Category Archives: Blogging

Discovering Why She Wants to Be a Doctor – A Student Story

Background

During my final semester in graduate school, I took a part-time position in the Writing Center at UWM. The WC gave undergraduate and graduate students the opportunity to work one-on-one with a trained writing coach.

The WC helped any student with any writing assignment. We coached freshmen with their first essays, assisted grad students with their theses and dissertations, and helped students with just about everything in-between. On occasion, students also came to us for guidance when it came to writing their resumes, cover letters, and other professional documents.

This is the story of one such student. A woman from the Middle East who was preparing to apply for medical school in the U.S.

Some Context

Before I get too far ahead of myself, I should provide a little context for this story. Although I have studied and written on a range of topics related to culture and language, I am by no means an expert on Middle Eastern societies or cultures. What I relate here is based on our conversation as well as some of my own meager research. I will paint with some very broad strokes.

Because of my background in international nonprofits, I was quite comfortable when it came to navigating cultural differences and collaborating with people whose backgrounds were strikingly different from my own. So it was not a big deal when I received my schedule for the day and saw that I was to work with this particular student. Little did I know this meeting would become one of the most important moments in my life.

A Student with a Dream

This woman was brilliant. She was a graduate student who grew up in a Muslim country in the Middle East, and English was her third language. She was completing her MS in Biology, preparing to apply for medical school, and wanted help writing her application cover letter.

The instructions for the cover letter read something along the lines of “tell us why you want to be a doctor.” She had written a three-page response but felt that she was faltering in her delivery and wanted help. She knew that this might be the most important thing she would ever write in terms of her career.

I looked over her draft and noticed immediately that her narrative was focused on her family. Among the reasons she listed for wanting to be a doctor, she noted that it would make her father proud, that it would bring honor to her mother, and that her family had worked very hard for her to receive an education and to be able to study abroad. All good insights, but none of them really answered the question why do you want to be a doctor?

Culture & Language

When it comes to language, we here in the U.S. tend to value a direct approach. We prioritize clarity, efficiency, and individualism. In other words, we want it short and sweet and to the point. Even further, when it comes to professional writing, we want to see the mark of the author in what we are reading.

But this is not the case in other cultures. Elsewhere in the world, individualism is eclipsed by the family or social unit. A person defines him or herself not by what they want, feel, or think as a person, but by their relationships and family history. This is especially true for women, who in some cultures continue to be defined by their relationships to fathers, brothers, and husbands. (That’s a whole different conversation, and one I will sidestep for the time being.) Back to the story.

For this student, answering the question “why do you want to be a doctor?” was a challenge. She’d grown up in a Muslim country, where women’s roles in society were often limited and in which it was considered poor form to dwell on oneself as an individual. She simply was not used to talking about her self in this capacity.

Learning to Say What You Already Know

In the role of a writing coach, much of my time was spent challenging students not to write, but to think. I would often encourage my clients to approach questions from multiple angles, to brainstorm ideas, and to try and get outside of their comfort zone. All of these strategies were in play in this situation. To add an additional complication, we were up against a tight deadline.

We met over three 1 hour sessions, during which time I gave her the fundamentals (reduce the letter to one page, aim for clarity, and get right to the point.) Once we’d covered the basics, it was time to try and figure out why she wanted to be a doctor. The sad truth is that she knew, she just didn’t know how to say it.

My approach was to challenge her to come up with as many reasons as she could to why she wanted to be a doctor. As she volunteered each one, I critiqued it for clarity and originality. You need something that sets you apart, I told her. She struggled.

Breakthrough

During our final session, we finally got to where we were going. We’d already spent two hours in previous sessions discarding her reasons for wanting to be a doctor. Yes, it would make her family proud. Yes, it would allow her to take care of people who need it most. Yes, she could make a good living. But these reasons were not going to get her into medical school.

We were about out of time, and I’d been pushing her pretty hard. She was clearly frustrated, and I was afraid at one point that she might even cry. So I eased up, told her to take a break, and then we’d put together our best strategy for getting this letter written.

Out of nowhere, she looked me in the eye (I think she was angry at this point) and told me something like this

I want to be a doctor because Muslim women in the U.S. deserve a female physician who is sensitive to our cultural needs for modesty and privacy.

Boom.

Out of nowhere, this woman who sat across the desk from me in a headscarf had her breakthrough moment. She was finally able to articulate a career motive that originated with her and could set her apart as a candidate for medical school.

I told her that if she built her letter on this idea, she was likely on her way to becoming a doctor.

Sometimes, all it takes for any of us is a little push. Just enough to get us out of our comfort zone so that we can deal with our obstacles on their terms.

Michelle Wolf & Kanye West: Two names you probably didn’t expect to see in the same blog post title

It’s been quite a week at the intersection of politics and entertainment.

One the one hand, we heard from comedian Michelle Wolf at the White House Correspondents’ Dinner, where her sour and politically-charged commentary delighted some and offended many.

But we also heard from musician Kanye West, whose penchant for the outrageous led him to make controversial statements about both the POTUS and the history of slavery in the U.S.

The internet is currently rife with reactions to both performances.

I’m putting that word in italics because much of what I read on Facebook, Twitter, and other blogs leads me to believe that many people are overlooking the performativity of both situations. That might be the one thing that Wolf and West have in common: they are performers.

But to what end?

Wolf and West are both performers, but they are also entertainers and hence, businesspersons. Their earning power DEPENDS upon staying in the public eye, attracting attention for themselves, and finding a means by which they can stay relevant.

