By Michelle Bui
It was late Friday night and students were still trickling through the doors of the lecture hall. Sitting close to the front, I tried to make conversation with some of the girls around me. We were all there for a biology midterm review session, and I figured I would make the most of it.
“What did you get on the last midterm?” she asked me.
I was hesitant to answer. I aced the exam and was happy about that, but I didn’t want people to know. I told her I did “ok” and left it at that.
The truth is, when you’re a biological sciences major, your classmates are some of the most competitive people at UCI. Admitting that you did well on an exam could mean earning the contempt of your peers, who would rather find themselves in your position. I understand that this uncaring disposition is in part due to attempts to “weed out” people who they believe are unfit for the major. Yet I find it ironic considering that many biological sciences majors want to become doctors, pharmacists, and in general people who will care for others.
In other words, this mentality of overzealous competition is completely unnecessary. A competitive mindset in the classroom is hard to avoid, because there is a notion amongst biological sciences majors that their GPA defines their future success.
In my freshman seminar, the counselor told the 300 students in my class to put our GPA before anything else. If we get a C in our freshman year, then it will be difficult to build our GPA back up later. Even worse, if we fail a class now, we could potentially be kicked out of the school.
Likewise, many of our science classes are curved. In other words, professors are expected to only allow a certain percentage of students to pass. This creates a competitive environment wherein a very small percentage will eventually earn a degree.
The numbers can attest to this. In the 2014-2015 school year, 3,142 undergraduates were accepted into the major. In the previous year, only 822 bachelor degrees were awarded. According to these numbers, only the top 25% of majors will succeed.
However, UCI’s high standards makes sense in light of the immense pressure put on American students pursuing medicine in today. According to US News and World Report, the average age of medical school applicants has risen to 24, and an average of 7% of applicants in 2014 were accepted.
Thus, for students graduating at 22 and hoping to make it to medical school, the competition is between students of multiple graduation years across the nation. Therefore, it is important to both create an impressive repertoire of work and maintain a high GPA, one that will put them in that top bracket of graduating students.
As a result, despite the fact that most of us are otherwise caring people, we biological sciences majors have become vicious — almost ruthless — in the race to have a career as a healthcare professional. I have seen people stop themselves from helping others study before an exam and ridicule those who aren’t as quick in understanding new concepts.
However, this competition is almost not required, in light of the fact that medicine is a growing field that needs more physicians and surgeons.
According to the US Bureau of Labor Statistics, the field is projected to grow 14% by 2024, a high increase considering that the average growth rate for jobs is 7%. This is because more healthcare professionals will be needed in the next few years to provide for the aging population. Healthcare reforms requiring that all citizens must have healthcare will also lead to more job openings to serve the general public.
Despite this, the reality is that the competition to make it to medical school is still very much alive. Medical schools have created this notion that a student must be the best in order to someday be a doctor, and students get lost in trying to help themselves when they originally wanted to help other people.
While competition is a necessary evil in all fields of study, it has reached a gratuitous level for pre-medical students. However, if everyone helps each other reach the expected level of competence, then we will not only avoid the cut-throat competition seen in our classes, but provide a better standard of healthcare as professionals.
Michelle Bui is a first-year biological sciences major. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.