Oops, (UW)I Did it Again

Despite claiming in February that the refurbished halls will not priced out of the range of a student budget, the UWI has implemented a 30% increase in hall fees on the recently remodeled Irvine Hall, a traditional hall of residence at UWI, Mona.

Earlier this year, Principal Archibald McDonald asserted that the cost of the new fees would first be approved by the UWI council. But in July a group of students started a petition to protest the unfair price hike of 30% for the new buildings. Deputy Principal Ishenkumba Kahwa argued that the fee increase only affected the minority of students who would be assigned to these new accommodations, mostly those in their final year. He added that subsidies would be considered on a case by case basis, saying (unwisely) that there are student who can afford the new cost.

I have noticed over the last few years or so that UWI has developed the habit of using financial means as an unofficial matriculation requirement. I first noticed it with medical school where students who didn’t make the cut for the government subsidy would be offered a place at the full-fee tuition (meaning if you can afford it, you’re in). Then lately, their costs of accommodation have steadily been increasing, with the addition of several new (and therefore expensive) halls. The traditional halls like Mary Seacole, Irvine, Chancellor and Taylor were substantially less expensive, less well-maintained and had obvious limitations on number but they provided an option for students who needed on-campus lodgings.

While it is high time these older halls were refurbished, I do think more could have been done to offset the cost of refurbishing so that the student wouldn’t have to absorb such a significant increase in price. The cost of accommodations on campus increases annually anyway, but I can imagine that many students didn’t budget for this level of inflation. And it is unfair that final year students who should be concentrating on completing their degree are now forced to find extra funds to pay the raised price or risk being barred from their exams for owing money to the university.

It is unfair, but unsurprising. University is a business, after all, and the bottom line is profit. Those who can afford it will always pay, and it makes no never mind that we are once again headed in the direction of elitist education that is limited to foreigners and the upper class.

 

 

Sources: here, here and here.

Should you go to Med School? Probably not.

Medicine has long enjoyed its reputation as a distinguished and well-respected profession with an assortment of perks. Not just in Jamaica but worldwide, doctors rank up there with lawyers and politicians in the hierarchy of  ‘jobs you want your kids to have’. Children with even a mediocre aptitude for science get pushed into medicine and often for the wrong reasons. If you want to be a doctor because you “like helping people” or just so you can put that “Dr” in front of your name you probably shouldn’t go to medical school.

If you like helping people that’s awesome, but you have to be realistic about what exactly you’re working toward and what that work involves. (If you just want the fancy title, get out now). I’m not trying to discourage anyone from becoming a doctor but I do think it needs to be said that being a doctor isn’t for everyone. Similarly, being a garbage collector or plumber isn’t for everyone. And yet someone has to do it. You can appreciate this comparison once you understand that the way we ascribe meaning to jobs is totally arbitrary and ultimately pointless.

People who create immense joy and inspiration like musicians or writers are not revered or compensated equivalent to the value of the work they produce. Conversely our government leaders who exist to serve the tax-payers who elected them are revered and compensated entirely out of proportion to the work they don’t produce.

The bottom line is this: If you could be guaranteed the same amount of wealth and respect by working as a grass cutter (or any other underpaid job), would you still want to be a doctor?

If you said yes, be prepared for a lifetime of hard fucking work. Getting accepted to medical school is only the first hurdle, and it’s a pretty big one. You need the right grades and a decent collection of co-curricular activities. In today’s society it helps if you know the right people. The sheer number of applicants to medical schools annually is staggering; competition is fierce and it will be like this for most of your career.

Aside: If you don’t get into medical school it isn’t the end of the world. If after reading this article and doing your research you decide that you 110% want to do medicine there are ways and means. And you’re young, you have so much time. If after the soul-searching and the research you decide it isn’t for you then congratulations! Go do something that makes your heart sing.

Let’s say you get accepted to medical school here at the University of the West Indies. If your parents can’t afford to, you now have to figure out how to finance all five years of your education. A part-time job is out of the question because you won’t have the time, scholarships are hard to come by and student loans are expensive to repay. Where do you turn then?

Let’s say you decide to take out a student loan. Now you have to hit the ground running with your studies. Medical school is essentially a brain dump of information, most of which has to be memorized until you can understand it enough to apply it. There is constant competition among your peers in tutorials and exams and a stifling atmosphere of one-upmanship. The pressure to continuously outperform your colleagues rarely lets up. Starting here and continuing for a good half of your career, sleep will become a hypothetical concept.

