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Lost Projects

Dudes, I want to tell you about a little project I was working on for funtongue scatterplot which, unfortunately, you'll never see because I discontinued it. Let me just say that writing is not easy. No! Writing these little weblog posts is no-big-thang, but for me, doing the narrative is like eating nothing but bananas for three weeks and trying to take a crap: you squat for hours only to have your arse busted by a little bit of nothing.

So, I was messing around with the idea of taking stories from the Bible and rewriting them in today's language from the point of view of the underdogs and from the present day perspective of one Bryan Travis, a yours truly dude brought up Southern Baptist, but torn between his love of science and his childhood religion of ignorance which, among other things, scorned the "learned" and evolution and birth control and interracial marriage and playing cards and social drinking and premarital sex! Not just casual sex, mind you, but all forms non-marital! Everything was so terribly black and white, you see, so NOT shades of gray, which is how Bryan Travis, yours truly, perceives everything in the world, yes, yes, as so many shades of gray.

As an aside, I really wish I had been brought up in a more progressive religion, or at least a more progressive church, because despite what I may say, in my heart of hearts I know organized religion isn't completely bad, and maybe not even mostly bad, but just somewhat bad. However, the impressions and prejudices formed during my childhood make it extremely difficult to convince myself of that. The sentiments I so often witnessed being directed at others who didn't espouse the traditions and values of the church were ones of scorn, judgment, and alienation... surely not the loving acceptance of fellow human beings, and not living to set a Christian example to show those "lost souls" a better way to live. So yeah, what do I do? I scorn, judge, and alienate myself from organized religion. I emulate the behaviors I despise most in organized religion when I find myself vis-a-vis it. Why? Well, because I obviously still have issues and haven't gotten over it yet, that's why! This may cause problems finding a minister for my wedding, and therefore concerns me. Am I concerned about the fate of my soul? No... I'm down with Christianity and Buddhism. I simply have a conspiracy complex whenever I'm in a big crowd of people around 11am on Sundays who are all sitting in rapt silence listening to the opinions of one man, never questioning, never dialoguing, only monologuing, only being preached to. As for the "fellowship" (a churchy word for socializing) aspect of it, well, I'm pretty introverted and don't thrive in large social environments. So basically, if I want to be preached to, I'll watch it on TV, but I'm too much of an independent thinker to do that. So private meditation meets my needs, thanks.

Anyway, what was this supposed to be about? Oh, yes... My first project was to be the retelling of Rebekah and Isaac, but particularly their sons, Jacob and Esau (Esau was a very hairy man). Yeah, you remember: Esau, not exactly the poster child for Mensa, gave his inheritance to Jacob for a bowl of lentil stew after a hunting trip. That's grand, yo! That's like the ultimate sign of our times: loans on unearned paychecks and pending income tax refunds, the me!me!me!, gotta-have-it-now-mutha-fuhtha society! Yes!

The were two major problems I had. First, getting into the characters' minds, surmising what their witty, internal dialogues may have been like, takes a lot of time. It's hard enough trying to capture my own thoughts in words, much less ancient Biblical characters living in a culture as different from my own as it could possibly be, who could have been symbolic story-telling devices -essentially parables - and not real people at all. Second, taking a few chapters from the Bible, what amounts to a skeletal storyline, and expanding it into pages and pages of material required a narrative ability that, frankly, I don't think I possess.

Oh, well... the whole idea was a rip-off from This American Life, anyway.

:: Bryan Travis :: 01/24/2004 @ 15:54 :: [link] ::

Pharmacy School Admission Essays

If you're a pharmacy school applicant, you probably will (if you haven't already) put a lot of thought into your application essays. Depending on where you apply, you may write anywhere from one to four essays for each school! (see scenarios below) Those essays really are important! My interviewer at the University of Cincinnati asked specific questions from my essays.

Most schools use PharmCAS (Pharmacy College Application Service); many schools also require a supplemental application with additional essay questions; a few schools do not use PharmCAS and depend on their own applications, instead. I applied to three schools, one of each type: University of Kentucky (PharmCAS and supplemental application); University of Cincinnati (internal application only, no PharmCAS); and Butler University (PharmCAS only).

I was accepted to UK and UC, and now attend UK. I toured both schools, and they have excellent programs - either will give you a PharmD to be proud of, although from what I hear, classes at UK are more difficult.

Butler prefers to select its class from Butler undergrads via the "Automatic Advancement" program; that is, students who take all required courses and maintain a 3.0 science GPA are guaranteed admission. There are about 10 external candidate slots each year, and with 667 applicants for the 2004 entering class, you can imagine competition is stiff. My PCAT scores were in the 99th percentile, and I didn't even get an interview. A friend's father who is a professor there says the external candidates have impossibly high GPAs and PCAT scores.

