vegan burrito bowls on Pinterest and anxiously scrolling through the infinite #cleaneatinginspo thread – is that this whole “eat clean” culture disregards the lack of access, both in time AND money. Not all of us can find the little organic farmer’s market; not all of us can afford dried gogi berries, a kilo of coconut sugar and cacao nibs on the daily. The surge in #avocadotoast aesthetic, Amazon searches for spiralisers and cauliflower pizza bases. Frankly, it’s elitist – this isn’t food education or nutritional economic awareness. This is buying into the attempt to be, let’s face it, media-skinny; the fat-burning green juice, protein powder lovin’ pictures of health. This isn’t the “eating clean” I signed up for, but a movement I unfortunately became a part of.

In addition, the phrase “clean eating” misrepresents scientific evidence of food ingredients – more and more food products begin boasting a “clean ingredient” label. But how could it be, if your product is mostly filled with a trendier version of oil and not providing consumers with educated choices? Kale is no better than good ol’ spinach; coconut oil is high in LDL cholesterol; commericalized cold-pressed juice is essentially a bottle of expensive sugar. And like with any revolution, “clean eating” has its hardcore leaders. I know you know them.

The trend claims to be easy, but just like every YouTuber who attempts the Pinterest Challenge, it is always much more complicated than that. The rules are endless, and you have the power to choose which one to adhere to – you can begin with the vegetarian diet, pescatarian diet or vegan diet. Pretty harmless, huh? Well, let’s go further – the Atkins diet, juice cleanse diet, paleo diet, carb-free diet, gluten-free diet, dairy-free diet, or the sugar-free diet. Oh, but it doesn’t even stop there – how about the anything-cooked-above-a-certain-temperature diet, or the raw food diet? What’s next, food-free diet? Breathing-free diet? If that sounds extremist, you bet your fancy pants it is.

Unsurprisingly, this philosophy birthed unrealistic, guilt-inducing fads – and falling down to our knees, we pursue its promised attractive outcome despite its disguise as an instructional guide to becoming unhealthy obsessive and/or feeling ultimately terrible about ourselves with failure. If any kind of diet whispers into your ear, “Hey, food is the enemy. Take it down.”, drop the weapons of restriction, because there is something very wrong. Don’t you ever view your food choices as sources of guilt and shame. This war makes you delusional, and it has consequences.

©TMK

 

 

I Wore A Heart Monitor For 24 Hours

Spoiler: I’m okay for now.

Approximately three weeks ago, I went for my regular health-checkup routine. There was nothing spectacularly negative about my results – my total cholesterol level increased compared to last year, but it was due to an elevation in good ol’ HDL; my TSH level was 1.960 uIU/mL, smack-bam in the middle of the hospital’s normal range; my hematocrit percentage, usually presented with a taunting “L”, was surprisingly normal for the first time in years. It’s safe to say, living on my own in Bristol the past year has made me much healthier on the micro scale.

Ah, but the results came with a little more excitement than anticipated.

Last year, my EKG result stated: “Sinus bradycardia with sinus arrhythmia; borderline prolonged QT interval; otherwise no pathological findings”. It wasn’t necessarily denial, but an unimpressive knowledge about ECG/EKG interpretation that allowed me to shrug nonchalantly about the situation. But this year, my EKG result stated: “Sinus bradycardia with junctional escape beat and bigeminy premature ventricular complexes”, and after having crammed an outrageous amount of information about various cardiovascular system abnormalities (I’m panicking as the phrase “Quick lids flecking at amiable dilettantes” scrolls across my vision), well, what can I say…I still shrugged nonchalantly about the situation.

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14/06/17 EKG Results (For You Keeners Out There)

A follow-up was required a couple weeks later. I was *this* close to napping face-down all day listening to the ironically motivational movie soundtracks of Rupert Gregson-Williams, but thankfully dragged my lazy bum off the bed due to post-exam hopelessness (I hope today all you IB kids got the results you wanted – remember, there’s always a pathway for you!). So there I was, in the doctor’s office – not to be worried about at all, she said. It’s common for people under 40, and it’s very rare for it to be serious. Two things would happen: I’d get an echocardiogram done, and then wear a Holter monitor for 24 hours.

I remember watching one of the demos talk about echocardiography during an anatomy session, and this image was put up:

echocardiogram
Source: http://www.cardiachealth.org/sites/default/files/2011/echocardiogram.jpg

Um. I mean, what a truly wondrous photo. Find a person who’ll look at you the same way the patient and sonographer look at each other, am I right? (I swear I learn in anatomy sessions).

