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Laundry On Sundaes

Every beginning is only a sequel, after all, and the book of events is always open halfway through.

Category Archives: Future

I haven’t written about my dental school journey in a while because honestly, I’ve experiencing a lot of doubt, disillusionment, and uncertainty again. I debated whether or not to share my thoughts, but I’ve never shied away from being completely honest about my feelings, so here goes. At the time of my last post, I was feeling pretty good about dentistry. I had gotten over the giant hurdle of transitioning to clinic, and I was looking forward to graduating. Over the past summer I was busy working on my applications to orthodontic residency programs, and in the fall I was busy interviewing. It felt good to be working towards something I really cared about. Then on December 1, match day, I found out that I had matched at Columbia. I was going to be an orthodontist! Great news, right? All my hard work over the years was all for this. So why have I been living in a constant state of existential crisis since that day?

I know how lucky I am to have gotten accepted into any ortho program. It is extremely competitive and I should feel incredibly grateful. But the truth is, I’ve been having a hard time feeling truly happy about it. I know this is what I wanted all along, and that hasn’t changed, but once it actually happened, the reality facing me finally revealed itself in its stark nakedness.

For one thing, I know before I applied that I needed to apply widely and that it was a real possibility that I could end up anywhere in the country. I ended up applying to 10 programs (a very small number compared to the average number of programs most people apply to for ortho), in California, Washington, Oregon, Boston, and the New York area. Since I consider the Bay Area home now, I had hoped that I would be able to stay at least in California. With 4 of the programs I applied to being in the state, I thought I had pretty good chances. However, with each passing interview invite that didn’t end up in my inbox, it became clear that it wasn’t going to happen. I was going to have to leave my family and boyfriend and go to a different state. With the University of Washington being the only west coast program I received an interview at (in addition to being an amazing program), I ranked it as my first choice. But you already know that this story didn’t end the way I wanted it to. I got my second choice. Even though Columbia is an excellent program (and my alma mater) and I love New York City, my heart still aches knowing that I would have to leave the city I’ve called home for the past 5 years be apart from my loved ones. It didn’t help that halfway through my interviews, when it had become clear that I had to leave California, I had a big fight with my parents, who thought I should give up on ortho and just stay in the Bay Area to practice instead. I was already disappointed in myself for not getting interviews closer to home, and I felt like I had let my parents down. And even now, sometimes I still catch myself wondering what if. What if I had tried harder? What if I had done better at my UW interview? What if I had emailed the program directors saying how much I wanted to attend their program? What if I had gotten to know the faculty better? IF ONLY I had done these things, then maybe things would have turned out differently. But I know that such thinking is futile and destructive. I try my best to push these negative thoughts out of my head when they rear their ugly heads, but they still nag me from time to time.

On a more fundamental level, I’ve also been having second thoughts about the future of dentistry and orthodontics in general. Most people don’t realize how exorbitantly expensive the training in dentistry is. And now I was about to take on yet another 3 years of schooling to become a specialist, while having to pay even more. My med school friends couldn’t believe that many dental residencies not only do not come with a salary but require high tuitions. High levels of debt coupled with increasing saturation of dentists and dental specialists in most cities does not bode well for our future. And with more and more general dentists doing ortho via Invisalign, the growth of corporate dentistry, new services like SmileDirectClub, and even people who try to DIY their ortho treatment, it seems like the slice of the pie for actual orthodontists is ever shrinking. It all leads me to ask: would this enormous investment, not just of money but my time, my energy, and the bulk of my twenties, pay off in the future? Which feeds back to my second guessing myself and wishing that I had applied to more programs that cost less or paid stipend. All of which is further complicated by the fact that as a Canadian citizen, it is extremely difficult to obtain student loans in the US (that’s a whole other can of worms).

