Thursday, March 12, 2015

Guest Alumni Post: Jessica Lu

Class of 2014 - Team MEGA
University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine (MS1)

"Gemstone is a four-year, interdisciplinary team research program where students develop and conduct their own project aiming to address a broader societal issue." 

After four years of talking about Gemstone to freshmen in GEMS100, prospective students, and inquisitive family/friends, those words start to tumble out instinctively. When I was interviewing at medical schools, every single interviewer wanted to learn more about Gemstone. I don't know whether it was the elegant name, or they just had no idea what aquaponics meant and why I decided to work with fish for so many years... but by the end of interview season, I had my elevator pitch down to stand-up routine perfection. However, I did notice that every interviewer focused on a single word in my well-rehearsed spiel: the word "team". They had seen research before, but seldom team research, which encompasses its own unique assets and challenges. That intrigued them. 

Of all the skills Gemstone has taught me throughout the years, the most valuable one is the ability to work together with other people from different backgrounds. As a first year medical student at the University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine, classes are divided into lectures, labs, and small groups seminars. When working longitudinally with a small group of 6-10 students, there's always a period of adjustment. It takes time to learn where each person fits in as part of the greater collective. I think back to my Gemstone team, a hodgepodge of students pursuing different majors including engineering, biology, computer science, and economics. We were all diametrically different in expertise and personality. Yet, we each brought something unique to the table, united by our passion for this particular project. In medicine and practically every professional field, we will have to work in a team of some capacity. Every day, I am reminded that each one of my colleagues are all valuable parts of a single entity, striving together to achieve a single goal. Working together might not always be easy, but unraveling challenges together is part of the process, allowing you to learn and grow together.

In a way, the medical school community is very similar to that of the Gemstone program. There are 147 students in my class at Pitt Med, which is about the same size as a Gemstone cohort. It is a relatively small and tight-knit group. We all come from different educational and personal backgrounds, yet despite our differences, the fact that we all want to pursue this field brings forth a set of characteristics that connect us all. Medical school is tough, there's no doubt about that, but at the end of the day, it is the people you surround yourself with that make all the difference. Just like in Gemstone, we are all on this same journey together for the next four years, allied by a single cause. We support each other, commiserate together, and celebrate successes together. As a medical student, I feel very much so a part of a larger community, which is what keeps me going even on the most discouraging of days. Just knowing that my classmates are enduring the same challenges pushes me to work that much harder.

Of all the things Gemstone has taught me, it has been the importance of community, mentorship, and outreach. In Gemstone, we started out as doe-eyed freshmen together, wandering the cinderblock castle of Ellicott Hall wondering what in the world an IRB was. As an MS1, I now feel the same existential uncertainty I felt as a freshmen Gemstone student, in utter awe of the senior teams' confidence and accomplishments. When I'm on a clinical shadowing block and a 3rd year begins rattling off steps of the coagulation cascade to the attending physician, I can't help but wonder, "Will I ever get to that point?" However, I know now that eventually, I will make it. We will make it, just like how we navigated from Gems Camp to the Senior Thesis Conference and fought through all the snarls and roadblocks (and there were a lot of them) in between. We made it together as a community, and as a team.

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