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The Daily Wildcat

The Daily Wildcat

 

    The inappropriateness and randomness of fate

    There’s this prevalent notion that we control our destinies. Our futures are in our hands, so to speak. If we get good grades, volunteer, join the right clubs, work hard and forge the right connections, then our goals are all within reach and easily attainable.

    What we fail to consider, however, is the inevitable curveball that throws our plans into disarray. More often than we expect, inappropriate and random events shape our futures in profound ways. Call it fate, if you will.

    I recently had a brush with fate when a medical school invited me to appear for an interview, a pivotal step in the drawn-out admissions process. Naturally, I prepared for the bevy of expected questions, but there was no preparing for the unexpected and inappropriate ones that shaped the essence my interview – my one shot at distinguishing myself from the hundreds of other equally-qualified applicants.

    At this particular institution, the interview format is simple: you and one interviewer. There is no committee, just one person whose task is to feel you out. Your future depends on this one person.

    I knew I was in trouble when I arrived at my interviewer’s office door. A McCain bumper sticker stared me down like Palin’s rifle trained on a moose. Being a liberal homosexual who supports Obama, I had to reassess the situation. Butch it up, Justin, I told myself. “”Hooah, hooah,”” I chanted in my mind.

    The interview began fine, albeit a little shaky. I was nervous and sweating in my new suit. The questions were expected and fairly ordinary. Why medicine? Why this school? Tell me about yourself. What do you do outside of the classroom?

    And then the unexpected entered the fray. What do you think of the wars? Would you go to Iraq for two years to serve your country? These questions are entirely out of place since they are irrelevant to medicine and application. Am I somehow less qualified to be a physician because I prefer diplomacy to combat? How do I delicately say that I’d serve my country, if only they’d let me?

    After I bumbled my way through phony answers and attempted to spew the standard neutral responses, my interviewer conceded that he wasn’t supposed to ask political questions. He assured me they wouldn’t enter what he termed “”my file.”” But the damage was done. His opinion was formed, and surely my responses to his inappropriate questions impacted his impression of me.

    After my interview, I couldn’t help but think that my future had come down to one man’s opinion of me, a haphazard one formed in a half-hour and based on irrelevant questions. Really, after four years of tremendous effort and hard work, it all boils down to this one man? How frustrating and unfair and unlucky.

    As it turns out, my situation is rather uncommon. “”A Content Analysis of Interviewee Reports of Medical School Admissions Interviews,”” authored by Elizabeth M. Altmaier, PhD, et al., seeks to illuminate the medical school interview process by studying the categories of questions asked. The authors conclude, “”Our data also revealed that approximately 2 percent of cited questions asked were illegal or inappropriate. While this is a small percentage, questions about an applicant’s age, marital status, ability to raise a family and go to medical school, and ranking of other medical schools applied to can be demeaning, insulting and/or irrelevant to the decision to accept or reject that student.””

    I suppose it’s reassuring that inappropriate questions make generally infrequent appearances in interviews. However, I’m also enraged since many of my fellow applicants don’t have experiences marred by such improper questions. It seems that most applicants have perfectly appropriate interviews. I can’t help but feel that my experience has hindered my chances for acceptance at the school. That’s fate, though, seemingly random and unfair.

    My future in medicine shouldn’t come down to how I feel about the wars or my vote for president. My future shouldn’t hinge on my interviewer’s politics either. The simple truth is I’d make a great doctor. If only I had been given the opportunity to convey that.

    So whatever your goals may be – graduate school, landing that dream job, adopting more kids than the Jolie-Pitt clan, professional school and so on – just remember that fate can be a real pain in the ass. Fate will hunt you down and hurl a 12-pound monkey wrench directly at your head. Just be ready to duck.

    – Justin Huggins is a senior majoring in ecology and evolutionary biology. He can be reached at

    letters@wildcat.arizona.edu.

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