Monday, February 8th, 2016

The Emotional Academic

Yasamin Rahmani

About a month ago, I was sitting in my medical microbiology class, fascinated by how every piece of nature has created such a masterpiece. I’d had a “eureka” moment when we were discussing how an individual can be allergic to penicillin. The unit chapter was about antibiotics and proper use of appropriate drugs. The moment the professor discussed the biological mechanism for such a reaction my mind was blown. It finally made sense. I always thought to myself, how can someone be allergic to a synthetic drug? To paraphrase my professor as best as I can:

Penicillin is a compound produced by Penicillium fungi found in the natural environment and thus anything that is naturally made can trigger an immune response. Our bodies respond to such foreign entities and treat them as harmful invaders through antibodies. The body tries its best to be the best defender it can be. So, some immune systems react to penicillin because it recognizes it as a foreign invader, I guess you can say it overreacts from our perspective and cause rashes and even difficulty breathing. The body senses that the substance was produced inside another living organism and sees it as a threat.

It finally made sense! I held myself from jumping out of my chair from all the excitement bubbling up inside me. All the wheels started to turn. There was a sense of fulfillment and an indescribable feeling of happiness. For a moment I felt on top of the world, I thought to myself, “Yasamin you got this! You’re going to be a doctor in no time. Just keep on turning your wheels.” But in a few short moments, the bubble of my imagination popped when I came back to reality. I’ll be honest with you, medical micro was the toughest class I signed up for last semester. It consisted of a handful of nitty gritty details that made my head spin. Neisseria meningitides? Bordetella pertussis? Rice water diarrhea? Oh my. Leishmaniasis? Hold on, I can barely pronounce that! How am I going to learn and retain all of this new foreign language? I thought only organic chemistry was going to be completely foreign to me. Let’s just say I did not do as well as I wanted in medical micro. I was baffled because I’m a junior; things are supposed to go my way by now. Right?

I had this misconception that junior year is when your educational career takes a turn and your grades miraculously improve, you get internships and everything starts to fall into place. At least that’s what I was told freshmen year when I bombed that general chemistry exam. The upperclassmen gave me a bit of hope. But they forgot to mention the hard work it takes to get there. At one point during last semester, it felt like everything underneath my feet was shaking and I was falling apart. Waking up in the mornings seemed like a hassle. I know, sounds a bit depressing. Sure, I loved my major but it felt like something was missing. Something just did not click. I was expecting for things to change, to improve and to feel this sense of assertiveness about my future. But what was the change that I was hoping for? Every one of us wants to be successful but how exactly do we define success. The grades we get? Accumulating hours of clinical experience? Or this sense of holistic growth in each and every aspect of our character.

Change was not going to take place until I figured out what needed to be changed. How will you treat a patient when you can’t diagnose them immediately? And the most important patient you will ever encounter is you. Things falling into place are simply a byproduct of change. Until I could find the source of my unhappiness I would always end unsatisfied and unmotivated. It’s getting to the root of my problem that was the true stepping stone for improvement.

If my grades are not as good as I want them to be, I’ve learned to slow down and ask myself, why? I make a list of possibilities. Is it my attitude toward the subject? The distractions I’m surrounded by? Maybe I needed to change my routine? What I figured out is that I’m an “emotional academic”. I used to take every grade to heart and let it upset me. Seeing a bad grade on Blackboard would crumble me. Instead of fueling me to keep the fire in me going I would let it dim my light. At one point I convinced myself that if my grades were not good enough, I was not good enough. Don’t get me wrong, of course doing well in your classes should be a priority, but it should be seen as a task to be completed rather than a burden to live with. It’s all about mindset, seeing school as a task to be completed with your best foot forward.

I’ve worked to became emotionally alert instead of being emotionally attached. If I don’t do well on an exam I don’t let it distract me, instead I devote that energy to focus and concentrate more on the next task that has to be completed. I evaluate my behavior from one exam to another. I evaluate how much I studied, my study environment and when and where I studied. I also take into account if something happened that was out of my control, like getting sick. These strategies are helping me improve, but it’s a work in progress.

What has helped me most, though, is to realize that the universe doesn’t consider anyone’s needs or wants. It just is. You have to gracefully tango with it, or else it might step on your toes. So embrace it with open arms and take each step with confidence. Don’t give up on yourself. And when things don’t turnout the way you want them, create a plan B and take your next step.

About Yasamin Rahmani

Yasamin Rahmani headshot cropYasamin Rahmani is an undergraduate student and a peer mentor at George Mason University, Fairfax, Virginia. She is currently pursuing her Bachelors of Science in Biology, and aspires to become an Emergency Physician. Yasamin’s parents are immigrants from Kabul, Afghanistan, and, after spending a small portion of time in Tashkent, she moved with her family to Moscow where she spent majority of her childhood. At the age of ten Yasamin moved to the United States, where her affinity for the field of medicine came to fruition. While moving from country to country, Yasamin refined her language skills and is fluent in Farsi, French and Russian. Aside from her passion for medicine, Yasamin takes part in cultural understanding and historical research about Afghanistan. Some of her publications include co-authoring Afghan Proverbs Illustrated Russian-Dari, from which all profits are donated to literacy courses in Afghanistan, as well as co-editing Art through the Ages in Afghanistan. Yasamin hopes to use her diverse background and her love of medicine as tools in the rapid globalization of the field medicine. During her free time, Yasamin significantly enjoys writing, dancing, volunteering and being involved in philanthropy projects.

 


3 thoughts on “The Emotional Academic

  1. Hi Yasamin, I think you made an important realization – while grades are very important, it’s a crucial skill to be able to not take them to heart all the time, because everything will not always go your way, and you have to be able to accept that and move on. As long as you are making active changes to continue improving your efficiency in learning, you are improving yourself, and that matters more. Once you get to the next level in medical school, content will be harder and people around you will be even more high-achieving, and it’s important to be able to adapt and continue to function rather than give up hope. You’ll be glad you’ve taken classes like medical microbiology, because having learned the basics once will make the burden much lighter. So keep challenging yourself in undergrad, but remember to be able to take a step back and separate yourself from the letters and numbers on your transcript!

  2. Hello Yasamin,
    I really enjoyed reading your blog, this was great to read because everyone will receive a bad grade, no one is perfect. More people need to realize that it’s okay, no point to be mad/upset/angry because you can’t do anything about it now! Instead, don’t waste your energy on something that happened in the past or on the stress, put it towards the motivation to get a better grade for the next exam or assignment. Keep challenging yourself and keep your head up. Everything will work out!

  3. Your post really spoke to me, and really challenges a lot of my pre-conceived beliefs about grades – I wish I had this talk from someone back when I was in college. But as you said, the best thing we can do is to change from being “emotionally attached” to instead being “emotionally alert.”

    Time to focus and concentrate on the next task.

    I have no doubt you’ll make a fine emergency physician. Keep at it, homegirl!

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