UCLA Chamber Ensemble

UCLA Gluck Jazz Combo: Julian Le

Copyright 2011 Pamela Springsteen


For the past three quarters, I have been a part of the UCLA Chamber Ensemble.
Sounds pretty fancy, huh?
But surprisingly, you don’t have to be a musical prodigy to be in it. It is actually a class that is open to UCLA students of any major. The only requirement is that you know how to read/play music, and that you have a love for music. Not many people know about it, and many of the non-music majors shy away from taking the class. But my experience has been truly valuable and enriching. It has been amazing to see how music can connect people of vastly different majors, interests, backgrounds, and beliefs. It is always a joy to come together as a group once a week to produce music that we love and to be able to share it with others at the end of the quarter through a performance.

The course is called “Chamber Ensemble,” and to enroll into the class, you have to first contact Professor Gary Gray and tell him that you are interested in taking his course. He usually asks students to make an appointment with him to hear you play. There is no need to be stressed about it, because he mainly wants to see if you know how to read/play music on your instrument!
So you music-lovers out there, join the UCLA Chamber Ensemble! When else will you get a chance to play music with fellow UCLA students? Take advantage of the opportunity.

Survival Kit for Premeds: MCAT prep

Inside Ackerman
Photo Credit: Copyright 2013 Coral Von Zumwalt

After spending three long months of prepping for the MCAT, I wanted to summarize a few tips for prospective MCAT takers.
First of all, the format that you guys will probably take is different from the one that I just took. As you already know, AAMC is changing the format of the MCAT in 2015 that will incorporate a few more subjects and lengthen the exam by a couple of hours. The following tips regarding test prep will apply to MCAT regardless of the format.

Let’s jump right in:

1. “To take a course, or not to take a course. That is the question.”
Many people wonder whether prep courses are worth the bucks. Personally, I did take an online Kaplan course, partly because I was able to get a discount through a UCLA premed organization. If you could afford it, or get a discount off of it like I did, I would suggest that you take an online on-demand course, so that you could get access to their study materials but you are not bound by it. For Kaplan, there is a course called Kaplan Advantage-Anywhere, which allows you to go online to listen in on lectures at designated times. Given that they are live lectures, you could easily interact with the tutor. Or, you could also go online at any time and just watch the pre-recorded on-demand lectures. I personally just watched the on-demand lectures when I had time and emailed my tutor to ask about anything that was unclear. The best part of the course for me was the practice tests. Their PS and BS section tests were challenging, which expanded my knowledge and increased my speed. I really appreciated that they gave all of the AAMC practice tests, which I recommend that you finish by at least a week prior to your test.
If you do decide to take a course, be careful not to monopolize your study material on just one prep company. Aside from Kaplan material, I personally had workbook pdf for Berkeley review, Princeton review, and Examkrackers to refer to. Of course I did not read through all of them, but I did refer to them when I was struggling with certain concepts. Also, the lecture tests at the end of sections exposed me to a variety of questions and helped me to tackle topics from different angles.

2. “Before you start anything, make a schedule.”
Whether you take a course or not, you do need to make a schedule that will give you a general idea of how to spend the next three to four months. The sample schedule posted on SDN (Student Doctor Network) helped me, and I hope they make one for the new version of the MCAT. The schedule helped me to keep me on track, and it gave me an assurance that I was following through with my plans. With that said, I did not strictly stick with my schedule. I did change it up a little throughout the preparation to accommodate for my weaknesses.
Three months, or longer for some people, is a long time, and you definitely want to keep track of your work to make sure you will be ready by the test day.

3. “Don’t underestimate the ‘MCAT burnouts.'”
When I heard about the burnouts, I thought to myself that those are for weak bums, and I completely disregarded the thought of experiencing one of my own: arrogance.
Three months is short in the sense that you don’t have time to review EVERYTHING, but it definitely feels like forever when you are waking up in the morning, sitting in the same spot, reading and solving problems for hours on end until you find yourself reading the same line over and over again with nothing being processed in your brain. Challenging yourself is good. Having ambition helps. But that doesn’t make you a superhuman who can handle spending 10 hours a day for three months.
So make it as enjoyable and as sustainable as possible. Change it up a little. Get out of the house. Visit different libraries and cafés. Take short breaks in between studying. Definitely take a break during lunch and dinner to be recharged. Some people recommend taking a whole day off per week. I personally couldn’t do that, because taking long breaks made me more anxious than relaxed. But do whatever works for you. Be careful not to be too harsh or over-ambitious. Be realistic. Listen to your body.

