So then it was my second year, which is the hardest year of pharmacy school. The courses feature a heavy amount of memorization, with an overburdened midterm load. Students don’t have the physical time to spend on memorizing the volume of stuff. Two classes comprise the majority of the workload – pharmacology (memorizing how drugs work, endless enymzatic pathways, physiology, etc) and pharmacotherapy (memorizing side effects and medical guidelines for drug use). Courseload from the other classes are moderate but nowhere near these two major classes. Pharmacology in particular would require at least 40 hours of studying on top of lecture and assignments for each midterm; we had four midterms and a final. We had enough tests to have three midterms a week for multiple weeks in a row.
On top of this, I went to lab to learn bench chemistry from the ground up. I joined thinking I would learn more of the molecular biology stuff, but the professor started me off with my old undergrad nemesis, organic chemistry. I picked it up fairly quickly. Chemistry is fairly simple if you focus on knowledge necessary to understand your reaction – it’s much harder if you just memorize random decontextualized reaction mechanisms. It also probably makes more sense if you do real labwork while you take the class because then you’re studying for a tangible goal. So I was doing 12 to 15 hours a week here, sometimes up to 20.
The first semester was very unpleasant; if I had studied in undergrad like I studied that semester I would have gotten a 3.95 GPA. The second semester was much better, although you get so burned out from the first semester that you kinda stop caring. That’s when a lot of students decide that they aren’t coming to class anymore. The techniques we used to flash memorize information were so effective that all you learned was how to memorize vast quantities of metadata and reproduce it effectively during the test. Like, if you had to memorize properties of beta blockers (eg which ones have intrinsic sympathomimetic activity, selective vs nonselective, etc) you would just memorize the first letter of each one and then it into a mnemonic. Literally you would just look at drug names, turn them into strings of random letters and try to assign them meaning. Like “ABC MEN” were the selective ones and you would just hope that the multiple choice question gave you enough extra information to answer with just the first letter. Also stuff like cocaine inhibits NET (some kind of norepinephrine transporter) because basketball players love cocaine. So yeah, it’s not learning anything real but you get a degree afterwards.
I don’t have many memories in particular, it all kind of just blends together. That summer I got an interview with the VA but I also had a research grant. The VA wanted me to do full time but I wanted to do research instead so I did that. It was the right decision in retrospect (I think) because I later rotated at a different VA and very much did not like their stupid computer system VISTA (pulled right out of the 80’s). It functions like something a solid B-student wrote in Visual Basic 1.0 as an undergrad capstone project. I spent the summer doing research for which I received a grant and then later a small scholarship. Unfortunately the project faced several setbacks and very few of my peers made much progress in the lab that summer. My main problem (besides from the lab moving and and losing two weeks) was that my graduate student synthesized 5 grams (an immense quantity in chemical terms representing thousands of dollars of starting material) of the incorrect intermediate. The reaction yielded two products that looked similar in NMR, and he isolated the wrong one. The subsequent reactions didn’t work and I spent five weeks thinking my reaction (or the atmosphere, or the glassware, or the solvent) was too wet.
So that was my summer and I enjoyed it immensely; I started jogging along the river at 5 am just as the sun rose; it would be seventy degrees and humid. Just twenty minutes is all I could bear due to my overall lack of athleticism. Then I would take a shower, a short nap, and show up for research at 9. I’d work until at least 6 pm, and I’d also come in Saturdays for a half day and sometimes Sunday. Then I’d get home and sleep until 2 am, when I woke up and played video games; I think I was still into Starcraft II back then. I fit meals in there somehow, with a lovely staple breakfast being an avocado, a tomato, and an eighth of a sweet onion, all raw with some vinaigrette. Rinse and repeat. One of my favorite summers although I have yet to write my shitty experience that summer on rotation in a children’s hospital.
Part III: On Research
Part IV: Year III
Part V-VI: Year IV