Gregory N. Nelson Jr. of Houston and Payal Kohli of Aurora, Colo., arrived on the MIT campus four years ago intent upon attending medical school.
Both achieved their goal. Each credits an advisor and the Office of Career Services and Preprofessional Advising (OCSPA) with an assist.
"I want to emphasize what a central role my advisor played for me, advising me on everything from where to put commas in my personal statement to what I should eat the morning before an interview," said Kohli, whose advisor was Dr. Michael Bailin, an anesthesiologist at Massachusetts General Hospital. "He has been the single most important and influential part of my medical school admissions process. I cannot overemphasize the importance of a good advisor in the entire process.
"That's where OCSPA comes in. Having a diverse body of advisors, they are sure to have someone who suits your interest. As a premed, the letter from the advisor is one of the most critical components of your application and can be the difference between an acceptance and a rejection."
Nelson, who is receiving the S.B. in chemical engineering and biomedical engineering at Commencement, said, "The advisor/advisee program was useful in helping me to think through the decision to seek medicine as a career. The workshops helped me present myself as an attractive candidate for admissions as well as prepare me for interviews."
Nelson, whose advisor was Dr. Barbara L. O'Pray of MIT Medical, will attend the Yale University School of Medicine. His goal is a pediatrics practice.
Kohli, who plans to become a surgeon, will attend Harvard University Medical School through the Harvard-MIT Division of Health Sciences and Technology. "OCSPA's role increased during my junior and senior years, helping me organize letters of recommendation and get them delivered to the right school," she said.
Kohli, who intended to study engineering when she entered MIT, double-majored in biology and brain and cognitive sciences. She believes the strong foundation in molecular and experimental biology she acquired as an undergraduate will serve her well in her chosen field. "The critical skills I've gained here are invaluable to success in the medical profession," she said.
Nelson agreed, enumerating the assets provided by an MIT education: a problem-solving engineering mentality, the ability to assess a situation even though crucial information is not provided, the skills to use that assessment to draw the most plausible conclusion and find the best solution, a passion to tackle challenges, and the confidence to confront a stressful situation "and laugh in the most disrespectful manner possible."
Both new graduates had advice for future premedical students at MIT.
"You don't have to live the life of the typical 'anal-retentive premed' to succeed as an MIT premed," Nelson said. "You only have to know who you are, how you learn the best and what your life passion is. Once you figure out these three things, you should have little trouble attaining the goals you have set for yourself. Don't pursue medicine for anyone else."
"I think that premeds at MIT should be careful not to walk into the trap of having a recipe for success," Kohli said. "What seems to impress the schools most is that MIT students forge their own academic paths, immersing themselves in fields that interest and challenge them; they often don't follow the traditional path. They should, however, be prepared to answer why they chose an engineering discipline or even an engineering institution if their interest lies in medicine. And the answer is simple: 'Because of the critical thinking and problem-solving skills MIT teaches its students.' These skills are an asset to any physician."
A version of this article appeared in MIT Tech Talk on June 5, 2002.