No, this isn’t some clickbait quiz to sort your Hogwarts house or determine which Grey’s Anatomy character you are.
I’m not going to tell you that you’re Dracula because you do your best work at night, or that you’re Frankenstein’s monster because you like cuddling up with a good book.
But I am going to talk a lot about monsters, pre-med monsters to be exact - a lesser known cryptozoology that covers all kinds of beasts, both magical and terrible alike.
Before we get too deep, I want to point out that monsters are totally badass, so pre-meds shouldn’t be (too) offended by the comparison. Think about the Big Friendly Giant, Mike and Sully from Monsters Inc., or the Incredible Hulk - just a few of the many monsters who protect others and use their powers for good.
But some monsters are bad, and they often rear their ugly heads during medical school application season. And like Godzilla, they’ll be hard to miss. Most people, including admissions committees, will see them coming a mile away.
My goal is to help you avoid becoming a pre-med monster, or associating with too many of them, so that you can be the pre-med who’s most enjoyable to work with and be around.
I hope you view this article as a nice treat, rather than a nasty trick.
It’ll be easy to spot these pre-meds, and not because they’re giants with one eyeball.
You’ll know you’re dealing with a pre-med cyclops if they always see things one way. This is the pre-med who will tell you that you NEED to be doing this or that, that you NEED this research experience or MUST be president of AMSA or NEED homeless shelter volunteering to be a doctor. As suggested by their horn(s), they tend to be stubborn and hard-headed.
Everything for the cyclopes will be a means to an end, with a myopic tunnel-vision. Since they have no peripheral vision, they just follow each other, single file, buying into the mob mentality and walking the same path as other pre-meds.
But not all cyclopes are made alike. Sometimes they’re harder to spot and may seem prettier and less brutish at first glance. For example, some pre-med cyclopes might have a ton of depth in one area of medicine, like public health education or bench research, which could appear like a strength. But they will come across as rather one-note. Their flatness will be obvious to admissions committees, who will likely seek more well-rounded pre-meds.
In mythology, the cyclops seems mighty but has a fatal flaw (picture a spear to the eyeball). Don’t be a pre-med cyclops! Don’t be afraid to see things a different way or wander a bit off the typical pre-med path. Use your two eyes to explore, see things from a bigger perspective, and follow YOUR true passions.
You’ll find a lot of these pre-med monsters lurking in the threads of the Student Doctor Network and similar online forums. But since they’re pre-meds, they have no choice but to venture into the real world at times.
They’re close cousins of the cyclops, but worse. Even more guarded, more risk-averse, more prone to telling you what you should or shouldn’t be as a pre-med. Like the cyclopes, the trolls are often found in hordes, because they like having their own views validated and reinforced.
If you’re on the fence as a candidate, either due to stats or experience, the pre-med trolls will be the first ones to shoot down your hopes and naysay your chances. They’ll see themselves as the unofficial gatekeepers of medical school. They will tell you all the reasons you will regret the decision, all the challenges of being a doctor, all the other things you’re better suited for.
They’re also likely to cast stigma on applying to osteopathic schools, taking a gap year, anything that deviates from the norm. They will compare you to others constantly, perhaps because they’re not thrilled with how they look themselves.
It’s good to have a healthy sense of realism when approaching the medical school application process (and your chances), but not if you allow that to transform into negativity, anxiety, and self-doubt. Most pre-meds have too much of these things already.
Don’t be a pre-med troll. Avoid them and their gatherings under the proverbial bridge. Proceed forward, step into the light that trolls fear, and move confidently towards your goal.
The sphinx looks cool, no doubt - impressive even - but it’s also pretty confusing. Besides its weird name, it possesses the head of a human, the haunches of a lion, and the wings of a bird. Plus, it’s known to kill and/or eat anyone who can’t solve its riddles.
I encounter lots of pre-med sphinxes - candidates who have unknowingly become a trendless hodge-podge of different activities and endeavors. They usually feel pretty special, layered, complex in a good way - like a collage or mosaic. They often have many great experiences under their belt and stories of their impact within these roles, but their applications end up feeling scattered, hobbled together.
