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Advice about how to make a big decision

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AmberGretchen

Ideal_Rock
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Jan 6, 2005
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7,770
Hello everyone. This is my first time putting this all out in writing, so I apologize that it will probably get long and possibly confusing.

I''ve recently been sick, for about three weeks now, pretty much confined to my apartment since I was diagnosed with Whooping Cough and so I can''t go out since I might be contagious. I''ll probably be well enough to go back to my lab tomorrow, which has filled me with a deep sense of unhappiness, that I''ve confronted before, but this illness has given me time to really think about it, and I find that I''m no closer to arriving at a decision of any kind. So I thought I might see if some of the kind and intelligent people here, who have a different set of perspectives and experiences than the people I''ve already discussed this with have, have some ideas, to see if that might help provide some clarity.

A little bit of background first. I went to an ivy league college, which I loved - I''ve always enjoyed learning and this particular school encouraged independent direction and learning, which I''ve always appreciated (I did independent study in high school where I didn''t go to any classes but studied almost entirely on my own and just had to take exams with everyone else). I graduated in May of ''04 with a double major in biology and public policy (similar to political science). I had very much enjoyed both areas of study, and originally I wanted to attend medical school before I discovered that I hated organic chemistry and basic physics, and didn''t think I would be good enough with people to be a good doctor. So I decided to try working in a lab in college, and I loved it. Hence graduate school in the biological sciences seemed like the logical choice.

Problem is, here I am in my third year (so 2.5 years completed, approximately) of a PhD program and I''m pretty much miserable. I have a reasonably interesting project (although progress is incredibly slow and frustrating), nice labmates and an amazing boss. So I think its unlikely that, other than my project somehow speeding up, which I have very little control over, there''s anything I can change about my situation that might make me happier right now. I''m also happy with my life otherwise, so I don''t think its that either - I have a wonderful husband, great friends, and a reasonable number of hobbies and interests to occupy my time when I''m not in lab.

So the decision I''m struggling with (I know, finally), is whether or not to try to stick it out and finish my PhD. I''ve put a lot of thought into it, and I''ve come up with the following thoughts, in no particular order:

1. I don''t want to stay in science in the sense of doing it in a lab, but learning about it is still interesting to me. In fact, my favorite part of graduate school was researching and pulling together the 30-page proposal of a research plan for my qualifying exams, which involved exhaustive library research, tons of brainstorming about how to solve a particular problem, and then condensing it all down into a logical document and a short presentation which was defended before a committee of professors.

2. I like the idea of going into something like management consulting, but everything I''ve read so far indicates that a PhD in life sciences if that''s your field is necessary to get a job at a top firm, and if I leave now, I''d only get a Masters. Its really tough to find information on what my career options would be outside of science with a Masters in Immunology, so I feel like I''m operating from a lack of knowledge on that.

3. I hate the idea of being miserable a lot of the time for the next 2-3 years while I finish a degree in something I don''t want to spend my life doing.

4. I miss using other parts of my brain besides the science part - I am passionate about and interested in a number of issues, including most kinds of public policy and political science, history, art, and particularly in the issues surrounding the connection of science and health care to business and markets in a way that makes sense for everyone involved. I talked to someone who went from my program to a job at a top-three consulting firm and he compared being in grad school to body-building with only one muscle group. That''s a perfect analogy of how I feel and its frustrating.

5. I''m having trouble getting motivated (and I''m normally a really motivated person) to do the work I need to do in lab. I just can''t get excited about the minutiae that are essential for a good scientist to get worked up about. I find myself caring much more about the "big picture" than about the results of a particular experiment or trying to troubleshoot stuff in the lab, even though I know that its all related.

6. I know if I stop, it will feel like "quitting," and I hate to think of myself as a "quitter" - I know I''d be embarrassed and more important disappointed in myself for not sticking it out, although some of that would be tempered if I truly felt it was the right decision.

7. I can''t think of another academic program (i.e. law school, business school, etc...) that would make me happier right now. Sometimes I think maybe I should have gone the medical school route because I think I would enjoy it more than this in the short term, but I think over the long run it would have brought many of the same issues. Plus I would be in serious debt right now, whereas at least I get paid to be in graduate school.

8. I''ve always felt that a career in policy or public health at a lower level (i.e. the level of job I would currently be qualified for) would be way too frustrating for me - I''ve watched my mom go through this experience as an epidemiologist and I am not especially eager to repeat it, despite my strong interest in policy. I think that getting experience and seniority in business first is more the way to go.

OK, I think that''s everything I can think of. I also think its important to mention that I do understand that I''m incredibly lucky just to be having this problem - I have a lot more options than most people, and believe me I do feel blessed because of that. But I also dread going back to the lab, and I''ve been unhappy there and struggling with this decision for a while. I have talked to my mentor/boss about it, and he was very understanding and supportive and I know (again, I do realize how incredibly lucky this makes me) he''ll support whatever decisions I make and help me however he can (probably he''ll be less able to help with something outside science but I''m sure he''d still try).

Sorry this is so incredibly long, but I''m really hoping that maybe some of the wonderful people here can help provide some insight in this dilemma and maybe clarify what might be the best decision here. Thank you in advance for your advice - I''m really looking forward to reading it.
 

divergrrl

Ideal_Rock
Joined
Dec 9, 2002
Messages
2,224
I''m sorry you''ve been so sick Amber, and I wish I could say something helpful, but you are infinitely smarter than moi. However, I went through something similar & I quit my career. (but I only have a BA)

I was going to enter into an entirely new field, but I got pregnant (had been trying for a few years) and decided it wasn''t the time to start a new career (while feeling horrible & being utterly and completely exhausted all the time) just to leave 9 months later.

