So you’ve got your results, you’ve packed your bags and you’re counting down the days until you step onto campus. In less than a month you’ll be a medical student, and hopefully that thought is one not of trepidation, but of excitement. In the last year I’ve dissected a thorax, learned more enzymes than I thought possible, and come out with a refreshing feeling of knowing a bit more than when I started. But medical school isn’t just about lectures, labs and learning – sure they’ll make up a lot of your time, but equally important are the things that you fill your evenings and weekends with. Your friends, your hobbies, your sports and your interests will be the driving factors that keep you going when you’ve seen one anatomy diagram too many. If you’re worried you won’t find your niche, trust me: Imperial is a far friendlier place than you may expect.
The best way to succeed as a fresher is to strike a good balance, and to do that early – if you enjoy your new-found freedom beyond its limits in first and second term, it’ll come back to bite you at exam time. Going in with noble intentions is all well and good, but if you can really persevere and keep on top of your work (and that doesn’t mean working all the time) then you’ll feel half as stressed later. It’s literally the difference between being 15-20 lectures behind to being 150-200 – I’m not exaggerating.
So what does a good balance look like? That rather depends on how fast you work, your motivation, and your outside interests. As a rough guide, I would say that you should have good notes and/or flashcards on your lectures within a week or two of them occurring. It is perfectly normal to have a backlog of a dozen or two lectures – please don’t panic or think that everyone is perfectly on top of their lectures, because they aren’t! Find the way of recording information that works for you; personally, I like to make notes during the lecture structured around the Sofia points, and then I make Anki flashcards to revise from. That way, my notes are my textbook, and my flashcards are my revision tool. Sometimes if I’m feeling extra jazzy, I’ll pre-read and top up my notes during the lecture, but I only started to do that at the end of the year. When I’m revising, I use my flashcards, a pen, and reams of paper – my three weapons of active recall.
There is no magic solution to learning everything, and if that’s your goal, then that might be the problem. You should have an understanding of everything that was taught, but you have to accept that you will not remember every detail. When you’ve reconciled that with yourself, I promise you it’s both a breath of fresh air, and weirdly, motivating to work harder.
So, you’re spending a decent amount of time on work – time to build the other half of the balance. Imperial has some crazy number of clubs and societies, and I would strongly encourage joining at least two or three. I did ImperialPHEM, Light Opera and Paediatrics. An interesting mix one might argue, but it’s seen me doing everything from lighting a musical and helping to cheer up paediatric inpatients to responding on blue lights to 999 calls such as stabbings, hangings, heart attacks and strokes. Try something new! Plus, you’re here for six years, so you can try a few new things each year until you find something that really clicks – no rush. (But please come to the ImperialPHEM talks each month x)
Above all, we’re all behind you. Good luck with your first year, and don’t hesitate to reach out if you’re struggling!