Journey to Harvard Medical School: Reaching for the Stars with Indonesia Mengglobal Mentorship Program

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Gabriele Kembuan, or Gaby, is one of the mentees in the 2020 Indonesia Mengglobal Mentorship Program. In this article, we are pleased to have her telling her stories about enrolling in the mentorship program. With valuable advice from her super mentor and encouragement from her fellow mentees, she eventually managed to get accepted into her dream school: Harvard University.

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Having finally finished six long years of medical school in 2019, I found myself standing at an intersection, not knowing which path to claim as my future. The world was now my oyster, but instead of finding freedom, I found bewilderment. I imagined all the possible careers I could forge: a public health scientist, a clinician, a policy analyst, an educator…

However, one particular dream stood out: becoming a cancer scientist. My mom’s struggles with cancer were my initial motivation to become a doctor, after all. Yet, I was also aware of my lack of research experience compared to my international peers. I wanted to pursue graduate study abroad, yet I was quite pessimistic at my competitiveness to enter reputable programs and my ability to contribute to world-class research projects.

“Harvard,” even though it had always been my childhood dream, did not even fit in the picture back then. I still do not know what made my partner, sibling, and friends immediately support me when I toyed around with the notion. I also enrolled in an online Immunology short course by Harvard Medical School (HMS) around this time and realized that I was utterly fascinated by the subject. Stories of other Indonesians succeeding in top schools abroad (many of which I read at IM’s website!) further fueled the fire in me and gave me ideas that probably, probably, I could do it too. So, when Indonesia Mengglobal’s mentorship event opened their registration, my crazy Harvard dream began taking on a tangible shape for the first time.

Harvard Medical School’s façade
Harvard Medical School’s façade

Throughout the selection process, I was thoroughly impressed by the thoughtfully crafted selection rounds and interview, and even more so the impressive list of mentors I received once I was accepted. I was thrilled to be matched with my first-choice mentor, Valen, who was really the perfect mentor I could have for this process.

I might have stalked Valen’s Linkedin profile once or twice before and concluded that he is a genius existing on a different level compared to me. But, in person, he is extremely humble, thoughtful, and fun. The mentorship program itself has tasks and projects to encourage self-reflection and keep mentees accountable with their application process. And then, there are incredible benefits from having a mentor that cannot be found elsewhere. As an Immunology Ph.D. at Stanford, Valen gave me insights on life and career as an immunologist and gave me lots of information on the research being done in different institutions—things that I would not be able to google easily. As an MIT alumnus—with Harvard research experience—he also gave me lots of tips for preparing what the admission committee at Harvard looks for. He also connected me to students he knew from Harvard, who also gave me incredible input and advice. Not only did I become a more informed applicant from all this, but I also gained better insights on what kind of field I would want to pursue and obtained a more profound perspective on how this field could truly help me achieve my life’s purpose.

Harvard Medical School is located in Boston’s Longwood Medical Area, the “Mecca of biomedical sciences”- as it hosts several world class medical schools and over a dozen specialty hospitals
Harvard Medical School is located in Boston’s Longwood Medical Area, the “Mecca of biomedical sciences,” as it hosts several world-class medical schools and over a dozen of specialty hospitals.

Being thoroughly supported by so many accomplished mentors—and working together with other mentees—also made me realize I was not alone in this fight. This was incredibly encouraging because, believe me, this whole graduate school application is exhausting! But, knowing that all these accomplished people believed I could do it gave me the drive to go through the process until the end. In fact, even after the mentorship program ended, I still received valuable advice from my mentor as I prepared for my admission interview.

I submitted my application feeling hopeful yet prepared for the worst—this is Harvard, after all. But when I woke up on April 1 and checked my email, there it was. I could scarcely believe my eyes. (and for a while there, I hoped it was not some kind of an April fool’s joke!)

I woke up my boyfriend, my parents, and my brother, and all of them responded ecstatically. Come morning; I was so happy to see all my friends who have supported me now celebrate with me. And, of course, I had to let my mentor and the IM team know, as I felt I would not be able to pull this off if not for the mentorship program!

The letter of acceptance from my dream university
The letter of acceptance from my dream university

Graduate school application was probably the hardest thing I have ever done career-wise. My life was consumed by GRE, essays, transcript translations, and recommendation requests for a whole year. And I believe the actual preparation lasts years beyond that. As the thought-provoking article by Andhyta Firselly Utami said, you bank upon three things throughout your career: credentials, connections, and competence. These three things banked up over the years that would make you a worthy candidate; in fact, these three things will be able to take you anywhere.

I should still note that enrolling in the IM mentorship is not a guaranteed ticket to your dream school. But, it will very much help you to get there. This program is truly one of the best things that ever happened to my career. Through the tasks, I was guided through refining my life purpose, writing a compelling essay, and portraying myself in the best possible light. I was able to get valuable know-how about the process even though this is my first time applying, which really took out the nervousness and mistakes I might have struggled with otherwise. And thanks to this program, I never went through all this alone.

The magical winter night that made me fall in love with Boston
The magical winter night that made me fall in love with Boston

Believe me when I say that all those hard work, struggle, and perseverance are worth thousand times over. I will never again say to myself that I was not good enough, or think any dream is too ridiculous, or say “I cannot do it.” Because with hard work, perseverance, support—and if I dare to say, a mentor—no dream is impossible.

Image credit: HMS, Masco, author

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