I''m still waiting to start that new career, but the one thing I can say, is take some time to research what you want to do, investigate some other options before you quit.

Is there any way that you could take a leave of absence from your program to do some more soul searching?

This is really a tough spot to be in, but I hope you are able to find some clarity soon.

Get Better,

Jeannine
 

phoenixgirl

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Joined
Mar 20, 2003
Messages
3,369
Hi,

First of all, I''m sorry you''ve been sick and hope you feel better soon.

I''m just going to throw some ideas out there and you can see if any of them make sense to you.

You said, "I hate the idea of being miserable a lot of the time for the next 2-3 years while I finish a degree in something I don''t want to spend my life doing." That is a pretty definitive statement to me. You don''t want to spend your life in this field, so why get a PhD in it?

Don''t worry about the feeling of quitting. It''s not as though you''ll have nothing to show for your efforts -- you''ll have a master''s degree, after all. Getting a degree you don''t want or need is just a waste. It would be like going through with a wedding just because you''d be embarrassed to cancel it. These things happen, and it''s always ok to change your mind.

Maybe you''re overthinking this one. When I took a job that deep-down I knew wasn''t right for me, I convinced myself to take it with a "pro/con" list. I realized later that I should trust my instincts because what makes you happy can''t be defined or plumbed with logic.

I have a feeling that there are a number of interesting jobs which would combine your talents and qualifications that you could get, and you may end up just falling into one of them. What does seem clear is that there''s nothing that you want to do so badly that you''re willing to put in years, whether in graduate school or working your way up from the bottom of the ladder, to attain it. You''re good at long term planning and achieving what you want, but the problem is you have to figure out what you want first.

You said, "I think that getting experience and seniority in business first is more the way to go." You might just apply for every job that sounds remotely interesting to you, and just see what happens.
 

AmberGretchen

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Jeannine and Phoenixgirl - thank you so much for the nice thoughts, it has definitely sucked being sick, mostly because I''ve been forced to be so idle (I''ve spent way more time than is healthy on P-Scope though
). I was a little worried people might just not take me seriously.

Jeannine - I don''t think I could take a leave of absence for a couple of reasons. First of all, I don''t think we could afford it - my husband makes a lot more money than I do, but my stipend is what we use to pay the rent every month. Also, I just don''t think I could sit still - I hate being idle, even now when I''m sick and I''m just not sure what I''d do with myself if I took a leave. I''m not very good at soul searching - it seems to require too much reflection. But it was a nice idea, and thank you so much for sharing your experiences and for suggesting it - every option I can think about, even if I rule it out, really helps.

Phoenixgirl - you bring up some really excellent points. This particularly stuck out for me:

"I have a feeling that there are a number of interesting jobs which would combine your talents and qualifications that you could get, and you may end up just falling into one of them. What does seem clear is that there''s nothing that you want to do so badly that you''re willing to put in years, whether in graduate school or working your way up from the bottom of the ladder, to attain it. You''re good at long term planning and achieving what you want, but the problem is you have to figure out what you want first."

I think that really puts it spot-on, and is why I''m so frustrated. I actually have pretty solid confidence in my ability to do really well at whatever I set my mind to, but I can''t for the life of me figure out what that might be. I guess a lot of my reluctance about letting go of grad school (besides all the hard work to get here - its a very selective program, but I do know that''s not what''s important, its just a bit frustrating), is that I just don''t know what else I have the option of doing besides going to school. Plus there''s a lot of family expectations and pressure - my parents have 5 graduate degrees between the two of them, and I do care what my mom thinks, because I''ve always really respected her (she''s had an amazing career). I have never disappointed my family or myself in any major way and I know that this would be doing that, which is really hard. But I think I could do it if I just had any idea what it is I want to do instead.

Your idea about applying for every job out there and seeing where things land is something I''ve considered, but my program doesn''t "officially" give you your Masters since everyone is supposed to be going for their PhD (hence the funding). Leaving the program is highly unusual and while I''m like 99% sure they would give me the degree (supposedly when you pass your qualifying exams you''ve then earned your Masters, and I did that a year ago), I would have to first commit publicly to leaving (although I''m sure my lab boss would probably keep me on in the lab while I looked for a new job - he''s insanely nice like that).

I also hate the feeling that I''m being wishy-washy. I''m not a wishy-washy kind of person, I''m usually very decisive about big things in life, and so far this is the first decision I''ve really come to regret. Anyway, thank you so much for your input, both of you - those are really great insights and you''re really helping me think about this issue in new and different ways.
 

FireGoddess

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Joined
Jan 25, 2005
Messages
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Hey AG. Jeez....whooping cough. I hope you are on the mend and this soon becomes a distant foggy memory.

So as you may remember, I am in your field (I have a PhD in a biological science). I''m just going to start rambling now, because I really am supposed to be working on writing up a manuscript, but I can''t focus at the moment.


Okay....so. Let''s say you decided to stop and take a masters. What could you do with that? What things are you interested in doing?

