… And Then My Head Exploded

My plan was to spend today sorting out the last bits of my job application to Core Medical Training, which closes on this coming Thursday evening.

If you imagine the state of my chewed fingernails and pulled out hair as they were during FPAS, two years ago, but on steroids.

The understanding of your average non-medical person of the whole business of medical jobs/postgraduate training is limited, and that’s because it’s a little bit insane. To illustrate, the conversation I had this afternoon with my stepfather: “Is it right that you don’t know where in Scotland you’re going to be working?” “Yes, and it might not even be Scotland.” “What? They could send you back to England?” “Er. Yes. Except for the part where I’m not actually guaranteed to be employed.” “So, but, if they do employ you, that’s permanent, like, is it?” “No, it’s for two years.” “And then you have to apply again?!” It’s not the first time I’ve introduced the concept to him. I keep on introducing it every time he asks why I’m not in the market to buy a flat. It’s difficult enough to wrap your head around when you’re one of the people on the inside of the system. And, in the background, my mother: “I DO KEEP TELLING HIM!”

My application form is more or less done.

The bits I had left to sort out were little things, like finding out my membership number for what used to be Disclosure Scotland, fixing a silly typo in my spiel about specialty commitment, and finding the bits of paper and digital files to prove that I’ve done the presentations and got the degrees and attended the conferences that I’ve said I have. At interview in January, I will be expected to prove all those things. If I can’t prove them in January, I can’t claim them on an application form in December.

That was pretty much where the wheels fell off the wagon.

I’m going to offer you a free piece of advice.

A little bit for medical students. Mainly for FY1s who, having acquired a salary, are starting to think about upgrading their computers from the ones that they kept running with bits of string and the power of prayer through the last days of medical finals.

This is my advice.

Make backups.

Keep everything.



If you have a piece of paper that shows that you’ve been on a training course, put it in a folder somewhere safe. If you have an email from someone complimenting you on a piece of work you did, download it and save it before they take away your university email account. If you gave a presentation as part of a Special Study Module, get a download of the electronic feedback from your supervisor before you graduate. If you went to a conference, don’t lose the certificate that says you went to the conference. Scan hard copies. Any digital copies of any posters or presentations or publications or teaching feedback or anything, dump them all in a file called “Job Application Evidence” and then make a backup and then a backup of your backup and then make sure your backups work.

If your hard drive is full and your flat is beginning to look like the flats of those people who are on the television show Hoarders, except with paperwork instead of ketchup bottles, you might be just about on the right lines.

And if all of that sounds a little bit excessively paranoid, let me tell you about the situation I found myself in tonight, when, before I managed to find anything useful, I found:

  • The transcript from my undergraduate degree
  • Three out of date Disclosure Scotland forms
  • Scanned copies of my last flatmate’s BSc and MSc certificates
  • The tenancy agreement for a flat that I have not lived in since April 2012
  • An invitation to Flo and Beanie’s wedding (which happened more than a year ago)
  • A budget for my last flatmate’s wedding (which also happened more than a year ago and also why?)

I mean, if you’re going to cull, these are the things you’d cull. The conference certificate? Is not the thing you’d cull.

In terms of what I’ve got for this job application, I get credit for the BSc, and then I actually don’t have a lot else except enthusiasm.

This makes the small amount I do have really important.

In the summer of fourth year, I gave a poster presentation of a case series that I’d seen when I was doing an SSC in Haematology at a national medical students conference in Bournemouth. It’s the only thing on this application that I’m getting a substantial(ish) number of points for. I’ve got a very little audit and I’ve got evidence of having taught medical students when I was an FY1 and I’ve got one publication in which I claim the smallest number of available points for publications and proceed to stretch, quote unquote, the broadest definition of medicine to quite frankly ridiculous extremes. That’s it. The poster that I presented at a national conference is my Thing.

I lost the conference certificate when I moved house. Last week when I emailed the conference organisers in a mad flap, they said that they could issue me with a new certificate if I could provide them with a copy of the poster.

In the spring, I got a new laptop.

I backed all my files up onto my iPod, wiped the hard drive of the old one, and gave it away to my mum. Today, I opened my iPod up and discovered that what I had actually backed up were a series of empty folders. Cue panic. The folders did not get any emptier when I opened them for the second time or the third time or the fourth time. In a flash of inspiration, I remembered that there was a time in medical school when I had software on my computer that automatically backed everything up to a virtual server called Sugar Sync (hat tip to Bean Blogger for recommending it to me, back in the day). I found the website. I remembered my username and password. I could not for the life of me see my files — and what I could see was that I had used 2.7GB of available space, so clearly they were somewhere.

At that point, I called the person who has become my partner in crime for MRCP and CMT and Also Good Things and I flailed down the phone. (“I have so little proof of anything, I’m wondering if I ever went to medical school.”) She sensibly pointed out that if I was using 2.7GB of space on a virtual server, I was using it for something. I gave her my username and password, and she too failed to see any of my files. We pondered whether I should try to download the software for it, to see if that helped, and I did. There was a folder called MBChB, which looked promising, so I synced it back to my current laptop. After it looked as if it was done syncing, I went on the hunt.

I did not find the poster.

I found a copy of the original version of the abstract that I had submitted. I also got a message from the friend I had gone to the conference with, saying, in response to a panicked text I had sent her, that she was fairly sure the poster that I’d displayed, the A0 version, was in her loft. I had no idea how I would get an A0 poster to conference organisers in England, but I was making progress.

The first email I sent to them explained the situation and said that I was attaching the abstract submission.

The second email, which I sent about fifteen seconds later, actually had the abstract submission. It also had a link to the blog post that I had written the day after the conference, should they have been in any doubt that I actually went to Bournemouth. It also apologised. Profusely.

Then, I took another look at the computer and realised that it had started syncing more files.

The third email had a digital copy of the poster attached.

There is no adrenaline left in my adrenal glands. I’m never doing this again. And first thing tomorrow morning (after, I’m guessing, the president of the UK Medical Students Association is done mocking me), I’m buying an external hard drive.


One comment

  1. One thing to consider when you’re backing things up: hard-drives fail, and fail faster if you bang them about (as in, an external hard-drive). If this stuff is that vital (and it sounds like it), consider getting a drive array – basically, 2 disks that look at each other and double-check that everything’s stored correctly. If one fails, you slot in a new drive, wait a few hours, and you’re good.

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