Author Archives: Noel Ermer

Article: How medical schools offer admissions flexibility during pandemic

By Brendan Murphy, December 8, 2020

An economic downturn amid a once-in-a-lifetime pandemic has been the likely reason for an increase in medical school applications. The unprecedented conditions, in spite of the uptick in application volume, have also led to medical schools offering more flexibility in the admissions process.

According to a recent survey of medical school admissions officers across North America conducted by Kaplan, 93% of respondents have made their admissions process more flexible due to the impact of the coronavirus crisis.

“This is not the application cycle that any aspiring doctor could have predicted or wanted when they took their first premed class as a freshman, but medical schools seem to be taking steps to make the process as straightforward as possible under extraordinary conditions,” said Petros Minasi, senior director of pre-health programs at Kaplan.

“Premeds should keep in mind, though, that although most medical schools are taking steps to remove roadblocks, that it won’t be any easier to get into medical school than in recent years,” Minasi said. “In fact, with applications surging, it’s more important than ever to put together the strongest application possible.”

What flexibility looks like

Over the past eight months of uncertainty and facility closures, major aspects of a medical school applicant’s portfolio—such as in-person volunteer experience and physician observation—have become more difficult to obtain.

“It’s the consensus with my colleagues across the spectrum of med schools that we’ve all come to an understanding that this cycle is going to be limited in terms of expectations based upon what would be the normal volunteer activities,” John D. Schriner, PhD, told the AMA. He is associate dean for admissions and student affairs at Ohio University Heritage College of Osteopathic Medicine, one of 37 member schools of the AMA’s Accelerating Change in Medicine Consortium.

In addition to volunteer experience expectations, Kaplan’s survey revealed that medical schools are:

  • Accepting pass-fail grades for prerequisite courses.
  • Extending score submission deadlines for the Medical College Admission Test, which had been disrupted during key windows in the testing cycle.
  • Moving admission interviews online.

A less rigid approach to admissions could potentially provide stress relief to applicants who have been through a cycle riddled with tumult and uncertainty.

“Applicants hold a pre-pandemic vision from advisors and near-peers of what it takes to succeed in the admissions process,” said Kim Lomis, MD, the AMA’s vice president for undergraduate medical education innovations. “That is daunting, since many of the traditionally valued experiences and metrics have simply not been possible to attain this year. Hearing that schools are cognizant of these constraints and are being open-minded will hopefully reduce anxiety and let students focus on their enthusiasm for a career in medicine.”

Article: Why A.I. Should Be Afraid of Us

By Alan Burdick

Artificial intelligence is gradually catching up to ours. A.I. algorithms can now consistently beat us at chesspoker and multiplayer video games, generate images of human faces indistinguishable from real oneswrite news articles (not this one!) and even love stories, and drive cars better than most teenagers do.

But A.I. isn’t perfect, yet, if Woebot is any indicator. Woebot, as Karen Brown wrote this week in Science Times, is an A.I.-powered smartphone app that aims to provide low-cost counseling, using dialogue to guide users through the basic techniques of cognitive-behavioral therapy. But many psychologists doubt whether an A.I. algorithm can ever express the kind of empathy required to make interpersonal therapy work.

“These apps really shortchange the essential ingredient that — mounds of evidence show — is what helps in therapy, which is the therapeutic relationship,” Linda Michaels, a Chicago-based therapist who is co-chair of the Psychotherapy Action Network, a professional group, told The Times.

Empathy, of course, is a two-way street, and we humans don’t exhibit a whole lot more of it for bots than bots do for us. Numerous studies have found that when people are placed in a situation where they can cooperate with a benevolent A.I., they are less likely to do so than if the bot were an actual person.

“There seems to be something missing regarding reciprocity,” Ophelia Deroy, a philosopher at Ludwig Maximilian University, in Munich, told me. “We basically would treat a perfect stranger better than A.I.”

In a recent study, Dr. Deroy and her neuroscientist colleagues set out to understand why that is. The researchers paired human subjects with unseen partners, sometimes human and sometimes A.I.; each pair then played a series of classic economic games — Trust, Prisoner’s Dilemma, Chicken and Stag Hunt, as well as one they created called Reciprocity — designed to gauge and reward cooperativeness.

Our lack of reciprocity toward A.I. is commonly assumed to reflect a lack of trust. It’s hyper-rational and unfeeling, after all, surely just out for itself, unlikely to cooperate, so why should we? Dr. Deroy and her colleagues reached a different and perhaps less comforting conclusion. Their study found that people were less likely to cooperate with a bot even when the bot was keen to cooperate. It’s not that we don’t trust the bot, it’s that we do: The bot is guaranteed benevolent, a capital-S sucker, so we exploit it.