Anyways, that didn’t happen in my case (painfully grateful); I faced away from the sonographer and counted the number of vertical stripes per coloured block on the wallpaper (seven, if you wanted to know), and there was barely any talking. Despite being half-nude and having this transducer basically kneading my left boob, it all felt incredibly systematic. I almost fell asleep. But by hearing sudden spitfire beatboxing by my heart, occasionally being asked to hold my breath, and catching a glimpse of the Doppler echocardiography’s explosion of pretty colours, I just managed to stay awake.

After swiping away the ultrasound gel, I was then suited up with the Holter monitor: five electrodes plastered on, and a little pouch that held the ambulatory device itself. It’s basically just a piece of tech that records heart activity continuously for 24 hours (or 48, depending on the doctor’s suspicions of the final diagnosis) – since ECG/EKGs are performed only within a short snapshot of time and abnormal heart rhythms/cardiac symptoms come and go, the monitors are pretty great for doctors to evaluate irregularities, severity and patterns over an extended period.

I left the hospital feeling like an amateur espionage agent (watch out Agent Cody Banks!1!!). Here are a couple of images to show the Holter monitor itself and where the electrodes were placed – the former displays a countdown of the exact amount of time I had left of the 24 hours, and shut down once it reached zero; it was like a microcosm of every dystopian novel ever. 

So comes the next day, after having slept as still as a log (subconsciously afraid I’ll roll onto the Holter monitor and suffer the pricey consequences), and they go analyse the data. Here are my results in brief.

Echocardiography Summary: function and anatomy normal albeit mild tricuspid regurgitation (TR). Seeing the real-time videos of my heart beating made me oddly vulnerable – I mean, if you think about it, nobody will ever have the privilege to set eyes on your beating heart (with the exception of those lucky enough to partake in open heart surgery). I’d feel more naked posting a snippet of the echocardiogram than a revealing swimsuit photo of myself.

Holter Monitor Summary: The doctor said if I had 10% or more ventricular ectopic beats in the total number of heartbeats in the 24 hours, I would be sent for treatment. If it was 5% or below, I’d be alright. Luckily, I only had 4.1% – whilst she did appease my mother by stating there was nothing to worry about (“All you need to hear is that her heart is completely normal”), she turned to me and asked me to be more aware of my body. That is, if my palpitations become more frequent or if the tight squeezes I feel in my chest increase in severity, I am to go back to see her.

“How many hours of sleep do you get?” she asked in the middle of history-taking.

“Well, 7 hours on average, now that it’s summer.” I think back to how my heart rate was only 48BPM just before the appointment; that armchair was really quite comfortable…

With a small smile, she casually said, “Ah, wonderful – when you get to clinical years of medical school, you won’t get nearly as much!”

Honestly, I really like this doctor.

Anyways, I got this incredibly exciting full report with an hour-by-hour analysis (I can sense what a funky, wild Friday night I’ll be having).

You can see how the number of PVCs vary during various times of the day; a few examples of the activities I was engaged in included:

8:00PM = delicious dinner at MK with the family + a McDonalds cone (the simple pleasures of life)

10:00AM = extremely fervent Kyle Landry piano-playing; I even got a cramp in my left hand (watch this space for a cover…)

3:00PM = serious car talks in traffic

It’s extraordinary to actually see the direct play between the physical environment and the electrical activity of my heart – the times with high PVC frequencies correlated with some form of intense emotion; “Strike fear into the hearts of your enemies” “With a sinking heart” “Eat your heart out” idioms suddenly became exceptionally reasonable to me. It should be blatantly obvious that everything you do cascades upon your inner mechanics, but I previously could only resonate so much so as if watching a devastating BBC News segment from the comfort of my own home. It just further highlighted the stark opposition of medicine being both routine practice and blindly grasping in the dark.

At the end of the day, the treatment literally stated “reassurance” – drink lots of water, sleep for a minimum of 6 hours per day, no caffeine, stress less. Such basic courses of action to take, and yet so subconsciously overlooked by the generation of today. Anyways, I think as a medical student, having the opportunity to personally experience particular examinations/procedures you see portrayed via cringe-worthy stock photo compilations in lectures provokes the same level of excitement you have as you are about to watch one of the most anticipated block-buster films of the year (I am at this very minute on the way to watch Spider-Man Homecoming). And that’s probably the very reason I documented it all…I guess I’m just young at heart.

