Biochemistry prepares pre-med students for the rigors ahead

One of the mentions of Dr. Mary Bruno's Biochemistry 2000 class on Reddit. The professor has a challenging reputation but is renowned for preparing her students for medical school. (Screenshot)

Students on the University of Connecticut Reddit page voiced mixed feelings on Biochemistry 2000. Some said the class was too hard while others said that it was excellent preparation for medical school. 

Professor Mary Bruno taught the course for eight academic years and 15 summer sessions. She said enrollment has nearly doubled from 177 students in fall of 2010 to 300 students this semester. The reason for the increase, she said, is that more students are pursuing careers in the health profession.  

Students who took the course said it was vital to their career goals.  

I think her class prepared me for the rigor of medical school especially once I began studying for my MCAT
— Fatoumata Bah, recent UConn graduate

“I think her class prepared me for the rigor of medical school especially once I began studying for my MCAT,” Fatoumata Bah, a recent UConn graduate, said. “The med-school application process is so hard. There are so many schools to apply to and so many factors go into deciding what program is a good fit and which programs you are likely to gain admittance to.”

Bah is currently applying to 20 medical schools. 

Unlike previous years, the 2015 MCAT includes a biochemistry section, which is also taught in the first year of most medical schools. 

“They cover in three weeks what we cover in 6-14 weeks,” Bruno said, referring to the first year of medical school. 

On Rate My Professor, Bruno currently has an overall rating of 3.3, but her lowest score is a 1.6 on easiness. 

“The material she’s teaching is dense,” fifth semester pre-pharmacy student John Kassis, who is currently in Bruno’s class, said. “I think there’s a stigma that she’s a bad teacher but I don’t think that’s fair.” 

Students say that Bruno’s tests are generally difficult and require a lot of memorization. 

“Do not try to memorize everything, and review the material on a regular basis,” Bruno said. “Use text resources for problems as well as the on-line learning system packaged with the text.  Students do not often know that they do not understand a concept unless they are asked to apply it to solve a problem or discriminate between possible answers.”

Students said there were no surprises when taking the actual tests.

“I find Mary Bruno’s tests to really coincide with her lectures,” fifth semester pre-med student Jocelyn Rosenzweig, who is currently taking Bruno’s class, said. “Her teaching is definitely towards medical students, and she is a difficult teacher, but she means well and is always willing to help.” 

Dr. Mary Bruno, Assistant Professor-in-Residence with the molecular and cell biology department. (Courtesy/Department of Molecular and Cell Biology website)

Instead of office hours, Bruno holds weekly review sessions to which students can bring questions. 

“Students can always schedule appointments and truth be told, this is why my schedule is usually so full,” Bruno said. 

Some students have taken a different approach to studying for Bruno’s class. 

Kassis and Rosenzweig both advise future biochemistry students to record lectures and listen to them outside of class. 

“I don’t even have to read the book,” Rosenzweig said. “ That’s how much she teaches to the test.” 

Bah does the same. 

“On the weekend before an exam I spent 10 hours listening to lectures at half speed and taking notes and making diagrams,” Bah said. 

Taking Bruno’s class, Bah said, was one of the defining experiences of her undergraduate career because she learned the material well. 

“To this day I can still remember the steps of the Krebs cycles and some random facts related to biochemical reactions in our body,” Bah said. 

While Bah is currently applying to medical school, Rosenzweig decided to wait an extra year before applying because she wanted more time to study for the biochemistry portion of the MCAT. Bruno’s class is positioning her to do that, Rosenzweig said. 

Although biochemistry is important for pre-med students, the requirements for medical school are more extensive. 

Organic chemistry, physics, English, sociology, psychology and genetics are among the additional requirements, Joseph Crivello, physiology and neurobiology professor and pre-med advisor, said. 
“In high school you sip water from a straw, in college you gulp it and in medical school you drink it from a fire hose,” Crivello said, emphasizing the importance of doing well in courses like biochemistry. 

Although academics and test scores are important, he said that sociability is one of the most vital skills to have as a doctor. 

“Human beings require a human interaction,” Crivello said. “It’s impingent upon you to go out and find experiences where you can demonstrate to people that you have a the personality traits required for medical school, and the professional traits, including honesty and reliability.”  

Crivello stressed that students must do well in Bruno’s biochemistry class to do well in higher-level biochemistry courses. Other students reiterated the importance of Bruno’s class for their career goals. 

Although Greg Thompson, a recent graduate, decided not to go to medical school and instead chose to enroll in a Ph.D. program at Brown University, he said Bruno’s class would have prepared him for medical school if he had chosen that path. 

“My advice to students taking her class now is to not only go to lecture but engage in it, pay attention to the points that she emphasizes during class and read the chapters that she assigns in the book,” Thompson said.  “Also, don't wait to study for her exams until the weekend before.”


Diler Haji is a campus correspondent for The Daily Campus and can be reached via email at diler.haji@uconn.edu.