That conclusion was borne out by conversations afterward with the study’s participants. “Not only did they tend to not reciprocate the cooperative intentions of the artificial agents,” Dr. Deroy said, “but when they basically betrayed the trust of the bot, they didn’t report guilt, whereas with humans they did.” She added, “You can just ignore the bot and there is no feeling that you have broken any mutual obligation.”

This could have real-world implications. When we think about A.I., we tend to think about the Alexas and Siris of our future world, with whom we might form some sort of faux-intimate relationship. But most of our interactions will be one-time, often wordless encounters. Imagine driving on the highway, and a car wants to merge in front of you. If you notice that the car is driverless, you’ll be far less likely to let it in. And if the A.I. doesn’t account for your bad behavior, an accident could ensue.

“What sustains cooperation in society at any scale is the establishment of certain norms,” Dr. Deroy said. “The social function of guilt is exactly to make people follow social norms that lead them to make compromises, to cooperate with others. And we have not evolved to have social or moral norms for non-sentient creatures and bots.”

HP and STEM Office Hours

The Health Professions and STEM team of Mary Lothrop and Hannah Benz will be holding office hours, and they encourage you avail yourselves of the opportunity to chat about summer internships, classes, professional school applications, jobs, or anything else that’s on your mind. And if you just want to pop in to introduce yourself and say hello, that’s great, too! You are also always free to email the team with questions, or to set up an advising appointment.

Mary Lothrop: mlothrop@middlebury.edu

12:00-1:00 p.m. on Tuesdays

Hannah Benz: hbenz@middlebury.edu

10:00 a.m.-12:00 p.m. on Wednesdays

How to Get the Most Out of Your Summer Internship

Courtesy of University of Colorado Boulder

Internships can be crucial in developing new skills, understanding the world of work and securing a full-time position in the future. They allow you to “test drive” opportunities to find a position that’s a good fit for you. Here are some ways to make the most of your experience and impress your employer this summer.

Communicate efficiently and effectively

Communication is a great skill to develop while you’re working at an internship. Whether your internship is in-person, fully remote or has limited in-person staff interaction, it’s important to communicate efficiently and effectively with your supervisor and co-workers. 

Make sure to respond to emails and other forms of communication in a timely manner (preferably the same day or within 24 hours). Be professional in your responses, but allow some of your personality to show as well. Pay attention to how others communicate at your company, and mirror the ones who are able to balance professionalism and personal touches.

Get to know your co-workers

Check with your supervisor to learn about ways you can interact with your new colleagues. That might include short video calls to introduce yourself, or opening up a chat thread where you can communicate with your team. You might even want to organize coffee breaks or lunch by video conference or with small groups.

Regardless of the format, an internship is a great way to learn from others and their work experiences. Find out more about their career paths and what they do in their roles, and ask for advice on your own career options.

Be a go-getter

Taking initiative is a skill that many employers desire in their employees. Focus on how you can excel at tasks that are within your abilities. This includes

  • Managing and completing tasks before deadlines
  • Volunteering to take on extra work
  • Seeking answers before asking your supervisor
  • Proposing a project idea to your supervisor

It is especially important to be self-motivated, efficient and hard-working in a remote setting where it can be challenging for supervisors to see the effort you put in.

Ask for feedback

While employers don’t expect perfection from interns, they do want to see that you’re learning and improving. Use your internship as an opportunity to understand your strengths and weaknesses. Check in with your supervisor throughout your internship to assess your progress. Ask questions such as, “What can I be doing better?” or “Is there anything else I should be doing?” Listen to their feedback and look for ways to improve.

You might make mistakes and that’s OK. In fact, it may be expected when you start a new job. Owning your mistakes and talking through possible solutions can help you develop as a professional.

Keep in touch

The connections you make this summer can help you build a strong professional network. You never know who might have a great job opening or piece of advice in the future. Stay connected with those you meet during your internship by adding them on LinkedIn. Before your last day, write a sincere and personal thank you note to those who influenced your experience. Gestures like this can make a lasting impression on the people around you. It shows you valued your time with them and everything you learned.

Reflect on your experience

Take some time at the end of your internship for reflection. Did you like the work you did and the work environment? Did it provide direction for your future or eliminate a career path or role you thought you were interested in? Keep track of the projects you worked on and skills you developed by updating your resume or LinkedIn profile, and reflect on them as well. Make note of what you learned and how it might influence your future options.

Internships can be great launch pads for your career. Taking these steps, as well as demonstrating your professionalism and willingness to learn, can help you at any organization.

Interested in STEM research? Join Middlebury College Future Researchers Club

Middlebury College Future Researchers Club’s mission is to bridge the knowledge and skill gap between students and the careers in STEM they are interested in pursuing, with an emphasis on careers in STEM research outside of clinical medicine. In doing so, Middlebury College Future Researchers Club sets its members up for success in their pre-professional journey towards graduate school and research. Through active faculty and alumni mentorship, lab shadowing opportunities, works-in-progresses, and journal club, we will enrich students’ understanding of what research entails.