The Secret Ingredient for a Successful Career in Science

Claire Barton '14
Claire Barton '14

I’m a fourth-year medical student at the beginning of the residency interview season. This exciting—though albeit, chaotic— time has me bouncing between caring for patients, sitting for standardized tests, and presenting myself as an ideal doctor-to-be to numerous residency programs. During the occasional quiet moment to myself, I like to reflect on how I got here, on the process of successfully becoming—well, nearly becoming—a physician.

I’m not the person who told everyone I wanted to be a doctor since I was five years old. I found myself gravitating toward science at an early age, from collecting acorns in the woods to making non-Newtonian fluids at Girl Scout camp. It’s not my only passion; I enjoy performance through music and theatre, and the challenge of deciphering foreign languages. 

Luckily, I found Hamilton, a place where I had the freedom to explore all of my interests while still making steady progress toward a bright future. I studied biology, but also French and theatre; I played my violin in the orchestra; I DJed for and managed WHCL. Instead of locking myself into a track as “pre-med,” I sought out experiences that challenged me to think in different ways. 

In fact, I didn’t declare myself as “pre-med” until the end of my sophomore year. Even then I was still riveted by biology and continued to consider the possibility of becoming a Ph.D like some of my mentors. I arranged my life at Hamilton with an eye toward medicine, but I didn’t put on blinders.

As a senior, with graduation hurtling toward me at an uncomfortably brisk pace, I thought I had made a grave mistake. Pursuing positions in basic research with the ultimate plan of applying to medical school, I spent a lot of time scrutinizing my scientific achievements, assuming that my knowledge of biology and chemistry would be the most important lines on my resume. While these aspects of my education were certainly important—and the training I had at Hamilton exceptional—they were requisite. The “secret spice” that has helped me excel from job interviews to patient presentations in the hospital is an honored tradition at Hamilton: oratory.

As the keystone of a Hamilton education, oral presentation skills are crucial whether you major in comparative literature or chemistry. My “large” intro classes like Biology 101 culminated into presentations and my upper-level French seminars were practically a series of student mini-lectures. Hamilton rewards strong speaking skills with not one, but several speaking competitions every year, and no one walks across the map with cane in hand unless they present their senior thesis work in front of professors and peers.

In my post-Hamilton days, I’ve come to realize that this “ordinary” occurrence is extraordinary at other schools. My colleagues from large universities marvel at the notion that I not only had to show up to class, but also often contribute to the main content. Prompt and targeted feedback on these presentations—typical of any Hamilton class—was something that many of my peers hadn’t experienced until grad school, if at all.

This ability to communicate effectively is a kind of currency in the world of science, and my collegiate training has brought me much success beyond the Hill. Every step of the way, I’ve used these skills. When working in research, I shared my progress at weekly team meetings and impressed investigators who ultimately wrote my recommendation letters for medical school. In my medical training, I’ve won the confidence of patients and attending physicians alike with my clear and confident manner of speaking. Whether presenting patients on rounds, reviewing new journal articles with peers, or interviewing for residency positions, I use my presentation skills every day. 

Another graduation is now hurtling toward me, but this time is different. When I look back on the choices I’ve made, especially the ones at Hamilton, I feel confident that I’ve set myself up well for my future. There are still numerous obstacles ahead and much, much to learn, but I rest easy at night knowing that the speaking skills I honed at Hamilton will continue to help me forge my path to become the kind of family doctor I want to be.

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