October 13, 2014

20 Ways to be more Interesting Today

Rob Humbracht

You've made the choice - you want to stand out for your medical school application.  You're willing to cut back on the activities that don't matter and find the ones that do.  But how, exactly, do you do that?  Where do you start?

I presented at the UC Davis Health Conference this past weekend, and the topic of the presentation was 11 Ways to be a Remarkably Average Pre-Med.  The point of the presentation was that, by following the "usual" advice for applying to medical school, applicants all end up looking the same.  If all that is on your application is the typical pre-med checklist:

  • volunteering
  • shadowing
  • research
  • tutoring
  • leadership

Then you're going to look just like every other applicant.  And you will do no better in the application process than your numbers would suggest (and, in fact, you will need that excellent GPA and MCAT to help you stand out, since your activities so clearly do not).

So, you have a choice: you can be better or be different.  You can be a beast and get a 4.0 GPA and a 38 MCAT, or you can find a different way to stand out.

"But I don't even know where to start," you might be thinking.  Don't worry; we can help.

Before we get to the list, let's examine 4 variables that make an activity interesting:

Variable 1 - Any activity that's uncommon in the application process.  Scuba dive master?  Interesting.  Worked on a senatorial campaign?  Interesting.  Med schools don't see these activities much.

The same logic can be applied even to "typical activities."  Volunteering at a hospital?  Not interesting.  Volunteering at a refugee camp?  Interesting.  Bench research?  Not interesting.  Research on drug addicts in Iran?  Interesting.

Variable 2 - A consistent, concentrated passion.  It's more interesting to have devoted 4 years of your life to an activity than 3 months to that activity, so we're looking for meaningful commitment to a fewer activities rather than passing interest in a bunch of activities.

Variable 3 - Activities that matter to you (where you have a personal background that inclines you toward a particular activity).  For example, if you had a family member with lupus and you now work at a lupus foundation, that's an interesting activity (even if it would show up on our pre-med checklist).

Variable 4 - Unusual accomplishment in any activity.  Any place where you have made a personal impact will be more interesting.  Have you raised $5,000 for your charity to spread awareness of autism?  That's interesting, even if med schools have seen similar causes in the past.

What makes an activity interesting, then, is dependent on you - what matters, how long you've done that activity, and what you've accomplished.  Sticking with the activities you're good at and passionate about - no matter what they are - can indeed qualify as interesting.

The following list, though, are 20 activities that you can do in 1 day or 1 week that will help you be more interesting right away.  These are more in line with variable 1.

1. Make a bucket list (what's a bucket list?)

2. Study abroad, even for a week

3. Learn how to surf

4. Take a road trip to somewhere you’ve never been

5. Learn conversational Arabic (okay, so this one takes more than a day)

6. Invite a professor to join you for an on-campus lecture

7. Shadow a Physician’s Assistant

8. Shadow a garbage man

9. Hike Mount Whitney (the tallest mountain in California)

10. Work on a farm for a day

11. Gather a group of friends to take a homeless person to lunch

12. Perform a random act of kindness

13. Write a short story.  Publish it somewhere (even on a personal blog)

14. Start a blog on a  topic you're passionate about and post once per month.

15. Read The Omnivore’s Dilemma by Michael Pollan

16. Read Atlas Shrugged by Ayn Rand

17. Go to a farmer’s market and cook what you buy

18. Attend a political debate

19. Start a business (for example, a tutoring business)

20. Perform at an open mic

Hopefully this list will inspire you to find something you've never tried, to see beyond the typical pre-med checklist to find something that you can pursue as a new passion.

The most important takeaway: do something, today, no matter how small.  The road to being more interesting starts with the first step.

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