My toilet paper holder B.Sc. degree = GET!

So, many of my friends got their degrees a couple of months ago, and I attended their commencement to congratulate them. Many of them were surprised that I wasn’t graduating with them (although I did steal Odin’s grad regalia and posed), and today is a good day to write down the unusual story of my $_GET[B.Sc.] story.


So, the story can date back to my first year, when I realized just how much fun being a full time student was. All I had to do was learning and hanging out with smart people and talking about interesting smart things. I thought to myself: man, if there is any way I can spend an extra year as a university student, I’ll do it!

And there was a way. Actually, there are more than one ways (co-op, exchange, etc), but, after a few tries, I decided on my way: double major in pharmacology and computer science. (I wrote about how I reached that in this post.) A double major would take my 5 years to finish, so my official graduation date was set to 2010.

After all the trouble I went through to get this to work, I was happily on my way to getting a loaded degree.

Now, on another tangent, I knew that med school is my goal. Sometimes I thought of the comp sci branch of my education as my backup plan, sometimes I thought of it as an escape from all the memorizations in life sciences. In any case, I knew that it’s best to apply to med school 2 summers before you graduate, so that if you failed, you have another chance at it comfortably. For example, if you plan to finish undergrad in 4 years, it’s best to apply after 2nd year so that if you failed, you can try again after 3rd year without worrying about wasting a year of your time. Whereas if you apply after 3rd year and found out you didn’t get in after 4th year, you need to figure out what you would do with the year’s time before the next application cycle.

So I applied to UBC in 2008.

Now, here’s the interesting thing: for my double major, I had to finish pharmacology courses in the first 4 years, and use the 5th year to finish my comp sci courses. I noticed this interesting fact, and made sure that I really could graduate in 4th year if I wanted to, by taking all the art requirements, etc., and deferring some comp sci courses to 5th year.

In other words, my degree was like the rod in a toilet paper holder:


It can be shorter or longer, depending on what I want.

It can be a 4-year degree in Pharmacology, or it can be a 5-year double major degree!

If I didn’t get into med school, I can finish my double degree as planned. If I did, I still get a B.Sc. anyway!

All throughout 4th year, I have no idea whether I’ll be graduating or not this year. This created some interesting decisions: do I take the grad photos with my pharmacology class? Do I tell med school I plan to graduate in 2010 or 2009? Is there a way to tell them “your admission decision is deciding when I graduate”?

Eventually, I decided to go ahead with the graduation photos (I wasn’t even sure whether it’s allowed to be in the grad photos without actually graduating), and pretended there is no confusion. In reality, my program advisor was confused and asked me why I wasn’t on the grad list; my friends were confused and asked me where my gawn was; everyone who I’m introduced to was confused because my answer to “what program are you in” is about twenty times  more than the average length; etc. I wasn’t even sure if switching my program after being accepted to med school is allowed.

Thanfully the case is closed today. I more than satisfied the degree and program requirements for B.Sc. and major in pharmacology (required total credits = 125; my total credits = 147), and will get my B.Sc. degree this November.

Why bother, you ask, since I’m getting an M.D. anyway?

Well, firstly there’s the sentimental value. The past 4 years of UBC undergrad was more than life-changing, and having an official medal to mark it off is sweet. Second there’s the practical considerations: I’m working in a research lab right now, and since I haven’t officially gotten my B.Sc. degree, I’m paid as an undergrad. I don’t know how much money I lost this summer, but hey, having toilet-paper-holder flexibility is well worth the price.