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Greatest Challenge topic - sexual assault

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GreatestChallenge

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I searched back a few months to see if anyone had asked this recently and didn't see anything so here goes:

By the way, yes, this is a throwaway account because I'd rather not have this experience be tied to my actual account.

While I've gone through a couple of challenges I could theoretically write about (moving across the continent for school or having to learn a new language from scratch because of where I was working, for example), truly the greatest challenge I've gone through was being sexually assaulted by a coworker last summer and having to continue working with him, mainly because we had a preexisting relationship that had ended a month before this incident and I figured no one would believe me.

Long story short, my secondary would be about me briefly accounting what had happened, not specifying any terrible details, and then mostly focusing on how it's made me a stronger person and much more outspoken about my experience/rape culture.

Is this too taboo of a subject? Would it put off whoever was reading it, even though it is honestly answering the prompt?
 
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I'm No Superman

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My friend wrote about sexual assault for a couple of her essays and she got in, Although personally I did think it may have held her back a little bit. I'd think @Goro or @Catalystik would both have better answers than I can provide.
 

LNA

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tough call... I wish secondaries were actually about getting to know the truth behind each applicant. How are we supposed to be genuine/not cliche when we have to filter everything we write so much? If I were the one reading your response, I absolutely would not hold this against you, but alas I am far from an adcom member. In your shoes, I wouldn't write about it. I'm especially leaning in that direction because it sounds like there are nuances that would need to be explained and most secondaries don't allow enough space to adequately do that.

If you pull it off, more power to you. I'm sorry this happened to you - in any other circumstance I would say absolutely say whatever the heck you want about it. Unfortunately in this application game that might not work out for the best.
 
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aegistitan

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Take @LNA 's advice and play the game. There are any risks with writing about this that are not worth the reward.

Remember that stigmas still exist, and there will be nothing you can do about it. Many people continue to this day to place blame on rape victims in rape cases, and you cannot be sure whether or not people like that will review your application. I'm not saying I hold those beliefs, but it would be naive to say that those mentalities do not exist. I personally would not write about it. Other people may disagree.
 

Goro

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Very sorry to hear of your ordeal.

While sexual assault is a rare topic for essays, I've never, ever seen it hold anyone back as a topic. I've interviewed maybe three-four survivors of such assaults over the years, so given how common it is, I surmise most applicants refrain from talking about it because it's so sensitive to them, not the interviewers.


I searched back a few months to see if anyone had asked this recently and didn't see anything so here goes:

By the way, yes, this is a throwaway account because I'd rather not have this experience be tied to my actual account.

While I've gone through a couple of challenges I could theoretically write about (moving across the continent for school or having to learn a new language from scratch because of where I was working, for example), truly the greatest challenge I've gone through was being sexually assaulted by a coworker last summer and having to continue working with him, mainly because we had a preexisting relationship that had ended a month before this incident and I figured no one would believe me.

Long story short, my secondary would be about me briefly accounting what had happened, not specifying any terrible details, and then mostly focusing on how it's made me a stronger person and much more outspoken about my experience/rape culture.

Is this too taboo of a subject? Would it put off whoever was reading it, even though it is honestly answering the prompt?
 
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lemonscientist

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I asked the same question a while ago and was encouraged to do so as it showed resilience.

I'm sorry that you're in this situation as well. We are strong, we have survived. It something to be proud of, to use as a rallying cry for change in our society.
 
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GreatestChallenge

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Thanks for the supportive words everyone, I really appreciate it.

I probably will end up writing on that, since to me it seems like the most honest way to come across and I really did learn a lot about myself and what I'm capable of in the aftermath.
 

Crayola227

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Thanks for the supportive words everyone, I really appreciate it.

I probably will end up writing on that, since to me it seems like the most honest way to come across and I really did learn a lot about myself and what I'm capable of in the aftermath.

I say do it and more power to you. This is one topic to take something very personal and not have it reflect on you as a weakness but as a strength that you survived and have done well enough to apply.

I can't imagine it holding you back, and anywhere that did, you don't want to go.
 
