Advice to MD PhD applicants

I found this document that I wrote on January 16, 2014 with some advice for MD PhD applicants. It's basically a mishmash of "things I wish I knew before doing this whole crazy process" and "things I actually did that really paid off." For your enjoyment, here's the advice, with a few updates:
Apply early. In practice this means get your primary app done early but it ALSO means: send in your transcript early! My university took months to send in my transcript so even though I submitted my primary application literally within a minute of the window opening, my application wasn't processed  at all until about two months later when AMCAS finally received my transcript. Also, even if you haven’t received secondaries yet, you can start working on them in the following way: go online to med school forums and find the prompts for the secondaries, which people will post, and then by the time you get your secondaries you can have your essays already wr…


Your genome is approximately 825 megabytes of information1. That’s about the size of an operating system like Windows 8, or about 6 million pages of text containing 250 words per page – and it codes for an entire human body. The full text of “How to Make a Human” fits into a volume a hundred times smaller than a grain of rice.2
The fertilized egg you came from contained 2 meters of DNA total, and developed into you through approximately 5 trillion cell divisions. For that cell division to occur, interphase DNA molecules as long as 3-4 centimeters condensed into chromosomes whose length is measured in millionths of a meter. This is equivalent to squashing a string as long as two football fields into a case the size of a piece of mechanical pencil lead.3
football fieldslead

So here you are…made up of 10^14 (a hundred trillion: 100,000,000,000,000) specialized cells capable of carrying out all your body’s functions. Together, your cells contain 10 trillion meters of DNA, which is approxi…

A beautiful painting


Save the spiders!

Spiders are cool. There are over 45,000 species of spiders, ranging from the tiny 0.37 mm Patu digua from Colombia, to dinner-plate-sized Goliath "bird-eaters" (ref). Spider silk is an amazing substance - super-light, super-strong, and biodegradable - so scientists have been trying to copy it for years. Even spider bodies are a source of inspiration -  can you imagine how excited DARPA would be if they had a robot as small, inexpensive, and agile as a single spider? If you're still not convinced that spiders are inherently cool and inspiring, watch this video.
Patu digua
David holding Goliath
But it doesn't matter if spiders are cool - don't they bite people?! Spider bites are actually extremely rare. Almost none of the spider species around the world bite humans, and many are not even capable of piercing human skin. The major exceptions are black widow spiders, recluse spiders, Australian funnel web spiders, and Phoneutria spiders (this website can help you ident…

Clinical iron

NOTE: I wrote this at the end of my first clinical year of medical school, in 2016. I have not modified it at all, except to ensure that any mention of patients is generic. Any “details” have been completely anonymized, to protect patient privacy.
REFLECTIONS: Clinical year is a year of branding-iron memories because it is a year of extremes. The last day of my first clerkship, medicine, we saw two deaths. “Take a look in that room as we pass by,” said my resident. “That man’s dead.” As we breezed past I saw a room packed with family and friends, surrounding the body of an elderly gentleman, who looked like he could have been a famous statue. Two hours later we were sitting in the workroom when the nurse poked his head in: “8:17 a.m.” Members of the team immediately left the room to check on the patient he was referring to, who during her hospitalization had been diagnosed with multiple infections, placed on a Niagara Falls of IV antibiotics, and succumbed to sepsis with only the nurs…

Be a nice human, to all other humans

Much of human history is the story of Group A hating on Group B for some arbitrary demographic reason. Countries with mainly one demographic have had civil wars about ideology since the beginning of time. Countries with demographic A have fought countries with demographic B since the beginning of time. Aztecs enslaved people; Caucasians enslaved people; Africans enslaved people; Arabs enslaved people.  In the modern world, humans of differing demographics still kill each other / enslave each other / hate each other because of demographics. So what’s the difference between modern times and ancient times?
humanity's stage
I think the difference is that, at least in some parts of the world, many people are starting to agree that “Hating People for Arbitrary Demographic Reasons is BAD.” People are also starting to agree that “Systematic Discrimination Based on Arbitrary Demographics Is BAD.”
Here’s a great Quora post explaining white privilege:

I agree with the overall message of the …

Total eclipse

I dropped my eclipse glasses and stared up at the sky. People started screaming and cheering and yelling all over the mountaintop. There hung the pupil of the moon, surrounded by a pure white ring. It was the roundest blackest black I have ever seen, a pool to the other side of the universe, surrounded by the brightest white I have ever seen, a brushed gate reaching outwards into grey-blue. I had prayed that the clouds would disappear for us to witness totality, and they had: not a wisp dared encroach on the eclipse's territory. The sky froze around the pupil.  We could hear people screaming from the parking lot all the way to the observation deck. The sun was otherworldly, apocalyptic, euphoric, nothing. A partial eclipse can be totally described in words, but a total eclipse can only be partially described in words.
Out across the mountains I dreamed the world had ended: the horizon in all directions was a burnt orange, with storm clouds dashed across the perimeter to contain the…