You may know that once again this year dental professionals made the list of 100 Best Jobs, with dentist coming in at #1 and orthodontist at #5. In previous years when dentistry made that list, I felt proud and confident that I had made the right choice for my career. But now I couldn’t help but feel cynical. A more realistic picture is painted in this article instead. I know that it was written by someone who runs a business helping people with student loans, but it makes a lot of valid points. I wish I knew all of this before deciding to go into dentistry, and I sincerely hope that every pre-dental student do as much research as they can to get a realistic picture of the future of the profession. Honestly, if I were to go back in time knowing what I do now, I’m not sure if I would choose dentistry again. Don’t get me wrong, I really love what I do and I’m passionate about orthodontics. I think it’s an incredibly rewarding job that fits well with my personality and skills. But it doesn’t change the fact that it is such an enormous investment, all the while it’s losing prestige and respect in the eye of the public due to the various recent developments I outlined in the previous paragraph.

I guess it all comes down to one question: did I make the right choices in life to take me where I want to go? It is such a big question and I don’t know if we ever find out the answer until we get there. It seems to me that the older I get, the more doubts I have about my choices (I guess it makes sense in a purely statistical sense: the further you progress the more branches there are on the decision tree of life). So far in my life, everything has pretty much gone “according to plan”. I’ve always more or less gotten what I wanted, and I believed that if you put your mind to it and work really hard, you will get what you want. But I think this whole experience of applying to residency has been a kind of wake-up call. Even if you do your best, you still might not get what you want. I’ve always lived by a personal rule: there are no such thing as regret if I’m happy with my life in the present, because everything that’s happened and every decision I’ve made had lead me to this point. Recently it’s become more and more difficult to live by that rule because I’m no longer so sure if I’m 100% happy with where I am right now.

To end this post on a somewhat positive note: there are certain truths I know. I know that I love orthodontics. I know that I’m intelligent, hardworking, and kind. I know that life is unpredictable. And there are certain hopes I have. I hope that I will become a great orthodontist because of my passion, intelligence, hard work, and kindness. I hope that I will achieve success despite life’s unpredictability. The future is still a scary and uncertain place, but armed with these truths and hopes, I approach it with a cautious optimism.

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About time I did an update on the final chapter of my pre-dental life. Last time I wrote about putting down my deposit at UCSF and getting wait-listed at Harvard. And I thought that was the end of it, so imagine my surprise when I got a call from Harvard at the end of May! I had gotten accepted! I was almost ready to e-mail Harvard to withdraw my spot. It was a good surprise but also created quite a dilema for me. It’s the pseudo-problem that any pre-dental student would love to have, to have to pick between 2 great schools. But it was a really tough choice all the same. I’m not going to go into all the factors that went into my decision, but I picked the school that most resonated with me during my interview, the one in the city that is more interesting and fun and offers more opportunities for Yufei’s future, the one that I knew all along what I was going to choose. Can you guess? It’s UCSF! Was it hard to give up on Harvard? Well, a little, though I think my mom was more torn up about that than I was (bless her Asian parent heart). I’m super happy with my choice, and it’s so nice to finally (finally!) have some closure to this whole admissions process. Now I could put everything behind me and move forward.

Speaking of moving, Yufei and I are actually moving this weekend. As soon as I decided to stay with UCSF, we began to look for an apartment closer to school. I really wanted a place that is within walking distance to school, which is very helpful according to the upperclassmen I talked to. It took a few weeks of searching and refreshing Craigslist, but we found a nice little studio apartment only a few blocks away from campus. It’s smaller than our current one-bedroom, but it’s in a nice area and cheaper and – did I mention it’s less than a 10-minute walk to school? I’m going to need all the sleep I can get when school starts. Ain’t nobody got time for commuting in the morning for 8am classes! I’m so excited to arrange and decorate our new place, and I’ll definitely post some photos when it’s all done.

I’m also looking to get involved with doing research at UCSF, and tomorrow I’m meeting someone from a team that uses Twitter for research on various health topics. How awesome is that? I’m really excited to learn more about it and help out. I always knew that I didn’t really want to do lab research again, but I’ve always been interested in the intersection between health and technology, and using social media as a way to survey and analyse health information is very cool. So, yeah, really excited about this opportunity!

Anyway, lots happening in the next little while. I’m a little overwhelmed but also very much energized. After a long year of not really doing much, I think I’m ready to dive into being somewhat busy again (I’m sure I will regret saying this when dental school starts, oh well)!

