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It’s that time of year; the air is getting warmer, the birds are singing in the trees and the school year is coming to an end. That can only mean one thing for a postbac; it’s time to find an interview suit.

As we reach the end of our program, our program director is trying to get us geared up for the next big step in the process; applying to medical school. This means applications, personal statements and, of course, medical school interviews. And one major part of the medical school interview is the impression of professionalism, hence the need for a suit.

I went suit shopping once before, shortly after I graduated from college. The idea was that I would be applying for “real” jobs (aka not waitressing) and I would need a suit for interviews. The attempt was a resounding failure; I ended up with one mediocre blazer and a “business casual” top that I wore to two interviews before monetary needs pushed me back toward the restaurant business. I was sort of vaguely aware that at some point I would need to acquire some professional attire on my way to becoming a physician, but it hadn’t been a major source of concern when I started the postbac.

At some point during the summer, a group of us were sitting around a table battling with chemistry problems, and two of the girls started chatting about their interview suits. The conversation was a friendly distraction from the homework assignment, sandwiched between a discussion of dream vacations and what activities were going on that weekend. I was mulling over a particularly troublesome bit of mathematics, only half listening. They debated the acceptable size of heels, pants versus skirts, appropriate types of suit materials; a whole host of details that I had never even realized people considered when buying clothes. Bit by bit I found myself worrying less about finishing the nights homework and more about how I was ever going to put together an outfit suitable of fooling an admissions committee into thinking I am a responsible adult.

At some point I think burst out laughing. The two girls turned to me questioningly.

“Do I really have to think about these things?” I blurted. They reassured me that I would certainly be able to find a decent interview outfit even if I didn’t measure out a precise heel size. I was not so sure.

Several months later we had our official class on interviewing dos and don’ts with the program director, who used to be on the admissions committee for our school. Afterward one of the girls asked me if I’d given any thought to my suit.

“Actually,” I said. “I was hoping maybe you could help me pick it out?”

And that was how it started. The suit-shopping extravaganza. The final count was four of us; myself and another fashion challenged girl from the program, and two shopping experts. It would have made a great teen movie has we not all been in our mid-20s. We had a plan of attack; an hour drive to the mall in a neighboring city, and straight to the Macy’s one day sale. We even had a suit rep on the ready to assist us. (I had never heard of a suit rep before. Mentally I pictured a honed expert, full of suggestions and an endless supply of styles to assist us. I was somewhat disappointed by the largely unhelpful, older woman who eventually helped us.)

After Macy’s, where we each put a suit on hold, the group went for lunch and mapped out our plan of attack. Express, Dillard’s, Anne Taylor, Banana, Anne Taylor Loft with short pauses for ice cream and a jewelry store. “Ah,” I thought to myself, “This is how most people must approach shopping.” My own approach had always been a solo excursion aimed for maximum efficiency. During the suit shopping extravaganza, we took our time. The mission was always in mind, but it didn’t stop our intrepid experts from looking our for other, more fun clothing requirements.

On the whole the expedition was a resounding success. By the time we left (to thunder and rain) all four of us had great suits and tops to go with them. Mine, a pin-striped pant suit over a light blue blouse, was the first suit I’ve ever worn that made me feel more like a professional that a kid playing dress up. I was so excited, I tried to schedule my mock interview right away. I’m at the back of the queue–the interview isn’t until next week–but I did get to wear it for my first job interview yesterday. If I don’t get the position, at least it won’t be my clothes that are to blame.

It’s probably not the sort of thing one says in polite company, but I really like doing dissections in biology lab. It brings out the little kid in me, that part that loves to take things apart and see how they work, that finds the squishy insides of the animal to be both totally gross and totally fascinating at the same time.

The first dissection I did was in high school freshman biology. We studied frog anatomy, and the day before the dissection we were charged with observing “external characteristics.” This basically meant that right before we sliced into our specimens, we were given an entire lab period to bond with our frogs. One of my friends couldn’t take it and spirited her frog away by stashing it in the front pocket of her backpack. We released him into the creek behind the school; I have no idea if the environment there was at all suitable.

I expected to have a real problem with the actual dissection. It just didn’t seem like something I should enjoy. The frogs had their brains (literally) scrambled beforehand, meaning that their hearts were still beating when we opened them up. My group was made up of two other girls, both very tentative about the whole process, so I ended up taking charge somewhat against my will. I remember cutting my frog open very carefully and watching his heart beat inside of his spread rib cage. I was amazed. I knew that hearts beat, but I had never envisioned how violent it was; this ball of muscle twisting and writhing just behind a few layers of muscle and bone.