1. Teaching (grade or high school)
2. Science writing
3. Go for a MPH (masters in public health, which is more school)
4. Get a biotech job (but that would be working in a lab, just not towards a degree)
5. Go into patent law (would require law school, not sure if you need a Masters or PhD in science first)
6. Get a tech job doing more lab organizational stuff
7. Do something completely unrelated to science

What if you stayed and got your PhD? What could you do with that?
1. Professor with your own lab
2. Professor at a non-research driven institution with more emphasis on teaching
3. Adjunct professor
4. Science writing
5. Biotech (not only lab work, but supervisory and leadership roles)
6. Go for an MPH (requires MPH classes)
7. Go into patent law (requires law school)
6. Consulting
7. Do something completely unrelated to science

There are probably a ton more but it''s easier for me to speak from experiences I''ve seen. When I was in grad school I knew someone who left and took a masters and went for an MPH because he was more interested in virus hunting and epidemiology and public health issues. I also know someone who graduated with a PhD and decided labwork wasn''t for them, and they went on to become a science writer. You may not need a PhD for this and I sense it could be something that might be a good fit for you...with the writing, research, and learning that comes with assignments. Another friend stayed and got his PhD and now he''s in law school to become a patent lawyer. A very good friend I''ve known since college got his PhD, started a postdoc, didn''t like it, quit, and is now a consultant. A guy in my postdoc lab decided to leave with a masters and went to teach high school science.

I guess the first question is....is this the aggravation and bitterness that comes normally from going through the curriculum of getting a PhD? Because everyone goes through that, everyone wants to say ''to hell with this'' at some point, because science is freaking hard. 90% of experiments don''t work, and when they do, you have to spend your time defending why it''s correct against slews of people who basically are there to pick apart your data. It''s HARD, physically, mentally, and sometimes emotionally. Everyone gets burnt out at some point. BUT....you are 2.5 years in and I don''t know where you go to school, but where I''ve been, that''s hovering around the halfway mark. It''s definitely still a long trek from there and a little early to be burnt out already! OR, you may be at a point that you''re pretty sure you just need to get out of there, in which case do not worry about ''quitting'' or anything like that. Go for your masters and start doing something you LOVE. Because you definitely have to love this to put up with it.
 

AmberGretchen

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Hey FG - I remember you are in science, and I was kind of hoping you''d chime in. Thanks for doing so.

Yeah...the whooping cough is pretty crappy. Its funny, I was so sick, but I wouldn''t have even gone to the doctor if my husband hadn''t forced me to...boy am I glad I did - I''m still kind of weak and lethargic after the antibiotics, but boy am I better than I was!!


Anyway, on to what you said, which I think was very helpful (it definitely didn''t seem like just rambling, BTW). I think part of the problem is that very few of the things you listed appeal to me at all. I''ve considered patent law but I think I would be bored, and the MPH route is sort of not good for the reasons listed above - basically, having watched my mom in public health, I think I would feel like I was just banging my head against a stone wall too much of the time. Plus it doesn''t pay very well. That''s one of my major issues with science writing, which is one of the few other things that appeals to me for the reasons you mentioned - I want to keep living in San Francisco, and so does my husband, and so that means I actually need to make a more than decent salary. Its not the most profound goal in life, but its important to me.

Management consulting does appeal to me, I like the problem-solving element of it, but I''m not sure whether its something that you can realistically get into without a PhD and I kind of get the sense not.

I''ve also definitely tried to figure out if this is normal burnout just from being in a PhD program in science, which as you noted, is not the easiest thing in the world and the truth is its really hard to be sure. I mean, I''ve certainly never been in this situation before, so I don''t really have a whole lot of perspective. I''ve tried talking to a couple of other people in the program, but all my friends are older and farther along than I am - as you said, 2.5 years is about the halfway point, and so that is a significant remaining time investment.

Anyway, I know that''s not much of an answer, just more wishy-washiness but I really do appreciate your comments. I''m just having a really hard time knowing what to think and what to do from this perspective. But it definitely helps to know I''m not the only one who''s dealt with it (love your description of science, BTW - LOL at people waiting to pick apart your data, its so true!!).
 

rjdodd

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Just one thing on the Master's degree issue - I completed my comps, turned in the paper work, and the school didn't (and hasn't) given me my MSc. Now I completed the PhD too (obviously later) so didn't push it, but I'd definetely double check the rules just so to make sure you know where you stand.

I finished my PhD, but now I'm in the brokerage business. I was maybe the opposite of you (though I was a theorist not lab rat), loved the work but decided to get out - multiple post docs and then (maybe) a tenure track job would have put any real family security at least 10 years down the line. To much insecurity for me when I'd just gotten married.

[Edit] On the burn out thing - I definetely happened to me - went through one summer when the computational models etc. just weren't working, wasn't getting anywhere, just couldn't make any progress, and was frustrated about how little progress I was making. This too passed and is now just a bad memory.
 

AmberGretchen

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Hey rjdodd - thanks for chiming in on this thread. I''d be really curious to know more about your career path. Did you stay for your PhD because the school wouldn''t give you the Masters? Or did the frustration just pass?

If you could go back and do it again, would you?

How did you end up becoming a broker, and what is your job like now?

Thanks again for being willing to share your experience.
 

strmrdr

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Well i''m not sure I should comment not being as smart as ya all but will say I kinda regret I didn''t finish my bachelors degree and stopped with an associates in EET.
I got bored with it because it was too easy and burned out doing the same old same old so didnt go on.
Looking back on it the extra year might have been well spent.