Both performers’ opportunistic tendencies should be apparent: they’re simply marketing themselves to cash in on their next gig.

Wolf’s comedy series The Break with Michelle Wolf premiers on May 26th. Guess how many people will be watching it now? West has already established himself as a prolific recording artist and songwriter, so a new product from him is inevitable. His challenge is remaining relevant and noticeable in an ever-evolving pop music landscape. And let’s be honest: the man seems to love any attention he can get, be it positive or negative.

Sure, they’ve both made some wacky, erroneous, offensive, distasteful, and bizarre statements this past week. It’s what they do.

And more to the point: it’s good for business.

 

Product Review – Huel

 

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My desktop at work. Huel is my go-to for a quick breakfast.

Virtues

  • Balanced, plant-based nutrition.
  • Affordability. Huel can definitely make a positive impact on your food budget.
  • Versatility. Lots of ways to use the product and plenty of good recipes.
  • Great marketing. The company makes a compelling case for Huel’s role in reducing food waste, helping people stay healthy, and providing a convenient alternative to eating junk food.

Limitations

  • Digestive discomfort. I found this to be a minimal–but noticeable–characteristic. Not a deal breaker in my book.
  • Lack of variation. Requires some effort to avoid product fatigue.
  • Food without complexity. Not nearly as satisfying as real food. I love crunch and texture. Not easy to replicate with Huel.

What brought me to Huel

Some weeks ago I did a survey of my eating habits and realized that, nutritionally speaking, my diet was not a pretty picture. This came as something of a surprise to me because I’ve always loved fresh vegetables and fruits, I prefer a low-meat diet, and I generally avoid the most unhealthy fast food and snack items. My impression of my eating habits was something along the lines of I’m no saint when it comes to eat healthy, but I’m not a total sinner, either. 

Wrong. Wrong. Wrong. My diet was a wreck!

It’s not that I don’t want to eat healthy, but between my schedule (I work two jobs) and the awkwardness of cooking for one, there were just too many opportunities and excuses for me to take the easy route and make some bad dietary choices. Sometimes the issue was money. Often it was convenience. Whatever! Time to try something new.

I began thinking about some of the meal replacement options that are out there. Many of them are branded for fitness buffs (which I am not) or people who are trying to lose weight (meh, I could do to lose a few pounds, but I’m comfortable with who I am.)

After doing a little research on a few brands, I decided to go with HUEL. Here’s what appealed to me about the product:

  1. The quality of the ingredients. Huel is plant-based, so it’s a vegan product and although I’m not a vegan or vegetarian, I know that incorporating more plant-based nutrition into my diet is good for me and the plant. Plus, no animals are harmed in the making of this product.
  2. Balanced nutrition. This was the main impetus behind my decision to try Huel. It’s not some crazy, lop-sided nutritional supplement that promises to help me shred my body or give me the energy of a psychotic baboon during the mating season.
  3. Protein & Fiber. Huel provides both without throwing my diet out of whack. The fiber component was especially important to me, because I often don’t get optimal levels of fiber. I want fiber without the excessive carbs, and Huel gets the ratio right.
  4. Budget. Depending on how you use Huel and how often, it can definitely provide a great ROI with regard to your food budget.
  5. Convenience. I keep a bag of Huel and the provided mixer at my work desk. For days when I don’t have time for real breakfast (ok that’s everyday) I can mix up a shake at my desk with no mess. 500 calorie breakfast, no problem.

My Experience

I’ve been eating (as opposed to just using) Huel for about 3 months. At first, I followed the recommendations and only ate Huel once a day for about 2 weeks. I used it almost always for breakfast. I definitely felt more energized and took great satisfaction in knowing that I was finally eating well.

The only downside of my initial experience was GI discomfort. Sorry to get too graphic or personal, but Huel did make me gassy and sometimes made me feel bloated. Both effects diminished on the weekends, when I didn’t consume the product.

After my initial experience, I started to modify my use so that I only used Huel three days a week. This was helpful, but the side effects remained. This is not a deal breaker in my book, and it may very well be the result of eating more fiber and better nutrition than my poor GI is used to handling.

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Incorporating Huel with other foods has worked best for me.

As of today, I use Huel a little differently. Instead of mixing up a shake each morning that is comprised of three scoops of Huel powder and water, I make a shake of a mixture of fruits and veggies, and add 1 to 2 scoops of Huel. This is both more flavorful and more agreeable to my digestive system.

I still use Huel from time to time as a full meal replacement on its own. I just don’t do so each day. I’m also fond of using it as my post-workout replenishment drink.

Verdict & Recommendations

I like Huel.

It’s a helpful part of my nutritional routine and I feel good about eating it. The company’s branding strategy is well designed and feels genuine. As long as they keep their promise to be part of a holistic solution to nutrition and food scarcity issues, I’ll be a believer.

What I want to see are more products in the Huel line. I know they’ve recently introduced Huel bars, but that’s not in the U.S. at this time. They need to keep it interesting and innovative.

For those of you considering Huel, here is my advice:

Figure out how the product works best for you, and use it in that capacity. Also, be prepared to create your own recipes in order to avoid fatigue with the product. I like to whip up a shake full of fresh greens, and then throw a scoop or two of Huel in for good measure. But from time to time I will still just mix up a shaker of Huel and use that as a substitute for a meal.

It’s good stuff, taken in the amount that’s right for you.