Category Archives: Professors

Tip #9 — Go to class

Every Tuesday and Thursday, I reluctantly hurry across campus, only to enter one of the most boring and occasionally frustrating classes I have taken at UCSD. Molecular Biology. It is not in fact because molecular biology cannot be interesting, because in fact I think there is a way to approach protein synthesis and bacterial reproduction that even non-science people would enjoy. But, it is because my class is taught by Miss Swan from Mad TV. I have no problem with foreign teachers. I actually enjoy the fact that most of my classes are taught by people born outside of the US. But I have a serious problem with a professor that expects to teach difficult material without a mastery of the English Language. Frankly, it’s just not fair. the 300+ kids in that class are paying tuition, only to find ourselves with a biologist that does not understand how to teach, nor can proficiently speak English. This class is my hell. 1:20 minutes feels like 3 hours, and this class comes immediately after a 1:20 min lecture by a great doctor, with such monotone oration that we can only help but fall asleep to images of insulin and glucagon battles…

I’ve had some amazing teachers at university, many are pretty good. But Miss Swan and my freshman physics teachers really take the cake, illustrating the sad phenomenon of geniuses with an inability to teach others the complexities that they have mastered. My roommate once told me that the best teachers are those who have struggled with the material themselves, because they can then use their mastery to guide yourown. I’m actually starting to believe it.

In the end my point is no matter how much a class sucks or a teacher refuses to live up to the standards we are guaranteed, it is still necessary, if not more necessary to go to class. With exceptions: if there is a video podcast and you can really sack up to watch it every day, then you’re saving yourself. But for me, this teacher doesn’t even audio podcast, and she tests off her lectures. If this is the case, force yourself to go to class. There is no other way to have hope in such a bleak situation. I know this seems slightly drastic, but if you have ever had awful teachers and know the importance of grades, you will understand.

Make’s you appreciate the brilliant teachers ever more (:


Tip #8 Building Relationships

So it’s fourth week. And I now find myself with 2 days to make final decisions about add/drop class and grading options. I’d be lying if I said I didn’t have a minor freak out yesterday. I have quite an interesting schedule this quarter… endocrinology, molecular biology, historical archeology, and politial psychology. Endocrinology is going to be hard, I’ve accepted that, my teacher is an MD who taught at the med school, I get what he expects from us. Historical archeology is a seminar, so I’m hoping that since 45% of the grade is based on participation, I shouldn’t have any problems.

The issues lie with my Poli and Mol Bio classes. Day 1 Poli the professor said this is one of the hardest Poli classes at UCSD. Hmmm not my favorite thing to hear as a bio major. In theory, I could take it pass/no pass, but I actually like the class, and I want to work hard. I  taking a P/NP gives you the ability to focus on your other classes and still get credit for doing nothing in that class, so actually caring and putting in effort defeats the point. Then there is Mol Bio. I cannot understand the professor, she doesn’t hold my attention in lectures, she assigns incorrect reading so I can’t even teach myself in the book, she doesn’t curve the class so it’s a rote memorization nightmare. Basically 3 weeks in and I’ve learned close to nothing. A combination of her inability to teach effectively, and my frustration.

So what do I do now? Drop Mol Bio? Put that puts me with only 3 classes and med schools wont like that I’m “not working hard” or take a P/NP in Poli, but I would have to convince myself to direct some of my efforts from that class to Mol Bio or another subject? Or stick with Mol Bio, and take the chance of not doing well in the class?

For me, my decision hinges on how med schools will view my decisions. I’m only concerned with this quarter because I know I won’t want to take 4 challenging classes every quarter of my senior year and I refuse to let my desire to ensure a “fun” senior year shine unfavorably in the eyes of admissions committees…

So with 38 hours to change grading options, I set out to consult anyone I know that has med school knowledge….

This is why building relationships is important. Or, I should say, one reason why building relationships is important. I e-mailed my Ochem professor right away. I knew he had some background in med school apps, and I figured he could give me some advice. I also know a med student that is always available to answer my questions to the best of his ability. Having reliable people, whose opinions you respect and more importantly whose advice is valuable is critical. You never know when you might need an on-the-spot question answered (even if your question is dumb…). Furthermore, hopefully these relationships you build, whether it be a professor, TA, employer, advisor can probably write you a pretty good letter of rec in the long run. Either way, as I’ve said before, get to know and build a friendship with every one you can because people are cool. They have led interesting lives and have the stories to prove it. Life is short, why not make it a little bit bigger by sharing the experiences of others?