Once you graduate, you’re staring down the barrel of what will probably be the worst year of your life. Internship is a grueling marathon of stamina and skill with the added weight of being responsible for people’s lives. And halfway through the year, if you took out loans, the Student Loan Bureau will come knocking.

If you decide to pursue postgraduate studies, you’re looking at another 3-5 years of school, loans and now trying to balance your family life (probably) with your career and education. If you don’t pursue postgraduate studies, your marketability plummets and your pay grade stagnates. Either way you will probably go prematurely gray from the stress of it all.

If you’re still not re-considering, you’re likely thinking one of the following thoughts:

But doctors are rich!

Unless they inherited wealth (which admittedly, a good many doctors do) doctors aren’t rich. For an average Joe from a lower to middle income family, it takes several hours of overtime to maintain the lifestyle the public usually associates with doctors, especially in the early years of a career. In the grand scheme of income rates, Jamaican doctors get paid very poorly compared to our international counterparts (even South African doctors get more money than we do). But there a lot of different factors influencing how much money you make, most importantly post-graduate study.

But doctors are well-liked/respected!

This is true to some extent. Certainly doctors have special privileges: people smile at you more (people smile at puppies a lot too), you can stand as a character reference (so can ministers of religion) and banks tend to want to lend you money (it’s a trap, Jim). But like Uncle Ben said, with great power comes great responsibility. And if you slip up even once it’s a long way down.

But doctors are _______!

It doesn’t make sense to generalize. The experience of the doctors you have so far been in contact with will not be your experience. The field of medicine is constantly changing and rapidly evolving. It isn’t now what it was fifty or even ten years ago. Technology makes things easier and harder, popularity and accessibility make competition a hundred times fiercer, and regulatory bodies have turned medicine into a business, always looking at the bottom line.

The volatile landscape of the medical profession demands a special kind of adventurous spirit who does their research beforehand. Map your territory. Talk to a medical student, talk to a young doctor, talk to an older doctor, shadow them at work, flip through a medical journal, visit a hospital. Get a feel for the shoes you’ll be walking in.

And after you’ve done all that, talk to yourself. If you have a keen interest in helping people, if you love challenges and relish hard work (and care very little for sleep), if you’re naturally competitive and have a good head for business with a passable understanding of the human body then medicine might be the career for you. Otherwise, set your sights elsewhere. Preferably something in line with your natural inclinations.

Might I suggest Banking and Finance?

6 Reasons I’d Never Live on Rex Nettleford and 1 Reason I Would

Disclaimer: This was written back when I used to live on campus; I dug it out of my drafts folder for posting at the time of year when people are thinking about where to live.

Rex Nettleford Hall of Residence on the UWI Mona campus was once the crème de la crème. Everyone who was anyone wanted to live there and everyone who was someone did. But Rex celebrated their tenth anniversary last year with flagging spirits and waning enthusiasm. The torch of hypeness has been passed on to the newcomers Towers (Elsa Leo Rhynie Hall) and New Postgrad (Marlene Hamilton Hall).

But even in the heyday of Rexan fortitude, I still wouldn’t have wanted to stay there. Here are six reasons why.

1. The hall fees are not the most economical. Last year, the 9 month stay on the 900 strong hall costed $214,120. (Seacole’s single room fees by comparison: $180,200).

hallfees
Hall fees 2013-2014 by Hall and Room Type

2. Hot water depends on the weather. Rex’s water heaters are solar powered, meaning no hot water if the sun don’t shine. I live and breathe hot water. Maslov left it off his hierarchy by accident. Seacole’s hot water is like the U.S. Postal Service: sun, rain, sleet or snow, I will always be toasty in the shower.

3. The rooms are SO TINY. A Rex room holds a single bed, a closet, a desk and a tiny shelf, all touching edges. It’s about half the size of my room on Seacole, and I’m not even exaggerating for the purposes of this list.

4. The laundry has opening and closing hours. How do you beat the crowd? You don’t. The freedom to do laundry at 2AM is on the Bill of Human Rights. In the fine print. Trust me on this. I’ll be making an independent inquiry.

5. The walls are paper thin. Privacy is a concept. On a flat, everyone always knows what everyone else is doing. Listening to Vibes Kartel? I can sing along with the lyrics. Using the bathroom? I can hear you pooping. That kind of intimacy is. . . undesirable.

6. 900 strong. Rex has always boasted the largest residence of any other hall on campus – claiming to be able to house 900 students. I’m pretty sure this number has dwindled over the years because their milkshake no longer brings all the boys to the yard, but they still house an impressive number of people. Which makes me distinctly uncomfortable. I’m not the biggest fan of large crowds so the 200 or so girls that live on Seacole feel more like a family than anything else.