©TMK

 

Microaggressions: You’ve Been Victimised

“Ni hao!” says the random white, middle-aged man, grinning profusely as he leans in much too closely for your liking whilst you’re walking down the street. Sigh.

Hands up if this has ever happened to you.

This scenario has happened to me multiple times whilst I was abroad – I can guarantee you, every Asian friend you have has probably experienced this if not once, but more than they can count. I mean, wow! What a great way to mark you as an ignorant, presumptuous jerk, right? Blurting out the first Asian-language phrase you think of just because we look vaguely East Asian; I honestly have always wanted to know, do you really think we’re going to be impressed by your poorly pronounced two syllables? Don’t get me wrong – I have nothing against Mandarin or the people who speak it, and I’d be totally cool with it if it happened to me somewhere where Mandarin is actually the official language. But every single time, it’s always been in a Western city. If you wanted to be friendly, a simple “hi” would’ve been more than enough. I’m always down for a conversation, but not when you’re randomly throwing around “ni hao” to every Asian you see – it’s quite extraordinary, and quite peculiar, to speculate what goes through their sad little minds.

It was only until I attended a Discrimination & Harassment Workshop on May 7th that I finally could put a word to what I had experienced: microaggression. The term was coined by psychiatrist Dr. Chester Pierce in the 1970s, and Columbia professor Dr. Derald Wing Sue1 borrowed the term, referring to it as “the everyday verbal, nonverbal, and environmental slights, snubs, or insults, whether intentional or unintentional, which communicate hostile, derogatory, or negative messages to target persons based solely upon their marginalized group membership. In many cases, these hidden messages may invalidate the group identity or experiential reality of target persons, demean them on a personal or group level, communicate they are lesser human beings, suggest they do not belong with the majority group, threaten and intimidate, or relegate them to inferior status and treatment”2.

Some examples3 of microaggression would be asking the Asian guy how to solve a difficult mathematical problem, asking a black person if you can touch their hair, or the “ni hao” situation above. I’ve had my fair share of microaggressions, being told “You act different from other Asians, y’know?”, friends being in disbelief I dislike playing classical music on the piano, or people bluntly assuming my parents forced me to study medicine. I’ve moved around my entire life from a very young age, so I’m used to these types of interactions – I don’t feel threated, I don’t feel intimidated, and I definitely don’t feel relegated to an inferior status. Instead of taking extreme offense from somebody remarking “Your English is so good for somebody from Thailand!”, I take it as a sort of educating moment, and I somewhat enjoy it, because chances are, most people don’t have malicious intentions behind their words. I don’t believe they’re trying to “aggress” me in any way, and it’s just a sincere comment from somebody who maybe doesn’t mingle much with Asians. It sprouts from their upbringing; perhaps they’ve lived in only one place their entire lives. I once asked a lecturer a question about their presentation, only for her to slowly repeat the exact same phrase she used in her lecture, when it was the specific meaning behind it I was interested in. The issue here was she spontaneously assumed this Asian student couldn’t understand her British accent during the lecture, rather than wanting to delve into the science – but this lady is not a racist at all, and I felt completely fine. I didn’t see that encounter as a microaggression until I discovered the concept itself. Plus, who’s to say it doesn’t go the other way around? I’ve definitely displayed my fair share of microaggressions (e.g. saying to my Asian friends “That’s such a White thing to do” or even asking “But where are your parents from? Where are you ethnically from?”). Leave a comment down below of what microaggressions you’ve ever faced or dished out yourself without knowing – this is a non-judgemental zone (I’ll make sure of it)!

So during the workshop I attended, when the presenter introduced this whole microaggression concept, I thought, Man! This is incredibly relatable, preach!” But the more I thought about it, the more I wondered, where does one draw the line? Am I supposed to be more offended? When does this sort of “oh, poor me” stuff stop? Because given the nature of microaggressions – subtle messages slipped into casual conversation – I don’t believe they will ever cease to exist completely. But there is definitely benefit to fostering this awareness surrounding microaggressions; the change is evident. In fact, during my first year of university, I spent more time correcting people saying I was actually from Thailand when they assumed I was from America or Canada. This evolution in assumption is a tell-tale sign we’re at least on our way to eradicating the binary name-calling and formal exclusion (i.e. Asian people are solely from Asia! White people cannot be from Asia!). And on the other end of the stick, I know people aren’t asking about my nationality in order to oppress me, but out of genuine curiosity – diversity is fascinating, and when something’s fascinating, we speak the unintentional dialect of awe.

