dialogues
“Just let yourself discover this new world.”

a dialogue with...

GREGORY CHARAK
UNIVERSITY OF PENNSYLVANIA SCHOOL OF MEDICINE,
CLASS OF 2012
POSTBAC CLASS OF 2008
UNIVERSITY OF CALIFORNIA-SAN DIEGO,
PH.D. PHILOSOPHY
2007
BOSTON UNIVERSITY,
B.A. PHILOSOPHY AND POLITICAL SCIENCE
2002

While he was in graduate school pursuing a doctorate in philosophy, Greg earned an EMT certificate and volunteered at a hospital. After completing the postbac program, he was a peer-led instructor/teaching assistant in chemistry for postbac students during the summer.

Bryn Mawr: You were a peer-led instructor/teaching assistant for the postbac Class of 2009 summer chemistry course. Tell us about that experience.

Greg: My first summer at Bryn Mawr was such a brilliant experience in every way—in terms of community, academics, and my transition to natural sciences—and we had some really good PLI instructors from the previous postbac class. Every summer, postbacs who have completed the program help teach the general chemistry course. I was thinking, “They are doing such a good job,” and I had had teaching experience in grad school, so I was hoping for a chance to do that. Eventually, the professor for that course and some of the other teaching assistants approached me and asked me if I would be willing to do it, and I jumped at the opportunity. It was a nice way to end my experience at Bryn Mawr—to complete the arc and give something back. I had gotten so much from my experience there; within a year, it transformed my life. So the ability to stay a part of the postbac community for an extra summer—to make friends with some of the new postbac students and watch their progress—was a good experience. I’m still in touch with many of the students from that class.

Bryn Mawr: You were a philosophy and political science major at Boston University, and went on to pursue your doctorate in philosophy. How did you become interested in medicine?

Greg: In graduate school, I began to focus on philosophical questions in historical and contemporary science. That led to my interest in medicine. So I also did some practical things: I got an EMT certificate and volunteered in a hospital. Medicine seemed like a really great fit for a career. It happened over a long period of time, probably longer than for most people who decide on a career in medicine.

Bryn Mawr: What qualities attracted you to Bryn Mawr’s postbac program?

Greg: The fact that it was one of the first programs of its kind, the way they structure the curriculum to get you well prepared in a year, and the linkage agreements with so many great schools—that was really impressive. When I came to visit, the students seemed happy, they got along well, and were well prepared for medical school.

Bryn Mawr: What was your experience of the faculty?

Greg: The faculty members were the most impressive aspect of my year at Bryn Mawr. Not only are their expertise and research tremendous, but so are their teaching quality and accessibility. Any time you have a question or concern, by the end of the day you are talking face-to-face with a professor. We had a great relationship with our professors.

Bryn Mawr: What did you think of your peers in the postbac Class of 2008?

Greg: My peers were what you might expect going to a program like Bryn Mawr’s. They were a diverse group from all over the country, very bright, enthusiastic, friendly, and accomplished, and extremely motivated and talented in class. We quickly became a community, and there was a lot of excitement among us about our future. Intramural sports—ultimate Frisbee, soccer, basketball—were a key part of the year for my class.

Bryn Mawr: What were your interactions with the advising staff like?

Greg: It quickly becomes clear that you are in wise, experienced hands. The director, Jodi Domsky, and her staff have it down to a science. Just at the appropriate times, you are given forewarning, and then notice, and then options, and then a meeting. That’s nice in a year that can be hectic and nerve-wracking. They are working and preparing things for you, and often all you have to do is respond. You are free to think about your decisions.

Bryn Mawr: Why did you decide to apply for early admission to the University of Pennsylvania, one of Bryn Mawr’s consort medical schools?

Greg: I was a little older than most when I began the postbac program, so I was eager to start med school—and it’s such a superb opportunity, it’s hard to pass up. Penn also fit my geographic need: I wanted to be close to family.

Bryn Mawr: How does it feel to be in medical school?

Greg: Within a few months, the world seems different: the way you speak, and the things you read and understand are different. That all happened within the first two or three months at Bryn Mawr, too.

Bryn Mawr: Do you have a medical specialty in mind?

Greg: I think I’d like to go into some area of pediatrics. Kids seem to be the most wonderful and amazing patients to work with. But it’s a long way off.

Bryn Mawr: What advice would you offer to new postbacs?

Greg: If you come in with an open mind and lots of enthusiasm, and you find ways to sustain that—as one of my great teachers at Bryn Mawr said, “Don’t panic!”—I think the rest takes care of itself, especially at Bryn Mawr. The program is so well designed, the teaching is great, and the support is phenomenal. There are so many opportunities throughout the year for outside exposure to medicine through volunteering. If you just go with it and stay excited about it, everything else just happens.

So just let yourself discover this new world. There are all these people who make that happen for you. It’s a very quiet and small community, and a beautiful place. And if you let yourself discover it, it becomes a transforming experience. And I think that was the coolest thing about it.

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