Despite all the negatives (which I suppose could be positives to someone somewhere), there is one thing Rex has over Seacole*:

1. You only share amenities with 7 other people. I would gladly give up the 30 girls to a kitchen/bathroom aspect of Seacole life for Rex’s controlled 8-person chaos.

*The fact that my boyfriend lives on Rex almost made the list, but I realized that wouldn’t have been a plus to anyone else but me.

UWI: Bastion of Upper Class Academia

The University of the West Indies Mona is building yet another new hall, a third post graduate residence right beside the first post-graduate residence on Gerald Lalor flats. The multiple high rise buildings are in the same style of Towers (Elsa Leo Rhynie) and New Postgrad (Marlene Hamilton): 6 floors apiece with central staircase. Cookie-cutter condos, I call them, but without the grandeur.

But this isn’t news. September last year, UWI signed a deal with K Limited (parent company of 138 Student Living which is building the behemoths) which would see the university providing land for the company to build housing accommodations on. After a period of time (unspecified) the company would then hand over the buildings to the UWI ‘free of cost’ in ‘good condition’.

This business is disturbing on a number of levels.

First, Professor Archibald, Princpal of UWI, has said that this partnership represents a new direction in tertiary education funding. He’s expecting an increase in the enrollment of international students who can ‘pay their own fees’, hence the gung-ho enthusiasm about ‘world class accommodations’. These international students will offset the burden so that the university can offer grants and scholarships to Jamaican students who cannot afford university.

So he says.

It sounds nice, but how realistic is this pipe dream? How many international students are willing to come to a Caribbean university with very little clout in the global workforce? Is our accreditation valuable when they return home or go further abroad in search of business opportunities? Aside from housing, what else is the university doing to entice international students? I’m not seeing much going on.

Then, will an increase in international students really translate to an increase in the financial resources available to Jamaican students? Maybe I’m jaded by Jamaican bureaucracy but I don’t see that happening. Our academic and political leaders have glib tongues; so good at soothing our ears and lining their pockets.

Third, while the property belongs to UWI the buildings belong to 138 Student Living who will reap returns on the rent paid over. Not that I’m concerned about the state of the university’s coffers (except as it relates to them justifying yet another outrageous hike in tuition fees), but how much of the rent will the university get from this arrangement? Then when the buildings are turned over to the university after an unspecified length of time I doubt they will be in anything resembling ‘good condition’. This just means more financial losses for the university.

(Memba when Rex did jus buil? Only ten years later, it start to look jus as pop dung as the rest of them. There is no building in the world that can withstand the natural disaster that is the University Student).

One thing that reinforces my distrust is the price tag attached to these new halls. According to Aldeam Facey from Life as a Jamaican, the cost of rent per month is touted as $395 U.S. dollars (~$46,000 JMD). Not even our tuition is quoted in Jamaican dollars these days, sadly. How is the average Jamaican student supposed to afford this cost of living? Those grants and scholarships Professor Archibald was going on about rarely cover accommodation costs and will only help a select few.

According to Aldeam (again), the residence is being marketed to ‘graduate students, medical interns, residents and Norman Manley Law School students’. With a setup painfully reminiscent of hall life (check out the Virtual Tour on their website), I don’t see anyone who’s already been through university clamoring to sign up. Unlike Marlene Hamilton hall (new Post Grad), kitchen and dining room facilities are shared. You only get your own bathroom (a tiny one, it looks like) and the list of prohibited items is extensive. Sounds like undergrad all over again.

And 138 Student Living isn’t stopping at one new hall of residence. They have their sights set on demolishing and rebuilding Irvine hall (notorious for being one of the more affordable halls on campus). And when the Gleaner asked about similar plans for the other traditional halls (Chancellor, Seacole, Taylor), the chairman said he would wait and see.

All this is leading me to conclude that the university is starting on a path of exclusion and exclusivity. Once, not so long ago, tertiary education was the domain of the upper class because of the prohibitive costs. Is history repeating itself? Are we going to reach a point where the ever expanding lower class will be barred from getting higher education (and thus launching themselves out of poverty)?

Tell you what. I’ll wait and see.

For Shari, who asked about WJC

What are some other things you liked that Mona Western had to offer, that Mona didn’t? (pro/cons of both campuses).

You guys, this is my absolute favourite topic (barring Doctor Who, Jane Austen, The Bloggess, and also right now Hozier).