My advice: Unless you're already in a guaranteed acceptance program, don't bother applying as an external candidate to pharmacy schools like Butler. They're not interested in external candidates. If you can get accepted to Butler, then you can probably get into a top 5 school... and in my case, tuition for a top 5 school like UK is about half what it is at Butler because I'm a Kentucky resident.

Back to those essays...

If you apply to a school like UK that requires PharmCAS and a supplemental application, expect to write multiple essays on nearly identical topics such as "Why I chose pharmacy as a career" or "Why I think I'll be a good pharmacist vis a vis my work and volunteer experiences." I covered all the points I considered significant in the PharmCAS essay, then read the UK Supplemental Application and realized that I had to write another essay from a slightly different angle that basically covered the same territory. I had already submitted the PharmCAS application, so I couldn't revise it to "make room" by omitting some topics to be covered in the second essay. Result: I suffered a few weeks of writer's block trying to figure out how to say what already had been said.

If you're in the same situation, don't do what I did and write the PharmCAS essay without first reading the essay questions in the supplemental applications - leave yourself some breathing room! If it's too late for that, or you don't even know how to approach the first essay, then perhaps reading the essays of someone who got in will help break the writer's block. My journey leading to a pharmacy career is unique, so it's unlikely many people have had similar enough experiences to "borrow" material from my essays.

Please don't plagiarize - that's not why I'm posting my essays. If you plagiarize, you're not hurting me, you're hurting yourself, because I'm already in school. PharmCAS has my essays on file, so if you plagiarize, they're going to catch you. These essays are possible approaches. Remember what I said in the first paragraph - interviewers can, and often do, ask specific questions about what you write in your essays, so be genuine, or you may find yourself in an awkward situation.

Good luck! Hope to see you in next year's incoming class!

PharmCAS Statement:

I earned a Bachelors degree in Biochemistry, but after a summer internship with GE Appliances during my junior year, I became a full-time employee as an Information Management Leadership Program member (IMLP). I originally wanted to pursue a healthcare career, although I hadnít considered pharmacy at the time. Friends and classmates, themselves on healthcare career tracks, were baffled by my decision. I was apprehensive, to be sure, but my analytical mind was drawn to I/Tís technical challenges.

Hindsight is 20/20. Without a single business course under my belt, I joined Corporate America and had no idea what I was in for Ė it gave new meaning to leaving oneís ďcomfort zone!Ē Seven years later, and Iím still convinced it was one of the best moves Iíve made, even if the reasons why have changed. When I joined GE, I was an I/T ďtechie,Ē but the IMLP programís focus on the business side of I/T gradually converted me. Over time I sought to become more well-rounded and balance out my skill sets by moving into a project leadership role, and eventually went back to school for a business degree.

Even after seven years, though, Iím drawn to healthcare. While I enjoy I/T and project leadership, theyíre not my calling. After completing an MBA degree and re-assessing my professional goals, I began searching for the ďperfect career.Ē The perfect career for me applies my skills in science and business to fulfill a need in the community, involves continual learning, and has some exposure to technology.

My time with GE has been valuable to my professional growth, developing three skill sets beneficial in any healthcare field: communication, problem-solving/critical thinking, and ability to work under pressure.

Communication skills have been the most challenging to develop for me personally; fortunately, a steady stream of project reviews, meetings, phone calls, and emails provides plenty of practice. Iím detail-oriented and a perfectionist. The upside is that I meet my commitments and deliver them with quality. My challenge is to be brief and concise, capturing the essence of the tree without painting each leaf. Knowing the audience is another key to effective communication. No two patients are alike; their counseling needs vary with personality, age, and background. Counseling according to individual needs builds trust and improves dosing compliance. Similarly, establishing rapport with other healthcare professionals yields better therapy decisions. In either event, the patient ultimately benefits.

Pharmacists possess a wealth of pharmaceutical knowledge, and must collect and analyze relevant data to use it effectively. With an introspective and deep-thinking personality, problem solving and critical thinking historically have been my strongest suits, powerful assets in school and workplace. The ability to interpret statistical information also aids analysis and evaluation of data, and is essential for a drug information specialist, one of the clinical areas Iíd like to explore. I am Greenbelt certified in Six Sigma, GEís statistics-based quality project implementation and problem-solving methodology, giving me practical statistics experience.

Pharmacists in hospital settings work under pressure; I frequently witness it in the inpatient pharmacy where I volunteer. From my own personal experience balancing project and support responsibilities, after acclimating to the work environment, I regularly manage multiple priorities and work well under pressure, even thriving on it to some extent.

