Smarter, Better, Faster, Stronger
Hey everyone, this is Dan Hoang your DO16 OMSGA Student Director of Technology with a guide on tech purchases to help optimize your med student experience. These are all purchases I had personally made and would do again in a heartbeat. For the most part, these purchases will probably most benefit the student that uses their laptop/computers frequently and even moreso the students that like to study in the comfort of their own home.
The general rule of thumb for me when making purchases is that it’s worth it to spend a little more money on whatever I’ll be spending a majority of my time doing. With that reasoning, I probably should have spent less on my bed and even more on my computer. Anyways, here is what my general study space set up looks like at home (except I swapped one of the monitors for a smaller one so I could relocate it to my 2nd desk in socal). Slickdeals is a great place to keep an eye out for deals, and accidentally buy a ton of junk you don’t need. Personal highlights include buying 500 pens for $5 … half were dead on arrival.
This is the study setup I used during my first two years (and still going strong) of medical school. I technically optimized it for playing games, but it so happens that what made playing games comfortably for me also made studying a much more comfortable, smooth experience.
From a glance here, you can see that I study off all my powerpoints digitally so I can edit them. See the slide on the left on “hypoglycemia” for an example. On that entire page, I summarized the key detail as “normal fasting <110” bolded and in red. Everything else I put in tiny font so I could skip over it. That is personally how I always “optimized” my notes for classes, and here are the things I used to make that process go smoothly. And of course, learn the hotkeys to make each text modification much quicker.
The key things I’ll cover are:
3) Solid State Drive
5) Mechanical Keyboard
If you feel like you ever get eye strain or headaches or migraines by the end of a long day studying, you should at least read points #1 and #2
There are a number of benefits to having another monitor. This purchase applies specifically to those who like to study at home.
1) The most obvious one would be to have a larger screen size to view your notes/powerpoints in. I spend most of my study time viewing the powerpoints and anyone who does similarly would benefit greatly. I personally really, really hate the tiny screen (and huge bezel) on our school’s provided laptops. Believe me, an increase in screen space makes a world of difference.
2) It provides you with a second monitor to work with in addition to your laptop screen. If you work with multiple things at once – say powerpoint in one screen and a table or study guide in the other (or let’s be honest, Wikipedia), this will make the transitions and comparisons between them much, much easier.
3) This is a little more variable based on component quality and subjectivity, but having a monitor may help reduce your eye strain. For reference, the primary monitor that I use is a Dell P2314H (their line of laptops and computers disgust me, but they actually make a very good quality line of monitors). For reference, I actually purchased this when Dell was having a sale on refurbished monitors, took a leap of faith, and lucked out.
I specifically picked this one out for 3 major criteria: IPS, anti-glare, and less lag/ghosting (this last one is probably not relevant to 99.193% of you)
IPS is essentially a type of monitor technology that you’ll find on higher quality panels. You can read up on it more or just take my word for it, but trust me that these are the best types of monitors for your money.
Anti-glare makes a huge difference for those of you with eye-strain or simply spend way too much time in front of a monitor without taking any breaks (me). The problem with this is that some monitors add just a little too much on and it causes some grainy-ness to the image quality and might make things worse. Usually you can search through the reviews for “grain” or “dirty” – but most that have this coating that are well-reviewed probably won’t have a big issue. TFTcentral is a great place for monitor reviews. A lighter anti-glare coat (or not aggressive) is my personal preference. On the other end of the spectrum, monitors that are classified as “glossy” will give you the purest, most vibrant images, but suffer from the most reflection and strain. From experience, I had to upgrade from my old glossy monitor because my eyes would start to water halfway through the day. The alternative to this solution is presented in purchase #2:
2. The Glasses
This recommendation varies depending on those of you with perfect vision (does that exist in med school?), preference for glasses, preference for contacts. This purchase benefits anyone who uses their laptop/electronic devices to study frequently.
For those who like to use glasses for everyday use (like myself), the best option in my opinion is to get glasses with an anti-glare coating applied to it the next time you see your optometrist. If this is the route you go with, make sure your optometrist uses a good quality one with a warranty on it – it should probably cost somewhere in the $80 range. The lower quality ones have a higher tendency to pick up smudges and get scratched off easily (hence the importance of the warranty, too). This is currently what I use and it has made using my glossy monitor bearable and all the other ones even more perfect.
For those of you who only want to use the glasses for use when studying in front of a computer, there’s special glasses designed for that. The most well-known types are called “Gunnar Optiks” (gunner is too appropriate). I don’t care for t their marketing crap, but these basically are frames with an anti-glare coat applied. They’re generally well-reviewed but I haven’t tried them myself. They come in a yellow (more filtered) or clear variant depending on what you prefer. People will laugh at you less if you buy the clear variant.
The only negative I’d have to address with these is they get dirty really, really easily. They use a hydrophobic (wow biochem) layer for its effects but it attracts smudges really easily even though I swear there’s no way I could have touched them. Make sure to invest in some good cleaning cloths to carry around everywhere. Or have a pair dedicated for computer use and regular glasses for other everyday use, which is what I do now.
