Can a 4.0 GPA be a bad thing? A guest lecturer in one of my courses thinks so. In a lecture about “Mistakaphobia,” he argued that part of life–and therefore a part of being a university student–is making mistakes and growing from your experiences, taking risks and learning how to live in the real world. Perfection isn’t something you should strive for, because without mistakes you can’t learn anything. Instead of aiming for that 4.0 GPA, university students should accept mistakes as “opportunities.” It’s all part of a “creative entrepreneur” mentality.
I don’t have a 4.0 GPA, but it’s not for a lack of trying. And although I don’t know anyone who would disagree with the idea that making mistakes and taking risks are all part of living in the real world, as someone who’s planning on applying to med school next year, I need the highest marks possible if I want any hope of actually making it in. I’m sure anyone else who’s getting ready to apply to graduate school or professional school feels the same way. The problem is, there are plenty of applicants with 3.8+ GPA’s who aren’t nerdy little hermits with underdeveloped social skills and a lack of creativity. Out of the thousands of people applying to med school every year, plenty of them have high marks, but I don’t assume a correlation between high marks and low levels of “creativity.”
In the tutorial that took place after the lecture, where students and TAs were able to discuss the ideas with each other, I found it interesting that a lot of people seemed to think it had to be one way or the other: embracing a 4.0 GPA is somehow a rejection of the arts, and it’s only smug science students who get high grades. Discipline and a work ethic shouldn’t be rewarded–they should be stigmatized. If you have anything higher than a 2.8 GPA, you’re not creative or intellectual. You’re afraid to take risks and live in the real world–a robot who’s just following instructions. Part of a flock of sheep.
Yeah, sitting in that tutorial, I felt like I was in enemy territory. It was very uncomfortable. Kind of like if you were sitting in the middle of a crowded cafeteria and suddenly, everyone started declaring Holy Allegiance to the Underground Mole King, and all traitors should be TORTURED AND MUTILATED AND CHEESE GRATED TO DEATH. It was one of those, “I wish I had a jet pack” kind of moments.
I also found it interesting that some of the students also had obvious contempt for the sciences, and seemed to think that all science students are disrespectful of the arts. Like we all get together in Nerd Conferences and make fun of arts students behind their backs, and say things like, “How can a course in philosophy lead to a viable career? If a textbook doesn’t contain at least a couple equations and words like ‘entropy,’ it’s a joke.” At least, I know none of my friends in the biomedical sciences think that way.
Not to mention, med schools are increasingly embracing non-traditional backgrounds. More and more schools are dropping science prerequisites and MCAT requirements. And every med school across Canada looks at more than just marks. Extracurricular activities, life experience and even essay-writing skills are often evaluated, and although the exact weighting formula varies depending on the school, all of these non-academic criteria are important. Of course, it’s wrong to think that a doctor with a background in the arts would automatically be more creative, innovative and people-oriented than someone from the sciences. Just like it would be wrong to assume that someone with a science background is automatically harder working and more disciplined.
The point is, it doesn’t have to be one extreme or the other. In a field like medicine, the ‘entrepreneur’ mentality is definitely a valuable asset. After all, lots of scientific discoveries were mistakes to begin with. And new, innovative surgical techniques are the result of experimentation. But I’m sure those medical researchers and surgeons had high GPAs.
At least I feel better about my physics and organic chemistry marks now. Apparently I can make a political stance out of it. Any low marks I’ve ever gotten were a deliberate choice. I was learning how to be an entrepreneur.
Mind you, if I was having open heart surgery, I wouldn’t want my surgeon to be a “creative entrepreneur.” I’d want them to be a perfectionist who had a 4.0 GPA. Someone who is afraid to make mistakes.