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Okay, time for another update on the state of my dental school apps. As I mentioned in my last post, I was fortunate enough to receive acceptances to all three of the dental schools I interviewed at pre-December: NYU, UCSF, and UoP. I also had my Harvard interview last week, which was my last interview since I decided to cancel my UPenn one. So, so far I’ve applied to 6 schools, got interviews at 5, attended 4, and received acceptances to 3. Not bad!

My Harvard interview went pretty well I think. There were 2 interviews, and mine were with a fourth year student and the director of admissions. Everyone I met at the school was very friendly, and everything was great. Here’s a photo of me in front of the dental building:

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However, I’m still not convinced that Harvard is the right school for me. For one, I don’t know if I want to live in Boston for 4 years. It would be nice to be back on the east coast, closer to a lot of my friends, but Boston didn’t seem that exciting to me. A current student told me that everyone at Harvard loved Boston except people from NYC. It’s true that I’d been spoiled to spend 4 years in NYC and nowhere else can really compare. The area around the medical campus has nothing, and even downtown was kind of small. And also I’m not sure if I like HSDM’s program. Dental students take classes with the med students in the first 2 years, and pre-clinic doesn’t even start until third year. I’m not sure if I like that. And it seems like the majority of students there want to specialize, but I’m undecided about that right now. On the other hand, it’s P/F, everyone seemed very happy to be there, and I’m sure that Harvard will provide unlimited opportunities. Anyways, I’m getting ahead of myself, since I won’t receive a decision until January at the earliest.

Which brings me to the next step, making a decision of where to put down my deposit. Right now I’m deciding between UCSF and UoP since NYU is expensive and I liked the atmosphere the least of the 3 schools. And since my parents just moved down to the Bay Area and Yufei and I are just getting settled here, it’s easier to just stay. But UCSF vs. UoP is proving to be a very difficult choice. I am truly torn! I’ve down pros and cons lists, asked friends’ opinions, consulted the internet… I still need to discuss it more with my parents and think about it in depth some more. But a choice will be made very soon, and I will keep you guys posted!

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So it’s been about a month since my last update about my progress on dental school applications, and there have definitely been some exciting new developments!

Last time I wrote, I had just finished my first interview at NYU and anticipating what I thought would be my second interview at UOP. Well, two things have happened since then. Near the end of October, I got a call from Harvard for an interview! Of course I was unbelievably excited about this opportunity, and I scheduled it for December 13. I know it’s after Dec. 3, when the first batch of decisions come out, but apparently Harvard does things very slowly. There was a very long supplemental questionnaire that was only sent to people who are invited for interviews. And they also needed my high school transcript. And there will be two 45-minute faculty interviews. You can already see that things are very much serious at Harvard, as expected haha. Anyway, so I filled out the questionnaire, booked my flights, arranged my stay, and since it was to be after my UOP interview, I put it to the back of my mind.

As I was preparing for my UOP interview the week before it, I received a call from UCSF. Someone had cancelled their interview appointment and a spot had opened up. For the very next day. Of course I couldn’t say no to that! I had given up hope on UCSF at that point and this was a great surprise! I’m pretty sure this was the shortest notice ever for an interview at 18 hours. Thank goodness I live close by. So I spent the night preparing for the interview that I thought would never come. What I thought would be my second interview at UOP suddenly turned into my third one.

So now I’ve interviewed at both UCSF and UOP, let me talk a little bit about both. I really enjoyed my UCSF interview. The admissions staff were super friendly and funny and made the day a lot less stressful. We sat through a couple of presentations in the morning, then went off for a tour of the campus. The facilities were awesome and I really liked the atmosphere of the place. UCSF is situated pretty high up and there are many little spots on campus with amazing views of the city. There is this room in the library that has windows on three sides, with views of the ocean on one side, the Golden Gate Bridge on another, and downtown SF on the third. Everyone on the tour started taking pictures (I only had my crappy phone camera so I won’t share the photos).

