Elijah Azar, '21, (back row right) poses with his baritone saxophone section in the UC Davis marching band. The dog, Pint, is famous for retrieving the tee for the football after kickoff at a football game. (Photo courtesy of Azar)

FRESHMAN FOCUS: Elijah Azar, ’21, commutes to and enjoys classes at UC Davis

Elijah Azar, ’21, attends the University of California, Davis. He is majoring in biochemistry and molecular biology, with a planned career in medicine.

Q: Why did you want to pursue your major?

A: It’s a bit of a long story. I’ll boil it down: I find biochemical processes on the cellular level very interesting. And I have not yet gotten bored of them, despite the fact that I continue to learn about it constantly.

What started this was when I first learned about the central dogma (of biology, regarding the transcription of DNA) in middle school. I saw that image in my dad’s biochem textbook, and when he explained it to me, my mind was blown. That was the spark. And also a lot of the courses do coincide with my desire to become a doctor.

Q: What’s the plan after college?

A: The plan at the moment is to do a gap year between college and medical school. If I didn’t take a gap year, I would end up having to cram more courses into sophomore year, study for MCATs about a year earlier than I would, and do secondary interviews and essays during senior year, which would be horrible for my psyche. I could not handle that stress. The end goal at the moment is to be a general practitioner in family medicine, but that might change.

Q: What classes are you currently taking?

A: Biology, cultural anthropology, Latin and a seminar course that was recommended for everyone at the College of Biological Sciences.

Q: What is your seminar course?

A: Teaching you how to schedule, how to write a resume, how to properly write an email to a researcher when you’re trying to become a part of their lab. Most of it Country Day already taught us or I learned beforehand, but there were some tidbits that were particularly useful. They’d show you various resources like advising, advising offices, and different pathways to careers.

Q: What’s your favorite class?

A: My favorite class of this quarter definitely has to be cultural anthropology. I ended up taking it for a GE (requirement) and also because I thought improving my cultural competency would be a good idea, especially since I’m trying to become a doctor that directly talks to patients. I went in with the assumption that it would be relatively tedious, and it was not at all in the slightest. It’s opened my worldview up a lot.

Q: What’s your least favorite class?

A: Probably the seminar course. It’s not that it’s a bad seminar course;  it’s just that I’ve learned most of the information already. So going there most of the time ends up being a chore. But it’s only like once a week, so it’s not too bad.

Q: How large are your classes on average?

A: It really depends on the class. My Latin class is about 15 students. Language courses tend to be smaller. For the more general education courses like biology, chemistry, calculus, math, they tend to be significantly larger — about 100 to 200 people per lecture. The best spot for me is near the front, just because I can actually hear the teacher properly, and it’s easier for me to engage with them.

Q: What is your workload like?

A: Large. So on top of my three classes, I’m in marching band, which I’ve never done before. I’ve been in a concert band, jazz band, but never a marching band before. It’s quite fun. I play baritone saxophone. It’s a lot more physically taxing than I thought it would be. But it’s good — it’s exercise. I still perform in a church orchestra. And I recently started working at a student-led clinic called Nadezhda Clinic. It’s one of the eight student-led clinics affiliated with the Davis med school. It specializes in primary care, focusing on the underserved Russian immigrant population. 

Q: How’s the living situation?

A: I commute from Sacramento. I don’t live in the dorms. It saves us a lot of money. Parking is a struggle, but during orientation, I figured out the parking times and leaving times that are ideal. So pre-9 a.m. you can find a parking spot just about anywhere. After 9 a.m., good luck. After 5 p.m. though, then you can start finding stuff again because people usually leave around 4 to 5 p.m. 

Q: How’s the social life?

A: There’s not a whole lot of time to socialize. I’ve made it that way. I fully understand that I’m investing more time into myself. It’s also a lot more difficult because I commute everywhere. If I lived in the dorms, it would be easier, but at the same time, I much prefer having my own study space and not spending $11,000 a year.

Q: How do you like the campus?

A: It’s great. I love the campus so much. There are so many things packed into this area. The lights at night are great. It’s so bright, it’s almost difficult not to see people across campus even though it’s pitch black. There are bike paths everywhere. There are pedestrian paths everywhere. The only unfortunate thing is that no one follows the traffic rules. 

A lot of colors, a lot of nature. All sorts of species of trees. The ground squirrels are not scared of anyone. They fear nothing. It’s a really large distance between classes, but I can justify being a pedestrian because mine are reasonably close. I still have my rolling backpack, if you were wondering.

Q: Have you made any freshmen mistakes? 

A: Oh yeah, a big one with the UC Davis class scheduling system. Basically, freshmen in their first quarter get the lowest priority in terms of registering for classes. You have registration pass times; like 8 a.m. sharp, my registration opens. And you make all these possible schedules ranging from this is the ideal schedule to the “I have no other choice” type of schedule. And I made six of them. Completely useless. Two or three is more than enough. Also, by the time my pass time came around, there were a couple of slots left. I pressed register on each class individually. I should not have done that. You just press register all. Literally, seconds can make the difference between whether you get into the class or not.

Q: How well do you think Country Day prepares you for college?

A: Very, very well. If you didn’t actively cheat your way through class you will be prepared. I’m not saying it’s easy, but you’ll be prepared.

Q: Anything you miss about Country Day?

A: With Country Day, you get to see your teachers, you get to see a lot of your friends that are in your classes pretty much every day, and you get to talk to them actively during lunch. Here, even the friends you have in your classes, you might only share one class with. They have vastly different schedules. They eat lunch at different times, in different places. And you won’t have classes five days a week. Country Day has consistency.

Five-Star or Sub-Par?
Teacher-student interaction
School spirit

— By Nihal Gulati

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