So whatever you decide make sure your not going to look back on it and regret it in 15 years because before you know it 15 years will be gone and you will look back and say wooooo where did the time go.
 

ladykemma

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Jan 2, 2006
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it sounds like multiple advanced degrees are part of your family programming. it''s ok to deviate from the family programming.

what does amber gretchen want to do with her life?

i too did a midlife career change. now i teach high school chemistry in the ghetto and it is very rewarding. have you heard of Teach for America? or any Alternative Certification Program?

more school more school more school, after a while people start to laugh at "professsional students". maybe i should be 42 and get a 16th degree in _______ to find out what i want to do in life ! ....
 

coda72

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Amber, I see some parallels between your situation and mine, so I thought I''d comment. I have a B.S. in Biology, and I also intended to go to med school. I liked organic chemistry, not so much the physics, but mainly I just didn''t get in. I had good grades and ok MCATs but didn''t know the right people. This was my lifelong dream, so I was crushed for a while. I fell into working in a lab because there''s not much else you do with a B.S. unless you go back to school. Unlike you, I didn''t have any interest in getting my PhD because I knew about the amount of work involved, and my heart wasn''t in it. It was either med school or nothing for me. That''s where our situations differ. You''re about halfway through the program and not sure if it''s for you. I can''t really help you there, that''s something you have to decide for yourself. If it were me, I would probably stick it out and get the degree since you''ve gone so far already. But if you find yourself hating it, you probably shouldn''t go through with it. As for me, I''m still working in a lab 12 years later, and I''m not really in love with it (and that may be an understatement). I ended up getting my master''s in a completely different field, but that never panned out either, so I''m stuck in the lab, at least for now.
 

AmberGretchen

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Thank you storm, ladykemma and coda for your feedback. Our internet connection was down last night so I didn''t see these until this morning; I apologize for the slightly delayed response.

Storm - I firmly believe that there are all different kinds of intelligence, and so I don''t think its accurate, since we don''t know each other, for you to say you''re not as smart as I am. I have always been good at traditional school/book learning type stuff, but I am sorely lacking in other areas of intelligence, which I suspect from your numerous posts that you may be richly endowed with. Regardless, I really appreciate your introducing the angle of not wanting to regret anything I do now. I''m not sure at this point whether I would regret more going through with it or not going through with it, but its an important thing to think about and I wanted to thank you for bringing that to my attention and reminding me to consider it.

ladykemma - I think a big part of my problem, as was so eloquently pointed out earlier in this thread by phoenixgirl, is that I don''t know what I want to do/be. I have some ideas, but nothing is for certain and the one thing that appeals to me most right now (management consulting), even though it has nothing to do with science would ironically require me to complete my degree as far as I can tell


You do make an excellent point though about the perpetual student and the family programming. My family (my parents at least) are definitely over-educated, and that has definitely run in my family since after the first generation of immigrants. I do know that I''m allowed to not follow that path but its tough because its always sort of been expected and assumed that because I was book-smart that would make me happy to just keep going to school. Many people in my family are the perpetual students you describe but they''re so happy doing that that they can''t imagine why I wouldn''t want to be in school indefinitely. I am sure that ultimately my mom and the other family members I''m close to would support me whatever I decide to do. But its difficult because they''ve always treated me like I am the smart one in a smart family, and that''s been my identity for so long its hard to shake it. Again, I think this is all complicated even more because I really don''t know what I want to do with my life...

Coda - thanks so much for chiming in. I''m very sorry that you suffered the disappointment of not getting into medical school - that must have been very tough. What made you decide to keep working in a lab? If you don''t mind my asking, what was the other field you got your Masters in that it didn''t work out? It sounds like you really don''t like it (which I can totally understand), have you thought of applying for alternatives or do you feel like you''re stuck in lab work now? That''s a big fear of mine is that I''ll get stuck in science because I can''t get out of it to do anything else. Do you work as a lab manager? If you''re willing to share, I''d really like to hear more about your life''s path, because you''re right, ours do sound similar.
 

AmberGretchen

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Joined
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Messages
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ladykemma - I realized I didn''t respond about the teaching, but I really don''t think it would be for me. I do have a fair amount of teaching experience, but I''m not good with kids or with young adults/adolescents, and also, I would worry about making enough money to make a living doing that, since we are in San Francisco and my husband and I would both like to stay here, and its very expensive.

Thank you for the suggestion though.
 

poptart

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I''m sorry you''ve been ill and I hope you are feeling better. I didn''t read all the posts, just some, so I may be repeating others. I think your issue stems more from what you REALLY want to do rather than whether or not you should finish your masters program. Even if you finish the program and you come out not knowing exactly what you want to do, you may be disappointed. In the same respect if you quit now, you may regret not finishing because you might have passed up on the chance to figure out what career you wanted. Either way I think that your parents would support your decision. I think you should spend some time thinking about what you would like to do with your career and see if coming to a decision helps to calm your frustration with your masters program.