Tip #7 – Take a Diverse Course load

Key to getting into med school is being well rounded. duh. If I need to be more clear that means taking a load of humanities classes you have little to no experience in, and often times aren’t very interested in. Luckily, I love history. Unluckily, my roommates talked me into signing up for the most deadly Polisci class ever. Not only does it present 100s of pages of dense reading a week, it so damn subjective and wack that I forgot what it was like to not learn pure fact, and how frustrated that can make it. Alas, endocrinology and molecular biology is my escape. Oh yeah, that probably sounds weird. Once again I forgot that normal people don’t take joys in learning about the mechanisms of sodium regulation in the kidney, or reverse transcriptase viruses. Anyways I don’t think I’m off the charts by saying the Political Psychology taught by Darren Schreiber could be the most jacked class I have ever taken.

Alas. It is important to take a diverse course load, hence, but I think the aim is to take humanities classes that are intesting, because hands down it’s better to maintain your GPA then take a load of random classes you can’t pass.

Adventures in Polisci land to continue the next 10 weeks…

Yay tomorrow is Friday. Gotta get to business on ordering lamb kidney and eyes so I can do some more dissections.

Practice makes perfect.

Rule #1. Tip #6

Finished my first final tonight. yay. Ochem lab over. It took all my strength to come back home and not bake, though to be completely honest I made the dough its just rising in the fridge ha. I really need to get over this sick addiction. Well, it’s better than cocaine I guess, which is more than half the people I know can say.

Fiona and I gave up facebook for lent, it’s been a struggle.

But alas, back to my point. My baking habit has been taking away from my studies, which sucks. Coming back from Spain was hard in some ways, one of which was studying. Going from 2 months of 9 hours a day, to 4 months of 9 hours a week, to now has been kind of chaotic. I can’t get myself to sit down and focus. And there are more reasons than just studying abroad. That is why I love Dr. Bob. Or, my dedication to his office hours/his benevolence towards the fact that I lug myself up to his office every week, and even came an hour early today (I had nothing better to do, I was bored). But as we reviewed over “possible” final questions that I would be embarking on in T-2 hours, I got the picture that he was helping me out more than I knew. It was a good mini-review sesh. Without which I probably wouldn’t have done too well on the final. Like I said kids, get to know your professors. Here in lies the key to good grades, knowledge, letters of rec, etc. Nothing can ever be bad about putting in the time to get to know them, so you just gotta do it.

Tip #6 — Get to Know Your Professors

So last night was the last lecture of my Ochem Lab. Probably the last lecture with one of the most amazing professors I have taken at UCSD. But it wasn’t always that way.

Dr. Bob Ternansky comes with a bold reputation. Before entering his class all I heard about was the difficulty of his tests, average of about 40%, or how he always has late night lecture, he does a lot of research during the day. It wasn’t until day 1 of my last quarter of Ochem that he opened lecture with “So first off I want to hear the rumors, come on, all of them…” This is when I found out that he dropped some 40 lbs over the past year, is known for test averages more around 30%, and allegedly was stabbed by a student once (false). Needless to say as the next few lectures progressed I learned more: answer wrong and be laughed at, take to long to answer and be cut off, fall asleep and be humiliated, talk in class and be yelled at… etc. It was intimidating. Especially since I force myself to sit front and center in 99% of my classes.

I don’t think I went to office hours before the first test. Or if I did it’s a repressed memory, probably filled with embarrassment and sadness for not phrasing questions correctly, asking stupid questions, etc. Thus my first real experience with Dr. Bob was after the first mid term.

Because I sport high levels of intelligence I decided to go out the night before my mid term, aka. we had an event for the sorority and I felt like I needed to support the team and just show up. Some how this random guy convinced me to drink 4 energy drinks, and then proceeded to try to help me study in the sktech computer engineering basement (another story all in it’s own ha). Bottom line: I didn’t go to bed until 4am. And at that point, that was the latest I had ever stayed up to study.

Come test day, whatever it’s Ochem I had gotten an A last quarter, I sit down. Get yelled at to put my bag up front, only have an ID, etc (Lots of ETCs in this post because you don’t want to know every forcedly important detail of my life). Get the test, turn the first page and bam. I’m sitting there, in Petersen 108, mid section, staring at material I had never seen before. I still remember that feeling. Total panic. Somehow I wrote things, lines, numbers. I turned in the test and it was over.

