Staying Sane During the Waiting Game for Professional School Admission

December 19, 2016

You successfully applied to a range of medical or dental schools and now are anxiously waiting to be contacted about interviews and (hopefully!) acceptances to these schools.  During this time, it is normal to feel anxious, worry that you have not provided enough information, or think that there is something else you can do to improve your chances.  Maybe you are tired of family or friends asking, “have you heard yet?”

Here are common challenges and strategies to help you maintain your sanity and manage stress during this time:

Common Questions

  • Is it okay to call or email the schools and ask for an application status update?
  • Call only once. Curb your desire to call repeatedly.  Sometimes schools feel like students put them on re-dial with the volume of individual calls!
  • I want to update my application materials. Is this a good time to do it?
  • Some schools accept updates to applications and will publish this clearly on their webpage. If you do send updates, it should contain only SIGNIFICANT additions (e.g., papers published, new clinical experience position, completed science courses with a grade, leadership).  Remember that the on the original AMCAS application, a description of each experience is limited to 750 characters—this limit remains. In most cases, an update should be a concise bulleted list.  If you have a publication, use the formal citation.  No lengthy letters with veiled pleas for acceptance. One update letter is acceptable, a second is pushing it unless it contains something amazing.
  • I have been placed on a waitlist for an interview or acceptance. Does this mean I won’t get in?
  • Being placed on a waitlist or in the hold file is not a rejection. This means that you still have a possibility for acceptance. Some schools are sorting through their acceptances and attempting to figure out their yield rate before extending more invitations to interview.  Schools with a high number of applicants are still reviewing applications as well.
  • Should I send a letter of intent?
  • Submitting a Letter of Intent at this point in the cycle is of little value. You applied to the school, so the committee knows you want to go there.  It is not going to move you into the ‘accept’ category if you are not there already.  Letters of intent should not be sent to all schools.  Rather, letters of intent should be reserved for the school where you can guarantee that if you are accepted you would turn down other offers that you may have.  Check out the US News article on letters of intent.
  • How long can I expect to be on a waitlist?
  • Expect significant movement from Waitlists and Hold files after 15 March. Another time will be around  April 30 of each application cycle year, when admitted applicants are required to choose a medical school to attend and decline multiple offers.  This way, medical schools begin filling these spaces. Still, many in April, May, and often up to one week prior to the first week of medical school.
  • I have begun to receive rejections from schools to which I have applied.  Should I plan to re-apply next cycle?
  • Each year, many students are not admitted to school and decide to re-apply to medical school and successfully matriculate in later years.   You should re-apply when you have significantly improved your application materials and experiences. Meet with mentors, career or professional school advisors, medical students, and admissions officers to get feedback on how to strengthen your applications.  You may need additional clinical hours, research, or leadership experience. You could work on strengthen your AMCAS application and personal statement.  You should be practicing your interview skills.  See the 2015 blog article, “So I didn’t Get in Medical School Now What

Step 2   Do’s and Don’ts in the waiting game
Here are some do’s and don’ts behaviors that many applicants may default to during times of high stress.

Don’t

  • Launch a social media rant about schools or admissions teams. Admissions committees and students check social media.
  • Complain to admissions officers or medical students about the perceived amount of time it is taking for them to reply to you for interviews or admissions decisions.
  • Contact each school more than once to check on the status of your application.
  • Re-take the MCAT yet without significant preparation. Your goal is to raise your score significantly before re-applying.

Do:

  • Surround yourself with positive and healthy individuals, mentors, groups, and activities
  • Meet with advisors, career and personal counselors who can support you through this period.
  • Continue to show your continued passion for professional school. This includes staying involved in a combination of clinical, research, leadership, service, coursework activities.
  • Prepare for interviews. Many professional schools are now using the Multiple Mini Interviews.
  • Stay emotionally strong and resilient
  • Practice healthy coping behaviors including exercising, healthy eating, and involvement in social activities and mindfulness
  • Utilize any cultural, spiritual, familial, and other personal support to maintain hope and develop coping skills and strengths.

Feel free to visit the OITE https://www.training.nih.gov to meet with medical school advisors, wellness or career counselors who can further support you during this process.

* OITE services are available to NIH intramural trainees only. Check with your home university or college and utilize the personal, career, and professional school advising resources they offer to you.

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Why RCR (Responsible Conduct of Research) Training is a critical part of your NIH training

December 6, 2016

This week the OITE launches a new research ethics workshop for postdocs at the NIH. This addition joins our ongoing PostBac and Grad Student workshops. More info and upcoming events: https://www.training.nih.gov/ethics_training_home_page

You may be wondering.. why should you attend one of these courses? Perhaps your institute requires it or it is needed for your grant/fellowship application. But above that, an understanding of research ethics is an integral part of your training as a scientist or clinician. Still not convinced?…How about this:

  • To protect yourself. In a recent Nature article, more than 50% of people caught in acts of research misconduct stated they did not know the rules. As with judiciary law, not knowing the rules or regulations is not considered a valid excuse for violating them, nor is being told by others that the action is permissible. We want to make sure you know the explicit rules and implicit expectations of the ethics of performing research. You should know what to do if you aren’t sure about something; who to contact if you witness or feel pressured into doing something you think may be unethical; who to contact if you need external intervention regarding lab conduct; where, in general, to seek all of this information both here and at any institution you may end up in the future. Plus, the consequences of poor ethics ruin careers (read more at: http://ori.hhs.gov/case_summary).
  • To inform yourself. Many of the federal guidelines regulating research are reactionary in nature, enacted following public revelations about terrible mistreatment of human and animal subjects, violations of conflicts of interest, and of misplaced trust in scientists by those who they believed were trying to help them. Unfortunately, these sorts of event have not been eliminated; we see them in the headlines all too often. To learn the history of research ethics guidelines in the US means to learn what triggered these outcries and ask “How could they not know what they were doing was wrong?”
  • To question yourself. Where do our professional ethical norms arise from, and how must we ensure we never lose sight of our personal ethical codes to practice science that is safe, sound, and justifiable? The research environment can often be one of high stress, high uncertainty, and high pressure. You must learn to navigate it without compromising your integrity.
  • To communicate to others. The public is going to see more headlines about failures, ethical breaches, and lost resources than they are about breakthroughs and successes. We can all act as scientific ambassadors; to show that we are thoughtful, methodical, and take the upmost care in the work we do (and that we are not all cartoonish images of mad scientists laughing wildly as we do mad science-y things).
  • To protect the scientific endeavor. Much science is funded by the public and therefore explicitly depends on public trust. Without the trust of the public we lose the ability to both conduct research and effectively move our research to treatments and cures.

We do not think ethics training is something you need because you lack the moral grounding to do good science; but rather because we think it benefits all of us to have a shared understanding of the rules and ethical norms it takes to perform research.

So, join us!  More info here: https://www.training.nih.gov/ethics_training_home_page