After the tour, We had lunch with some dental students, before doing our interviews. There were 2 short interviews, one with a current student and one with a faculty member, and both are to be weighted equally. Another thing that is different about the UCSF interviews is that they’re closed file, which means that neither of my interviewers had read my application. I was a little bit nervous about this, but I really didn’t need to be. I had my student interview first. My interviewer was really really nice and we just had a conversation. I even showed her my art portfolio that I brought to all my interviews but never had the chance to show anyone before this. I think she definitely liked me and hopefully rated me well. My faculty interview also went pretty well. The professor was friendly and we had a nice chat together.

After the interview, there was the dreaded writing sample. We were given 30 minutes to write a page about a quote. I think I did okay on it, who knows. After that there was a financial aid presentation (which doesn’t really affect me since as an international student, my only option is private loans) and we were done. My overall impression of UCSF was very positive. I liked the school much more than I had expected. Some things I really like about it: P/F grading, friendly environment, small class size (88), lots of opportunities for everything, great facilities, and it just seemed like a very balanced school in every way. I hope I get good news from them come Dec. 3!

My UOP interview was earlier this week. One of the good things about it was that it started much later at 10:30! It was a pretty small interview group, only around 10 people, which was nice. We sat through some presentations and then half the group went to do their interviews and the other half did the tour of the school. I had my tour first, but I would have preferred to have my interviews first so I can relax after. The tour group was only 4 people, which was great because I got to ask a lot of questions to our tour guide, a second year student. After the tour, we had lunch in the cafeteria with some current students, and then it was interview time.

There was also 2 interviews, one short student interview and one longer faculty interview. My student interview was very casual and relaxed. In fact, most of the time my interviewer talked and asked me if I had any questions about the school. It was more of an opportunity for me to learn more about the school rather than for her to learn about me, which was fine with me. Then my faculty interview was a lot more intense and serious, which I had not expected. I got some pretty difficult questions! But I think I did okay in the end and my interviewer did say that he would love to see me at UOP in July.

The exciting thing about UOP is that the school will be moving to a new building in the summer of 2014. So if I end up there, I will spend 1 year in the old building in Pacific Heights and 2 years in the new one downtown. I got to see some floor plans and artist’s renderings of the new building and it looks beautiful. It would be really nice to use the new clinics and everything. So again, hope I get good news on Dec. 3!

I started this post a couple of days ago, and believe it or not, since then there has been one more new development. This afternoon I received a large envelope from U Penn inviting me for an interview! I haven’t called yet to schedule but it will probably be in January, if I go. It makes it a little tricky since it’ll be after I hear back from NYU, UCSF, and UOP. Anyway, I feel very blessed to get an invite from Penn. That leaves only my home institution of Columbia that hasn’t sent me an invite yet… no love from the Alma Mater!

Anyway, I can’t believe it’s just over 2 weeks until I hear back from the schools I’ve interviewed at. It’s been a long process and I can’t wait for it to be over. Will keep you guys updated!

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I had underestimated how painfully long the wait is after you submit your application for dental school. I got my AADSAS application and supplementals all in before the end of August, which is not super early but still reasonable. Then I heard back pretty quickly from NYU with an interview invite – yay! I scheduled it for Oct. 10, hoping that I would hear back from more east coast schools so I can make one trip, but alas, no such luck. There was no communication at all during the whole month of September. It got pretty depressing. But then on Oct. 4, I got a call from the University of the Pacific! I was ecstatic about my invite from them. Since then, still no news from the other schools, and I know that pre-December interview spots are probably all filled up by this point. But I have to say that I am very satisfied with my 2 interview invites (out of 6 schools applied to) and I would love to go to either NYU or UOP.

So I had my interview at NYU last Wednesday. I was very excited about my first trip back to New York since graduation. My friend Jin was kind enough to let me stay with her in her room in an apartment in Stuy Town, which is conveniently located near NYU. I had a very nice interview day; the interview itself was very relaxed and not stressful at all, everyone I met was friendly, and the students all seemed to like the school a lot.