This interested me. Because when I walk up the steps in the lecture theatre to find a seat, I definitely have this feeling I can’t quite put my finger on – a sort of quiet, “Hm, is she going to sit next to me? I don’t know what to say because she’s Asian” vibe. Like I’m a bit of an outsider, because that’s what we’re programmed to think in a country dominated by white people, whether we’re conscious about it or not. And now I know it’s called microaggression, but why has it only erupted in recent years, and should I even do anything about it except recognize when it happens? Jonathan Haidt4, social psychologist at New York University’s Stern School of Business, signposted a fascinating article in September 2015 titled “Microaggression and Moral Cultures”5 published in the journal Comparative Sociology. Written by sociologists Bradley Campbell and Jason Manning, the article may help explain the dynamics currently manifesting in the U.S. society and why concerns of microaggressions have erupted on many American college campuses in the past few years (which I think definitely applies to other countries, too). So, what exactly does it argue?

In brief, we are undergoing a second major transition in moral culture6. Prior to the 18th & 19th century, most Western societies were cultures of honour, existing where the rule of law was weak. People had to avenge offenses, insults and violation of rights on their own via self-help violence (a reputation of rapid brutality and vengeance was thus important back in the day); failure to do so resulted in loss of social respect and status. The first major transition then occurred during the 19th century as the West became cultures of dignity, in which “people are assumed to have dignity and don’t need to earn it. They foreswear violence, turn to courts or administrative bodies to respond to major transitions, and for minor transgressions they either ignore them or attempt to resolve them by social means.  There’s no more duelling”.7 All citizens were legally endowed with equal rights, practicing tolerance that resulted in much more peaceful societies than those embodying the honour culture. Basically, it was the whole “sticks and stones may break my bones, but words will never hurt me” gist.

Campbell and Manning now describe societies currently undergoing a second major culture transition: the culture of dignity into the culture of victimhood. It hybridises both the honour culture’s quickness to respond even to the slightest unintentional offense, with the dignity culture’s appeal for the help of third parties to whom they must make the case they have been victimized, so these administrative bodies or powerful authorities can police and punish transgressions. The result? People are urged to think of themselves as weak, marginalized and oppressed; everybody seeks to become a “victim”8. Within the broader context of the highly egalitarian & diverse culture we live in due to college campuses popping up all over the place and the rise in administrative bodies & regulations, the intensity of identifying oneself as a fragile & aggrieved victim is extreme. Here, the equation triggers an explosion of microaggression.

But of course, like every piece of literature, there were holes in the research – like, for example, the basic question of how this concept of microaggression should be applied. It’d be interesting to use Sue’s list of microaggressions9 with college students and see if minority students feel offense in the same way Sue and his researchers did. Personally, I didn’t for all the Asian stuff. And of course, they failed to take into account the subjectivity of microaggression; if it is truly in the eye of the beholder, where should the blame be placed (if any) if the beholder knows nothing of the third party? There is so much scope – we could delve into white privilege, marginalized groups, and the uprising of meritocracy. With the evolving culture of victimhood, there is paralleled swiftness in reading negativity into lots of things in life, but let’s call it microaggression when we’re belittled on the basis of stereotypes or with malevolent intent.

I hope you don’t take all of this the wrong way.

Sources:

1, 2, 3, 9. Sue DW, Capodilupo CM, Torino GC, Bucceri JM, Holder A, Nadal KL, Esquilin M. Racial microaggressions in everyday life: implications for clinical practice. American Psychologist. 2007; 62(4): pp. 271-286.

4, 7.  Haidt, J. Where microaggressions really come from: A sociological account. [online]. 2015. [cited June 27th, 2017]. Available at: http://righteousmind.com/where-microaggressions-really-come-from/.

5. Campbell B & Manning J. Microaggression and moral cultures. Comparative Sociology. 2014; 13(6): pp. 692-726.

6, 8. Bailey, R. The Rise of the Culture of Victimhood Explained. [online]. 2015. [cited June 27th, 2017]. Available at: http://reason.com/blog/2015/09/08/the-rise-of-the-culture-of-victimhood-ex.