Best of luck to you, premeds. If you have any questions, post away.

Survival Kit for Premeds: Organic Chemistry Lab

Photo Credit: Copyright 2013 Coral von Zumwalt

While organic chemistry class itself is daunting on its own, the lab portion is flat-out terrifying. It requires knowledge from organic chemistry as well as general chemistry, which most people in the class took at least a year ago. I heard how difficult the class is and I kind of tried to prepare for it by reviewing some old chemistry material, but I felt overwhelmed with the amount of information and didn’t really know what to focus on. So this is my attempt to give you guys an advice on how to endure through one of the toughest lower-division science courses here at UCLA. I specifically took the CHEM 30BL course last quarter, and I will be basing my advice on that class.

1. Reviewing general chemistry concepts

The class requires you to know some key concepts from general chemistry that is readily used in the laboratory. By knowing some general concepts, you can better understand what is going on and learn how to make adjustments to reactions when things don’t turn out as expected. Some of the key concepts you should know are solubility (what determines whether compounds are soluble in water or organic solvent?), polarity (what makes a compound polar?), acid-base chemistry (Arrhenius and Bronsted-Lowery; what does it mean for a molecule to be acidic/basic?), and equilibrium constant (calculations involving molarities of products and reactants; pKa values/meaning). Polarity seems to be the hardest for people to really understand, and it was definitely the hardest for me on the final. Knowing these concepts inside-and-out will greatly benefit you throughout the quarter.

2. Organic chemistry knowledge

While the lab obviously does not cover all reactions learned in organic chemistry classes, it does cover some of the most simple reactions. The reactions themselves are not what makes the class so challenging. So do not stress over having to know all of the mechanisms for the reactions. But the reactions that my class covered were acid-catalyzed dehydration, phase transfer catalysis, various oxidation reactions, Diels-Alder, Grignards, and Fischer esterification. What is most important while doing the experiments is that you understand the reasoning and logic behind each step of the experiment. Why are you using that particular solvent? What will the sodium carbohydrate do to the crude product mixture? Which layer is the organic layer? Why do we reflux the mixture? What does this color change indicate?

For data analysis, you will need to know how to interpret basic IR, H-NMR, C-NMR, UV-Vis Spec, and polarimetry. Also, make sure to review and understand how TLC (thin-layer chromatography) works. Understand what determines the Rf value (retardation factor). This will be covered in lab as well as in the final.

3. Prepping for final

The score breakdown for my particular class (CHEM 30BL) consisted of weekly online quizzes, in-lab quizzes, pre/post lab reports, in-lab assignments (not every week), lab notebook, and a final. So there is no midterm and the only test you get is the final. Start studying for the final EARLY and you’ll be glad you did by the time finals week rolls around. I recommend getting started in week 5 or 6, so that you’ll have time to go through the practice tests as each test takes a pretty long time to go through. For 30BL, you are provided with a booklet of past finals. Use it! Know it inside-and-out. If you don’t understand something, visit his office hours! The instructor is very generous about giving up his time and has office hours everyday. Go in there and befriend him. He’ll help you out.
As for what to study for the final, I would focus mainly on the reader and the practice tests. Make sure you know all of the experiments that were done in the lab (including the questions listed in the back of each experiment!), and go through all of the practice tests and try to understand the reasoning and general concepts. The final consists of a experiment/mechanism section, TLC section, polarity section, lab technique section, IR spectra, and structure identification (given: molecular formula, IR, H-NMR, C-NMR/dept).

Overall, just stay on top of the material. Read over the experiment thoroughly before attending lab, visit office hours often, and study hard throughout the quarter. It may be intimidating at first to visit his office hours, but I swear he’s a nice guy! He makes an effort to learn the names of people who show up during office hours, and he calls you by your name by like the third time you come in!

It is definitely a challenging course, but hopefully you will come out of the class saturated with applicable chemistry knowledge.

Good luck! And contact me if you have any questions.

Blu Jam Cafe

During the long weekend due to MLK holiday, I got to get out of the campus and enjoy a nice, relaxing Sunday brunch. To find a place to eat, I pulled out my excessively long bucket list that I had made over the winter break, and at the very top of my list was LA’s very own Blu Jam Cafe.

Blu Jam Cafe currently has two different locations: Melrose and Sherman Oaks. They originally started off with a little place in Melrose, but after seeing their success, they opened another location in Sherman Oaks between Kester and Sepulveda. Both locations are rather small, and they both have a very simple appearance. But man, their food is like no other.