This purchase benefits anyone who uses their laptop for anything.
This might sound like something only some hardcore tech geek would get and benefit from, but believe me, the differences in speed are absolutely amazing.
Do you remember what Dial-up/AOL used to feel like? (assuming I’m not dating myself here)
That is essentially what you have in your laptops right now. This is broadband. Fiberoptics. Google Fiber. This is that big of a jump from what you’re using.
This is the first time you’ve had In n’ Out after a life of mediocre fast food. This is everything you ever wanted.
Hyperbole aside, I’m really not exaggerating how big the speed difference is. The top entry in this chart is a solid state drive and what we have is basically the last or 2nd last entry.
It’s easy to clone your current hard drive and slip this one without having to reinstall anything. You’ll notice any application you click on will open instantly. Your laptop will boot in less than ten seconds. Your life as you know it will have changed.
If you buy this, lean towards reliability over speed. Most people won’t notice the small gains between drives unless you have a side-job of editing videos for a living. As far as I know, brands like Intel and Samsung have good track records for reliability. Check reviews, they’re very helpful.
For reference, I purchased this Samsung 840 series. You can wait for better deals – usually a price range of less than 50 cents per gigabyte is good (~$110 for 240 GBs would be considered a deal depending on the brand).
EDIT: The price range has dropped since this article was written. I wouldn’t pay more than $50 for 120 GBs or about $90-100 for 240 GBs.
The size of the drive should be at least 120 GBs to be convenient and practical in my opinion. 240GB is preferable, but you only need your major programs installed on the SSD (Windows, Office, OneNote, etc.) and your usual downloads of whatever can go somewhere else. For that reason, I’d recommend swapping out your DVD/CD-drive with a hard-drive caddy to hold your old/current laptop hard drive it comes with, especially if discs are something you never use anymore.
Treading more into geek territory – this is a necessary purchase if you like to click around a lot. However, this might not benefit a large number of you. Here’s a description of why it’s been so great for me:
When I’m going through the material for the first time, my mouse cursor is always in motion highlighting and editing text. When I’m reading the powerpoints, my mouse cursor is always following where I’m reading. I don’t know if any of you do anything similar, but if you do (or want to), you simply cannot afford to waste time or effort thinking about or trying to make your mouse move where you want it to. It should be a fluid, complete immersion to prevent you from being distracted. This philosophy could be attributed to my gaming background. If you are studying and are in the zone, you want to eliminate any variables that could slow you down.
The mouse should be able to get anywhere on your screen within milliseconds without having to think about it. To compliment this, a good mouse pad should be used to help make your mouse glide around with little effort or resistance. For both, the quality needs to be “good enough for gaming” to be really effective.
The two that I currently own are Logitech G500s and a ThermalTake eSports Saphira – both of which are fantastic. Another notable brand is Razer which produced one of my personal favorite mouses until my dog chewed through it. Those are both way too expensive right now, but sales do come around every now and then for a good mouse. The thermaltake I managed to snatch for $10 pending rebates, which was a steal.
More recently (2015), I have also invested in a pair of gloves for my right wrist for both stabilization and an included small base of the palm gel pad for improved comfort.
This is by far the lowest on my list of recommendations. However, if you type a lot and spend a lot of time at home, you may really want to consider this. It’s a little expensive for what you get, but it makes typing much easier.
I honestly have a really hard time explaining why these feel so great. It’s a completely different experience typing this little column out on this keyboard compared to the junk ones included on our school laptop. If you like to type up your notes and you study best at home, this should be an almost no-brainer.
Why almost? These things are expensive and some can be loud. Each key is mechanically crafted and provides tactile feedback in comparison to the usual rubber membranes you’d find in laptops like ours. This means the parts to produce it are expensive, and each keystroke will generate a bit more noise than a normal keyboard would. Depending on the person, the noise may actually be a bit of a positive. This gives you double the feedback when you’re typing to move on to the next key essentially – both the force from the switch being hit and from the sound of the key.
My friend wrote a pretty great article on why these are great and why you should get one:
There’s multiple different types of switches for the keyboards covered in that article. My recommendation is to not get a “blue” switch if you live with any roommates or significant others – it’s one of the loudest ones. I’m currently using a Cherry MX Brown Rosewill, which is not the best out there but it was cheap and certainly gets the job done if you don’t need extra features. Personally, I’d say go with the “brown” switches.
Other recent discoveries (2015): USMLEworld’s question bank will be your best friend for studying. I highly suggest using some emulation like VMWare to run it (assuming it still works for you a year from now) as it prevents their trojan-like code from running. It will make it easier to look up things, possibly cut and paste things, and in general just a much smoother experience.
That pretty much sums up all the major devices I use to help me be more effective and efficient at studying. If you have any questions, feel free to contact me. (firstname.lastname@example.org)