Thursday, May 7, 2009

The Grade Divide

I recently attended the year's final meeting of my favourite extracurricular club (an amateur volunteer choir of sorts). After the meeting's conclusion, we had the occasion to go out for dessert at the club's expense. It was a brilliant opportunity for chatting and getting to know one another. For all four+ performances and numerous practises that I had attended, there was very little opportunity to fraternize with upperclassmen, one year our senior. Yet it was easy to see that I would have been happy being friends with many of them, based on their demeanour and range of interests.

But while the first and second-years may have had an easy time intermingling today, it's doubtful that this signals any significant change in dynamic. Next year, the second-years will disappear to their clerkships, never to be seen again. Little opportunity to nurture more than superficial relationships exists - the clique lines have already been drawn, and they've been drawn down class lines. Nobody is likely to stretch out more than an occasional hand across that line and ponder, "Well, that Andy kid seemed kind of cool, we should invite him to our next outing."

I was left to reflect upon the nature of this schism. Was it age and maturity? One might be tempted to think so. However, I soon realized that many of my fellow classmates had a Masters or PhD... and some of them were just plain older. There was no challenge to familiarity or congeniality there. Instead, the issues are seniority and proximity.

The latter is easy to grasp - you become close with the classmates with whom you see everyday. Others are secondary, and hence are unlikely to break in. But the dynamic is further complicated by seniority. I respect second-year students, and they realize that they've been through what I'm going through - they're not there anymore. This generates asymmetric power relationships, which challenges the optics of friendship. The challenges become increasingly pronounced as you step up the hierarchy. Achieving closeness with a second-year? Challenging. Resident? Unlikely. Staff? Impossible.

The great absurdity with this situation is its utter disregard for past experience. There are second-year students who attended my undergraduate program but were admitted after third-year. While we were on the same level at some point, they now deserve a place upon that second-year pedestal. It's difficult to see them as my peer, though we are the same age coming from the same place. Alternately, there are first-year students who are several years my senior and have completed graduate degrees, but because of our current standing, we are able to interact with peerage. When looked at through this lens, the situation becomes quite bizarre.

Yet the ability for students of varying ages and experiences to comfortably bond within a class demonstrates that if somehow we could overcome the barriers of seniority and intellectual knowledge - penetrating to the core of life experience, interests, and personality - we'd probably be able to form the friendships that seem attractive between classes.

It's unfortunate then that the grade divide is a great divide indeed.


sandlot said...

Hm. This is interesting, as i would have (i guess naively) assumed that there would be few clique/lines drawn in med classes seeing as how they're relatively small (i think?). It's also interesting to learn that although there's only a year difference, it's difficult to (as you put it) achieve closeness. I suppose undergrad and grad ARE vastly different.

On another note, here's a question directed toward your med student experience: seeing as how you mentioned that many of the med students do have a masters and phd, do you think it would help boost one's chances of getting into med (and consequently, allow me to live out my life like a scene from Grey's Anatomy)? Or does the review committee primarily focus on undergrad marks? said...

grade divide is a great divide aha I see what you did there

a_ndy said...

Perhaps this is also a function of the way I operate because I seldom had upper-year friends in undergrad either. However, I suppose there is some difference. In undergrad, cliques depended on groups with which you identified. I had friends in my program and I had friends in clubs. The friends in clubs were cut from a wide cross-section of years, and I suppose I did manage to get to know a few of them relatively well.

Theoretically, the same dynamic could apply to Med School. The difference is that you spend all day, everyday with the same people. The circle becomes that much more singular and closed. But that's just my experience so far, and it may not be the case for everyone.

As an aside, UofT's medical class it he biggest in Ontario and clocks in at 224.

With regards to admissions, I can't claim to be an expert. Good marks, a strong MCAT, well-written statements, believable references, and a reasonable interview should position you well straight out of undergrad - though there are also copious amounts of luck. A grad degree is probably not a bad idea should you not succeed to enter, and should you still desire to do so (particularly if you enjoy research)... although it is quite an investment of time.

I have no facts to backup my opinion, but to my anecdotal knowledge, I don't think that undergraduate education is as important to admissions if you have a graduate degree. I imagine it shows quite a bit of determination and also an academic research streak, both of which may be attractive qualities for future physicians. Again, just my postulating.

kushima said...

Glad you picked up on this interesting topic Andy, I totally feel what you mean. I think part of it is that we're too sensitive about this hiearchy ourselves as well, and as a result don't feel comfortable enough on our ends to really mix in with our superiors. Perhaps it'll be easier to get to know them in the context of having some common interests, e.g. through sports, student clubs, as opposed to generally meeting each other and carrying out some short, awkward conversations out of politeness.