On “Gunners”

After taking almost a week off to watch 90s-era comedies and eat a lot of sugar cookies, today I copied a popular diagram of the immune system onto my white board.

Then I spent 3 hours goofing off online  When I opened the door of my room to talk to a classmate, she saw the whiteboard and her eyes widened as she said “Wow, so you’re a gunner, huh?”

I thought she was joking, so I laughed it off and explained that 1) I didn’t understand the diagram fully yet, and 2) It takes like, 20 minutes to draw.  Not exactly serious studying time.

But I think she was actually serious.  And it made me think about the term “gunner”, because it gets thrown around a lot (I’ve heard people half-jokingly called gunners for color-coding notes, using recorders in small group sessions, and being involved in research.  And in my case, for using highlighters in lecture.  WTF).   But being jokingly called a gunner has never bothered me – it just doesn’t make any sense.

Maybe it’s because people think I’m not actually just hitting the average on most tests, but even if I was above average, I still think the word “gunner” is, at best, inaccurate, and at worst, unfair. Here’s why:

1)  The definition of “gunner” is someone who props themselves up to look awesome at the expense of their classmates.  The usual examples involve note stealing, book stealing, passing off inaccurate information to others, showing up earlier than expected to clinical rotations, etc.  (If you just think someone is obnoxiously ambitious, we already have a perfectly good phrase for that.*)

2)  But if another person just studies a lot, that affects you approximately not at all.

3)  If another person studies during break, that also affects you approximately not at all.

4)  That is, unless your current unit is set up so that the bottom 13% of people will automatically fail, in which case… well, can you really blame somebody for not wanting to fail?  Yes, me passing will push someone else under that 13% line – but that’s the school’s choice, not mine.

The people who are usually at the top will keep studying like they have, but the people who are sometimes below average will have to step it up.  All of us.  It doesn’t make you a “gunner” to recognize that fact and respond accordingly.

5)  Sometimes interviewees will ask me “How competitive are your classmates?”.  I used to say “Not at all” and explain how cooperative and awesome everyone was, but then I realized none of the pre-meds ever really believed me.  So I now also truthfully add, “Some people here may be intrinsically competitive people – but there’s nothing they can do to affect you**.  If you offered me a million dollars to make myself look better by screwing over a classmate, I honestly would not know how to do it. And that’s not because I’m such a nice person, it’s just because the unranked, P/F pre-clinical system doesn’t allow for that.”

6)  We look at obsessive studying all wrong.  I’m sure there are people here who study far longer than they need to, but honestly? If someone is obsessively studying on a Friday night, then they really are behind. They really don’t understand the material as much as they want.  They’re the opposite of a gunner – because if you’re judging them for studying on a Friday night, that means you’ve decided you don’t have to, which means you’re actually more on top of it than they are.  Even if your standards for success are different – you’re achieving your standard, and they aren’t yet.  You still win.

I will study for a few hours today and tomorrow.  There are other students who will probably study more.

And that affects the other students here approximately not at all.

I understand that being indignant about the term “gunner” just sounds… suspicious.  It’s like how the only people who really hate the term “hipster” are.. well, hipsters.   But regardless, it’s adding insult to injury to use the term “gunner” for people who are actually behind or lost. So can we start reserving the term “gunner” for the people who really do intentionally screw over their classmates?

* “Med student”
** Until the clinical years.  To find out how competitive people are then, you’d have to actually find a 3rd year student to ask, which… well, good luck with that.
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12 thoughts on “On “Gunners”

  1. Don’t forget the other important part of being a gunner: you have to be at the top of the class. As opposed to those people who screw over their classmates with little or no benefit to themselves and/or don’t have the grades to be a gunner. The technical term for that type is “douchebag”.

  2. Studying constantly doesn’t make you a gunner–it makes you a nerd. Coming up with tons of diagrams and excessive flash cards and resultantly getting good grades is nerd behavior.

    Being a gunner is totally different. There’s a malicious competitiveness behind gunner behavior that’s not behind nerdiness.

    It actually wasn’t entirely clear who in my class was a gunner till third year. Some people who we thought were gunners turned out to just be nerds and were very awkward and/or nice on the wards.

    • Thank you, Fizzy! I now have a quick rejoinder for when people call other people gunners for studying excessively – “No, they’re not being a gunner, they’re just being nerdy.” I mean, all of us are nerdy. We all study more than most other people would deem appropriate.

      You’re right, I do think we’ll see a whole different set of colors come out in 3rd year.

  3. So I’m a pre-med, and therefore know basically nothing. However, from the easy way I’ve heard “gunner” gets tossed around, it reminds a bit of the way “alcoholic” gets tossed around. It applies to anyone who drinks more than you… 😉 And I LOVE white boards. for an ochem final, I wrote out every reaction we’d covered on a string of white boards. Someday I’d like to turn an entire wall of my room into a white board.

    • Haha, awesome.

      So the best way to turn an entire wall of your room into a white board on the cheap is to pick up “shower board” from Home Depot. It’s super cheap and is basically just a non-magnetic white-board surface.

      I also diagrammed Ochem reactions on white boards. Fantastic way to study.

  4. I would argue ‘gunners’ are also those who are shooting for a very competitive residency (derm, optho, plastics) who are secretly looking for research projects or opportunities to boost their CV’s while pretending to be dumbfounded by the options in residency (as has been done by several of my classmates)

    • Haha, interesting.

      For better or worse, most people at my school are interested in the very competitive residencies from the start. (New interest group presidents were appointed last month, and despite the general rush of people applying to any leadership position available, and many reminders, we *still* don’t have interested leaders for the IM or FM interest groups. Kind of sad, but then again, I guess I’m not volunteering either, so I sure can’t judge.)

      The closest thing I can think of to what you describe is a girl here who is currently shadowing both plastic surgeons and dermatologists in an effort to figure out which one fits her better.

      I felt bad because immediately after hearing that THOSE were her top 2 choices (oh, and her crazy undergrad research CV) I mentally marked her as overly-competitive, but she’s actually the nicest girl in our class. Almost disappointing. Go figure.

  5. I am in a P/F program as well (delivered through problem-based-group learning).

    Some might call this the “hippie-kumbaya-socialist-curriculum-delivery”method. I like it (overall) because in our small groups if you show up with a power point or handouts no one thinks you are being a gunner, it just genuinely looks like you are putting in the effort for the benefit of yourself AND the group because a) it’s pass/fail and b) our group tutors give us no grades and have no influence on our marks.

    So in my class I couldn’t pick out the gunners at this stage, some highly socially maladjusted uber-nerds and barely passing piss-tanks but most of us are in the middle. Clinical rotations will prove to be interesting.

    Funny thing is I’ve had classmates tell me they REALLY hope I am in clinical with them and others who say they HOPE TO GOD they are not in my group (due to the fact that I was a nurse in my previous life). I am pretty sensitive to the fact that it makes people feel weird to do clinical stuff with me and I try to be unobtrusive unless they specifically ask me pointers/tricks/past experiences.

    Nerds of the world UNITE! hahah

    • Oh man, haven’t ever thought about the situation at P/F PBL schools – never even considered how gunning there would be fairly indistinguishable from “just helping out the group.” That’s pretty funny.

      I would kill to have a former nurse in my clinical group. That’s awesome.

      Can’t wait to read about your clinical rotations!

      • hahah, I am expecting a gong show… 🙂 Not being able to understand country accents, still feeling like a nurse, and being awkward in a different role. It’s going to be an interesting ride, to be sure.

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