Science three questions

Being pre-med at MIT: Chloe McCreery ’23 and Joanna Lin ’23

McCreery and Lin reflect on their journeys in medicine

Chloe McCreery ’23 and Joanna Lin ’22, both alumni of The Tech, sat down to reflect on their journeys in medicine. McCreery graduated with a degree in Biological Engineering, and is a research associate in the Engreitz Lab at Stanford Medicine. Lin graduated with degrees in Biology and French in 2021, and then studied abroad in France. She is a 2nd-year medical student at Weill Cornell Medicine.

These interviews have been edited for length and clarity.


TT: What was your experience like as a pre-med undergraduate at MIT?

McCreery: When I entered MIT, the idea of being a doctor sounded nice. I enjoyed the life sciences and interacting with people. I didn’t know for sure until junior year, when I made sure I knew what work would be like in a hospital or a medical environment.

Compared to every other major, I feel like pre-med is an equal level of difficulty. A lot of the prerequisites for your major are the same as for medical school. I didn't have to put that much extra effort into tailoring my course schedule.

It's especially true at MIT that most people go on to pursue PhDs, MD-PhDs, or masters, but I didn't feel pressured to do that because I knew that wasn't what I wanted from the beginning. Talking to MD-PhDs, it seemed like they'd have a lab, and then go into the clinic once a week or so. That didn't sound appealing to me. I'd rather be in the clinic.

Lin: I was pretty set on medicine. I did the Discover Pre-Health FPOP, and was a peer counselor for that. I also was the president of the Pre-Med Society. When the pandemic happened, a lot of people in the US wanted to contribute in this way, so it pretty much locked it in.

Our pre-med advising program is really strong – I've heard that a lot of other schools don't have that. Pre-med upperclassmen were the people I talked to most for advice. We don't have that many pre-meds, but 100 people in a year is still a lot. You're a minority, but it doesn't feel like it. A lot of people were in Course 6, and honestly, I liked it a lot, because I got to “osmosis” information about technology from them.

It's relatively easy for anyone in any course to do pre-med. I feel like Course 7 is much easier than all of the engineering courses, and it’s a bit like I got off easy. I know at least five people who did Course 6 and are doing well in med school. So I think it's really interesting.


TT: Where are you now? Do you feel like MIT prepared you well?

McCreery: I started applying to medical school this June, so I'm currently in the middle of the cycle. I'm at Stanford School of Medicine in the Engreitz Lab. I'm working on researching congenital heart disease, looking at noncoding regions of the genome and to what extent they contribute to heart development and heart defects.

I took a gap year because I wanted some time to grow more as a researcher and as a learner. It’s nice to kind of get a sense of what I like, and what research I enjoy. Regarding medical school applications, in my opinion, research is something you can't skip out on. Most of the schools that I've applied to have a required period for research or you’re required to submit a research thesis or a research presentation as part of your MD curriculum. For most of my MIT career, I worked in the Spranger lab at the Koch Institute on tumor immunology research. I feel fortunate because MIT is very supportive of having undergrads help out with research with no experience. As long as you have the desire to want to learn, they're always happy to help.

Lin: I’m a 2nd-year med student at Weill Cornell Medicine. Our school does one and a half years of what's called didactic, which is like regular school and lectures. Then, we have two semesters of hospital rotations. Then the second half of our third year, we do a research block. Then, in the fourth year, you can do electives, and you spend your whole year writing an app and doing interviews. Then you match and graduate, and you move on to residency.

Numbers-wise, MIT does great. All of our grads do amazing in med school and match to top programs. Everything's so deep. All of our chemistry classes start with a physics thing. All of our physics classes start with a math thing. It's always, what is the most basic, fundamental thing of every single concept we're learning. And med school is just, memorizing a dictionary. My med school classmates and I feel like our brains are atrophying. All of our exams are multiple-choice. I'm learning how to test-take instead of learning medicine, and it feels bad. Because I've been in a place where I'm trying to learn knowledge.

So in conclusion, MIT helps you do well in med school, but med school also kind of feels strange sometimes because you're not learning anything.


TT: What would you say to a current pre-med student at MIT?

McCreery: Take it one step at a time. Also, it's okay to pursue things that aren't directly related to your future career goals. Sometimes it's easy to be like, “Oh, how does that activity fit in with my goals of being a physician.” I think it's those opportunities that you don't think are really related to your goals that you learn from a lot. Just pursue things that you’re interested in, and not just what people tell you is a good idea.

Lin: Something I've been hearing a lot recently is that you’re not the first person to do this, and you're also not going to be the last person to do this. It'll be fine, you'll make it through, and you're capable of doing it.

MIT is a very research-focused school. But we also live in a city of many other universities. If you want to do clinical research or volunteer in a hospital, there are incredible hospitals across the river. Don't confine yourself to MIT. Even though there are infinite opportunities at MIT, there are better opportunities outside. Making sure you look at those and making sure you take those opportunities is important.

Community is a really important aspect of staying happy throughout the process. The hardest part I experienced was the application year. I was abroad doing a gap year in France teaching English. I wasn't around my MIT friends. I wasn't around my family. You bare yourself to these admissions committees, and you don't get anything back for months. I was close to having a failed cycle. Doing that by myself in a new country was rough.

That year is going to be hard for anyone, and you're going to take a hit to your self-esteem. It's important to make sure that you have a support system around you while you're doing it. Set yourself up to be happy and healthy throughout a really hard year.