Hello, entrance exam examiner…we meet again.

September 19, 2012 § 1 Comment

My second entrance exam back in June was quite brutal, to say the least. While scouring the university webpages for lecture slides and other helpful info, I came across the profile of the head of the anatomy department. “He looks oddly familiar..,” I thought to myself. “He was probably one of the people we were introduced to on Freshman Day or another one of the school functions.” Fast-forward to our anatomy lecture today. There we were, sitting in the middle front row and prepping for our lecture on the cranium. A buzzer rang to signal the beginning of class and we all rose to greet the lecturer – Dr. Csillag András himself. “That’s the head of the anatomy department!” I whispered to Skjalg.

He was probably the best lecturer we have had so far. He wrote most of the difficult words up on the board, spoke slowly and clearly, and engaged us with fun side stories and connecting points (rather than inaudibly present 50 packed slides in a 45 minute lecture). Though I was enjoying the lecture, I couldn’t shake the feeling that I had met him before. I told Skjalg that I was almost 100% sure that he had been my interviewer  at my second entrance exam. I then sat and debated with myself for the remainder of the lecture. Unable to let it go, I jumped up after our applause and raced to the front to find out if I was right. 

“Excuse me, professor?”

“Yes?”

“Hi. I was wondering if you were perhaps in Oslo, Norway for the entrance exams in June?”

“Yes,” he smiled, “I was there.”

“I thought so. It’s nice to meet you again,” I extended my hand to him, “My name is Bianca. You were my interviewer.”

He hesitated and motioned that he wanted to shake my hand but that it was dirty from the bones handled during the lecture. I said it was fine and shook his hand anyway.

“I just wanted to say hello and thank you for the lecture and for putting in a good word on my behalf. I’m here now!” I smiled.

“You are welcome. I hope that, if we meet again in the exam room, that we have the same outcome that we had last time.”

If I do get him as my examiner, it will be interesting to compare his examination techniques. I still can’t believe that my entrance exam interview was with the head of anatomy for the university…talk about pressure!

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Our lecture on the cranium included an intro of the skull and its different parts and then a closer look at the sphenoid and ethmoid bones (there are 29 total bones in the skull). This was covered within a 45 minute lecture.

Sphenoid

Ethmoid

 

Entrance Exam Interview – Semmelweis

June 6, 2012 § 19 Comments

My interview in March and the one this past weekend were on completely different playing fields. In my first interview I was asked very basic questions and the interviewer fed me leading questions if I had any trouble. Any further questions I was asked went no more than one or two degrees past my original response. My June interview was simply brutal.

Before the interview I stood out in the hall, reviewing my notes and trying to calm my nerves. I had some small conversations with other students, some of which had already completed their interviews. Christian and I began speaking with a girl from Bergen. As she relayed her March interview to us, I got EXTREMELY nervous. Her interview in March had been nearly impossible. She said that there had been two interviewers, one of which didn’t return her handshake and simply sat in the room staring blankly at her the entire interview. Before she was able to introduce herself, she was asked by head interviewer to explain why tea gets bitter. I wouldn’t even know where to begin answering that question. She told us that she mentioned something about the water releasing some sort of chemical compound and something about 88 degrees. She was then asked to draw some organic structure – let’s say it was something like 2-butanol – and was then criticized for beginning her drawing in the wrong direction. Afterwards, she was asked what percent of the liver is designated for the production of insulin.

By the time she was finished describing her interview from hell, my chest was pounding, my legs shaking and my hands clammy. I thought to myself, “I have no chance. I am going to fail this for sure!” I tried to calm myself with this resolve, but it didn’t help. We agreed that she would try to catch a glimpse of the interviewer to see if he was the same one that she’d had in March. To be honest, I wasn’t sure that I even wanted to know.

The student who had his interview before me flew out of the room abruptly, taking time only to tell us, “He asks a lot of questions.” The girl from Bergen ran after him to investigate, but turned up empty only a few minutes later. Having the person before me run out of the interview did not help my nerves.

Then, it was my turn to go in…

I’m going to try to note down as much of the interview as possible. First, I’ll review my March interview. Then I’ll review my June interview, and try to include summaries of my answers.

March Interview

It began with some basic questions about myself:

– You are from the US? Why did you move here?

-Have you done any community service?

-Do you like to travel?

-Have you studied biology and chemistry before?

Then the knowledge based questions:

-What is a polysaccharide? Where are they located in the body? What do they do?

-What is the difference between a eukaryotic cell and a prokaryotic cell? Give examples of each.

-What are antibodies? What type of cells produce antibodies?

-What is an atom?

-What are the organelles in a eukaryotic cell?

I had not done so well on my written exams. But he told me that I had proved myself with the responses to his questions and that he was going to “change his mind about me”. He explained that he could not promise anything and that it would be hard to overlook the scores on my written exams, but that he would do whatever he could to communicate that I knew a lot more than what was shown on paper. (I didn’t take this in a wrong way, especially because I had only found out about the exam 12 days prior.)

June Interview

It began with some basic questions about myself:

– You are from America? Why did you move here?

