Danielle Sychowski ’19
Area(s) of Study
Double Major in Neuroscience and Psychology
Prospect Heights, Illinois
What made you choose Lake Forest College?
I had initially heard of Lake Forest College because I was recruited to play for the softball team. Growing up I always thought I wanted to pursue a career in medicine, so when I was doing my college searches, I wanted to make sure that wherever I ended up had a strong science program. I also knew I wanted to attend a college where professors were accessible, and I wasn't just one more face among hundreds of others in an auditorium lecture hall. Lake Forest College had such a comprehensive website, and I was able to learn more about the biology program and research that was being done on campus. I first visited Lake Forest during Brain Awareness Week, and I loved how the windows on the bridge of the then Johnson science building had a huge neuron painted across them (little did I know, I would be participating in Brain Awareness week for the next 4 years). I met so many wonderful faculty members, admissions staff, and students during my visit to Lake Forest College it immediately just felt like, "home".
How did a liberal arts education make a difference for you?
I was able to explore academic interests outside of the sciences at Lake Forest College. I took a Film and Religion class which was not only a nice break from the tough science courses, I had the opportunity to learn about different religions through movies as a medium instead of texts. To see different perspectives and values through films and then have discussions about them was a great experience that helped widen my own worldview. Writing and literature had always been a huge interest of mine, particularly creative writing and poetry. I was able to take several English courses (and at one point was an English major before dropping it to pursue a psychology major instead) and became even more aware of the impact that texts and writing can have, even in the sciences. I was able to integrate pieces of my non-science coursework into my sciences courses in one way or another, which I feel gave me such a well-rounded education. When doing research on medical schools I wanted to apply to, it became very clear that many schools are integrating humanities and ethics courses into their medical curriculum, having a liberal arts foundation going into medical school is an added bonus.
What experiences outside of the classroom helped prepare you for medical school?
I was very involved outside of the classroom, and all these experiences helped in some way to prepare me for medical school. I was a member of the softball team for 2.5 years, where I learned that on a team, every single person has an important role to play to help the team achieve its goals.
I became involved in Synapse as a first-year and during my junior year, I was elected co-president. This opportunity allowed me to work on my leadership skills and I became much more comfortable with organizing events and collaborating with other organizations on campus.
I was a Richter Scholar in Dr. D's lab during the summer after freshman year and this experience is really what got me interested in biomedical research.
I pursued more research opportunities my sophomore through senior year at Rosalind Franklin University studying traumatic brain injury in rats. Post-graduation I worked as a research assistant in the Biologics Lab at the Shirley Ryan AbilityLab in Chicago. Working at the AbilityLab allowed me to see real-time translational medicine research from bench to bedside, and I would like to continue to participate in this research in some capacity in medical school and beyond.
Lastly, I was able to serve as a peer mentor for Organismal Biology, Medical Mysteries of the Mind, and Neuron to Brain (formerly Molecular Neuroscience). Through this opportunity, I learned how to think deeper into certain topics to explain them in multiple ways for different learning styles.
I learned how to be more flexible in my own learning strategies so that I could then help others understand the topics. This went a long way when I was studying for the MCAT, and I'm hoping it helps during medical school as well!
What do you think of the new Health Professions Program
I think the creation of this program is amazing, and quite honestly, I'm a bit jealous - I almost wish I could reapply to Lake Forest College just to take part in it! Having taken advantage of Lake Forest College's close relationship with Rosalind Franklin University through the summer research program and mentorship from medical students, I can't even imagine how beneficial the HPP is for students considering a career in healthcare. Especially for "first-generation" college students like myself, having any extra resource or bit of information goes such a long way in navigating careers in the medical field. I think everyone knows about medical school and nursing school but having the opportunity to explore other routes such as public health, medical imaging, and clinical nutrition will open so many doors to people who never even knew those doors existed.
What skills and experiences at Lake Forest do you believe will help you be successful as a professional?
From essentially day one of college, we had to learn how to work in groups for projects. If not day one, then definitely week one in Dr. D's first-year studies course. Learning how to work with a group was one of the most beneficial experiences I had while at Lake Forest, because those group-work strategies (setting deadlines, asking for help when needed, clearly defining everyone's role, etc) carried over into my jobs in my gap years. I'm sure those skills will also carry over into medical school and beyond - medicine is such a collaborative environment where interprofessional collaboration occurs all the time. Another important skill I got tons of practice in was presenting. I think pretty much everyone has a dislike for public speaking - I certainly did and still do, to some degree. However, there are many times in research and medicine when it's important to be able to present your work publicly. For most of my presentations at the College, it wasn't a situation where professors would throw me off the deep end. Many of them worked with me to perfect a slideshow or help time a presentation or to give constructive feedback to help me be more concise (and not lose the audience by talking over their heads). I'm also very thankful for having the opportunity to put together poster presentations during my time at Lake Forest College, because not every undergraduate gets that experience and ends up using Comic Sans and blurry images on their posters. All jokes aside, creating a poster was a marketable skill when I interviewed for research assistant positions.
What advice would you give a high school student looking to pursue health professions and is considering Lake Forest College?
I would definitely say that Lake Forest College has so many opportunities to take advantage of, especially with the addition of the Health Professions Program. Not every college/university will have professors who really get to know you and offer opportunities to work in their research labs. Lake Forest College also allows you to explore the many health professions out there, which can expand your career possibilities. At Lake Forest College, you will never be on your own when navigating college and beyond. From the professors who sit down and help plan out your coursework for the semester to the Career Advancement Center who can help find internships and job opportunities even after you graduate, there are so many resources the College provides to help you be successful in whatever you choose.