Their most renowned dish is the crunchy french toast. They use thick slices of egg brioche, batter them, rolled them in corn flakes, and grill them to give a final product of crunchy outer coating and an inside that just melts in your mouth. The french toast is sprinkled with colorful berries and served with a homemade vanilla sauce on the side. The physical appearance alone is very impressive and mouth-watering. But the instant you just take a bite of that french toast, I guarantee that you’ll never want to let go of your fork and knife. I personally think that the corn flakes is the trick that makes this dish so unique and fun. It seems so simple and easy, but when it comes to great food, it doesn’t have to get all that complicated.

The place gets pretty crowded and you most likely will have to wait for about half-an-hour before being seated, but Blu Jam Cafe is definitely worth a visit. They have been voted several times as having one of the best brunch menus in LA, and they have been reviewed and complimented by numerous magazines. So take a trip to Blu Jam Cafe, and you won’t be disappointed!

Winter Break in Nicaragua


Last winter break, I had the privilege of going to Nicaragua along with about 40 other members of the UCLA student organization “Global Medical Training.” The purpose of GMT is to provide free medical care to the poorer neighborhoods of countries like Nicaragua and Dominican Republic, where there is a lack of sufficient medical care. GMT believes in “learning by doing,” and it gives the students an opportunity to experience what it is really like to become a physician by learning how to examine and diagnose patients. I had been preparing for the trip since the beginning of the fall quarter by attending all of the weekly meetings, where I was trained to do various tasks, such as taking blood pressure, using the stethoscope to listen to the heart and the lungs, and measuring heart rate. I also learned to perform multiple tests to diagnose patients with conditions, such as kidney failure, parasitic infection, urinary tract infection, STD, varicose veins, along with numerous other conditions commonly seen in the country of Nicaragua. Although I was given information about the common diseases and conditions before the trip, I learned the most when I got to the clinic site in the actual neighborhoods of the country. Listening and talking to the patients in person was an entirely different experience than just studying about them through PowerPoint slide presentations. 

This trip to Nicaragua with GMT was an invaluable experience for me, because it gave me a perspective on global healthcare and an awareness of the need for proper and adequate medical care all over the world. Before, I had known very little of the issue of global healthcare and the living conditions of the people in the less developed countries. But going to this trip has informed me about the definite needs around the world and it has strengthened my desire to share my set of hands with those in need. I also found out that I really enjoy interacting with people, whether it be with the patients or with other doctors. Looking at the eyes of the patients, I saw that they had a full trust in my ability to help them. And having their trust inspired me to do my very best. The fact that I was capable of relieving these people from pain energized and motivated me all throughout the clinic. This trip reaffirmed my desire of becoming a medical doctor, and I now cannot see myself doing anything else but spending the rest of my life to serve others. I feel very lucky to have gone to this trip, and I want to thank my parents and GMT for giving me an opportunity to visit Nicaragua. It was truly a life-changing experience.

Survival Kit for Premeds: Physics

Physics is notorious for being one of the most tough subjects, especially for life science majors. Going into my first class of the physics series (Physics 6A), I was really nervous. Since my high school didn’t offer AP Physics, the only physics class I had taken was a regular physics class during my junior year that was very conceptual with little math calculations involved. Here are a couple of things I learned from my first quarter of physics at UCLA.

1) Previewing the material beforehand is very helpful. If you can set aside some time before the start of the quarter to preview the chapters that will be covered in class, you will definitely be able to understand the concepts more easily when the professor goes over them in class. Also, preview the material covered by the lecture before going to lecture. It will keep you from getting lost during lecture, especially if your professor is not a native speaker.

2) Do ALL of the masteringphysics homework problems. I don’t know if my professor was the only one who uses the homework problems for the exams, but he used the same exact problems from the homework numerous times. Make sure you know how to do all of the homework problems within 15 minutes each. The midterms are only 50 minutes long with 4 problems, and I assure you,, they can get a little bit stressful because of the time pressure.

3) Get a solution manual for the textbook. The solutions to the homework problems are posted after the deadline, which often times is too late for you to look and study off of for the midterms and finals. It’s better to just get the solution manual yourself, so that you’ll have it right there when you need it. But don’t be tempted to look at the solution manual every time you get stuck on a problem. Try to solve the questions on your own first, then check the answers. I realized that unlike other subjects, like biology, chemistry, or math, physics requires a longer critical thinking period. It wasn’t uncommon that I spend 30 minutes or longer to solve one single problem. With my short attention span and impatience, I struggled with this aspect of physics, but I think I kind of got used to it by the end of the quarter.

