Austin Wyant will graduate this week with a bachelor’s degree in Exercise Physiology, but it’s only the beginning of his journey. Austin was recently selected as a finalist for a Fulbright, one of the most competitive awards that a college student can earn.
The next few years are already laid out for Austin. His Fulbright will take him to Scotland this fall where he will earn an M.Sc. in Health Psychology at the University of Stirling. Upon finishing the graduate program, Austin will return to Florida for the start of his medical education at the University of Miami Miller School of Medicine.
Major: Exercise Physiology
Minors: Chemistry & Psychology
Class: Spring 2018
Research Interests: Physician-driven behavioral health interventions
Tell us a little about your life before college.
I was born in St. Petersburg and raised in Odessa, a small part of the larger Tampa Bay area. I lived in the same house throughout my childhood, with my parents and younger brother Evan, and I went to Sickles High School (“Home of The Gryphons”).
What brought you to Florida State University?
Although I visited and considered several other universities, FSU was different. Whenever I visited campus, a familiar, homey feeling came over me. Whether it was a campus tour, preview day, singing the Hymn to the Garnet and Gold at a PRISM concert, performing at Ruby Diamond Concert Hall for the Tri-State Band Festival, or watching pre-game and halftime while attending High School Band Day, it always felt like home. I also loved the idea of going to FSU because I knew moving away from home would take me out of my comfort zone. I proudly embraced the challenge and the personal growth that came with it.
What extracurriculars were you involved with?
I have been playing the euphonium (marching equivalent is the baritone) since sixth grade. I joined Marching Chiefs and was in the T.O.N.E. section all four years. I was also in the Seminole Sound pep band for three years. One of my high school band directors (Keith Griffis, a former FSU head drum major) played a large role in inspiring me to continue music in college. I am also involved with several other organizations, on-and-off campus. The most notable ones being 2-1-1 Big Bend, where I am a Hotline Crisis Counselor, Shift Supervisor, and Trainer, and the Pre-Medical American Medical Student Association, where I am a Community Director.
Did you always want to be a physician?
No, actually. In high school, AP Psychology was my favorite course. Going off that, I initially decided I was going to double major in psychology and business so that I could open up a private practice as a clinical psychologist. I thought, “You know what? I’m going to be a clinical psychologist and if I change my mind, then I change my mind.” It only took one semester for my plans to change…
What was that process like?
During that first semester, I realized that although I still enjoyed psychology and mental health, I also wanted to help people improve their physical health. After doing some research and speaking with professionals from almost all the helping professions, I narrowed my search down to nursing (both my parents are nurses), dietetics (I love nutrition), and medicine (the big question mark).
Why was medicine a big question mark?
Although there are a lot of healthcare practitioners in my family (nurses, vets, and pharmacists), I will be the first physician. I didn’t have any familial role-models to look up to or lean on, so I suppose it’s somewhat analogous to what a first-generation college student experiences. What really made me apprehensive though was my relatively limited science background and hearing people who were already pre-med complain about how difficult their classes were. However, I knew it was my favorite because physicians have the largest scope of practice. What I mean by that is if I believe a patient’s mental health can be improved, I will be able to treat that. If I believe a patient’s physical health can be improved, I will be able to treat that.
Was there a professor that impacted your career choice?
Mark Zeigler. I was in the Social Justice Living-Learning Community my freshman year and he was our professor for Social Responsibility (Rhetorically Speaking), a small public speaking course. I told him about my dilemma and how of the three careers I was considering, medicine was on top. He had one thing to say to me: go for it. If being a physician is what I want to be, I should at least try, or else I will live the rest of my life asking, “what if?” He was so right. So, when it came time to register for spring classes, I decided to test myself. I wanted to see if I truly had what it takes.
What excites you most about a career in medicine?
The patients and the relationships I will be able to build with them. The thought of empowering people from all walks of life to be the best versions of themselves, physically and mentally. And lastly, being the person that people trust the most for information, guidance, and hope in regard to their health.
Once you knew you wanted to be a physician, what made you choose Exercise Physiology?
Growing up, I was sedentary, and I ate horribly. My daily meals usually consisted of cereal, macaroni and cheese, and McDonalds or Wendy’s chicken nuggets, fries, and ice cream. After joining my first little league football team, I realized I could no longer ignore the fact that I was overweight and would likely never see the field because I would be moved up to the weight class with the older (stronger) kids. My coach ran me through extra conditioning before and after practice. Although it helped, the pivotal transformation occurred when I started eating better. Having personally experienced the positive impacts of a healthy diet and exercise regimen, I knew I wanted to learn more about those areas and how I could foster them in others.
Exercise Physiology did that for me and then some. I believe it is the best pre-health major because not only does it cover applicable topics like anatomy, nutrition, and metabolism, but it is also broad enough for people applying to most health professional schools.
What were your favorite classes in the program?
I truly enjoyed most of the classes in Exercise Physiology, but I really liked the content in Nutrition with Ms. Neda Akhavan, Metabolism I with Ms. Jennifer Farrell, Food and Society with Mr. William Clay, and Exercise Psychology with Ms. Gily Meir.
Did you have any other favorite classes?
A lot of other pre-meds might cringe if they heard me say this, but I loved Biochemistry with Dr. Rexford, and Organic Chemistry with Drs. Hilinski and Profeta. They were difficult… sure, but fascinating. I suppose that just goes to show I chose the right career path. I also really enjoyed Hormones and Behavior with Dr. Wang.