In this way, they’re the opposite of the cyclopes and trolls, but they have their own set of problems. Due to the riddles in their application, admissions committees (and the people around them) will not be left with a dominant impression of the sphinx. They will view the pre-med sphinxes as blended, blurry, with nothing singular to associate with them.
Trends - Working on HIV research, volunteering at a needle exchange, performing free screenings for STIs
No Trends - Working in hospice, shadowing different surgeons, volunteering with an overseas medical brigade
The best way to avoid being a sphinx is to have trends in your experiences, so that your motivations and future vision are clear. The best pre-meds are following their passions and tailoring the application process around those activities, rather than checking off the research, volunteering, and shadowing boxes in any way possible.
The will o’ the wisp is a more obscure pre-med monster, not always easily found or well understood. They’re known to be misleading and lead you astray.
They appear bright at first, refreshing - all that shiny potential and luminous energy. They will come on strong initially, showing up repeatedly and offering contributions in quick bursts.
But then they’ll just disappear, dissipate, vanish into thin air. For the pre-med will o’ the wisp, this could be an abandoned research position, or a one-month stint of volunteering, constant cancellations to meetings with your project team - any activity that isn’t given proper commitment.
Sometimes it’s okay to disappear - for example, maybe you need to enter the “MCAT Cave” and do nothing but study for a few months. But this sporadic vanishing could be a huge detriment to other parts of the application process, like following through with professors and supervisors about letters of recommendation, or pre-writing secondary essays, or the many other tasks that require careful planning, time, and discipline to complete.
The pre-med will o’ the wisp suffers from two things - burnout and indecision. A combination of taking on more than one can handle, and not being able to settle on a clear path. They have great intentions, but their flightiness will leave others feeling disappointed, imagining what could have been. Be present, be proactive, be visible. Be a face that becomes familiar.
Pre-meds shouldn’t feel stuck, as if they cannot change activities or shift their focus along their path. It’s good to be open-minded and ambitious, but if you explore aimlessly for too long and never commit yourself to disciplined work and meaningful contributions, you will likely be forgotten and vanish in the aether of rejected candidates.
Vampires have a lot of hang-ups (sometimes literally hanging upside down). They only work and eat at night, sleep in coffins, live in creepy castles, and they rely on other people for sustenance. They can’t be around garlic and only come to things when they’re politely invited. Not to mention their occasional wanton desires.
Pre-med vampires have peculiar tastes and idiosyncrasies, living a life that feels normal to them but is clearly unhealthy and unsustainable to everyone else. They’re late to things (when they do show up), get sick a lot, look unkempt, and offer complicated excuses for their shortcomings.
Pre-med vampires tend to do things on their own terms, and when it’s most convenient for them. They will tend to view you in terms of what you can offer them. Somehow they’ll have a certain charm, something mysterious and intriguing about their oddity - you might find yourself wanting to fix them. They could go from being totally aloof, to being extremely dependent on others, causing those around them to feel skeptical, or worse, completely drained.
The pre-med vampire is perhaps a worse manifestation of the will o’ the wisp - someone who is difficult to trust, cannot be relied on, and takes more than he or she gives. But rather than flicker and vanish, they regularly haunt those around them with their manic neediness and peculiarity.
This is not to say that a pre-med must be perfect; everyone has some kind of issue or strange behavior. And oftentimes, you might mistake a pre-med vampire for someone who is just having a really bad day or dealing with a personal hardship. The difference is that a pre-med vampire will trick you by pretending to have it all together, rather than truly exposing themselves.
I’ve only covered a handful of the pre-med monsters out there. Indeed, I hope to post a Part II next October to once again celebrate the holiday.
Surely, some pre-meds feel like zombies when they’re sleep-deprived, or like witches when they try to “brew” a precise concoction in their chemistry labs, or like ghosts when they don’t respond to friends and family for days or weeks on end due to their countless obligations.
This article is all in good fun, of course, but it’s also a friendly warning: don’t give into ghastly bad habits, don’t hide behind a stereotypical costume of what you think a pre-med is, and don’t be too spooked by the path ahead or you’ll never take any meaningful steps forward.
Happy Halloween! And good luck with your applications!