Iíve taken a longer path arriving at my decision to apply to pharmacy school, using the time for maturation and self-discovery. I believe my education, strengths, motivation, and skills developed in my current career will enable me to make a positive contribution to the pharmacy profession and the health of those I serve. In return, as an expanding field offering a wide range of specialties and work environments, pharmacy would allow me the opportunity to fulfill my career goals. Iím eager to make pharmacy a win-win situation!

UK "Letter of Motivation":

Life doesnít always unfold according to plan; the journey wouldnít be nearly as interesting if it did.

Seven years ago I earned an undergraduate degree in Biochemistry, intending to pursue a healthcare career. During the summer before graduation, however, I interned in GE Appliancesí Information Technology organization. I/T appealed to the analytical thinker in me with a passion for understanding how things work. The next spring I interviewed for and accepted a position in GEís Information Management Leadership Program (IMLP), a two-year entry-level training program to develop technical and I/T project leadership skills. Structured as four six-month project assignments, the program provides broad exposure across I/T with formal technical and business courses.

GE has been very good to and for me, and Iíve enjoyed a rewarding, challenging career. Seeking to expand my career horizons with GE, I enrolled in an MBA program to broaden my technical background with a formal business education. As graduation approached, my girlfriend and I were engaged and planned to leave Louisville after our marriage. Considering whether to remain in I/T or explore other opportunities, I reflected on my career goals. I had always defined goals in terms of tasks accomplished and achievements, like climbing a mountain or winning a race. As I thought about it, though, I realized that what I enjoyed most was the journey itself, the daily experience. So I stated my goals in this new context, and as simple as they seem, it was an enlightening experience. The simplest truths are often the most profound.

  • I want a career utilizing all of my skills Ė sciences, technology, and business Ė because these are my passions and I must find a way to combine all three disciplines.

  • I want a career that improves the well being of others in my community, because less suffering benefits everyone, directly and indirectly. My community has made a significant investment in my education via scholarships and tuition reimbursement, allowing me to enjoy six years of post-secondary education free of monetary expense; I want this investment to produce returns.

  • I want a career in a developing field because I am, above all else, a student.

I was drawn to pharmacy after learning of PharmD/MBA degrees, and began exploring the pharmacy profession. I found several pharmacy specialties appealing and applicable to a PharmD/MBA joint degree, such as managed care, hospital/clinical, drug information, and the pharmaceutical industry. While working full-time, Iíve been committed to the pursuit while preparing for the PCAT several years after completing a science degree, taking a night class to fulfill the statistics prerequisite, and volunteering in an inpatient hospital pharmacy for firsthand exposure to the work environment.

I believe pharmacy will be a personally rewarding career that aligns positively with my career goals Ė Iím ďhooked.Ē Itís not easy deciding to change careers and retrain. Leaving behind a successful career and comfortable salary to begin five years of school and residency is risky, but Iíve always excelled as a student and strive to succeed. Itís a big step, but itís also part of an even longer journey, and itís a personal investment I believe in.

Thank you for considering my application,

:: Bryan Travis :: 01/15/2004 @ 22:59 :: [link] ::

Enemy of Privacy: Acxiom

Acxiom is a marketing company that sells consumer info to telemarketers, spammers, and junk mailers. Some guy (Daniel Baas) cracked an Acxiom password file and began burning their consumer databases to CD. Baas used the stolen data to lookup the name and address of an FBI agent for another hacker over IRC as a favor. When the hacker was arrested, the computer forensics team found the conversation log and arrested Baas.

Okay, Baas screwed up and did wrong, and I'm not defending him, but get this: Acxiom claims the data he stole "did not meet a threshold that would require consumer notification," but Acxiom goes on to value the stolen data at $1.9 million and holds him responsible for $1.3 million worth of security audits and better encryption software.

Why this pisses me off:

  • Acxiom jumps on the opportunity to blame Baas for the expense of installing better encryption software. Acxiom gets burned for a security hole and blames the hacker, as if they had zero responsibility for their poor security practices.
  • Acxiom bemoans the loss of their oh-so-valuable property (which also happens to be YOUR and MY property because it's our personal data), but refuses to accept responsibility for notifying the REAL victims, countless private individuals unaware their personal information has been compromised.
  • Acxiom has little respect for the privacy of individuals whose personal information is stored in their rather vulnerable databases.

It's a sad, sad world when corporations have more rights than individuals.

:: Bryan Travis :: 01/06/2004 @ 19:56 :: [link] ::