I was born here and raised in California. I worked several years there to put myself through school when I realized, a little over halfway through my degree, that it was going to take a lot longer than I could handle on my own. I decided that it would be easier to move here to Norway, learn the language, and go to school here, where the government is able to give a lot more financial support.

– Ok. And why did you chose Hungary?

Do you mean why did I chose Hungary over other schools in Czech, Poland, and Slovakia?

– Yes.

Well, I spent a lot of time researching the different schools and found that the universities in Hungary seemed to match what I was looking for. I admire the culture and it is a beautiful country – Budapest is especially beautiful.

– Ok. Let’s begin with blood. Tell me what is blood.

(I didn’t really understand what he had said at first, I kept hearing “blued”, so I had to ask him to repeat himself twice… I finally got what he was saying and began my response.) Blood contains red blood cells. Red blood cells contain the protein hemoglobin which has four hem groups that are composed primarily of iron. Red blood cells collect oxygen in the lungs, by absorbing oxygen that has diffused through the membrane of the alveoli that are located at the end of the bronchioles. Red blood cells are especially interesting because, as they mature, they begin to destroy all their organelles and their nucleus – a process called apoptosis. This is so that they are more efficient at taking up oxygen. This feature allows them to absorb about 98.5% of the oxygen that we inhale.

-Ok. What else is in blood?

In addition to red blood cells, you have leukocytes, which are white blood cells. These play a role in your immune response. They include B-cells, or B-lymphocytes, phagocytes, and T-cells.

– Ok. What else?

(This is where I struggled. I felt so stupid for having studied so much of red blood cells, hemoglobin, the immune response and not having thought at all to actually consider what blood plasma was composed of. I fumbled around a bit for info, repeating what I had said already – which he didn’t like – when finally I remembered something I had learned back in high school biology.) You also have platelets.

– Ok. What are platelets?

Well, they play a role in healing. If you were to get a cut, your platelets are what form pus and the scab. (I was really reaching for this one. I had to recall info that I’d learned 10 years ago!)

– Ok. What else is in the blood plasma?

(Now I was really nervous – all that I really knew about was red blood cells and leukocytes. I tried to think, but my brain was going blank.) Um, let me think. Well, water, some ions, maybe some glucose, and maybe some proteins.

– What kind of proteins?

(AHHHH!) Maybe proteins that are destined for specific parts of the bodies? (I tried smiling, but that didn’t help.)

-No. No. Cells synthesize their own proteins. They do not need to get proteins from other parts of the body. 

(I felt so embarrassed. I knew this. I felt myself failing this interview.) I know that cells synthesize their own proteins, but I was thinking, since there are some proteins that are secreted from the cell, that there may be a small amount floating freely in the plasma. (Smiled again, out of embarrassment.)

– No. Try again. What types of proteins are in the blood plasma?

(I was drawing blanks again, so I decided to verbally list the types of proteins I knew – not to trick him, but more to help me organize my thoughts.) Well, you have many different types of proteins. Structural, transport, enzymes, hormones…

– Ok. What of hormones?

(What!?) Hormones, hormones. Well, you’ve got insulin and glucagon that are secreted by the liver in order to control the levels of glucose in the body?

-Think of osmotic pressure. 

(I had no idea at this point, so I just started spitting out something I knew that had to do with water diffusion under hormone control.) Well, there is ADH, anti-diuretic hormone. This affects the permeability of the collecting ducts in the kidneys that collect remaining blood plasma from the nephrons. When ADH is released, it increases the permeability of the membrane so that the remaining water is absorbed back into the body. Whatever fluid remains is now considered urea.

-Yes, but this is urea. Tell me of osmotic pressure.

(Osmotic pressure? I know this. I know osmosis, I know diffusion! I drew a diagram of osmosis for him, explaining that water diffuses through a membrane that is semi-permeable. I explained the concept of concentration gradient, hypotonic, hypertonic, etc.)

– Ok. And this measures osmotic pressure (then he smiled!). Ok. Now. You mentioned glucose. Draw this for me. 

(Oh no! All my studying about photosynthesis and cellular respiration, and I had forgotten to review the formula for glucose!!) You want me to draw it? Ok…well, I know that it had 6 carbons and it splits into two 3-carbon pyruvates after glycolysis. I also know that carbohydrates are composed of only carbon, hydrogen, and oxygen in the ratio Cn(H2O)m, since the word carbohydrate refers to the hydration of carbon atoms. Possible side groups containing carbon, oxygen and hydrogen are carbonyl (C=O), carboxyl (-COOH), and hydroxyl (-OH)….(meanwhile I am drawing all this out, beating myself up for not actually remember how to draw it).

– Ok. Now draw these groups that glucose has. 

(I began drawing a bunch of hydroxide groups around the carbon atoms. I was so nervous that I just kept going with the hydroxide groups.)

-No, no. Not so many hydroxide groups. 

