Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Academic Societies at Harvard Medical School: Student Communities and Society Masters

Harvard Medical School class is rather large, about 140 students including both New Pathway and HST programs. It’s not as big as Boston University’s (180 students), but sizably larger than Stanford’s (80-90 students). To foster closer relationships among students and faculty our class is divided into five academic societies: Cannon, Castle, Holmes, Peabody and London (or HST). All HST students naturally end up joining the HST society. The rest of the class are randomly assigned to one of the remaining four. I’m happy to report that in a Harry Potteresque fit the sorting hat put me in Cannon together with my newly made friends!

My society is named after Dr. Walter Bradford Cannon (image borrowed from, a Harvard-trained physiologist. He studied swallowing in the 1920s using early X-ray technology. It does not mean that everybody in Cannon is fascinated with esophageal mysteries. Other than HST, societies are not ordered by themes or interests. The placement really is random, although admittedly siblings usually end up in the same club. All societies are roughly the same and offer no unique benefits (although it is rumored that Peapody sometimes has free breakfast?). Each society has their own House – all five open into the main atrium in the TMEC student center. Those who interview at HMS will have their lunch at the atrium and will see the societies.

The Master of my society, Dr. Gordon J Stewler, is a professor of endocrinology and studies molecular factors affecting tumor metastasis. Dr. Katharine Treadway, one of the four Associate Masters at Cannon, teaches “Introduction To Profession” – a two-week course that starts my first year at Harvard. The role of society masters is to support and supervise the students, and to help them achieve their professional goals. They act rather similar to academic advisors. I can’t wait to learn more about them!


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