The Western Jamaica Campus was like a second home to me. I loved the people, the campus and the atmosphere; I am hopelessly biased. But I will try to give you some amount of objective information (don’t take my word as gospel, guys).

Starfish
That time we found a starfish at the beach.

Disclaimer: This post is written based on my rose-coloured memories of life at WJC some 3+ years ago. The Todd just reminded me that life at WJC was actually not all that awesome.

We had to fight for some basic requirements (good sized classroom, proper streaming, actual anatomy specimens), and a lot of the time we were doing the best we could with what we had. What made it easier to bear was the relaxed, ready-to-help atmosphere of the western campus and the gorgeous, gorgeous surroundings.

wave goodbye

Additionally, things might have changed for better or for worse. You can get up to date information on WJC happenings from their Facebook page or on their blog, The WJC Insider.

Let’s get into that pro/con list.

WJC vs Mona

WJC Mona
Class sizes small – 20-30 people Class sizes HUGE – 200-400 people
Student:specimen and student:teacher ratio relatively good Brand new anatomy lab with lots of space and small group sessions
Tutors are (usually) readily available Lecturers have dedicated office hours, more students to compete with
Lectures are all streamed via network that might not work Lectures live or streamed depending on lecture theatre
Consultants teach anatomy Mostly residents and anatomists teach anatomy
Have to travel to Kingston for major labs No travelling required
Small, close-knit group of people Sprawling campus; easy to disappear
Breathtaking view of the Bay/beach/airport Mountains. Sometimes cold.
Hall of residence has a pool Campus pool that is currently out of service
Some clubs, some diversity of students Wide variety of clubs, wide range of nationalities etc.
The beach is RIGHT THERE. Liguanea is right there?
Less social events, almost no night life (except Hip Strip) Everything happens in Kingston. No, seriously.

WJC actually seems to come off worse in the comparison (sadface) but again I’m not exactly a valid or reliable judge (I’m actually a notoriously unreliable judge – ask anyone). If there are other specific concerns you have about either campus, feel free to post them in the comments or even call the campus of interest (I don’t have all the answers, guys, sorry) and share their response here.

Much love,

Robyn

For Christiane, who asked a Really Big Question

Dear Robyn,

I am from Trinidad and I got accepted into medical school at Mona. Could you tell me all that I need to know concerning medical school and how to care for myself while I am in Jamaica? Tell me how you managed because this is a new experience for me and I could use all the help and advice I can get.

Dear Christiane,

First off, congratulations on getting into medical school! (Or condolences, depending on how long you’ve been following this blog).

I want you to know that there is no simple answer to your questions. Five years into medical school and twenty-odd years of living in Jamaica and I’m still figuring most of this stuff out. A lot of your experiences here will be trial- and trial- and trial-and-error because they will likely be very unique experiences. (It is best to embrace this fact from now).

The best I can do is give you a few sweeping generalizations. (If you would like more specific answers, please leave specific questions in the comments)

I don’t know where to begin so I’m giving you your very own blog post (yay!) for people to comment on and share their own bits of advice. My hope is that this will turn into a giant crowd-sourced repository of advice for surviving and thriving medical school at UWI Mona (your place to shine!) much like my other (massively supported, I love you guys) post on medical school. (I will love you guys even if there is no support on this post).

I’ll kick-start the discussion with what I’m hoping are the starts of answers to your very valid, questions and share the links to some posts where I’ve gone in depth on a few topics.

New experiences are scary! And exciting! There’s so much potential, so much could go wrong; you want to run towards it with your arms wide open or hide with your teddy bear in a blanket fort (the teddy does not judge). I understand your need to feel prepared, but there’s no possible way to prepare for everything. What follows is my (hopeful) guide to keeping you alive and reasonably sane.

Medical School

See my (mostly) comprehensive post here: What is UWI medical school like?

Generally speaking, medical school = university + dead bodies and loads of studying.

Aside from the dead bodies, it’s pretty much like any other science major. Get used to the smell of formalin, and studying all the time. If studying all the time is your bag, congrats! If not, you will need to do some degree of adjusting.

First year med students hit the ground running with the sheer volume of information they’re expected to absorb and regurgitate, and the sad part is you will forget most of it. Later on in your 4th and final years some of it will actually start to make sense. Accept this fact from now.

Keep yourself healthy. This means physically, emotionally and mentally. Eat right and get some kind of exercise – foster the good habits early, or you will end up being the intern with a stomach ulcer who collapses on the job (true story).