How did you find out about the Fulbright?
At orientation, the Office of National Fellowships (ONF) held an informational session on fellowships and it was there that I met Josh Stanek. He was my first professional contact at FSU, my Garnet & Gold Scholar Society overall program advisor, and my main Fulbright advisor. What started as an idea and a conversation with him nearly four years ago turned into a reality. It is truly surreal. None of this would be possible without the help of the ONF team. If any FSU student wants to apply for nationally competitive fellowships like Fulbright, Marshall, Rhodes, etc., I highly recommend they make an appointment.
What was the process like, applying to medical school and fellowships at the same time?
You could say that the processes started freshman year with my grades, but things really got underway when I wrote the first draft of ~20 medical school personal statements back in July 2016. I started prepping for the MCAT during winter break in December 2016 and took the test in May 2017. After that, my time was split between working on my medical school applications and my Fulbright application. Each application had two separate components. The first medical school application component (i.e. AMCAS) could be submitted as early as June 1. After that, I started receiving the second medical school application component (secondaries) from individual schools in waves between June and July. Thankfully, I had most of the responses pre-written because the previous year’s prompts were available on Student Doctor Network. This allowed me to apply to schools as early as possible, which, in my opinion, is critical for success. I received my first medical school interview invite from the University of Miami in August. Shortly thereafter, I submitted the first Fulbright application component. I then went through the required step of being interviewed by a three-person, FSU-based Fulbright Scholarship Committee. They read over my application, gave me tips on how to improve it, and assessed my maturity, motivation, adaptability, etc. That evaluation was included in my application, which I had a week to revise and submit. In early October I had another interview at Miami, followed by one at the University of Kentucky. When my plane landed back in Tallahassee on the morning of October 8th, the long stretch was over and I finally had a moment to breath.
When did you hear back from Miami?
It was October 31. I was about to head to 2-1-1 Big Bend for training after wrapping up a lab when I got a call from an unknown number. I thought it was a solicitor, so I picked it up, and hung up… They called again, so this time I picked it up; good thing I did. I will never forget the shock that ran through my body when the woman on the line, who sounded like a fourth-year medical student, nearly crying tears of joy, told me that I had been accepted to the University of Miami Miller School of Medicine.
When did you hear back from Fulbright?
On January 26, a couple months after submitting my application, some people on Reddit were posting about how their Fulbright advisors told them we would hear back if we were semi-finalists. I was ready for anything. My heart dropped when the email came in: “We are pleased to inform you that you have been recommended as a semi-finalist by the National Screening Committee of the Institute of International Education (IIE) for the 2018-19 Fulbright U.S. Student Program.” Shortly thereafter I received an email from the US-UK Fulbright Commission informing me that I would be interviewed by a three-person committee via Skype in February. After that was over, it was another lengthy wait.
When did you find out you were a finalist for Fulbright?
I was sitting in an 8am class on April 10th when I got an email from one of my advisors at ONF with the subject line “You Know.” Turns out, I didn’t know. I was speechless. I quickly hurried to check my secondary email (which is technically my “permanent email”) and there it was: The original email from the IIE, which had actually been sent the night before, read: “On behalf of the J. William Fulbright Foreign Scholarship Board (the Board), I am pleased to congratulate you on your selection for a Fulbright award” to the United Kingdom. Meanwhile, my professor was lecturing about Substance Abuse and I was trying to hold it together…
What will you be doing while you’re away?
I’ll be in Scotland at the University of Stirling from September through July. There, I hope to research how physicians can more effectively motivate patients to improve their health-related behaviors (e.g. quitting smoking, eating healthier, exercising more, etc.). Throughout my experience there, I plan on furthering the Fulbright mission of increasing “mutual understanding between the people of the United States and the people of other countries.” I aim to do this by being actively involved in organizations like Surf, Snow Sports, and the Volunteering Society. I also hope to continue playing the euphonium in a local community band.
Why did you choose the University of Stirling?
To apply for Fulbright Study/Research Award, I first had to pick what country I wanted to apply to. I knew I wanted to do research where it would be applicable to both the U.S. and the host country. The U.K. was the best fit for me in that regard. Now that I knew which country I was going to apply to, I had to pick one of the 50 awards offered. Almost all the individual university awards listed are named the same… “University of (blank) Award.” However, the University of Stirling caught my eye with an award titled Health, Well-Being and Sport. It just sounded like me, so I started looking at them first. I read about their health psychology program, emailed the course director about the research I wanted to do, and we hit it off through emails and Skype conversations. I knew it was a great fit for me.
Why did you choose the University of Miami?
When I visited Miami for my interview day and second look weekend, something eerily similar to what happened whenever I visited FSU’s campus occurred. The feeling of “home” told me everything I needed to know. This was the school for me. There, I can challenge myself and grow by once again moving to a place unlike anywhere I have lived before. Most importantly though, the students, faculty and patients are incredibly diverse, in more ways than one. Additionally, the clinical experience is unmatched, unlike the Miller students who apply for residency year-after-year.
Finally, any thoughts on what type of physician you want to be?
My “top 3” specialties change all the time, but right now I could see myself as a dermatologist, gastroenterologist, or, if I like surgery, a neurosurgeon.