DeAngelis, T. Unmasking ‘racial micro aggressions’. American Psychological Association. 2009; February: p. 42.

McWhorter, J. ‘Microaggression’ Is the New Racism on Campus. [online]. 2014. [cited June 27th, 2017]. Available at: http://time.com/32618/microaggression-is-the-new-racism-on-campus/.

©TMK

A Sense of Entitlement: A Malignant Tumour?

       One sunny April day, I decided to drop into my old high school, and naturally beelined towards the music department. After exchanging all the How Are You’s and the How Has University Been’s and Any New Aspiring Musicians In School’s with my old music teacher & guiding mentor, we began conversing about the evolution of job opportunities and whether millennials should be dubbed the “Me Me Me Generation” (the phrase coined by Times magazine back in 2013). As he furrowed his forehead in concentration and interlaced his fingers, he said, “It’s called a sense of entitlement – you just graduate and suddenly expect to be immediately working in the top ranks. But that’s not how it works; you gotta climb up.”

           From that day onwards, the phrase attracted to my mind like a magnet because I could finally put a title to what I observed so frequently. The rates of entitlement are unsurprisingly high around me – the very fact my parents were able to send my siblings and me to private, international schools around Asia is more than enough to say what kind of cohort I was brushing shoulders with. But don’t get me wrong – everybody contains symptoms of a sense of entitlement (SoE), including myself. An example of why this may be is because we, the millennials, grew up watching reality TV shows, most of which are documentaries about narcissists. I don’t necessarily say this in a negative way, but it somewhat trained us to be “reality TV ready” – that is, we are able to define our personality types when we’re 13 instead of 30, which is a huge evolutionary jump.

            For a deep-dive analysis into the heated discussions of whether millennials have higher rates of a sense of entitlement, it’ll have to be saved for another long-winded post. So, just to put my bare opinions out there first: I stand on the middle-ground with the issue. I believe millennials are extremely passionate and optimistic, embrace the system, and are pragmatic visionaries. We are tinkerers more than dreamers; industrious life-hackers. Perhaps our SoE is a result of our adaptation in a world of abundance. Yet simultaneously, our SoE can be extraordinarily tiresome – with social media becoming such an integral, staple part of our lives, so does narcissism and its partner in crime, entitlement. Personally, I think if you’re constantly exploring the curiosities of life rather than demanding so much from it, then that’s what matters. Living life completely free of a SoE is almost impossible.

         Anyhow, during the tedious revision period back in May, I remember going over oncology. All the tumour-suppressor genes, CDKs, and oncogenic viruses just suddenly seemed all metaphorical to me (one of those days), so I crafted this weird link between malignant tumours and the concept of entitlement. As I finally have spare time (and limited knowledge), I decided to try my hand at creating an infographic describing the similarities I was envisioning in my head. Hope you enjoy!

 

Sense of Entitlement Infographic.jpg

©TMK

Sources:

https://www.popsugar.com/news/Why-Millennials-Entitled-42873548

http://time.com/247/millennials-the-me-me-me-generation/

https://qz.com/720456/the-myth-of-millennial-entitlement-was-created-to-hide-their-parents-mistakes/

Seven Emotions That Follow a Sense of Entitlement

http://outofthefog.website/top-100-trait-blog/2015/11/4/sense-of-entitlement

https://lonerwolf.com/sense-of-entitlement/

5 Songs That Helped Me Survive Exams

       Thank goodness for music. Personally, during exam period, I tend to avoid lyrical music because my mind will latch onto the words and I get a plethora of distracting earworms. The same reason applies as to why I have to revise in silence. So when I am running or on a break, I’ll be listening to the most mellow songs, or if I’m feeling really frisky then I’ll listen to the following soundtracks on extremely low volume when doing work. A little odd, I know, but there you go. Here are a few select songs that ease out the wrinkles on my brain:

  1. “Anna (Piano Version)” composed by Takatsugu Muramatsu from “When Marnie Was There” 
  2. “Katherine” composed by Hans Zimmer, Pharrell Williams & Benjamin Wallfisch from “Hidden Figures”
  3. “Pi’s Lullaby” composed by Mychael Danna & Bombay Jayashree from “Life of Pi”
  4. “Spacewalk” composed by Thomas Newman from “Passengers”
  5. “Go To Her” composed by Mike Higham & Matthew Margeson from “Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children”

©TMK