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I find the act of “fitting in” incredibly exhausting. “Fitting in” implies there are pre-requisites to belonging. Such terminology has pushed me to exhaustingly reevaluate my progress each step of the way and constantly question whether I had finally achieved that dream of “belonging.” You would think being admitted into a doctorate program would be enough to silence my insecurities. The Optometry Admissions Test was over, I was admitted into The University of Houston College of Optometry, and yet I found myself staring at my Anatomy and Physiology Lab Midterm grade wondering whether I could (or would) ever become a good doctor.
My name is Shail Gajjar and this is the third lesson I learned in my first year of optometry school:
Lesson 3: When your sense of self-worth is rooted in comparisons to those around you, you’ll find yourself drowning in constant parasitic competition. To sum it up concisely: learn to learn, and let go of the idea that grades define the trajectory of your doctorate journey.
Imposter syndrome is no joke. I imagine many students have found themselves wondering whether they belong. Despite having been chosen for the program, students might find themselves “competing” with each other rather than synergistically working together to become the best doctor that they can become.
I’ve grown up a Type-A person. I was someone who was obsessed with scoring as high as possible. This mentality was only further reinforced by the OAT thanks to the percentiles that were conveniently printed alongside each score. Even throughout undergrad, all my professors would provide a “class exam average.” I inadvertently found myself comparing my scores to this average. If they were lower than the class average, I had failed on my part, even if my grade was an A. It didn’t help that I was younger than many of my peers. My younger age reinforced my constant ambition to prove I belonged.
Doesn’t that sound horrible? If you answered yes, you’re spot on. There was no end to the cycles of comparison. Each clicker question, each quiz, each exam, each hangout had at least one instance of comparison. I approached the first half of my OPT I in this very same manner. I evaluated my performance based on where I fell on that wretched bell curve. As you might imagine, this version of me was demolished when I saw my score fell in the bottom quarter percentile on the Anatomy Lab Midterm. It was my lowest test grade, ever.
Look, I’m not perfect. No one is. Everyone has good exams and bad exams, and I understood that. My disappointment wasn’t necessarily because I had received a “bad grade.” It was instead the idea that I was incompetent that disturbed me so much. The idea that I was inferior to my classmates. The idea that I was somehow incapable of providing high-quality patient care in the future.
I wish I could tell you what my “EUREKA” moment was, and teach you some life-altering lesson. Unfortunately, life is not always so black and white. Some lessons settle in slowly. The below is my current understanding on this topic, after many more exams:
Competing with your classmates with the intent of superiority will irreversibly scar your relationship with your colleagues. At the end of the day, perhaps you do score better than your classmates. Perhaps you do achieve that “self-worth.” What will this achievement cost you? What did you gain? A comforted ego? Some condition-based friendships?
There is a winner and a loser in a competition. Meanwhile, there are only winners in a team effort. To conclude, treat your classmates as teammates. Their successes are successes for you too. Your triumphs are triumphs for them too. Why? Because at the end of the day, pushing each other to become better will ultimately benefit the patient. And that is the whole purpose of a health professional.
Autumn, a fourth year optometric student at the Southern College of Optometry, is a friend of ASCO and has submitted several blogs in the past. Her latest vlog shows us a bit from her optometric externship in Alaska.
Autumn can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org
Interested in submitting a video blog or a written blog? We are looking for submissions from optometric students, faculty/administrators. and residents. For more information, contact Kimberly O’Sullivan at email@example.com
Meet Dr. Parres Wright, Assistant Professor at Midwestern University – Chicago College of Optometry. This video shows how she navigates educating her students during Covid as well as her passion for her students and for her profession. She is proof that academic optometry is a rewarding and fulfilling career path.
Dr. Wright is on the following social media platforms:
Podcast: Capital W
Read Shail’s Part 1: Don’t Let Eyes Be The Demise
Northcote Parkinson, 1942
Parkinson’s Law: “Work expands so as to fill the time available for its completion.”
Less time studying, and better grades. Though factual, it sounds entirely fictional. Hi all, my name is Shail Gajjar and I’m a second year at The University of Houston College of Optometry. I hope to share some lessons and insights from my first year in the Doctor of Optometry (OD) program.
I recall a time when I used to dumbfoundedly wonder how my classmates juggled their commitments. Whether it be marriage, taking care of a pet, volunteering every weekend, having a kid, playing on a regional ultimate frisbee team, working a part-time job, or commuting from home, the people around me somehow found a way to fit a doctorate program into their schedules. The question I used to wonder was how? As is, I felt there wasn’t enough time to study, so how could someone – with substantially less time – still manage to sufficiently study. What was the secret?
While I cannot speak on their behalf, here’s the answer I came to one semester later:
Lesson 2: Quality ≥ Quantity. Per Parkinson’s Law, your results will improve when you spend less time studying more. Treat each studying session like your last, as if the final is the next day.
You’ve probably already been told about the importance of time-management. I wish not to expand that dialogue. My emphasis is instead time–usage. To illustrate this, consider the following scenario:
Let’s say you take the Optometry Admissions Test (OAT) in 2 months. I want you to imagine how a typical day of studying would go. More specifically, imagine how many hours you would study in a day.
WHAT IF I told you there was an issue with your registration (you can’t reschedule) and you now have 2 weeks. AS IF THIS WASN’T ENOUGH, you cannot study any more per day than you did previously. What would you change? How would your days of studying evolve?
With absolute certainty, my stress would go through the roof. That variable aside, however, I can also say my time-usage would significantly change. I would undergo a paradigm shift. Rather than casually studying the material for the day and taking breaks as I please, I would spend each and every single minute of that studying session with focus and concentration. My breaks would be limited to an “as-needed” basis for the sole purpose of expanding my studying. Such new behaviors would be rooted to a sense of urgency; the realization that each minute matters would push me to spend the limited time that I had with maximal efficiency.
THIS, my friends, is the key that revolutionized how I approached studying my second semester of first year. Sure, scheduling in activities for the sake of my mental health decreased the available amount of time that I had, but enhancing my time-usage allowed me to cover more material in less time.
Now… this might sound really intense… And to be frank, as I re-read the points I make above, it does sound a little forward. Yet, I can say that employing the methods mentioned will allow you to free up more time for yourself. And so, whether you’re group studying or studying by yourself, always ensure you’re studying with a sense of urgency. It can be really easy (and tempting) to sit back, relax, and casually flip through PowerPoint slides. Or maybe have a few conversations with your friends, order some food, and so forth. Unfortunately, such behaviors will only prolong your studying time and ultimately restrict you from doing the things that you actually enjoy.
Study in an environment that keeps you motivated, but don’t make studying longer than it needs to be. All of this brings me to…
A variation of Parkinson’s Law:
FIRST, schedule doing the things that you love. Work will THEN expand to fill the available time remaining for its completion, assuming you’re spending that time correctly.
Acknowledgements: Many thanks to Lakshya Trivedi (more info at his website themdjourney.com or his YouTube channel TheMDJourney) for teaching me this concept, and to HH Pramukh Swami Maharaj (learn more at pramukhswami.org) who taught me its application.
Easy Anyama, 2nd year optometry student at the University of Houston, College of Optometry continues his journey in optometry school. Episode 2 of Easy on the Eyes is below. Revisit Episode 1.
Are you an optometry student (or know one) who is interested in sharing your story with us? Please message ASCO’s Director of Communications, Kimberly O’Sullivan, at firstname.lastname@example.org.