Since then I’ve always claimed to love dissections, and couldn’t wait to start cutting. We worked our way up slowly; first an earthworm, then a crayfish and an enormous cricket, then a squid and a clam. Of course the day we started on the fetal pig, which I had been looking forward to since we first went over the syllabus, I was in the midst of my aforementioned plague and spent most of the lab feeling nauseous from the stench of formaldehyde and trying not to cough on our specimen. It probably didn’t help that we were looking at the digestive system, which, even in a fetal pig, involves a lot of organs filled with fluids you would rather not contemplate too closely.

This week we tackled the circulatory and respiratory systems. Having moved out of the gunkier areas of the body and feeling more energetic, I recalled why I loved dissections so much. The heart lay in the center of the pig’s chest, shiny and strong; not beating in this case, but impressive nonetheless. The lungs weren’t fully formed, but it was easy to  see each individual lobe as it curled almost protectively around the heart. Ironically one of the things that gave me the biggest thrill was pulling back the connective tissue around the trachea and larynx; I was stupidly suprised to find that they looked just like the pictures.

Looking inside a living organism, particularly one as similar to humans as a fetal pig, feels special to me. I always imagine that pictures and diagrams are simplistic; a rough estimate representing a non-existent every-man. It surprises me to realize that it all actually looks like that when you get inside. The liver really is smooth and rounded, the aorta really does loop up over the top of the heart, the trachea really does look like rings stacked on top of one another. It’s a cliche, but inside we really aren’t so different after all.

We have one more biology lab before we’re done (I think a sheep’s brain might be involved). I’m not going to miss it exactly, but I will say that I’m not dreading cadaver lab in med school one bit.

I have been struck down by plague. (And by plague I mean a cold and a bad cough.) It has made me dreadfully grumpy all week. If only there were some sort of drug that could make me a more pleasant, tolerant person.

Oh wait, as it turns out, there is!

The nerd in me immediately started thinking of the movie Serenity, which deals with a drug that makes people so content and peaceful that they stop doing anything. They all just lay down and die. On the other hand, it’s hard to argue that drugs such as anti-depressants and mood stabilizers are really so different; simply feeling more optimistic about life can induce all sorts of secondary personality shifts like increasing empathy.

Some questions to consider: What are we counting as “real” morality? What type of moral decisions are these people making? Do they change their religious beliefs? Political views? Who are they becoming more empathetic toward? (The article indicates that it isn’t universal; in fact people are less empathetic toward people outside of their social group. I wonder how far this extends and how it is affected by the intensity of the dose.)

Oxytocin, one of the hormones they highlight, is, like most biological chemicals, multi-functional. It’s affectionately known as the “love hormone” because it’s largely responsible for that warm, fuzzy feeling you get after being sexually intimate with someone. In massage school we were warned that this could be a possible source for transference (the development of inappropriate feelings in a client for a therapist.) And, as anyone who has ever been rejected in love knows, it can make you a little crazy.

Incidentally the drug is also associated with uterine contractions during childbirth and the ejection of milk from mammary glands. The synthetic version is used to induce labor. Which makes me wonder if (hope) this drug would carry warnings against use during pregnancy, even if it’s only very small amounts.

Stay tuned, next week’s episode (provided I stop coughing long enough to type it out) is about bio lab dissections. All the gory details you wanted to know, without that formaldehyde stench!

I just made a list of non-school related things I have to do in the next two months. At the top of the list is “find a glide year job.” It’s one line on my to-do list but it should probably be given a whole paragraph. Finding a glide year job feels a bit like being asked to recite the alphabet backwards while standing on one foot on the roof of a moving train.

Jobs are already hard to come by. We’re in a recession, in case you missed the memo, and even people who have steady employment have to be on the ball. For the recent postbac graduate things get even more complicated. We don’t have actual science degrees, most of us don’t even have any research experience. We don’t have any type of licenses or accreditation; just a slew of basic science courses and a can-do attitude. Meanwhile, those of us staying in the area are amid actual medical students, nursing students, EMTs, and various graduate students who all have more skills and experience working in the medical fields.

Even if I can find a position I’m qualified for, there are a few caveats to my availability. I’m going to be spending the next year applying to medical school, which involves (hopefully) a lot of flying around the country for interviews. That means taking time off of work. It also means that (again, hopefully) I will only be working at whatever job I find for a year at the most. And to top it all off, I’m going to be taking an organic lab for about four weeks in June and July so a 9-5 schedule will probably be a challenge for at least that period of time.

All is not lost, though. The good news is that even as our cohort is spilling out into the world looking for jobs, the last round of postbacs are quitting their positions and headed off to medical school. There is a limited market for the eclectic collection of skills we postbacs possess. The trick is finding not only the opportunity, but the time and energy to apply. Who wants to write a cover letter after three hours at the library working through physics problems?

It all comes down to the same problem I faced when I graduated from college; with all of the skilled, educated people graduating from college this spring, why would you hire the one whose time is limited and whose attention is focused on a future far away?

I’ll try to keep that question out of my cover letters.