Decision Time for an Undergraduate (Help!)

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*Decision* Time vs Option Building time

Postby Kelly » Sun Jan 01, 2006 7:07 pm

It doesn't have to be depressing Will. You are on the ball by seeking input early.

Now, you can do something to improve your situation, your personal opportunities. I think before one can plan you have to have a grasp of reality. You have started that planning.

1. you know what you want. A lot of people float into graduate school as a default option with the idea that after PhD they'll just get a faculty job. You have loosely defined what you want from your life: you want to do science, you want to have a life. now you need to craft a realistic plan to get you there.

2. you are thinking already about nonlinear graduate experiences like an internship. That's good. Maybe you should think about a year long internship (paid of course) to really consider a career development plan.

a. you should talk to people in academics
b. you should talk to people in industry
c. you should talk to people in all types of career options for post-PhD

The goals is to get an idea about what type of graduate training will make you most competitive for jobS, repeat JOBS in the least amount of time. Try to craft a plan that gives you several long term options that include several "off ramps" along the way. An off ramp is a career option that you could out quickly into action if you decided to stop your training and get a job within 6 months to 1 year. For example, while doing a PhD you might start writing articles for lay press, go visit the public communication office for your institution. Write a couple of press releases with someone (you have the science background that most of these folks don't). This allows you to build a writing portfolio and get a reference if you decide right after PhD you don't want to do post-doc. Go hang out a bit with institutional counsel (you might decide to go to law school). Go visit sponsored programs, you might become a grants administrator. Start building a mutli-option PhD program. Get a semester of teaching experience at a local community college. give a few talks to community groups (maybe you will do non-profit work post PhD).

In short, do your very own personal gradudate training revolution. Incorporate activities and aspects into your graduate experience that are non-standard. Don't expect alot of support for this but do it any way. Get youtself trained for multiple career paths so that when one falls through you can transition into a second.

Don't go in with the goal of getting a PhD; that is too short-term of a career goal. Get a three tined career plan in place for the entire interval of your PhD experience.
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*Decision* Time vs Option Building time

Postby Chad » Sun Jan 01, 2006 7:37 pm


While the path might seem murky, I encourage you to do it if you are serious about it. Kelly is right - you now have a realistic view and can be proactive in your education rather than retroactive (you don't want to one day say "I wish I would have known..."). I think her advice about a multi-option graduate education is PERFECT. Do not go into graduate education expecting a PhD to lead to a tenure-track faculty position, but if that is what you want to do, then shoot for it! I think the best thing you can do at this point is to talk with people (in academia, industry, etc) and start networking. You'd be surprised who might remember you down the line, especially if they sense enthusiasm.

Good luck to you! You are on the right track.
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*Decision* Time vs Option Building time

Postby SS » Mon Jan 02, 2006 8:34 am

Hi Will,

I'm an organic/medicinal chemist. Don't let everyone scare you... chemistry is still pretty lively as a field. It really depends on what you want to do. Although big pharma is entering a rough period, it is still a pretty robust area.

As far as what everyone has said about grad school, I agree... you have to be really sure about something before you commit yourself to 6 years for a PhD and 2 or more years for a postdoc. I once saw a defense entitled, "The Total Synthesis of _____: Or, How I Spent My Twenties". In my own case, I started graduate school without knowing what I wanted to do, and I ended up leaving school after less than two years. It wasn't the end of the world and it certainly wasn't a waste of time, but things could have worked out a little differently if I had been better prepared.

It sounds like you have a lot of great experience just as an undergrad, and that's great! It will definitely help. But it also sounds like it might be good for you to be exposed to the industrial side as well. As far as internships, start looking at the websites of any company that you're interested in. My employer and my friends' employers all list their internships in the career area of their websites. Many of them will allow you to register for e-mail updates, so that if the positions aren't listed yet you can receive notification when they are posted.

Let us know how it goes. Good luck!

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*Decision* Time vs Option Building time

Postby Caroline » Wed Jan 04, 2006 4:43 pm

Hi Will,

I think your idea of an internship is a great one. I did a couple as an undergrad and it really helped me CHOOSE to do a PhD rather than just seeing it as the next option.
Glaxo Smithkline have undergrad programs
As do Genetech and probably a number of other Pharma companies.
Try looking at the "Careers" section on their websites.

Best of luck,


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