*M*
 

AmberGretchen

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Thanks poptart - I am feeling significantly better, not 100% yet, but I am actually fortunate in that whooping cough can be treated with antibiotics. I actually have finished the masters portion of my program, FYI, and the part I''m unsure of is whether to finish the PhD. That is a very good point though that if I can''t figure out what I want to do, I may be disappointed at the end even if I do manage to finish the degree. Thank you for pointing that out - its definitely important for me to think about, as I would hate to put in all this work and then still be disappointed with the outcome.
 

coda72

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Amber, it seems like pretty much my only option of getting a job was in a lab. There''s not much else I could do with a B.S. in biology without getting more schooling. So, I''ve been working as a lab technician for 12 years, in a job that I feel I am overqualified. But it''s a steady paycheck, and that was important to me. I got my master''s in information technology. I started my degree when the field was booming, but by the time I graduated, the jobs had dried up and everything was (is) being outsourced mostly overseas. I tried to get a job in the I.T. field, but it just never worked. So, for now I feel stuck in lab work. I have to admit, I am sick of it, and hopefully there will be something else on the horizon. Since I''m typing this at work, I don''t know if I should be writing this, but I wanted to tell you the truth. My husband and I want to buy our own business, and hopefully that will be happening soon.
 

allycat0303

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Nov 19, 2004
Messages
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Hey Amber,

Well I did a M Sc. in biology with a project I DESPISED and a supervisor that was *demanding and difficult* while I was doing it, the only thing I kept saying to myself was "I need this degree for med school, I need this degree for med school". It was hard, frustrating, and even though I got the end result I wanted, I look back on that time of my life as 2 years completely erased from my memory. (Because I can''t bear to look back on it because it makes me SICK)

So my take on it is that you start looking around for jobs, and maybe even applying to things that intrest you. While you do that, keep up with the phD (I assume in the US the phD position is a paid position like in Canada?) If something pops up that you really are passionate about, then take the plunge and leave the phD. In Canada you can take a 1 year absence, the equivalent of putting the phD on pause for a while. I think since you''ve invested so much time, there''s no use in closing the door completely, but at the same time, I don''t think you should spend 2.5 years in misery.

Keep us updated!
 

AceP

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Premium
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May 28, 2006
Messages
336
I''ve had different but not dissimilar experiences, so I thought I''d chime in. I too attended a prestigious undergrad school and come from a proud heritage of academic overacheivers. My undergrad degree was in the humanities, so when I finished college it seemed the only option was law school - what else? i made my mental shift a bit earlier than yours - it was afer i sent in piles of applications but before i started packing my bags that i had the lightbulb go off - that little flash that says, wait a minute, this doesn''t really excite me very much... perhaps fourteen letters after my name aren''t a prerequisite for a fulfilling career. It sounds so trite, but for me, it was kind of a breakthrough. Anyway, i did some serious soul-searching - non-stop reading on different careers, talking to everyone I could think of who might have some insight. And then I went back to basics. What makes me happy? In my case: reading, learning in a non-structured way, writing, writing writing. That''s how I came to journalism. (couldn''t totally stifle the ''ol academic bent, however - i did get a masters.)

As far as the money issue goes, I caution against over-emphasizing that point. I live in NYC, so I can relate. Yes, these cities are expensive. Yes, it''s nice to have an outsized paycheck. But being miserable every day isn''t a worthwhile tradeoff. If you are interested in any type of science journalism, I would guess that your experience would place you in high demand. And specialized writers tend to command higher salaries that generalists. I''m specialized, and though I''m no investment banker, I don''t make typical reporter wages, either. Otherwise - and I''m sorry if I''m repeating what others have said - what about teaching at the college level? Does that appeal to you? Enough to put in another 2+ years?
 

AmberGretchen

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7,770
Coda - thank you for sharing more, that really helps me understand how you got where you are, and I sympathize and am sorry you''re so unhappy. I hope that you and your husband are able to buy that business and that it brings you more satisfaction and fulfilment.

Ally - I had no idea you did a MSc before medical school. That''s really interesting - I had no idea that that was required/could help you get in to med school. Is that specific to Canada or also true of US medical schools, do you know? I''d be really interested to hear more if you don''t mind, as its not something I know very much about. It does sound like your experience was much worse than mine is - my project is really not that bad (other than taking forever and not giving anything in the way of results, but that''s always a risk with science), and my boss, as I said before, is pretty amazing. You are right that the PhD is a paid position (not paid well, but paid). Part of the problem with staying put and not changing anything while I apply is I''m not sure I could put the MSc on my resume, since they normally don''t bother giving it out unless you leave the program, and people are expected to stay and get their PhD. I''ve mentioned and I''m still sure that they would give it to me since I''ve done all the requisite work and then some, since I took my qualifying exam so early, but I would have to sort of "officially" announce I''m leaving to be legit in putting it on my resume. I also feel like since my advisor has been so great to me I would have to be honest with him if I started looking elsewhere, and while I''m sure he would support me he might also insist that I be honest with the program while I''m searching, and then I''m not sure if I would switch over to working as a lab tech (which I think I would hate even more than being in grad school) while I looked for another place, or if I would just stay put. I don''t know about taking a leave of absence - I might want to look a little bit more into that and see what my options are, although I strongly suspect that if I leave I will never come back because I dislike it so much.

Ace - that does sound so much like my situation. You do make some good points about being happy being important, and I agree that I wouldn''t be OK being miserable just to make a big paycheck, but I really do think there is a job out there where I could make a decent living and still be challenged and excited about what I do, even if I have to change it periodically. It does sound from your description like maybe I should consider science writing/journalism a bit more. I didn''t realize that you made more than you would in regular journalism. Its encouraging to know that you made it work doing that in NYC. I will look into that a bit more, see if it might be a good fit in other ways as well, because it would be nice to find something other than management consulting, which seems to require the PhD to get in the door, that appeals to me.
 

allycat0303

Ideal_Rock
Joined
Nov 19, 2004
Messages
3,255
Hey AmberGretchen,

In Canada, it's not a requirement to do an MSc, actually in Quebec (my province) the majority of med students graduate from cegep and start med school (kind of the equivalent of high school in the US+ 1 year).

