Questions About Pre-health Related Activities

Balancing Studies with Extra-curriculars
Choosing Extracurricular Activities
Getting Involved in Pre-Health Student Orgs
Funding for Summer Projects
Summer Suggestions
Engineering vs. volunteering this summer?

Balancing Studies with Extra-curriculars

Question: Hi HPA – I’m a sophomore and classes are getting more intense. I didn’t do as well as I thought I would last semester. I know a lot of it was trying to figure out how to balance classes, studying, and extra-curriculars. I’m in five or six different extra-curriculars right now – is this about normal for premeds? How much time do most premeds spend in extra-curriculars? How do I know if I’m doing too much or too little, or whether I’m doing the right things?

Answer: While it’s true that you should prioritize your academics, it may also be that you don’t have to give up extra-curriculars in order to do so. First, spend some time assessing your time management and study strategies. Are there ways that you can make your studying more efficient, or be more productive with your time? The McGraw Center has some useful tips on both areas - http://mcgraw.princeton.edu/undergraduates/resources-handouts-and-advice - or if you’d prefer to talk about your specific situation, set up a learning strategies consultation to receive individualized advice: http://mcgraw.princeton.edu/undergraduates/learning-strategies-consultations.

As for what others do, every premed student is different in why they make their extra-curricular choices. Our hope is that at least some of those activities are helping you to develop and demonstrate some of the characteristics you want to use as a physician, such as communication skills, leadership ability, teamwork, cultural competence, and dedication to serving others. Talking with seniors, they often have one or two activities that were particularly meaningful as they considered their personal and professional development, and those were often activities where they felt a sense of purpose and an opportunity to leave a legacy on campus or in the larger community. They also tend to have one or two activities, formal or informal, that were just for fun and relaxation – be sure you have a couple of these stress-relievers as well! We’re happy to talk with you about where and how you’re spending your time and provide our feedback, but it may be even more worthwhile to talk with some of our peer advisers and learn how they’ve made decisions about how to spend their time. You can find their bios and contact information on our website: http://hpa.princeton.edu/about-hpa/hpa-peer-advisers.  


Choosing Extracurricular Activities

Question:  I am a freshman, and am seeking some advice concerning my extracurricular activities. I am very serious about the violin and have won some orchestral competitions, and take regular private lessons with members of the Philadelphia Orchestra in Philly. I auditioned, and was accepted to the Princeton University Orchestra. The problem is, the rehearsals often conflict with other activities in which I am interested. It was mentioned in the freshman orientation meeting that being committed to specific activities is very important. I would like to know how important it is to have orchestra on my resume were I to apply to med school. Would being a member of the school orchestra have a huge impact on my application? Would the schools still view my playing the violin in the same light if I were not pursuing orchestra here at Princeton? Thank you.

Answer: You should do what you LIKE to do. You seem to have a wonderful talent. The orchestra here is outstanding. You may not have time to be engaged with music in this fashion again, so if you want to play the violin at Princeton, by all means do so. As you go through Princeton, you will find nooks and crannies of time to pursue other activities if you desire. You can take care of health-related experiences in the summer. Health professions schools admire passion and commitment. Follow your heart on this one. 


Getting Involved in Pre-Health Student Orgs

Question: I’ve heard there are a number of health-related student groups on campus. I am interested in getting involved, but I’m not sure how to find them. Do you have any suggestions?

Answer: Great idea! There is a wide array of Princeton student groups dedicated to health care and health concerns. The organizations offer some wonderful resources and programming, much of it community service-oriented. A bonus is that they can introduce you to a support network of peers who are similarly interested in the health professions.

HPA has a listing of health-related student groups with brief descriptions and contact information on our website: Health Related Student Organizations

We encourage you to explore the interesting options available to you! If you’re a member of a group that isn’t listed, please let us know!  


Funding for Summer Projects

Question:  Dear HPA, I am planning on doing research this summer outside my area of concentration (and thus totally unrelated to my thesis/independent work at Princeton). I was wondering if you know of any grants or scholarships that Princeton offers for undergrads doing mentored summer research over the summer, not necessarily for our thesis or independent work.

Answer: The question of funding your summer ambitions is a great one. There is no one resource, but rather many potential ones. While this doesn’t apply to you, it is good to know that our Financial Aid office in West College is sometimes able to fund coursework taken elsewhere over the summer. For other projects—research, service, clinical work—pre-med students should seek funding from a relevant academic department, although not necessarily the one of your chosen concentration (this depends on the nature of your idea). Another option for funding might come through various Classes via the Alumni Council, or perhaps through the Center for Religious Life or the Office of the Vice President of Campus Life - use the Student Activities Funding Engine to identify possible sources.  Our advice to you specifically would be to contact the academic department that is most relevant to the research you’re going to do; we wouldn’t assume that nothing would be available to you only because you’re not concentrating in that department, as there might be a faculty member on campus very interested in your ideas. 


Summer Suggestions

Question: I’m a freshman pre-med student and I’m wondering what I should do this summer. I’ve already done hospital volunteering in High School. Should I work in a lab?

Answer: There’s no one way to answer the question of what you “should” do this summer. Instead, we might ask you to think about what would you enjoy doing? What would give you a new and different kind of experience from what you have done in the past? What would help you develop interpersonal skills and an ethic of service? What would allow you to recharge your batteries? While your high school volunteer experience may have been helpful in your decision to pursue the pre-health path, it will be important to continue to develop clinical exposure (either as a volunteer, or by shadowing physicians) in order to enhance your own understanding of what it means to practice medicine, and in order to convey to a medical school that you have deepened your engagement throughout your college years. You may choose to gain more clinical exposure in the summer, but you may prefer to do this during the academic year, and do something entirely different during the summer. Doing benchwork in a lab prior to medical school is certainly not essential (unless you are pursuing an MD/PhD). If you are passionate about lab work and want to pursue it, that’s fine. But don’t spend your summer in lab because you think you “should.” No matter what you want to do this summer, start thinking about it now if you haven’t already. Be sure to check our Summer Clinical and Research pages for ideas about summer experiences. And, if you do something great that’s not on our list yet, by all means let us know! 


Engineering vs. volunteering this summer?

Question: I’m a freshman and I’m thinking about engineering and medicine as my top career options right now. Is it better to take an internship in engineering, or to do some shadowing and hospital volunteer work over the summer?

Answer: Why not do both? The Princeton summer is a luxurious twelve weeks, which means that you have more time than many of your peers at other schools to engage in numerous activities. Many internships last eight to ten weeks, which would still leave time to do some full-time shadowing. It may be worthwhile to let your internship supervisor know that you’re considering a medical career, and see if they have any contacts who you could shadow or know of nearby places where you could volunteer. Once you know your internship site, you can also start googling for nearby hospitals and see if you can do a weekend volunteer shift, an evening EMT training class, spend time at an animal shelter, or take part in a similar endeavor that doesn’t take up too much time. Remember, internships are usually about forty hours a week, so that leaves 128 hours of time – even after adding in commuting, meals, sleep and socializing, you should be able to spare a few hours to gain some medically-relevant experience. .