Column | Feb. 19

The premed mindset is self-destructive

As a molecular biology major, after every name/hometown/department introduction, I inevitably get asked, “Oh, so are you premed?”

To be honest, I don’t know too many MOL majors who aren’t premed. There’s so much overlap between the departmental requirements for the former and the suggested coursework for the latter that a Venn diagram comparing the two would be very close to a circle. That being said, I never quite understood the stigma associated with being premed. We’re called cutthroat and vicious, GPA-obsessed and perennially on edge. Facets of these are something I’ve observed from the Princeton undergraduate population as a whole, particularly after finals week when you can’t walk 50 feet without hearing someone complain about his grades on SCORE, so why the premeds were pinned with the entirety of the responsibility was beyond me.

That is, until this year, when I began taking more departmental classes and realized that we premeds are, in fact, exactly as bad as others say we are.

I’m not sure what it is about the sciences that brings out the most competitive and, frankly, irritating side of people. I’ve heard kids list out the mind-numbing minutiae of their resumes to their lab partners, who have no choice but to listen quietly until their DNA sample finishes its hour-long incubation. I’ve seen freshmen with MCAT prep books worn and open on their desks, barely a year after they closed their big blue SAT ones for the last time. I’ve gotten rejection emails that cited the “competitive nature of medical internships” specifically, as though premeds being ultra-competitive was a hard fact.

There are so many other preprofessional tracks that should be just as competitive — prelaw, for instance — that aren’t. Maybe it’s the precise courses premeds have to take, which put us all together in the same environment, so we know exactly whom we’ll be competing against senior year. Maybe it’s the reputation these classes have for having a larger time commitment or harsher curve.

Regardless, the premed mindset is self-destructive. After hearing one of those friend-of-a-friend tales that’s passed down the department like a campfire horror story — this one about a girl with a solid GPA who couldn’t get into a single medical school in America — I sat in a shell-shocked panic all day. Maybe the premed mindset is in place for a reason, a sort of Darwinian trait that helps the fittest survive longest. That evening, I bookmarked every spreadsheet and bell curve Princeton publishes about medical school admissions and resolved to get on a first name basis with the director of Health Professions Advising.

It took me a day to realize that the premed mindset is very strongly reminiscent of something all of us have gone through already. It’s the same mindset that got everyone one of us into Princeton in the first place — whether or not we’ll readily admit it. We studied for the SAT and made sure we were in the good books of those who would write our recommendations. We planned “rewarding and valuable” summer exploits and always knew what was up with the Forbes annual list of top colleges. The thing is, we had 12 whole years to prepare for the college application process, and I’ll be the first to admit it was an excessively stressful process.

To have to launch back into it seven months after receiving an acceptance letter just isn’t healthy. There’s no grace period, no significant stretch of time to recoup before having to worry about resumes and recommendations all over again. What’s worse is that the past 18 years have been wiped clean. You’re starting over in the eyes of any member of a post-secondary education admissions committee.

The easy answer is that we should just stop being so stressed, but that’s much easier said than done. The premed mindset isn’t going away. It’s a natural byproduct of the school we go to and the futures these students envision for themselves. However, it can be very toxic, and it’s important to remember that. It creates an environment of competition and pressure that isn’t good for anyone who has to partake in it. The worst-case scenario of premed culture is that you burn out — lose all motivation to keep working hard and shrink into crushing existentialism. It’s not a great endgame, and premeds should take all the competition with a tablespoon of salt. It’s not worth the stress if it’s going to cause a meltdown. It’s important to remember that for every horror story, there are at least four success stories. Princeton’s grade deflation policy sucks, but despite it, the University still boasts a medical school admission rate a good 40 percentage points above the national average. It’s easy to get caught up in premed culture — the comparisons and the competition — but we did all get into Princeton for a reason, and if we make a conscious effort not to place the utmost importance on any one facet of our educational careers, we’ll be just fine.

Shruthi Deivasigamani is a sophomore from Cresskill, N.J. She can be reached at shruthid@princeton.edu.

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