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StrongIslandDoc

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Foreword: I am trying to put myself in the frame-of-thinking of some of these "old-school" Physicians/Administrators, who have not and will not come around to the progressive wave that is our reality today in 2016.

Firstly, very sorry to learn that this is something you've gone through. Much prop for coming out on top of it on the other side.

Much of what people can tell you here, as I am sure you know, is anecdotal. My speculation, however, is that placing emphasis like this on a topic could go either way - and in the case of it heading south, I am very much thinking in terms of these old-school ultra-conservatives from the medical education of decades past. If I were on a committee, and the topic was brought up (i.e., I am not reading the essay but your application is being discussed at some round-table meeting) and I learned that this is part of your past and it has not held you down, I would admire the resilience - and I mean for real, when some resident is chewing you out on 3rd year surgery rotation because you messed up something in the chart or whatever - like, good luck shaking this medical student to their core, they've been through hell and back.

With all that said, if you choose to write about this, I think it needs to be done in a very precise and calculated way so as to not seem as if your are looking for pity points. (Note: I am not saying that you are doing that.) but with very sad conversations like these in the application, if you don't have a good pen about it it can inadvertently head south on you and be received in a totally different way than the message you are trying to convey with it.

I wish you the very best with it :)

As an aside, I would encourage you to focus more on you in responding to the prompt, rather than rape culture - if rape culture is a social construct, then it is not about you. I'm not saying to cast it aside completely or ignore it, but avoid the politics/social-justice side of this unless it is something that you've actively become engaged in. There are a lot of polarizing opinions on rape culture, especially on college campuses, and I am sure no medical school administration is immune to that - it would be a damn shame to author an inspiring story like yours, only to have the message received poorly because someone has an irreconcilable political bias.
 

Ruhrow

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Very sorry to hear of your ordeal.

While sexual assault is a rare topic for essays, I've never, ever seen it hold anyone back as a topic. I've interviewed maybe three-four survivors of such assaults over the years, so given how common it is, I surmise most applicants refrain from talking about it because it's so sensitive to them, not the interviewers.
You'd be surprised. In my case I avoided it because it seemed overly personal for interviews/applications and I didn't want to come across as unprofessional or raise doubts about my mental wellbeing since mental health problems are a common aftermath of assault. It just seems as if it could be thought of as inappropriate to bring up in a professional setting, or raise doubts about you as an applicant even if they aren't overt.

Also, it can end up making for an awkward interview even if you are no longer overwhelmingly sensitive about the topic. For example, since I'm "used to it", for lack of a better descriptor, I'm usually less emotional about the whole thing than those I tell about it, that's almost more awkward because then it ends up feeling like I need to make them feel better about how bad they feel for me and then everyone feels awkward about being in the backwards role from what 'should' happen, etc, etc.

That being said, it did come up in one of my interviews because the interviewer picked up that I was avoiding talking about something and decided to charge down a rabbit hole. I tried to be vague, but they continued insisting on follow-up, so I finally just laid it out rather bluntly. Things got awkward, but we moved on and the rest of the interview went reasonably smoothly. It felt alright at the time, but I spent months afterwards beating myself up for my honesty, thinking that I'd crossed a line and that one comment was going to bomb what was otherwise one of my best interviews. I mentally wrote that school off entirely, even though it was one of my favorites. It also ended up being the school I eventually matriculated at.

Sorry, I guess I don't have an overall point here other than that it seems as if few people actually talk about their experiences applying with this history, though as you pointed out it is fairly common, and thought I'd share some thoughts since I was surprised by how it went (and to hear your perspective.) I'd say that it still feels like something that could be held against you, probably because so many people will hold it against you in your real life and it's easy to see ways in which adcoms could do so while feeling perfectly justified.
 
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Goro

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I just wanted to add that Adcom members look for people with good coping skills, and resilience. Hence, discussing this in your app will add plusses to you as a candidate. This is the whole point of asking the "greatest challenge" or "discuss a setback and how your dealt with it" prompts.



Thanks for the supportive words everyone, I really appreciate it.

I probably will end up writing on that, since to me it seems like the most honest way to come across and I really did learn a lot about myself and what I'm capable of in the aftermath.
 
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