I find the idea of a Note-Taking Prize enormously appealing. Were UCSF to resurrect it, I have no doubt the winner would be Ming, a pharmacy student I've gotten to know over the past couple of months. Her notes make mine look feeble, although, granted, our styles differ greatly. During the minilectures in lab, I simply jot words and phrases onto a small pad that fits into my scrubs shirt pocket while Ming records sentence after sentence on sheets of graph paper in tiny, perfect print. She uses a four-color Bic pen, the kind I have not seen since junior high—red ink for notes on blood vessels, black for nerves, green for muscles, blue for organs—clicking from one to another with barely a glance up.Bill Hayes, The Anatomist: A True Story of Gray's Anatomy (New York: Ballantine Books, 2008), ch. 5. (This passage comes after a discussion of a speech by Sir Benjamin Brodie to medical students in 1850 in which he emphasized the importance of good note-taking and says that he awards a prize each year to the student with the "best series of clinical notes.")
It was over the topic of note taking, in fact, that Ming and I bonded during one of the first labs. I happened to be standing next to her and saw her in action.
"Those notes are beautiful," I said in all sincerity in a pause between her clicks.
"Oh, these are just rough," she replied, and not out of false modesty. Ming planned to rewrite them once she got home, combining her lecure and lab notes and supplementing them with snippets from the textbook. She would then transfer those to a three-ring binder, color-coded by course subject. Now that's my kind of obsessiveness.