I can’t emphasize enough how much you should try to aim for zero– show up, be competent, don’t try too hard. On the flip side, if you are forgettable, marginal, or just merely acceptable, you won’t ‘wow’ anyone and you won’t get letters of recommendation. Obviously, you should read and adhere to all of the How to be Successful series of posts. In addition to those concepts, here are some which will help make sure you Stand Out.
1) Ask questions. There can be a difficult balance between annoying, constantly questioning/bugging and curious, thoughtful, and engaged. Asking thoughtful questions indicates you understand the material and are interested in learning even more. You may ask any questions you like, and this is a great way to learn, but if you haven’t done the basic reading and work to understand the foundations of the topic at hand, you probably won’t stand out when you ask your questions. Conversely, try not to ‘wow’ people with the questions you ask- esoteric data and minutia can be all well and good, but whenever a student asks me a question like this, it is obvious that they are trying to suck up or stand out.
2) Help out. You may think faculty don’t notice all of your hard work, and maybe some of them don’t, but most of us keep a close eye on how hard working the students are. Help your classmates out whenever they need it. Teamwork is an essential skill for veterinary medicine- demonstrate that you care more about the team than yourself.
3) Don’t be silent. You don’t have to be the most outgoing, gregarious person but, if you are silent, you will almost surely fade into the background. You should be engaged when things are happening and learning opportunities occur. Be prepared to answer when you are asked a question. If you don’t know the answer for sure, you can hazard a guess. It is far preferable to make an educated guess than to be sitting in silence while the faculty waits for an answer. Participate participate participate.
4) Be energetic. Again, you don’t have to be an extrovert, but you DO have to look like you are happy to be working and learning. You’re in vet school or an internship or a residency- isn’t that AWESOME?!? You can’t be excited 24/7, particularly with some of the long, mentally taxing hours we work, but you CAN do your best to express your enthusiasm as often as possible. Students who are energetic and seem happy to be there make a far better impression than those who seem like they are just putting in their time.
5) Study. This may seem self-evident, which is why it’s not in the How to Be Successful series, but I am often amazed when students go home and then don’t study. Yes, you may be able to pass and do a fine job. But do you expect you will be able to excel, to stand out from the crowd? All vet students are above average and all interns much more so- if you want to stand out, you have to work, and part of this is studying when you go home or have down time.
I don’t want you to STRIVE to be outstanding or above the crowd- doing so will almost surely set you up for failure. However, I do want you to be AWARE of what you can do to be a remarkable student/intern/resident. Find the opportunities to do these things as they arise, but don’t force it into situations. If you had a long, tiring shift and try to force yourself to be energetic, it will come off as false and disingenuous.
These are some of the characteristics of the students whom I notice and for whom I am inclined to write positive letters of recommendation. What are some other characteristics you believe are important?