It's really a mixed bag. In Canada there are some schools that will look only at your Bachelor's degree, while others give you extra points for an MSc. For example at McGill university (that's probably the only school in Canada that is known in the US), if you have a bachelor's degree, your GPA requirement to have a decent chance is 3.75. If you have a MSc. there are a few students with 3.5 that were accepted. But the students had STELLER publication record. I think the minimum was 4 published papers. At my school, they did not look at the MSc at all. A phD would actually be a disadvantage because they put you in a different group concerning admissions. Each school has their own method of treating the graduate degree and it varies from discounting it, disadvantage (IMAGINE!), or advantage.

Actually the reason I did an MSc was because while talking with people during their biology undergrad degree, everyone kept telling me they had 4.0 averages, and were rejected from med school. So I believed my grades were too low to APPLY! I never even sent in an application after the BSc, assuming that I needed the MSc to stregthen my application. At the end I was accepted to 2 schools that didn't look at the MSc (so based solely on my BSc grades) and one school that gave me extra points for the MSc. So I look back at the MSc even less fondly


I'm pretty sure it's the same as in the US, where some schools give you a slight edge while others don't. It would be worthwhile to look into if you were intrested in medicine.

As for letting your supervisor down....I honestly think this is the toughest problem. My father did 2.5 years of an engineering phD before he stopped, because it wasn't what he wanted. But I think that it's really important to do what you want in life.

As for the MSc thing, I know what you mean. We call it the combined MSc, phD program here. One of the reasons I stayed out of it was because I was 100% sure I wasn't going to make it to the phD. Here it's a 5 year program to a pHD instead of 2 year master's and 4 year phD so you save 1 year...but if you change your mind it can get sticky. I knew one student that wrote up the work she had done after 2.5 years as a thesis and defended it as such and recieved a MSc. so I know it's possible here.
 

larussel03

Brilliant_Rock
Joined
Oct 22, 2005
Messages
1,747
Hi Amber--first off, I'm sorry you've been sick, that's miserable.

Secondly, I know alot of people who have gone through PhD programs in science, and alot who are currently enrolled (my Fi included). I think the way you feel is really not uncommon among science PhD students. I know alot who get or have gotten angry/disgruntled/frustrated and feel like maybe it's not what they want to do. If you can stand it, I'd stick it out--the rewards will be great. For instance, your favorite part of the research process is the researching then strategizing, not actually doing the lab work...that's what you'd be doing as a PI, or if you went into industrial (biopharma) research. Granted for academia it would be a longer haul with a post doc and whatnot, but if you could get into industry right away (industrial postdoc, to start?) you'd get where you want to be faster.

That said, I don't practice what I preach, but my priorities are a bit different in this regard, my emotional self is higher on my priorty list than work/school etc. If I'm unhappy I'm one to try to remedy the situatation but if it is just not fixable (to my satisfaction) I will pretty much get out, and if that's what you've decided then you should not feel bad about it. It's your life and only you can determine what the best course of actions is and what your personal priorities are. You would definately not be a failure by any stretch of the imagination. I personally was able to do a BS and MS in Microbiology but I was so unhappy during the MS program I knew I'd never be able to do a PhD b/c I'd be unhappy while doing it.

Will they let you go with a Masters degree?
 

AmberGretchen

Ideal_Rock
Joined
Jan 6, 2005
Messages
7,770
Thanks Ally - that sounds like quite the journey you''ve had. I remember your anxiety around getting into medical school but I hadn''t realized all the background. Does the Canadian school system work like the European one in that you finish high school equivalent at 16 rather than 18? Our PhD program actually doesn''t have a set time limit, just sort of when you finish your project, and that has to do with what you want to afterwards, i.e. they will insist on papers in fancier journals if you''re planning to go into academia, but they are less stringent if you have different career goals. I actually would have qualified for my Masters a year and a half in, since that''s when I passed my qualifying exam, but that doesn''t necessarily (unfortunately) have any effect on when you finish the whole program.

Sweetpea - thanks for the alternative perspective. I actually think I would be a dreadful PI for a couple of reasons. First, I just don''t have the patience for the academic politics - it would totally drive me nuts. More importantly, I just can''t get excited about the day-to-day, troubleshooting experiments, thinking about science on a small and specific scale kind of thing. I do enjoy thinking about long term, more broad scale experimental plans but I think even that would get old - honestly I''m way more interested to think about the important results of other peoples'' work and how they apply to things outside of science like medicine and business. But I realize I wasn''t clear about that to begin with. You''re right though that I did enjoy synthesizing all that information though, and I do really appreciate your input given your perspective with your friends and SO in science. Can you tell me more about your MSc program - how you ended up in a MSc program (I don''t think I even realized that was an option as opposed to a full-on PhD), and what you do now?
 

AmberGretchen

Ideal_Rock
Joined
Jan 6, 2005
Messages
7,770
Oh and Sweetpea you are totally right on in pegging me as someone to whom work/career is very important, possibly more important than being happy in the conventional sense. I''m honestly most content when I''m working hard and have a feeling of accomplishment. I know that''s not true for everyone, but for me the constant challenge, where I feel like I''m mastering new and different things on a regular basis (but not that its so hard I''m drowning instead of learning) is really what makes me happy. I also don''t mind working hard/long hours - I think its just how I''m wired, although I do need some downtime to unwind, hence my gym time (which I''m really missing since I''ve been sick) and other activities outside my lab.

I think its so great though that you know that you are not that kind of person and it sounds like you''ve done a really great job of finding things in your life that work for you. I wish I had that skill!
 