The location of NYU is definitely a plus, and I would definitely be okay with living in New York for another 4 years. It’s strange, but as soon as I arrived in the city, it felt as if I never left at all. Taking the air train, the subways, walking on the streets, it all felt so familiar. I even surprised myself at how I just felt right at home, so much so that I got to my friend’a apartment a whole hour before I anticipated. But on the other hand, when I got back to San Francisco, I had a similar feeling of homecoming. I can only attribute this to my constant moving and my lack of a place I can call my hometown. Only the truly rootless can feel at home everywhere.

Anyways, so now I’m looking forward to my UoP interview in less than a month. I had visited the school last summer when I was staying with Yufei, after I first decided to go into dentistry. I really liked the school back then, and I’m even more excited about it now that I’m actually living in SF. I will do another update after my interview there!

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It’s been such a long time since my last post! But currently I am writing this in Yufei’s and my new apartment in San Francisco! After a couple of weeks, we finally have all of our furniture (almost entirely from IKEA), appliances, and other stuff. We were lucky to secure this apartment the first day I arrived in the city. It’s on a beautiful quiet little street in the Lower Haight neighbourhood:

We live in a small townhouse with only 7 units, and our apartment is bright and airy with lots of light from the south-facing bay windows in the bedroom:

The living room:

And the view from the other side (you can see the fireplace and the French doors separating it from the bedroom):

And I finally have my own kitchen!

Some more details… the walls in the living room conveniently have this shelf built into it, which is perfect for displaying photos…

…and Yufei’s every growing shot glass collection:

In keeping with the green and neutrals color scheme and to make use of a badly super glued broken bowl, I made this centerpiece for the coffee table with a candle and some seashells I have:

And there you have it, our first apartment! But before we moved into it, we spent a week in a hotel in North Beach, and the weather was amazingly beautiful and summery, so unlike the typical chilly San Francisco summer. We took the opportunity to explore some more of SF.

Japantown:

On the way to Coit Tower:

Coit Tower:

Ghirardelli Square:

Our adventure time was cut short last week because Yufei has started working at Twitter. They’ve moved to a new office in Mid-Market and I had the change to visit a couple of times. It’s in a beautiful Art Deco style building:

(Speaking of Art Deco, I am so so excited for the release of the Great Gatsby film later this year. It’s one of my favourite books ever and the trailer looks amazing. Cannot wait til December when it comes out! I will also probably want to host a Gatsby party then too!)

Back to Twitter. They also have this lovely rooftop garden:

And that’s where we had lunch one day. The cafeteria is AMAZING. Check out my lunch:

Chicken and waffle, salad from a great salad bar, grilled veggies, roasted swardfish, and tofu. Everything is all organic and gourmet and there are a ton of choices. We also had breakfast where I had a ton of frsh fruit, scrambled eggs with cream cheese, potatoes, 2 kinds of sausages, and freshly made banana pancakes (needless to say, I was stuffed that day). Twitter really spoils their employees.

Anyways, although I’ve been loving this beautiful city so far, it doesn’t seem to love me back quite as much, as it seems to refuse to give me a job. Sigh. This is the only thing that’s been putting a damper on my time here right now. Let’s hope things will turn around soon… come on, show me a little love and mercy, San Francisco!

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Since my last post, I have made it through graduation alive and relatively sane. Although all the worries and doubts from before were still there, I tried my best to focus on graduation for what it was: a celebration of the achievements of me and my peers over the past 4 years. It was a hectic and frenzied 3 days, but sitting among the sea of light blue in my own matching cap and gown, I was happy and proud to be graduating from such an amazing university and share the occasion with my family and friends.

I don’t think the fact that I won’t be returning to Columbia in the fall has quite sunk in yet, but hints of nostalgia are already beginning to peak above the surface from time to time. But with so much change on the horizon I’m forced to look forward and not back. Right now I’m back home for a bit, before moving to San Francisco on June 9. So I’m busy looking for jobs and apartments and procrastinating on my dental school applications. I know I’ve said this for just about everything this past year, but I’m both scared yet excited about all this change. Look forward to more posts about starting this new chapter in my life soon! But not before a post about Yufei and my post-graduation vacation to the US Virgin Islands!

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