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Premeds find themselves 'not like other premeds'

It's been brought to the attention of the Chronicle that many Duke students on the premedical track have been accused of making a highly offensive comment: "You're not like other premeds."

The first documented instance was overheard in the library, between a sophomore and a senior: "It first came out when I was studying for biochem with this guy the day before our midterm. I thought he was totally charming at first and we really hit it off, but then he made this one statement: 'You know, I like you. You're not like the other premeds I've met.' I think what he meant was that I actually had a personality and was social. That, or he thought I was too dumb to be premed. I don't know. Either way, it's messed up."

The senior emphatically agreed and said that she had experienced something on multiple occasions, adding: "At first, I liked hearing other non-premeds say that I wasn't like the other premeds. It gave me a sickening sense of pride, because it made me feel like the exception to the rule. But then I realized there was something highly problematic with the statement. I had become the token pre-med student."

She continued to say that he worried that he hadn't helped the stereotype of the pre-med student, as people would only like premeds if they behaved completely differently from the norm.

After the sociology department released a report last semester that stated “Most Duke students with a perceived personality archetype are actually totally different than said image,” we decided to do our own investigation into what we could find.

We knew the stereotypes—never coming out of the library, having no intellectual curiosity, overly obsessed with their GPAs—but we wanted to ask current students to seal the real deal. What exactly characterized the "typical premed?"

The first person we asked, Sam*, said, "I'm offended that people think of me as the typical premed! I don't want to be grouped in with those people. I'm planning on going to medical school, but I'm not premed! You should be asking this guy in my organic chemistry class, A. I don't know him too well, but he's definitely much more premed that me."

Sam* did confirm that he did have an organic chemistry midterm coming up in two weeks, and that he was planning on studying every day from now until then, before he went back into Perkins. We decided to follow his lead and interview A, who immediately admitted that he was hypercompetitive and had carried a MCAT prep book into the freshman section of Organic Chemistry on the first day of class at 8:45, said that least he was social and at least planned his entire social life around the dates of his midterms.

"The night after that organic chemistry midterm that I had been stressing about? Best night of my life. And when I was doing my shadowing over the summer, I spent all my nights socializing with the upperclassmen. I was hoping they could give me tips on how to prepare for the MCAT or get into a top medical school."

To be fair, premeds are not the only group that faces this problem, though they are likely the most commonly attacked by Chronicle columns. We also heard from a history major  ("Goddammit, it's just because I’m not prelaw,") and Pratt-stars ("I guess I only complain half as much about my workload as everyone else,"), and a medieval and renaissance studies major ("I guess I'm different from the other medren majors on campus, mostly because they don't exist,").

Asides from the generic "You're not like other _____" comments, other common complaints include:

  • The question, "What are you?" when they really mean to ask "What major are you?" or "What are you studying?"
  • People saying, "You're not really a ______."
  • Getting asked, "What is the _____ perspective?" and having to speak for all people in their discipline.

Above all, people are just worried that people are going to be identified solely by their academic interests, when everyone is clearly a unique person, just like everyone else. 

An economics major with a finance concentration explained it best to us, saying, "I hate it when people see me just for my major. Like obviously, it's an important part of my academic trajectory here, and yeah, sometimes I wear my major shirt around. But if people only want to talk to me because of what I'm interested in academically, it just feels like I'm being used. I don't want to be the ‘token sellout friend’ that people can throw around when they're getting defensive to prove that their friends aren’t just all idealistic intellectuals."

In order for all students to flourish, we need to support each other first and foremost. After we all finish studying for their next midterm, that is.

*Name has been changed.

Amy Fan is a Trinity sophomore. Her column, “fangirling,” runs on alternate Wednesdays.

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