4) Visit the test bank for practice midterms and finals. As with any other class, it is always helpful to have sample tests to practice with. Don’t let these practice tests go to waste though! Set aside the allotted time to do each test like you would during the actual test. Time yourself and grade your tests right afterwards. Trust me. It will help you during the actual test. Sometimes, the professors will post a practice test online, but from my experience, those tests are easier than the actual test. So, do visit the test bank, and it may actually save your grade.

Physics was definitely one of the hardest classes that I took last quarter, but I noticed that the more time I spend on physics, the more I understood the concepts. I remember thinking to myself, “when will physics ever get easy?” but physics was a constant struggle for me until the very end. Good thing that the class is curved. Physics is hard for most people, if not everyone. To those who will be taking physics 6 series in the near future, stay on top of the material covered in class and don’t ever give up! You’ll be done with physics before you know it!

Dodgers Stadium


Before coming to LA, I made a bucket list of things I want to do in LA that I never had a chance to do anywhere else. Recently, I crossed off one of them: watching a game at the Dodgers Stadium.

I never was a sports-watcher before coming to college. I did play/do multiple sports throughout my life, such as swimming, basketball, volleyball, ballet, and even gymnastics! But I never understood the point of watching games. The whole point of sports is to get some physical exercise off of it. If you are just sitting in front of the TV with a plate of wings and beer and just watching people play the game, you are not gaining anything except a few pounds around your waist. Well, at least that’s how I had felt about sports PRIOR to going to this game.

Going to the Dodgers Stadium changed my perspective on sports. Now I see why there are millions of people watching sports every night and I see why people are willing to pay over a hundred dollars to go watch a game.

Thanks to my boyfriend, a devout Dodgers fan, I got a chance to go to one of Dodgers games. I have to say, it was a whole lot different than what I had expected. First of all, I had no idea that stadiums were that big. I mean,,I knew they had to be big, but not THAT big. That Dodgers Stadium could fit over 55,000 people! Could you imagine how packed the parking lots were? There were so many cars there that we almost couldn’t find our way to the car after the game. Secondly, how do they keep the grass so green? It looked like every leaf of grass was grown and cut to perfection. And who would have thought there were that many varieties of hot dogs and burgers? It would take me years if I wanted to try them all.

It was definitely a good game to watch at the stadium, with Dodgers hitting multiple home-run’s and winning the game. And now that I got myself a Dodgers cap, I am now officially a Dodgers fan.

Let’s go LA Dodgers!

Norcal Bliss

With just a week before going back down to LA to start school, I wanted to spend the last few days here in NorCal doing some of my favorite things: walking along the beach and hiking. Last weekend, my mom took a day off from her work to go hiking with me at the Henry Cowell Redwood State Park in Santa Cruz. It was the best day yet of my entire summer vacation. Wished I had done this earlier.

Santa Cruz is only 50 miles away from where I live, so it was only about an hour long drive from my house to the park. We arrived there at around 10 o’clock in the morning and we found a free parking space (yay!!) along the side, and we started wandering through the park. Not long after we headed into the park, we heard a distant train whistle. Feeling adventurous and curious, we went deeper into the forest, wishing to catch a glimpse of the train. 

Although we didn’t get to see the actual train, we found its railroad. We walked along the railroad to avoid getting lost in the woods, since we didn’t have a visitor’s map. With a couple more whistles here and there and no sight of any train, we were brought to a what seemed like an old train station.

The station had been renovated and it is actually the only station still in operation out of the 80+ train stations in Santa Cruz. It has two different trains. The steam train goes to the Bear Mountain in a round trip lasting about 1.5 hrs,  and the beach train takes you on a 3-hr ride to the Santa Cruz Beach Boardwalk along the San Lorenzo River. Walking around the station, I felt like I was transported to a mid-1800’s town. With the train station at the center, the little town also had multiple red barn-like buildings with over-sized boards inscribed “General Store” and “Chuckwagon Bar-B-Q,” and there were some lodging areas as well.

We eventually came out of the train station and went back into the woods again, where we found a stream with beautifully sparkling water. We laid ourselves down on the bridge that went across the stream and listened to the water, the occasional train whistles, and the singing birds. Warm sunlight peaking through the woods. Soft, cool breeze. Simply perfect.

Am I ready for school now?