Oh! Sorry! There are also carbons that are bonded to just hydrogen. Glucose is a monosaccharide and forms a disaccharide or polysaccharide through the process of condensation, where the equivalent of a water molecule is removed, which would mean that there must be some single hydrogen atoms here. (I drew a condensation reaction). This results in a alpha 1-4 glycosidic linkage, and the opposite of this is hydrolysis, though they are directed by different enzymes. (I looked at him questioningly at this point…I had no idea if I was giving him the answers he wanted.)

-Yes. Ok. You mentioned hydrogen. What is a hydrogen bond?

Well, first, let me draw a water molecule. Water molecules are polar covalent, which means that the electrons are not equally shared. Oxygen has a greater electronegativity, I believe it is 3.5, whereas hydrogen is just 2.1 (I was guessing these values, hoping they were right. He didn’t say anything.) Now, the differences in electronegativities has a lot to say about the polarity of the bond. If the difference is less than 0.4, it is a non.polar covalent bond. If it is between 0.4 and 1.7, it is polar covalent. And finally, if greater than 1.7, it is an ionic bond. The difference in electronegativity of oxygen and hydrogen creates two permanent dipole moments on each water molecule. There are regions of positive charge on each hydrogen and two on the oxygen (which I drew). Since these hydrogens have a positive charge, they form hydrogen bonds with electronegative atoms in other compounds, primarily oxygen, nitrogen, and fluorine. Hydrogen bonds are really what makes water such a great solvent. They are why we are able to maintain a stable internal temperature and why the oceans don’t freeze – since all the heat energy goes to breaking the hydrogen bonds.

-Ok. (Pause). I am going to give you a positive review. You have done…okay…on your exams. (I got 14/20 on both Biology and Chemistry). I will give you a positive review, but it will be the exams that help them to decide whether you are accepted or not.

Are you sure you don’t want to ask me about anything else? Maybe respiratory system, circulatory system, muscle contractions? (I was kind of desperate at this point. I felt that I hadn’t proved how much I really knew and that I had been asked things that I wasn’t really prepared to answer).

– No. That is unnecessary (he smiled again). I am going to give you a positive review. I can see you are enthusiastic about it and that you have learned fast. 

Ok. Well, thank you for your time, and for the interview.

And then it was over! Phew. What a horrible experience. I’m shaking just writing about it.

The Dawn of a New Beginning

March 11, 2012 § Leave a comment

So here it goes…

These last two weeks have been a whirlwind. The beginning of week one was marked by a meeting with Wanja Nilsen, a counselor/coordinator with Bjørknes Høyskole in Oslo, responsible for providing students with the information needed to study medicine internationally. We got hit with the news that we could actually apply to medical school now and that, wait for it, the entrance exams were in 10 days time. The following days were study, study, study! We did our best to review the 3 x 100 page review manuals Bjørknes had provided us with. The day before the exam was meant to be a pure review day, but was instead a scramble to put together our applications for the schools.

With such little and poor quality time to study, I was quite expectedly NOT prepared for the exams. English was fine, of course, as it should have been. I answered the questions to the best of my ability and waited outside for Skjalg and Christian to finish. We had a couple of hours to kill while they graded the exams and posted our interview times and decided to walk down to St. Hanshaugen to find a café. Along the way, we processed the exam and this milestone in our lives. We all felt such a sense of accomplishment, even with the knowledge that we might have just failed our entrance exams (the exams can be retaken in June with no extra fee). Regardless the outcome, this marked a moment that could change the course of our lives forever.

Christian and I dressed for our interviews

Our interview was set for 09:00 the following morning. Skjalg went first, followed by Christian, and then me. I felt lucky to have the opportunity to discuss the interview with Skjalg while Christian had his. It made me more nervous to discover that I would be pressed to discuss certain aspects of biology and chemistry in-depth. I warned the interviewer that I, like Skjalg and Christian, had only two weeks to refresh my knowledge of the subjects and that I had learned most of the topics before – but 5 years ago! I had a rough start. I found it hard to verbalize the names of different compounds and the steps of certain processes. My last two tasks were to describe the structure of an atom, list the organelles in a eukaryotic cell and how they differ from a prokaryotic cell. I was lucky – these were two things that I had reviewed and knew well. After I was finished he said, “I am going to change my mind about you. At first, I thought I would recommend that you come back in June and try again. But now, I see that you know much more than I first thought. Like your brother, I can tell that the intelligence is there. But you must review. You must review a lot. You cannot begin medical school without knowing these things. There will be no time to review the basics once you start.” He then proceeded to make some changes on my form and marked the top with an asterisk. “I will fight for you”, he told me, “But it will be hard to prove because your scores are not so good. But I will tell them that you know more and that you will review. I cannot guarantee anything. But I will tell them.”

Only four days later, on Thursday the 8th of March, we all got our acceptance letters to University of Pecs Medical School. This was shocking news to say the least. We had gone into this as a trial run, expecting that we would have the “real” test in June. But we got in this round – and all three of us!

Since Thursday, Skjalg and I have scoured the net for information about the different schools. We had originally planned on Szeged as our first choice, but Skjalg discovered that the Medical School there is not acknowledged by California. That narrowed it down to Pecs, Semmelweis and Charles University in Prague. Semmelweis is now our first choice – hope that we get our letters soon!

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