Still reasonable to pursue a medical science PhD?

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Still reasonable to pursue a medical science PhD?

Postby Nate J » Fri Dec 07, 2012 2:17 am

I posted here before with a similar concern before. I'm in accounting now and plan to graduate in spring of '14. My Plan A has been to pursue accounting, retire early, and do with the rest of my life what I like - probably something related to science. I want or wanted to learn independently the sciences and risk having no way to contribute formally.

The main concerns I had that deterred me from pursuing a medical science PhD are mainly:

A. Employment is said to be unstable, more so than any other sector. I'm rather risk-averse in this regard which is why I chose accounting.

B. The prospect of a long period being a postdoc. One interview I watched on this subject suggested that, in total, you could expect about 20 years of schooling and postdoc before you are really employable. I have some confusion on this though, is the postdoc only necessary to become a professor?

C. I'm 22 now and have my roots set it seems in a business career. Considering there's no commonalities with this and science, I can expect about 9 more years before I'd have a PhD completed from when I set out to start (which might be a few more years to get a job first and clear my debt). The opportunity cost is tremendous when you consider the money/experience I'd get in accounting. Money isn't the prime motivator , but I'm a pragmatist.

D. I'm not sure that even with a PhD I can do what I'd like. As I noted in my last thread, I like to see the whole picture and wouldn't like a career that is focused on one super specific thing. I'm interested in interdisciplinary fields like psychoneuroimmunology. I'm fascinated in particular with one researcher of that field (Michael Maes) who has done exactly what my dream is, which is crisply tie together many different areas to explain for instance, CFS/FMS or depression.

With that said I can't say I see myself as passionate about anything other than medical science, which is why my Plan A has had appeal in that I could be secure in a career while also learning the science in my own time. If I knew it were worth it to get a PhD and could do the things I like, am I at a disadvantage being where I'm at now with accounting? I think by the time I'd be ready to transition into science if I did, online schooling might be more realistic and I could knock out classes without giving up a full time job before going for the doctorate (if that can be done).

I know this is an overused question but: is a PhD really worth it in my case?
Nate J
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Re: Still reasonable to pursue a medical science PhD?

Postby PG » Fri Dec 07, 2012 5:00 am

Maybe you can approach science from the business side of things?
Obviously there is a lot of business people working for pharma and biotech companies and depending on position you will get at least some insight into the science. Also you might find a way of moving within the company to something that is business oriented but more closely linked to science. This is not really my field of expertise but I know we have a number of business people who are working very closely with the development teams.

For your specific points

A) I agree employment especially before you have an established career is unstable. I am not sure how it compares with other sectors and from my view there seem to be similar situations elsewhere but since you already have an established career in your current field of work pursuing a PhD would mean accepting a risk.

B) most PhDs (not all) that are hired to industry around here have done 1-2 postdoc periods. Personally I believe that the having done one postdoc is an advantage but I dont see any point with spending more than a couple of years as a postdoc. Finding a postdoc has also been relatively easy while the next step is much more difficult.

C) once you have started you PhD training you will actually get paid. Probably not enough to clear any depts but at least you will not collect more dept.

D) The typical career path would be to do a postdoc, find an entry level laborative position within industry or academia and then try to move within universities or companies to the type of position you want which is something that will take some time.
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Re: Still reasonable to pursue a medical science PhD?

Postby P.C. » Fri Dec 07, 2012 9:00 am

I would say it is recipe for disaster, heartache and despair. (unless you are some sort of savant.).
If you are independantly wealthy, that would be a go. If you need to make a living, it is not practical. You are contemplating a super competative area where very well prepared and adept people are failing to maintain their careers.
It is probably too late in your education to change your discipline so drastically.
How many real life scientists have you interviewed?
If you are so gung ho about one guy's work you might try writing and calling that guy and ask for a job as a technician.
If you are really serious you should try getting a technician job in a lab. If you cannot achieve that first, forget about it.
Have you visited any laboratories?
Have you talked face to face with any graduate students or post docs?
Have you taken the general GREs and specific Biology, Chemistry, Biochemistry (whatever) GREs?
Last edited by P.C. on Thu Dec 13, 2012 11:16 am, edited 1 time in total.
"I have never let my schooling interfere with my education" - Mark Twain
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Re: Still reasonable to pursue a medical science PhD?

Postby Ben Smith » Mon Dec 10, 2012 5:53 pm

"Very well prepared and adept people are failing to maintain their careers" applies to pretty much any career these days (law, business, etc)

If you are passionate about something, go for it! Be realistic and go in with your eyes open.

Plenty of people with PhDs in the life sciences are making great money and have secure career pathways thanks to the skills they have gained. Don't listen to dead mantras of those who have failed...
Ben Smith
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Re: Still reasonable to pursue a medical science PhD?

Postby PG » Tue Dec 11, 2012 4:07 am

I am not saying dont aim for your ultimate goal but that you might find another way of getting there. A typical career path for PhD around here looks something like

4 years to complete your PhD
at least 2-4 years of postdoc
entry level position in Industry doing lab work maybe 2 years

which means that the time point at which you could potentially start moving within a company towards the type of position you want ie something that gives you a broader overview, maybe something more strategic etc is probably 8-10 years away. This will also require you to do lab work and be good at it during that time period. After these 8-10 years of lab work you would probably have to move around a bit in smaller steps before you get to the goal that you have which will add a few more years.