FireGoddess

Super_Ideal_Rock
Joined
Jan 25, 2005
Messages
12,145
AG one more thing...you are in the mecca of biotech here in the bay area...have you done any searches to see about jobs in biotech? There are a plethora of different companies and they may have openings that extend beyond the lab bench, since it takes a whole slew of different positions to keep a company like that running, some of which may integrate your expertise as well as likes. They also pay pretty darn well from what I hear. Just a thought.
 

larussel03

Brilliant_Rock
Joined
Oct 22, 2005
Messages
1,747
AG--I did my master's degree right after finishing my bachelor's. I'm not sure exactly what motivated me at the time, it was a combination of not knowing exactly what I wanted to do (buying a bit of time), wanting a higher degree anyways, and knowing that if I did not do it immediately, I would likely not go back to. My lab experience during my master's degree was miserable, lots of competition among postdocs in the same lab (scooping each other, trying to get others fired/kicked out of the program, etc) and I was very unhappy in the environment.

After college I worked at Broad Institute at MIT for 2 years doing data analysis before I moved to Ann Arbor. Now I am in sales and support (along with some QC and other things as they come up) at a small company in Ann Arbor, although I'm not positive I'm going to stay. I like to be really busy and I just feel like they don't give me enough, even when I ask for more. I'm not sure if it's a cultural difference b/w the east coast and midwest, or if it's a my company thing. I do like the sales part, so I will likely eventually move on to something sales-y, hopefully staying within science, but I'm not sure.

I also do freelance medical/science journalism on the side. I'm hoping to eventually make that full time, but right now I only work for one newspaper.

Maybe part of the reason I never wanted to go for a PhD is because I don't have a clear cut idea of where I want to be career wise in 5, 10 years. I get bored after a few years and like to change what I'm doing, learn new things, but when I get good at them, or "master" them, I'm ready to move on, so maybe I'm not destined to follow one clear cut track.

To be honest, I can't even say, from my experience, that a Master's helped me that much except to impress potential bosses. It's helped me get a job and get paid more, but I don't do anything that has to do with my research at all. PhD is a much bigger deal b/c you won't hit "ceilings" in the research world, whereas with a masters there will always be a ceiling that you can't pass w/o a PhD.
 

larussel03

Brilliant_Rock
Joined
Oct 22, 2005
Messages
1,747
With a PhD there are also other cool jobs besides investigator/researcher, also (something extra to keep in mind)

-Senior Science Writer/Medical writers at learge companies
-Scientific/Medical Liason
-Application Scientist
-Some sales positions want PhD scientists
-Higher up postitions in pharma companies

just to name a few off the top of my head.
 

:)

Brilliant_Rock
Joined
Jul 25, 2006
Messages
1,864
Hi AmberGretchen. Okay, I will be honest and say off the bat I did not read everyone''s post in entirety on this thread. I just had a couple of thoughts I hope might help you, or at least be food for thought in your decision making process. It is true that you need to do what makes you happy. I do want to point out that a demanding graduate program is going to have depressing periods, esp at this time of the year when the days are short (meaning sun down early, etc). I also want to mention that you have been very sick lately with a lot of time on your hands for a self proclaimed person who likes to stay busy, so this is likely making you feel even worse/more depressed. I also recall my days in the lab being very frustrating when experiments often did not go as planned (as they inevitably never turned out as I wanted, so it was back to the drawing board - yes, I can relate to the slow progress aspect!). I do also remember the absolute incredible, unbeatable, fantastic high when the Eureka moments came around (unfortunately all too rarely!).
I also remember literally sobbing in medical school and then in residency about how hard it was and seriously wanting to quit, not thinking I could take it any more because I was so miserable and tired - if the pager went off one more time I was going to die. I didn''t actually quit, and I do admit I look back and I am glad I didn''t. I do think I would have always wondered if I had not completed what I set out to do.

While it is concerning that you are feeling dread over returning, I guess the main thing I want to make sure is that you take these feelings in context. Where you feeling this way before you got sick? What was the original reason that you decided to get your Ph.D.? Have things changed in your life since then that would make you do things differently from where you started the program, or are your feelings just because it has been harder than you had originally hoped for? If it is a matter of difficulty, there is a saying "this too shall pass" - you won''t be in the program forever (that was meant to be encouraging).
I just don''t want you to make a decision based on a period of hard times (illness and a demanding program in the context of a difficult time of the year due to short days), but rather because you really want to change your path. It IS okay to change, just be sure that is what you want!

I hope this was helpful. Good luck with a tough decision.
 

Jenjen

Rough_Rock
Joined
Jul 13, 2004
Messages
58
Hi Amber--- I don''t post much, but your post really hit home. I was right where you are about 2 years ago. I was 3 years into my PhD program and having a horrible time of it. I hated one of my projects and my self-confidence was shot. I finally walked into my PI''s office crying and told him I was quitting. Long story short, I ended up gutting it out and finished up the program. It was a very difficult decision for me, and had I had to do it over again, I may have walked with a masters. There is no right or wrong answer!

The point is, this PhD program is finite (there is a light at the end of that tunnel!), but you have to make the decision of how much is too much for you.

I just wanted to say that I really empathize with what you are going through. It is tough. For what it''s worth, counseling (career and personal) may be worth looking into.
Best of luck.
 

rjdodd

Shiny_Rock
Joined
Jan 4, 2007
Messages
108
Date: 1/7/2007 10:44:17 PM
Author: AmberGretchen
Hey rjdodd - thanks for chiming in on this thread. I''d be really curious to know more about your career path. Did you stay for your PhD because the school wouldn''t give you the Masters? Or did the frustration just pass?

