In the middle of September, many students are finally grasping the concept of each of their classes. But Graham Wehmeyer, a senior microbiology major, was walking into the dreaded MCAT, or Medical College Admission Test, completely prepared.
Seven and a half hours later, Wehmeyer became one of the few examinees to receive a perfect 45 on the MCAT.
But the road to this perfect score was not easy.
It began during Wehmeyer's childhood. He was always interested in sciences, especially biology, and was raised in a strongly academic family.
"I was lucky enough to have a family that understood the importance of academics — my dad has been a professor at KU since 1999 and is currently the director of the Beach Center on Disability and the co-director of the KU Center on Developmental Disabilities — and encouraged me to pursue my interests at every opportunity," he said.
However, even with an academic-heavy family, Wehmeyer said he struggled with academics in high school. He had trouble understanding how he could connect the material he learned with how to use it.
During his junior and senior year of high school, Wehmeyer said he was lucky enough to take part in a bioscience program at Blue Valley's Center for Professional Studies. This program focused on exposing students to how they could apply bioscience to the real world. This included learning correct lab techniques, knowing how to design and perform research projects and understanding scientific literature.
The program sparked Wehmeyer's interest for molecular bioscience and paved the way to his microbiology major. He was able to obtain a position in a molecular bioscience lab at the University before he was a freshman.
Despite his difficult major, Wehmeyer said he had to adjust to a heavy load to study for the MCAT.
“It takes time and practice," Wehmeyer said. "The test that you take, it plays to your strengths, it plays to your weaknesses."
The menu Wehmeyer had created for himself looks to be rigorous to the normal student; however, Wehmeyer made sure to leave room for pleasure within his schedule. He said he believes a student will not be able to perform well when under the constant stress of the MCAT, and must leave room for relaxation and a social life.
“It’s important to not get too caught up in studying all the time,” Wehmeyer said, “If you study 24/7, you’ll burn yourself out and you won’t do as well.”
Wehmeyer began studying for the MCAT in May, allowing him flexibility between juggling studying, volunteering at Heartland Community Health Center and a job at a microbial genetics research lab with Susan Egan.
“[Studying] didn’t [affect my daily life] that much actually which was nice,” Wehmeyer said, “The lab I’m in is really great because it’s pretty flexible … I could fit 4-5 hours of research in a day and then go study and still be done at 8 or 9 and go watch a movie or go out.”
The Heartland Community Health Center is a clinic based in Lawrence dedicated to providing service to underserved and uninsured people. Wehmeyer did not have much extra time while studying for the MCAT, but still volunteered at the health center.
"I do a variety of tasks, ranging from managing their electronic health care system to helping patients make appointments to assisting in various outreach events and programs," Wehmeyer said.
Wehmeyer also has a job at a research lab in 8031 Haworth, working under Egan, the chair of molecular biosciences department at the University. He researches the AraC family of proteins, which are involved in regulating various responses in bacteria.
"Most of the work I've done over the last couple years has been looking at things like stability and DNA-binding affinities of the proteins in different environments, and trying to develop a model that explains what is happening at the molecular level and why they evolved to function the way they do," Wehmeyer said.
To study for the test, Wehmeyer either forced himself to take a full-length MCAT, which lasts about eight hours, in one sitting, or looked over topics that could be seen on the test. Wehmeyer’s background in microbiology helped, as he had an understanding of a large amount of the material.
"I've always been interested in biology and systems, how they regulate each other," Wehmeyer said, "Really microbiology is just a smaller version of humans. It's the same concepts, but obviously it's important to know about infectious diseases. ... It's a good way to start looking at medicine from the bottom up."
However, with studying comes sacrifices. Although studying did not affect his life too much, Wehmeyer said he had to reject a few weekends out at the lake with his friends.
But the perfect score was worth the sacrifices he made — he now has an opportunity to attend a prestigious medical school, like Harvard.
However, Wehmeyer said he wouldn't focus his application on a specific school and would be happy to receive acceptance from any he applies to, including the University's Medical Center.
"I'd be more than happy to attend any school that can provide me what I need to become a physician, so I certainly can't narrow my choices down to a top two," Wehmeyer said.
After he found out about his score, Wehmeyer said he was overcome with several feelings, but regret was not one of them. He believed that each plan within his regimen was necessary for success, including staying in for a few weekends.
“It’s hard to look back and say I wish I had done this differently, but no, I don’t regret it,” he said.
— Edited by Minami Levonowich