This is a long time and unless you believe that you will enjoy they ride I would strongly recomend taking another route. There should be paths that you can use that will take you at least close to your goal while pursuing a business oriented career.

In a different situation in which someone really wants to pursue a PhD because they really want to work with science including laborative work my recmonedation would be to go for it but every situation is different and I think that in this case an alternative route might both be faster, provide better job safety, a better financial situation and potentially more fun on the way.
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Re: Still reasonable to pursue a medical science PhD?

Postby PACN » Tue Dec 11, 2012 3:22 pm

I don't think anyone can answer for you if it will be worth it or not. Only you can weigh your own personal pros and cons. But here is what I would say:

A. I don't think employment is more unstable in science than every other sector. I would guess, although I don't know for sure, that employment in accounting is more stable than the average.

B. I don't think there is a 20 year period before becoming "employable", although this depends on what you call employable. If you want to become a professor, in my experience, you would probably be looking at an average of 6 years to PhD and then do a postdoc. Yes, you will likely need to do a postdoc, but it depends somewhat on your exact field and where you want to end up. Most people I know that got professor positions were postdocs for between 3 and 7 years (but that is a limited sample).

C. Yes, you will need to go back to school and take some science classes to get all the prerequisites necessary to move on, and this will take some time. If you can do this part time while you work, that is probably your best bet. I also think that you need to get some more experience with science before you can really decide if this is what you want to do. You frankly sound rather naive about how science works. Science actually involves a lot of grunt work, a lot of repetition, a lot of writing grants and papers, and doing other things that are unrelated to grand unifying hypotheses, especially in the early phases of your career.

D. During the PhD and postdoc periods, you can choose your research topic but it will be rather specific. If you don't think you could enjoy that, it will be a struggle to get through.
Last edited by PACN on Thu Dec 13, 2012 2:46 pm, edited 1 time in total.
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Passive Daydreamer or Active Goal Achiever?

Postby P.C. » Tue Dec 11, 2012 4:34 pm

The original poster seems extremely passive in taking action.
If he or she is serious then perhaps actions and enthusiasm can compensate for what seems like daydream inaction and very poor preparation for a research careers in the life sciences.
Again if the poster is so gung ho about one particular project, then the poster might try communicating directly with that particular PI and try to get any sort of position in that lab or make direct plans with that PI to reboot as a trainee there.
I am going to paraphrase one of the demotivating talks my old ex-PIs gave me "If you embark on this training and career path, you are going to suffer, physically, mentally, and financially." The caveat is that it was in a certain subspecialty, but I think they were speaking to the chances in a particular discipline. Given the outcomes of all the students thay had, I can say with certainty that most did not turn out so well. Some did, but three quarters of their students did not fair so well in that science career path.
Last edited by P.C. on Tue Dec 18, 2012 8:40 am, edited 3 times in total.
"I have never let my schooling interfere with my education" - Mark Twain
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Re: Still reasonable to pursue a medical science PhD?

Postby V » Tue Dec 11, 2012 10:52 pm

Last edited by V on Tue Jan 08, 2013 8:17 pm, edited 1 time in total.
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Re: Still reasonable to pursue a medical science PhD?

Postby Nate J » Thu Dec 13, 2012 5:04 am

Why/how would my posts be considered trolling? What was inflammatory or ridiculous that I said? No for the record, I haven't talked to any professors because I'm in a completely unrelated field. Who says the order should be interviewing a professor or scientist before asking a general question on a forum? I find it reasonable that there isn't a set order to those kind of steps and my own circumstances led to my asking a general question on a forum first. Why would I contact the researcher I admire before asking a question that is within the bounds of discussion on an open forum first? And ultimately I'd like to know what is absurd about an accountant taking an interest in science or even a career in it. Are accountants born to be accountants and scientists born to be scientists?

In any case, I've decided after weighing the issue that a traditional PhD path wouldn't do me good so I likely won't pursue it. I aim to self study and find ways to publish independently. Thanks for the input.
Nate J
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Joined: Tue Nov 06, 2012 9:22 pm

Re: Still reasonable to pursue a medical science PhD?

Postby PG » Thu Dec 13, 2012 6:07 am

In general I think that everyone on this and other forums needs to be careful with formulations and especially before concluding that something is not right. The forum is visited by people in multiple countries with different native languages and people who also in other ways have different possibilities to get information from other sources.

Also the possibility to do things vary greatly between locations. One poster in this thread mentioned the possibility of completing a PhD, doing a postdoc and then getting a professorship in 6 years. Around here that just doesnt happen but based on that information I cant conclude that the post is incorrect. But this is also important to consider when accepting advise from a multinational forum that things might be different at your specific location and in your specific situation.

If a post obviosuly doesnt belong on the forum the editors will remove that post and in some cases contact the poster to let them know why it was removed or edited. In other cases when people for example advertise products they want to sell we just delete them.
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