Introductions

I’m new here. Not just to this humble blog, but to the UIWRSO family, as are my 67 classmates of the recently officiated Class of 2021. Even nearly 2 months into the exciting and sometimes intense undertaking otherwise known as optometry school, I find myself still undergoing introductions with peers I have yet had the chance to say hello to.

Through this challenging four year experience, and even onward into the professional world, these people will become my second family. Peers that will be there to answer each other’s questions, and send each other encouragements or memes for quick laughs late into the night during exam week. Shoulders to lean on during moments of surmounting stress, when concepts won’t seem to ever click, and friends to celebrate with after overcoming hurdles.

Some of us have heard a calling to the optometric profession since our undergraduate years or even before. And yet others such as myself began our professional careers in other fields, and somewhere along the road found ourselves in San Antonio, in this distinguished program. No matter our background or where we call home, we’ve all been brought here with one common dream: to one day change the lives of patients through our optometric practices.

 

Fortunately, we aren’t alone on our conquest to professional success. Since even before beginning the program, the UIWRSO community has been exceptionally welcoming and accommodating. Something that drew me towards UIWRSO since meeting the staff at interviews is that they genuinely care about our education and training. As demanding as their own courses are, the upperclassmen have also been so helpful in guiding us into a smooth transition.

Along with Janelle, I will be documenting my experiences here, as well as sharing resources and tips that have helped me along the way.

To aspiring students, applicants, and the curious, take a peak at the every day life of a UIW optometry student.

My dear fellow first years, let me put our shared experiences down on metaphorical online paper.

And to the respectable upperclassmen and RSO faculty, enjoy reliving these first year moments, from stress-induced tears and nervous breakdowns of exams, to the unforgettable memories of first patient interactions.

Hi, it’s nice to meet you. Through my entries, I will be sharing with you the RSO experience, from the perspective of a first year.

Overcoming Adversity

Throughout my undergraduate career, I had always been an A/B grade student, described as an overachiever, and truly dedicated to my course work. I was anticipating the transition of class work and tests from undergraduate to optometry school to be difficult, but nothing could have prepared me enough for my first set of graduate school exams. At UIWRSO, during my first semester, we had a total of three exam weeks, with each week consisting of four days of nothing but exams and afternoon labs. Essentially, it was like having undergraduate final exam week three times a semester.

The stress that built up during my first test week really affected my performance on them and overall course outcome. Now, since completing my first year of optometry school I realized how important it is to stay calm during exams. Each person will achieve that calmness in a different way, and I hope you to find which method works best for you.

My first words of advice: “Never be afraid to ask for help”. At UIWRSO, upperclassmen who excelled in a previous course can become tutors. I highly encourage anyone struggling to sign up for a tutor in that course. And the best part: it is completely complementary! Tutors can provide you with practice problems and help you work through topics which are unclear. Many students in my class have tutors and you shouldn’t be ashamed to have one as well.

Another recommendation: On test days, arrive early, and arrive prepared! It seems like an easy concept but you want to avoid mishaps at all costs, especially during test weeks. Make sure to get a good night’s rest. It has been proven that “pulling an all-nighter” can have serious negative effects on an individual’s exam taking ability. Have your electronic device charged with the exam file pre-downloaded, bring a pencil, pen, and calculator, and for good measures, don’t forget your favorite lucky charm.

After you finish your test, you will notice many of your classmates aggregating outside the lecture hall discussing their grades, and/or difficult questions. I personally chose to avoid those conversations. Usually I had my next exam in 24 hours and needed to focus on reviewing that course material more than worrying about that one question I might have missed on the exam I just completed. Once exam week has ended, the professors will post exam grades on Blackboard and if you did not do as well as you thought, I urge you to make an appointment to meet with that professor and go over the questions you missed, to make sure it doesn’t happen again on the cumulative final exam.

My final word of advice: Don’t give up! I personally sometimes felt defeated after an exam week, but I reminded myself that I DO know this stuff and so will you. You have sat through numerous lectures, studied countless hours, and it is now your time to shine. If you don’t do as well as you thought during test week 1, then test week 2 is the time to prove to yourself that you can do better and do exactly that. In optometry school, you are not completing against anyone else, except yourself. So, on the first day of school, put your best foot forward and don’t let that foot ever fall behind.