Have appropriate outlets for your emotions; suicide is a very real danger for people in this career. Some/most med students study hard and party harder as a way of stress-relief. Find your stress-reliever and hold on to it with both hands (and feet, and your teeth too. Don’t let that fucker go).

Medical school is very self-directed; what you put in is what you get out. You should have a reasonable idea of what you want and what kind of doctor you want to be. The guiding light in med school is not passing exams, it’s being a clinician. You’re going to need to prioritize your activities (academic and co-curricular) according to the type of person you want to be when you graduate.

That sounds a little heavy.

My point is, when you’re confronted with decisions that seem hard or information that seems pointless (a lot of it will seem pointless in first and second year, it’s hard to tell the difference) the choices you make now will influence what kind of doctor you are five years down the line.

I’m not telling you to stay in the anatomy lab until midnight every night (unless that’s what you want to do – no judgment there), just be aware of the difference between your short-term wants and your long-term wants.

And make friends. Making friends in medical school is awesome. You need people to get your weird med school jokes, and to commiserate about how horrible this all is and why didn’t you just do business.

Taking Care in Jamaica

Jamaica is pretty much the same as everywhere else, except slightly scary and dirty and people harass you if you’re not from here. So, pretty much the same as everywhere else.

Stay clean, keep hydrated and don’t be an obvious target*. If you need to eat, bear in mind that food is expensive here (blame the IMF and our sliding dollar). If you need somewhere to live, you can read my post on student housing.

Hang out with people who don’t do medicine (you will need the break). Living on hall is a good way to meet those people. Get involved! University is a much more fulfilling experience when you’re involved in things you’re passionate about with people who are similarly passionate.

Something I wish I had known – you can do whatever you want as a medical student, especially in first and second year. Med school is not an amputation of your life outside of medicine. You can write songs, start a charity, go to Literature classes, join a professional dance company. If it’s your passion – go for it!

I hope I managed to answer at least some small part of your questions.

Much love,

Robyn

**

*Not being an obvious target = keep your wits about you, read all the campus security bulletins/advice, trust your instincts (unless you have bad instincts, in which case I would suggest not trusting your instincts). 

**

Advice from my classmates include:

First, would be not to worry about getting all the books that are required. The library is reliable and you will meet fellow students that will help you, so travel light if you can. Always have a working phone with credit. Take time to enjoy what the island has to offer, and be balanced with work, family and friends.

And of course. . .

Don’t. Go. 

Run as far away as possible.

Back to the House of God: some short reflections

1.

Final exams loom, a distressingly diminishing number of days away. Calendars are the enemy now and every sunset inspires a mixture of awe and resentment. Days and weeks and months are finite, fickle creatures.

2.

I reread Samuel Shem’s cynical exposé on medical training in North America because I needed to remind myself what I was working toward in the weeks after exams. House of God isn’t a particularly encouraging novel, but throughout the story hope rises like the Wing of Zock: unstoppable and overpowering.

3.

In this season of fasting (not Lent) I will have to give up so many of my vices: novels, writing, the internet, sleep. Oh, sleep, I will miss you. A fourth year student asked me what I would do come June 3 when the last of my exams are over.

“I’d run naked,” she suggested. Oblivious to our incredulity, she continued. “As I walk out of the exam, I’d be unhooking my bra, pulling down the straps.” She trailed off in slow-motion speech, lost in a fantastical daydream.

I intend to sleep the sleep of the guilt-free. It’s been so long since I had guilt-free sleep, I’m probably going to get an ulcer. Just one time I would like to put my head on a pillow and not have the voice in my head (which sounds uncannily like one of my friends) demand that I cease this nonsense and get on with studying.

4.

This morning while waiting on the bus that shuttles us to the hospital, I stared across the expanse of sea and horizon, thinking.

I feel like I’m being wound-up, I wrote in my journal, like an old-fashioned wrist watch. Will I fall apart when the time comes, or spring smoothly into action like some well-oiled gears?

Do any of us know how we will perform when we need to? I think everyone feels some tension at this point, regardless of ambition. Even those of us who are certain of passing (there are always some) are still anxious about graduating with honours or distinctions.

There’s so much at stake, so much at risk. I calm myself by remembering that this too shall pass.

*

P. S.

Thursdays have sort of turned into book sharing time, so I’m sorry if this wasn’t what you expected. But! If you read this far, know that I have been reading way more fiction than I should, and if you want a recommendation Neil Gaiman’s Trigger Warning is absolute soul-disturbing perfection and you should go read it now (Also, he and Amanda are pregnant so yay).

It’s so rare that I recommend a newly published book – am I doing it right?