Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Interviewing at Yale Medical School

When I applied last year I had a folder where I put everything I learned about schools during the application year. By the time the interviews rolled in I had compiled a decent amount of “intelligence” on each of the schools I was interviewing at. So here it is, the notes from my book on what I learned about schools while applying in 2008.

I’ll start with Yale, one of my favorite medical schools!


What did I like about Yale?
Heavy focus on research: research thesis is not only encouraged, but required in order to graduate. It does not have to be in basic or clinical sciences. It is my understanding that an acceptable thesis has to represent an original undertaking by the student, in whichever area they chose.

Enormous graduate school right next to medical school makes it easy to collaborate with colleagues in basic sciences (you can use their equipment, attend research seminars and poster sessions, and receive peer reviews on your work). Yale university campus is rather like Rome – it’s built on several hills. They call the graduate school location “The Science Hill”, and a hill it is indeed.

Wealth of research funding opportunities for medical students (you can learn more about it here: This amount of funding options for students is rather impressive for any medical school.

I researched and found at least three labs in neurophysiology that I would be happy to join. I started researching this question here: and read more about each lab that caught my fancy in more details. I learned a lot about their recent work by studying their most recent publications – PubMed PI’s names to get the list.

Yale has a special supprt system for women in sciences and medicine. Among other things, it allows you to meet with very famous, successful women in an informal setting. If you are trying to do something unusual with your career I think there is no better place to start than to ask another person how they did it. You can read about the support program here: as well as here: Realize that this information is not exclusively useful to the female audience – I think a male who expresses admiration for Yale’s mission for diversity in sciences can only get kudos from the interviewer.

Yale system allows students to have a lot of flexibility with their time – for me this was important because it meant I could spend serious time on research. The Yale system is meticulously described on their website, so I am not going to say much about it. It did not rank high on my list of reasons to come to Yale. I think you must be self-motivated no matter where you go in order to succeed. Yale makes it more explicit, I guess.

Yale boasts an incredible anatomy lab. It’s brand new, brightly lit with huge windows and mobile computer terminals suspended from the ceiling on swinging arms. While you’re doing a dissection, you can refer to these terminals to help you learn about the body you are working on. Each terminal is equipped with a self-assessing module that generates questions for you. You can type in your answer and immediately get feedback on it. You can also see diagrams and virtual images of the organ you are working on, as well as related histology slides. Very neat idea! I wish Harvard had that.

While I was touring the anatomy lab under the supervision of a student guide, a younger student yelled out to my group “Hey you guys wanna check out this guy’s heart?!” Our guide respectfully but firmly pointed out that this behavior was disrespectful and inappropriate. I was pleased to see this level of awareness and mutual respect among the Yale medical students, as well as thoughtful care for their profession.

Fun facts about Yale
Harvey Cushing, the nation’s first significant neurosurgeon, went to Yale for undergrad. In 1890 he was tapped for Scroll and Key. I know he also played baseball for Yale and was vehemently competitive. He received his medical degree from Harvard, but spent most of his life practicing at Johns-Hopkins. Cushing returned to Yale at the end of his life with an honorary degree to teach. After his death, Yale inherited his immense collection of rare medical editions (you can check on Ebay – his collection could have paid for all of my medical education several times!). When touring the Cushing library you will go past a circular dome with a flat metal circle on the floor. Stand on this circle and whisper to yourself. The walls of the dome are built in such a way that sound waves are reflected back to you greatly amplified. To you it sounds like your voice is BOOMING. To everyone else it sounds like you’re being spooked by your own whisper. It's fun to watch other people doing it!

In the late 1800s and early 1900s, Yale medical school used to be quite weak and poor. So was Harvard, by the way. Ironically, neither Harvard nor Yale pursued medical research as a major reputation-building factor. Everything changed in the mid-1900s, although I’m not quite sure what triggered the change in mindset. Perhaps it was the competitiveness with Hopkins, where all the brightest research minds were collected.

If you have a chance to walk around the Yale campus (it’s very pretty), you should walk through the cemetery. I was fascinated to discover the tomb of Josiah Willard Gibbs, the very Gibbs that discovered the “delta gee” (Gibb’s free energy).


  1. No offense meant, but why do you find it impressive that your tour guide labeled the student's enthusiasm as 'inappropriate and disrespectful' ?? I find that to be quite obnoxious actually...I mean, here's this student who is perhaps a bit overexcited, but simply wants to sahre a cool experience with the tour group, and the tour guide basically shoots him down. Even if it wasn't the right time or place, I think it's commendable that the student was actually excited by the anatomy. Am I missing any of the details? If so I apologize, but if not, give the guy a break, there are way too many people being MUCH too serious about medicine...Nothing wrong with enjoying the road to an MD...

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  3. Oho, Gibbs did a whole lot more than just delta-gee. He basically formalized everything you see in a first physical chemistry course. Canonical ensemble? That's Gibbs. Combined first and second laws of Thermodynamics? That's Gibbs. Chemical potential? Also Gibbs.

    He basically worked in isolation on these things for several years, unifying Boltzmann and Maxwell's observations into the clean formulation of thermo and stat mech that is now textbook. What's more, he was fiercely loyal to Yale. He only published the world-changing results in the Yale journals, not any of the more-widely-distributed publications of the day, so he went unnoticed for several years. Chemical engineering didn't exist until Gibbs basically made it possible.

    I only mention this because he's my personal scientific hero of sorts and I have taken on the pointless quest of crusading for more widespread recognition of his contributions. :P

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  5. great insights, thanks for sharing them publically

  6. Hi there this is kind of of off topic but I was wanting to know if blogs use WYSIWYG editors or if you have to manually code with HTML. I'm starting a blog soon but have no coding know-how so I wanted to get advice from someone with experience. Any help would be enormously appreciated!

  7. I would do anything to have the opportunity to study at Yale, just a little envy


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