Premed Life: Shadowing Doctors


During the time I was back home for the summer, I had a chance to shadow a couple of local doctors and dentists. I had made previous arrangements months before through email and phone, and it was surprisingly difficult to find doctors who were available for shadowing. I got to shadow an orthodontist, an oral surgeon, an osteopathic doctor, and a plastic surgeon. I wished I had a chance to meet some pediatricians and family doctors, but hopefully I will get a chance back in LA.

> First of all, these were some of the things I kept in mind as I shadowed the physicians.

1. Get to the office 15 minutes early. You want to show them that you are respectful and reliable.

2. Dress semi-formally. You don’t need to go all out and wear dress shirt, dress pants, and high heels, but definitely no jeans.

3. Introduce yourself to other assistants and nurses by telling them that you are a premed student here to shadow Dr. X.

4. Do not touch anything unless you are asked to do so.

5. Take notes from time to time, but it is more important to actually watch and absorb what the doctor is doing. Take note of questions to ask later.

> Some general questions I asked the doctors:

1. How are your weekly hours? Does it vary every week? (may depend on whether they practice privately, or not.)

2. Which professional organizations are you associated with? Any local ones?

3. If you can go back, what would you have done differently during the process of acquiring your profession?

4. What is the single most difficult aspect of your profession? What is the best part?

5. What is your experience and opinion on the American medical insurance program?

6. Did you have to sacrifice your social life in college to become a doctor? If not, how did you balance out academics and extracurriculars?

7. Outside of clinical practice, do you also research? Do you enjoy it? Did you have previous research experience as an undergrad?

8. What are the pros and cons of working in a private office, as opposed to a large hospital?


As I shadowed these physicians, I realized a couple of things.

I want to work in a private office, rather than in a hospital, because you are given more freedom and control over your practice (number of patients seen per day, number of hours per week, hiring staff members, etc.). And I think it is a nice idea to open a family-run office if your spouse is also a physician. The D.O. I shadowed shared a private office with his wife, who was a Psychiatrist and a Hypnotist. It was a pleasant sight to see an elderly couple working together and spending time together. They seemed like such a lovely couple^^

I want to be a kind of a doctor that takes care of relatively smaller number of patients for extended periods of time(perhaps a family doctor?). The orthodontist and the D.O. whom I shadowed had known most of their patients for years and were friends with the patients’ families. I would love to build intimate and personal relationships with my patients, and really become their friend, rather than just a doctor they visit when they are sick.

You REALLY have to want it to be it.

There is nothing more miserable than doing all of this hard work to get into a medical school and to become a doctor, only to find yourself unhappy with your profession afterwards. This profession is not for someone who is not willing to pour out their time and to fully dedicate into helping others. I can see that this road I have taken is not an easy nor a fast one. It will take a good 9-12 more years until I can maybe find myself in a white gown. But through this experience, I feel that I am a step closer to knowing that this is what I want to do for the rest of my life.

Tour D’Elegance

Every third week of August, these is a car show in the area I live in NorCal. This annual event is called Pebble Beach Tour D’Elegance, and although I’ve lived here for the last 9 years of my life, this year was the first time I decided to actually check it out. My cousin came over to visit me and she’s going to be here for a couple of weeks and I thought, why not try something new? After all, this car show has apparently been called the World Series, Super Bowl, or Olympics of automotive universe.

The traffic was horrible. We drove to a neighboring town called Carmel-by-the-sea, which usually takes me about 10 minutes to drive to, and it took us well over 30 minutes. We thought, well this car show must be something.

When we finally got there, all of the street parking spaces were filled (no surprise there), and we barely managed to find  parking at market&deli. We picked up some creme sodas, perfect for the sunny weather, and we were off to the car show.

This annual car show presented by Rolex features vintage cars from all over the world. Every year, about 200 cars and motorcycles are chosen to compete at the competition called Concours, where automobiles are judged for originality, engine condition, design/style, and age. It’s not about speed, but about excellence. It’s about who was able to keep the car the closest to its original state.

This years Pebble Beach Concours d’Elegance featured cars of various marques and classes, such as Lincoln Custom Coachwork, Vanvooren Coachwork, Simplex, Aston Martin Centennial, Lamborghini, Ferrari, Porsche 911, BMW 507, and etc. I saw the years on these antique cars and some of these cars are really old! How they are still rolling puzzles me.

It was such a fun day for me and my cousin to spend a sunny day outside to see all of these luxurious cars. It made me feel like I had been missing out for the past 9 years I’ve lived here. But at least now I know to come out here to Carmel every year during the third week of August! Definitely going back next year.