Next lecture I showed up early to collect my test. (My initial favorite thing about Ternansky was that his turn around grading time was like 7 hours or something ridiculous like that). And I didn’t do well. At all. Like almost worst than my F on my first gen chem test ever (Sorry mom and dad had to omit that one a while back ha). So I sat there and had an epic deliberation about what to do. Drop the class, continue on? Take a W? Could I even still get an A? Could I even get a B? What do I do? Basically all running through my mind as that feeling of panic came back again. He was there in the lecture hall, so I figured why not consult the expert. I asked him, as I know now stupidly, what the curve would be like, and if I had a chance. And like he always answers those questions: “I don’t know.”  I told him I wanted an A, and was thinking about dropping the class. But still no concrete advise on what I should do. So I sat, and thought. And thought. And wanted to cry but didn’t. But finally came up with a decision. If I had made it through 5 quarter of UCSD with pretty good grades, I had to be able to pull this off, it would be work and sacrifice, but it could be done. So I marched up to him and literally said “I will stay in your class. And I will get an A.” (We’re blaming the slightly disrespectful tone on my panic). And so began my relationship with the Natural Sciences Building, the twice a week trek to Revelle to attend Dr. Bobs office hours.

I kind of laugh looking back now, at how I had felt and how I had acted to my professor without even knowing him. As I watch new students come into his office hours now, I laugh. It’s mean, but I forget how I felt the first time I was in Dr. Bob’s office hours. The naivete shows, I can easily tell when a student has never talked to him before, ‘What’s the curve like?’, ‘can I still get an A,’most of all its the phrasing of questions that is a dead give away to new students. It’s like this: you can never ask Dr. Bob why did the rabbit cross the road? Because he’ll first sigh, and give you a look like “are you serious?” and then ask you if you read the book ‘Animal Crossings’. You say no of course. He’ll ask you to read it. But the book doesn’t talk about rabbits and you tell him this. But he then says ‘think.’ Think about the question.’ So you do, but still, who the f knows why rabbits cross the road. And then he’d say ‘ Do you know why the chicken crossed the road.’ ‘To get to the other side (obviously).’ And there is the answer! The point is that he will NEVER answer a straight answer (unless he knows you and is really bored). He makes you think, he makes you look at books, past assignments, internet. He makes you really think about it, and then apply it  to a similar situation you already know. At first, this is the most frustrating thing you will ever encounter. After quarters of rote memorization, jokes of biology classes, and semi-difficult but super-boring gen chem, having to think is something new. But on the first day of each class he teaches, he validate his method with a simple analogy:

The learning stool.

The learning stool, seat being learning, possesses 3 legs. The first leg is knowing the facts (“Worth nothing in the real world” – Dr. Bob himself). The second leg is understanding the concepts (“Worth maybe a little something in the real world”). These two are fundamental to any university class. But the third leg is Applying facts and concepts to new problems. This is the key. The key to analyzing and solving problems. The kind of thinking useful in the real world, useful in Medicine.

It is this which has made my value my time with Dr. Bob so much. Regardless of the fact that he has loosened up over the past year (Some of the examples he uses to explaing chemistry in class such as ‘A swimming pool of ethanol and water, which do you choose’ or ‘Don’t bring me cookies just bring me beer’ . Regardless of how I now know that he plays bass guitar in a local Neil Diamond tribute band (yes), or that he has published some incredibly influential papers in the pharmaceutical field. These things only make me love him more, but the fact that he challenges us to think, to be smarter than the average student, to apply our knowledge and grow as learner, this is what I will miss most about his classes. They are some of the hardest classes around, (my first Ochem test average was a 27%). I don’t care. I care about my future, I care about how his class has pushed me to grow intellectually, something I can carry with me for the rest of my life.

My point is: get to know your professors. They will surprise you, hopefully in a good way. But either way you develop a relationship in which you can learn about both class material, and random interesting things. Furthermore, it is necessary for med school to rack up a few solid letters of rec, and this cannot be down without a student-professor relationship. While you shouldn’t go to office hours just for that reason, that is something to keep in mind when you decide whether or not to trek up that hill, at 8pm at night, or skip a movie with friends. Go to office hours! You won’t regret it!


Get to know your TA. It will help when you forget to turn in a lab report and you are in jeopardy of failing your course (: