Raven's Round Table
Biology professor Dr. Aikaterini Skokotas, alumna Saarah Hussain, and students Krista Vadaketh, Heemali Kamdar and Brittney Shupp got together one night after an alumni talk to discuss their experiences in the pre-med program and what they love most about it.
Katerina Skokotas: Looking back at your education at Rosemont College and in particular the biology department, how well prepared were you for medical school?
Saarah Hussain: Rosemont definitely prepared me well for medical school. Dr. Skokotas has truly shaped the biology department to provide a first-class, high-level education that is both challenging and incredibly fascinating! While intimidating at first, all of her courses provide an excellent basis for medical school curricula, and her in-class presentations instilled in me a sense of confidence and diligence with regards to research and scientific presentation. Rosemont’s power of small allowed me to matriculate to the largest medical school in the nation, and approach this challenging field with confidence and excitement!
Katerina Skokotas: Rosemont College embraces the "Power of small". How did this benefit you in the biology department?
Krista Vadaketh: Because of the “Power of Small,” I felt I was always able to come to Dr. Skokotas for anything. Beginning with the first week of my freshman year and continuing through my last year here at Rosemont, I have always been able to stop by her office for anything ranging from help with planning which classes to take, to preparing me for the MCAT, or for help adjusting to college life.
Heemali Kamdar:The "Power of Small" really captures the culture of the Science Department at Rosemont College. Ever since I was a freshman at this college, I've never felt intimidated or alone in my journey to academic success. With the never ending stream of conferences, meetings, and just impromptu chats in the hallway, I always felt extremely comforted and content with my relationship with her as a professor.
Brittney Shupp: Having so much one on one interaction with Dr. Skokotas has been extremely beneficial. It is also great because she understand my strengths and weaknesses, she know how I am doing in my classes, and truly does understand what my goals are in life and therefore are able to guide me and support me as I journey to achieve them.
Brittney Shupp: How has it benefited you as a professor to have a better familiarity with your students?
Katerina Skokotas: "The Power of Small" allows me to get to know my students and for my students to get to know me in return. This results in a more meaningful student mentor relationship that is maintained long after graduating from Rosemont. In addition, better familiarity with my students leads to better advising where I can tailor their coursework according to their program of interest. And last but not least, I can highlight their strengths when writing a letter of recommendation for medical school thereby increasing the likelihood of acceptance.
Brittney Shupp: Do you think you benefit from having smaller biology labs?
Katerina Skokotas: Yes, absolutely. The small class size makes it easier for students to ask questions and allows me to get immediate feedback on their level of understanding for the subject matter. This way, I can easily gauge student learning and adjust my lecture accordingly. This is especially true in the laboratory setting where I can measure my students' strengths and weakness and offer them individualized attention.
Katerina Skokotas: Did the courses taught in the biology department prepare you well for the MCAT?
Krista Vadaketh: The courses taught in Rosemont’s biology department helped me tremendously and were, in fact, crucial and essential for the MCAT. Dr. Skokotas’ classes are rigorous and challenging but at the same time interesting and thought-provoking. The small details she strongly emphasizes to her students are the details that helped me understand the many biological concepts I was tested on during the MCAT exam.
Heemali Kamdar: I couldn't thank Dr. Skokotas enough for the strong foundation she built for all of us who took the MCAT, because the amount of studying we were forced to do in order to score well on her exams was exactly what helped us strengthen our knowledge for the biology section of the MCAT. She also made us think outside of a textbook, and helped us learn how different mechanisms work, which many professors are not known to do.
Brittney Shupp: By far, I had the easiest time studying for the biological sciences section of the MCAT. Since I have been given the opportunity to take such a wide variety of science courses, I felt like I had a very strong foundation to begin my studying and had the chance to focus more time on other sections that I had been struggling with. I felt extremely prepared and confident when it came to taking the biological sciences section of the MCAT, and I attribute a great deal of that confidence to Rosemont’s biology department.
Katerina Skokotas: How did this experience of conducting research/or honors projects with me enhance your learning and strengthen your position during the admission process to medical schools?