If you could go back and do it again, would you?

How did you end up becoming a broker, and what is your job like now?

Thanks again for being willing to share your experience.
Sorry for the delay - I''m on a business trip (do not, for any reason belive that business trips are fun!).

My frustration with research progress ended, I was rough for a while but eventually I started making progress again - the science version of writers block. Dunno if I mentioned but it was a chemical physics degree. I think research blocks are just a necessary part of the process.

Without gettimg to meta(anything) i''d definetly do it again, it definely had its rough patched, but the failures and process in general taught me a lot.

I''m now an equity reserach analyst, so I''m not techincally in a sales position (broker) - still research oriented. I definetly learned a lot in the PhD process than can be applied to the investment analysis process, and standing up in front of a room full of PhDs to present/defend a paper does wonders for you public speaking skills. There is no question in mind that without the PhD I wouldn''t even have had the opportunity to get into my current career (unless I''d gone off to do an MBA first).
 

AmberGretchen

Ideal_Rock
Joined
Jan 6, 2005
Messages
7,770
Wow - first of all, I just want to say thank you so much to everyone who has responded so far. Your posts have brought up so many important issues and I really appreciate everyone sharing their life experiences with me - it really helps to hear from others about what their thought process/decision/life path is/was.

FG - I didn''t realize you were in the Bay Area. That''s kind of cool that we''re in the same area (I know there are lots of other PS''ers here as well, I just didn''t realize you were on of them). I haven''t really looked that much into jobs that might be available in biotech, because I am not sure where to look for job listings. It seems like most of the job sights I looked on when I was helping my DH find a job (Yahoo hotjobs, Monster, Craigslist, etc...) have very limited science job listings, especially with biotech companies. I would be sort of interested to know what is out there, I''m just not sure where to look. But I''d certainly welcome any ideas!

Sweetpea - that''s such an interesting career trajectory you''ve had so far. I actually kind of relate to not having a super-long attention span and wanting to move on once you''ve mastered something. I think that''s part of why science is so frustrating for me at this point because it feels like just repeating the same boring things over and over and I''m not really learning anything new. I think that''s also the appeal of consulting to me - I like the idea of having new projects so I get to work on different stuff on a regular basis. I think that''s so interesting that you are in both sales and science journalism/writing. I don''t think I''m good enough with people to be in sales (I tend to be sort of blunt and not very patient - LOL). I really do appreciate you sharing your experience with me though - that''s especially interesting to know that you didn''t feel the Masters helped that much, and also the list of jobs you posted that can be gotten only with a PhD is very relevant. I think part of the reason I''m really tempted to stay in the program is just what you said - that I wouldn''t hit a ceiling of what I could do with that degree, whereas if I don''t get it there''s always that possibility, which I think would be something that would really upset me if it happened.

:) - those are very good points you make about being sure about what I want to do, and I think they will end up being important no matter what decision I make. I have been feeling this way for quite a while (about 9-10 months now), but I was able to sort of ignore it until after my wedding in July. And actually, I think I might have had an inkling of it before I even took my quals but I just figured (hoped maybe?) it was the anxiety of not being done with the exam yet. I originally got into science because I liked some of my classes in it in college and I was really interested in international health and policy, which led me to appreciate the need for researchers into some of the globally important diseases (by "important" in this context I just mean they kill lots of people). I figured it would be a good way for me to make a contribution to the world since I didn''t want to be a doctor and I figured it would be challenging, which appeals to me. Plus to be totally honest I figured it would be impressive, and even though I know its not a good basis to make decisions for your life, I always kind of wanted to do something that people (especially my over-achieving family) would be impressed with. So I guess that''s a really long way to say thank you for pointing that out but that I have been feeling this way for quite a while and so I doubt (unfortunately) that it will go away. My only remaining doubt in that area, is how much of my feelings are related to how slowly my project has been progressing, but that''s very difficult to answer, and also not easy to change even if that is a significant part of what''s bugging me.

JenJen - thank you for contributing, I really appreciate you speaking out about your experience. I''d be really interested, if you wouldn''t mind sharing, to hear more about what you do know and whether you think a PhD is essential for what you do or for what you want to do. It sounds like you have pretty mixed feelings about having made the decision to finish the degree. I often wonder if that''s how I''ll end up feeling if I do stick it out, and I think I would be pretty unhappy if I did, considering how much work it is.

rj - thank you so much for the additional contribution. It sounds like you definitely made the right choice for you. That sounds like a pretty interesting job you''ve got too, and I can definitely see how your experience in the PhD program would have helped. In my case, I''m already pretty comfortable with public speaking but I totally hear you on not having the option of getting in the door without the credential - I think that''s one of the main things that would worry me about trying to leave now, is that some of the options that I''m really interested in just wouldn''t be open to me. As I said above, I also do think that what you described (great description by the way - the science version of writers'' block, that totally captures the feeling when your project is stalled) is a part of my frustration, though its hard to know how big a part. Its true that while I''ve worked hard at things before, most of them have come easier to me than this, and most of the things I''ve done thus far in my life have been a pretty simple equation i.e. work hard and work smart = good results, whereas this is very unpredictable and not entirely under your control no matter how hard or smart you work.

Anyway, that got kind of rambly but I really do appreciate everyone''s contributions so far - you all are giving me so much to think about!
 
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