Here I am sitting on the other side of my first week as a grad student feeling full (in heart and mind), thankful, and challenged – just the way it should be.
I am not going to say that it’s been a breeze of a week by any means, and the days have honestly dragged by. There is definitely an already noticeable difference from college. For instance, lecturers referring to us each individually as “Dr. ______” when we ask or answer a question. Also, two hour lectures are a straight up struggle compared to 50 or 75 minute college classes. It is sort of fun being all together all day long, almost like high school AP classes with your same 20 friends. It’s at least been nice starting at 10 am for a few days this week with ample time for my morning rituals of Chemex pour over, worship jams, and reading, but soon we will move into more of a demanding 8-5 schedule, depending on our lab or clinic rotation times. I have this idea that I’m going to become a morning workout person, but we’ll see how that really goes.
With Penn’s new curriculum, the way our courses are set up is a little hard to explain. Basically, their goal is to have our classes much more integrated across subjects with a more seamless didactic/clinical flow and minimize the chance of us learning about the same topic multiple different times throughout the first or second year. For instance, instead of taking separate anatomy, biochemistry, or histology courses, those topics might all be included in our “Biological Systems” or “Foundational Sciences” courses. When we begin our hard tissue module (i.e. bone), that will cover bone histo/physio/biochem/anatomy, etc. In theory I’m a fan, and it makes a lot of sense. Each course is split into two or three modules, and each module has its own comprehensive exam (no pressure right). Once we really get going, we will average about an exam per week but they’ll be split across the courses (allowing you to really focus on each exam for that week when it comes), and there will be a few weeks here and there that are exam-free. The only bad thing is that we’re the guinea pigs so we’ll just have to have an open line of communication between us and the faculty to make sure it’s as effective as we’re all hoping. We also are starting the clinical science portion of our curriculum much earlier than last year’s class, so we start our advanced simulation, general restorative dentistry lab, and assisting upperclassmen in the clinic as soon as September!
This first week we’ve covered things like embryology, molecular cell bio/genetics, dental development, and a general intro to oral medicine. “Intro to Patient Evaluation/Oral Medicine” was our very first class, and it’s honestly probably everyone’s favorite so far just because the doctor who teaches it is passionate, engaging, inspiring, and full of stories of his own experience in practicing. Multiple times, he’s explained to us that we can in fact save lives by being a dentist when we find things like oral cancer or a mass in someone’s thyroid or salivary gland. Penn does a really good job of teaching us that we are not just here to fix peoples’ teeth, we are ultimately health care providers in charge of our patients’ well being as a whole. A lot of people don’t realize why I have to take things like gross anatomy of the entire body or master the details of DNA alpha helix binding and gene transcription, but it really is to give us a broad understanding of medicine, not just learning to drill, fill, and bill. Penn also likes to brag that they do that better than anyone (a little school pride never hurt anyone), while still highlighting the dentistry-specific aspects as opposed to some schools where the dental students take their first two years with medical students and might miss some of those dental emphases. This class I guess is also considered “easier” or more straight forward than something like our lightning fast embryo lecture that only maybe three people have taken in undergrad. The first day we all walked out feeling about like this. You’d be surprised how much they can teach in two hours, and now I understand the drinking from a fire hydrant analogy of dental/med school difficulty.
It’s also cool knowing that our lecturers are some of the world’s leading researchers on their area of expertise. We have multiple lecturers for a given course, so they really are bringing in the authorities for each given lecture topic. The doctor who taught us about dentin and pulp formation as well as dental pulp stem cells is seriously like THE boss of dental stem cell research. He’s done all kinds of really cool trials here and in China and worked for the NIH as well. Even when he’s really hard to understand or so cutely says “tooths” instead of teeth, it’s definitely a privilege to be here at Penn taught by the best of the best.
Our first quiz is this week over genes (how many times do we really have to learn protein synthesis), and people are definitely starting to get anxious since nobody really knows what to expect. I am really striving to maintain the balance of school with everything else that I don’t want to let fall to the wayside – something that honestly took me until senior year to master. For example, taking the time to check out a different church with friends this morning and hit up another local fave food spot for breakfast tacos afterward. Not to mention putting down the studies for the night to cook a good meal, write a few letters to my friends far away, and write this post.
In other unrelated news, Ben Rector’s album Brand New came out on Friday, and I am already obsessed. I think my favorite track might be More Like Love, and it really captures my heart for how I want to impact my new community and classmates here at Penn. When all is said and done, simply loving people is really what matters.
I used to think I wanted to be famous
I’d be recognized out in a crowd
But the funny thing is every time I’ve gotten what I want it lets me down
I used to think I needed all the answers
I used to need to know that I was right
I used to be afraid of things I couldn’t cover up in black and white
I find the farther that I climb there’s always another line
A mountain top, it’s never gonna stop
And the more of anything I do, the thing that always ends up true
is getting what I want will never be enough
Now I just wanna look more like love
I just wanna look more like love
This whole world is spinning crazy and I can’t quite keep up
It’s the one thing around here that we don’t have quite enough of
So I just wanna look a little more like love