Krista Vadaketh: I’ve learned to be more organized, methodical, and efficient throughout the entire research process. Dr. Skokotas has given me many opportunities to present at conferences at the medical school level, which have greatly strengthened my public speaking skills and have also gotten me assimilated in being in that prestigious scientific environment.
Heemali Kamdar: The research she had us conduct was the perfect combination of independent work with her leadership. This allowed the students to feel comfortable with the work we were conducting, as well as confident during our presentations. Rehearsing the presentations with her really helped with my speaking skills in a professional environment, which ended up showing during my interviews.
Brittney Shupp: Medical schools love to see when applicants have completed research because it shows that the applicants know how to apply the information that they have learned in their biology classes and also know how to approach and solve various different problems, this is something I know I have gained from conducting research and completing honors projects with Dr. Skokotas.
Katerina Skokotas: Saarah, you conducted research with me. How was this experience helpful to you in medical school?
Saarah Hussain: Research was absolutely one of the best opportunities of my Rosemont experience. Prior to that, I had always seen myself as a clinician- I would just want to work with patients in a clinic or hospital. However, after doing research, I learned that medicine is started in the laboratory! Doing research with Dr. Skokotas helped me discover a passion for research, and allowed me to pursue a research opportunity at Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia this past summer, working on pediatric neuroblastoma, the most common solid tumor in children.
Heemali Kamdar: What lead you to become so passionate for the field that involves molecular biology and genetics?
Katerina Skokotas: Since I was an undergraduate student, I was interested in understanding the mechanism that causes disease at the cell level. My hope being that knowledge of the exact mechanism of disease may one day lead to a cure. This passion led me to study the genome at the molecular level.
Krista Vadaketh: How has your research in coordination with Thomas Jefferson University developed since you offered the opportunity to your students to help conduct this research?
Katerina Skokotas: My collaboration with Dr. Winter at Thomas Jefferson University began in 2008. That year, I only had one Rosemont student conducting research with me, whereas today I have 5-6 students each semester conducting research in my laboratory. To this date, 27 students have conducted research with me on 8 different projects and have presented their results in numerous local and national conferences, three of which have won awards. Furthermore, this research has resulted in two papers published in the prominent peer-reviewed journal Molecular Cell Biology.
Heemali Kamdar: What drives you to teach the amount of advanced level science classes that you have been teaching for the past years?
Katerina Skokotas: I actually enjoy teaching both introductory and advanced courses. It is very rewarding for me to observe a student's progress through the years and witness their personal and professional transformation. But advanced courses allow me to delve deeper into a specialized topic and connect the concepts taught in other courses.
Krista Vadaketh: Would you say you have a good record of guiding your students to achieving their dreams to successfully getting accepted into medical school?
Katerina Skokotas: I would have to say yes considering that 94% of students that were in the 3+4 or Early Assurance Program with Drexel University Medical School were either accepted in an allopathic or osteopathic medicine school.
BS Rosemont has a program with Drexel Medical School and Philadelphia College of Osteopathic Medicine, what do you think these programs help say about Rosemont's biology department?
Katerina Skokotas: I think it clearly says we have a strong program in biology with a proven record. We not only prepare students through challenging coursework but also enhance their learning by offering Honors courses, Honors research projects, and research opportunities in cell yeast genetics and ecology and environmental studies.
Saarah Hussain: What would you advise for a student who thinks he or she wants to do something in healthcare, but really isn't sure?
Katerina Skokotas: It is important for all biology students to either do an internship or conduct research in order to determine if this is the right fit for them. Shadowing a doctor or a health care professional and/or volunteering in a hospital is highly recommended and is a requirement for certain programs. For this reason, this experiential component is now a requirement for the major.
Katerina Skokotas: What suggestions do you have for the current students who are interested in medical school?
Saarah Hussain: Get as much experience in the medical field as you can! Shadowing, research, volunteering- all of these experiences are great to have on your medical school applications, but they are even better at allowing you to explore medicine in ways you may have never known existed! You will discover new aspects of medicine that may, one day, prove to be your career choice.