Back to School Advice from Dr. Alaina

September 17, 2019

Hello everyone! 

I hope this note finds you well rested, ambitious and confident about achieving your career dreams.

...who am I kidding, right?

Honestly, I don’t expect you to be feeling rested, ambitious or confident. It’s early September, classes just started, and you probably feel like the deadlines, exams and sheer volume of material are looking pretty ridiculous. 

I’ve been there.

I’m still there.

I am a new graduate, and I’m here to offer a few tips about surviving courses, extra-curriculars, and the emotional roller coaster that comes with striving for a very difficult (but not impossible!) goal. 

Quickly, about me: I graduated OVC in June 2019 and started mixed animal practice in Walkerton, Ontario. New grad life is great, but with lots of challenges (the learning curve is unreal!). I attended the University of Guelph for undergrad, and toured a few different areas of interest on the way. Highlights included stints in neuroscience, beef cattle physiology, playwriting and regenerative biology.

So, see below for my few hints to undergrads (and high school students) on your way to becoming a DVM. I’m always happy to chat, so feel free to reach out to the FVC exec for my contact info! 

  1. Average is excellent

I’m a super average student. I’m an average friend, average girlfriend and probably an average veterinarian. I have the odd moment of brilliance, and I make a lot of mistakes too. But darn it, I try really hard.  This year, I encourage you to do your best, but allow yourself to make mistakes. Please do not aim for perfect, and PLEASE do not compare yourself to your classmates (hint: they are not perfect either, even though it seems like it). When I was a student, I had this crazy idea that there was a “type” of student who would get into vet school. I tried to characterize that “type”, and wondered if I could ever be that type. Since then, I have discovered there is no type. Each of my classmates is a unique individual with strengths, fallbacks, and wacky little quirks just like any “average” person. Please, be your awesome, quirky, flawed self. Vet school and the world need imperfect people.

  1. Marks are important…but failing is critical

Yes, I know. The admission average is climbing, and I feel for all of you chasing those high 80s-90s. I want to remind you, though, that marks are not everything. Your university friends, clubs, volunteering activities and home life will teach you so much about yourself and the world around you. Also, you probably will have some bad grades.  I had some spectacular fails (lookin’ at you, Calculus).  Failing is more useful than you think. Failed the Physics quiz? Study with a friend this time and gain some teamwork skills. Stats wasn’t your thing?  Take the next course and find your statistical niche. Also, you NEED to learn how to fail. Students who never fail have a deeply difficult experience when faced for the first time with subpar results – whether that’s in undergrad, vet school, or later in life. To build emotional resiliency, please learn to re-evaluate those obstacles and be ready to take them on again. Ask for help if you need some new perspective!  Embrace failing, because no matter where you go in life, being able to fail will make you a braver and happier person.  You are not your grades, and your grades are not you.

[Note: I’m totally on my soapbox here, but I still get upset when I fail. Being okay with failing is HARD, and I’m working on it too.]

  1. Be flexible

As much fun as unsolicited philosophical advice can be, here’s a concrete suggestion for getting through the daily grind of exams, papers and lectures. A mistake I often made while studying was sticking to a not-so-efficacious study method because I was afraid to try something else. I’d spend HOURS making cue cards, because that’s what I knew how to do and surely spending SO MANY HOURS on studying meant I’d do well on the test… Turns out this wasn’t particularly true.  Instead, I encourage you to try several different study methods, and find what really works for you. Whether it’s attending lecture, skipping lecture, group study, cue cards (they can be legit sometimes), drawing diagrams or teaching concepts to your family dog, there are tonnes of ways to review the material. If you can find the way that inspires you and is fun, you will understand and remember it.  Your best method may change between subjects, or even between topics in the same subject. That’s okay! Be brave enough to switch it up, because you will not have time for hours of cue cards as you progress through the years. It will take time to find your best method, but I have faith that you will.  Please, though, DO NOT mindlessly copy out your lecture notes. That never, ever works. Trust me. 

Well, that’s probably been enough of my rambling for now. Please do not hesitate to reach out with questions, comments, or for a friendly chat. I hope you’ve found something useful in this post, or at least feel your procrastination time was well spent. :)

Take care, and good luck!


Dr. Alaina M.