Janelle Sventek

Janelle is a third year student attending UIWRSO, working as a blog writer to share personal experiences about her time in optometry school.

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Summer Fellowship Training Program

The summer following the first year at RSO, you can perform research under the instruction of a professor. The Summer Fellowship Training Program (SFTP) is an 8-week long program where students can partake in clinical or molecular research in optometry. Having completed research prior to optometry school, I was excited for this opportunity to continue my interest in benchwork. When the program application was released during the spring semester I promptly filled it out in hopes that I would be offered one of the few spots available.

Once I was accepted into SFTP, I had a list of roughly 10 projects to choose from. After meeting with multiple faculty members, I chose to complete my research project with Dr. Fortepiani, studying retinal endothelial cells at UT Health San Antonio, Department of Ophthalmology with a fellow RSO student, Miriam Almanza. Many of my peers who were accepted into the program chose to work on other topics such as dry eye, low vision, and military ocular trauma.

Pictured below is myself, a lab team member, and Miriam working under the cell culture hood.

Half way through the 8-week program all SFTP participants and faculty members would convene weekly for a journal club meeting. These meetings gave students an opportunity to review a similar paper to their project, present their personal project data and identify future intent.

After completing our summer project at UT Health, Miriam and I put together a poster and presented at the UTHSCSA 6th annual Physiology Graduate Student Symposium.  Even though I had prior experience in research, many of my peers entered the program to gain new research experience. This program helped provide a connection of laboratory research to clinical practice, as many of these projects will benefit our patients in the future. I especially recommend to those who have never completed research before to consider applying for SFTP; you will not regret it.

 

Janelle Sventek

Janelle is a third year student attending UIWRSO, working as a blog writer to share personal experiences about her time in optometry school.

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Big Sib / Lil’ Sib Program

I have mentioned in my blog posts before how difficulty it can be, not only moving to a new state, but also starting a graduate program. One person who really helped me during this transition was my big sibling. The summer before starting my first year, I was given the option to join the Big Sib/Lil’ Sib program. A few weeks after filling out the match form with personal information and hobbies/interests, I then found out who my big sibling would be.

I attribute much of my reduced stress to having a big sibling. It is such a relief to have someone to ask anything. It can be something as simple as “Where is the best coffee shop to study at?” or something important like “How can I save time on an upcoming lab checkout?” Throughout my first year, I discovered that having a big sibling is someone who I could create a supporting relationship with. For example, when I had a proficiency test, I never hesitated to ask my big sibling for advice, and likewise when she was preparing for her optometry board exam I provided her with words of encouragement. For any incoming first year students, I highly encourage you to join the Big Sib/Lil’ Sib program.

Attached below is a photo of my big sibling and I enjoying our evening at the 2017 RSO Eye Ball Formal.

Janelle Sventek

Janelle is a third year student attending UIWRSO, working as a blog writer to share personal experiences about her time in optometry school.

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Show Your Best Dance Moves

Every year during the spring semester RSO hosts an awards banquet for all students. The event is designed to recognize students for their hard work, honor the class superlatives, and provide a great venue to celebrate the end of the academic year. This banquet is coined with the punny name: “Eye Ball Formal”. This past spring, I attended my first Eye Ball, and it was a blast. Many of my classmates called it the prom of graduate school; but it was so much better than any prom I have ever attended. This year’s theme was Monte Carlo, and included music, awards, dancing, raffle prizes, roulette tables, and black jack.

One of my favorite things about this event was interacting and seeing professors and proctors in a fun and endearing venue. It gives everyone a moment to stop thinking about tests and proficiency exams and enjoy a night out and have fun. The Eye Ball is planned and put on by the second-year student government board, with support from first year SGA board. If planning events and decorating is a hobby of yours, consider joining SGA during your first and/or second year.

Janelle Sventek

Janelle is a third year student attending UIWRSO, working as a blog writer to share personal experiences about her time in optometry school.

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