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Expectations vs. Reality

NECO offers a relaxation cafe to support us during midterms and finals - complete with snacks and therapy dogs.

Coming into graduate school, I felt prepared. I had heard about the long days in class and clinic, but I thought I would be fine due to my previous experiences. In college, I held leadership positions with many organizations on campus and balanced my academics very well. After graduating, I worked a full-time job, almost every day from 9AM to 7PM. When I discovered that optometry school will be about 9 to 5 every day, I thought I would be able to handle it well-but I was wrong.

Once you enter graduate school, you realize that your days of memorizing information to get good grades are gone. There is a deeper level of critical thinking involved, where you will constantly have to review material and apply what you’re learning in real-life scenarios in order to succeed. 

What to expect:

As first years, we typically have all our labs in the morning and classes in the afternoon, usually from about 8AM-5PM every day. Pretty much for every class, we have a lab. In lab, we go into more detail of what we are learning in class to get a deeper understanding of the knowledge we are expected to know. For example, in our Principles and Practices of Optometry (PPO) lab, we have lab at the new Clinical Training Center (CTC). In PPO lab, we use the information we learn in lecture and perform various tests on our classmates in a timed manner. You and your partner rotate the roles of being the doctor and patient, as you are evaluated by a preceptor. 

At the end of the semester, you will have a clinical skills exam (CSE), which is a crucial part of your grade. You may find that you need to practice a few hours every week at pre-clinic, in order to feel confident in your skills. One awesome part about our school is that we have two pre-clinic rooms to practice whenever we need to! As first years, we are also given the honor to perform vision screenings at local elementary and middle schools. This is another way we apply what we’re learning in class to a real-life scenario. We also are assigned to go on observations at different optometric settings.

How to Prepare:

As you can see, we not only have to balance classes and labs, but we also have vision screenings and observations. Your schedules will become very busy, and time management will be key. 

  • Review: For each class, you will have to review the lecture before class as well as after class in order to do well, and is not something you should take lightly. After reviewing your notes, be sure to form study groups! Study groups are extremely important in graduate school because if you are not able to explain concepts to your peers, you don’t understand the material well enough. I cannot stress enough how important this is! I usually like to study by myself but after studying on my own, I find it so helpful to discuss it with my peers. 
  • Ask Questions: Never hesitate to ask any questions to your professors! All of our professors are so passionate about teaching and want us to succeed! I often email my professors or ask them questions during or after class. 
  • Active Learning: Active learning is another tool that can be very helpful. Make the most out of your education! 
  • Quizzes: Another key thing to remember is that during your semester, you will have quizzes every week or so. It is important to study well for these quizzes but not to forget about your other classes! I learned the hard way with this. I studied really hard for my quizzes and pushed my other classes to the side, and quickly fell behind! If you are consistent in reviewing the material every day, you won’t have to spend numerous hours before your quiz studying one subject.
  • Mental breaks:As someone who feels guilty for taking a 10-minute break to relax, I had to learn that it is okay to take an hour to yourself and just breathe. Fortunately for us, our school is located in the beautiful city of Boston. If we’re ever feeling stressed out, we can take a short walk along the Charles River or try a new ice cream spot or restaurant on Newbury Street! Also, Student Council hosts a relaxation cafe right before exams, where we are able to play with therapy dogs, enjoy delicious coffee and refreshments from Starbucks! It’s important to stay on top of your school work, but taking care of your mental health is just as important. 

Graduate school is not easy, and you will have to work hard, but you have to just focus on the bigger picture. Everything up until this moment was for you to reach this point of your life. The ball is in your court now. Make smart decisions and never lose sight of where you’re going.

Pratima is a first year student from Cliffside Park, New Jersey. In May of 2017, she graduated from Stony Brook University in Long Island, New York, earning her Bachelor of Science in Health Science with a concentration in Healthcare management. Her interest to pursue optometry arose as a youth. Pratima admired how her optometrist built meaningful relationships with all of her patients. What Pratima most admires about the profession is the healthy work- balance, and the opportunity to be both a clinician and entrepreneur. Pratima spent her year before optometry school gaining experience as an optometric technician at a local private practice. During her free time, Pratima enjoys spending time outdoors, exploring coffee shops, and spending quality time with friends and family.