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Still reasonable to pursue a medical science PhD?

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Re: Still reasonable to pursue a medical science PhD?

Postby Jim Austin » Thu Dec 13, 2012 7:37 am

Let's acknowledge this: Science itself is hard, and the career path--if your intention is to do meaningful research--is very challenging.

Think this through: Do you really think you improve your odds by spending 20 years (or more) of your life in accounting? Just consider how many other people will be spending 12 hours or more a day for those 20 years learning more about science. Think you can compete with that?

Anticipating an answer: You don't need to make a living at it, right? So that makes it easier.

No, because it's not making a living that's the hardest thing; anyway, it's not the only thing that's hard. Science itself is hard, and if you want to make a difference you have to do your very best.

Yes, if your goal is to eventually play at science, the plan you outline makes sense. But who wants to merely play? If you're serious about it--if your goal is to make a real contribution--there's really no alternative to putting in the time, starting now.

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Re: Still reasonable to pursue a medical science PhD?

Postby MSR » Thu Dec 13, 2012 11:03 am

Unfortunately, I believe that you have a very naive view of what a scientist does. That view is typified by this statement:
I aim to self study and find ways to publish independently.


If you are interested in science, you should speak to your science professors and talk to people who work in the field. Publishing anything (at least in a reputable scientific journal) requires a great deal of effort and training. You are very interested in one specific field that may have reached maturity in 10 years. To become a scientist, one should have broader interests that can be explored over the length of a career. Unfortunately, I don't think that self-study could really form the basis for a career in science, or even to be informed at a very high level. If you are serious about science, then do it. If you are not really serious about it, then perhaps you could serve as an advocate for your area of interest.
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Re: Still reasonable to pursue a medical science PhD?

Postby Chris » Thu Dec 13, 2012 3:50 pm

I heard an NPR review of the book "Bunch of Amateurs" a while ago and found it very intriguing. The book describes people who are doing what the OP seems to be positing: amateur science (or history, or whatever) in their garages or backyards. I'm sure most of what they attempt doesn't work and such "tinkerers" are often looked down upon by the professional science community. But there are people who derive great satisfaction from doing this sort of thing and that could be an option for this poster.
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Re: Still reasonable to pursue a medical science PhD?

Postby Nate J » Thu Dec 13, 2012 5:14 pm

MSR wrote:Unfortunately, I believe that you have a very naive view of what a scientist does. That view is typified by this statement:
I aim to self study and find ways to publish independently.


If you are interested in science, you should speak to your science professors and talk to people who work in the field. Publishing anything (at least in a reputable scientific journal) requires a great deal of effort and training. You are very interested in one specific field that may have reached maturity in 10 years. To become a scientist, one should have broader interests that can be explored over the length of a career. Unfortunately, I don't think that self-study could really form the basis for a career in science, or even to be informed at a very high level. If you are serious about science, then do it. If you are not really serious about it, then perhaps you could serve as an advocate for your area of interest.


To be clear, I don't care to be considered a scientist or even have a career in science. The end goal for me is to learn the things I'm interested in and be published if I find something novel. It seems realistic from what I've read that with enough determination both can be achieved without a PhD designation. By independent that's what I was referring to. I'm curious why you think I couldn't be informed at a high level through self study? I'm sure it's quicker and easier to find answers to questions when in the company of other scientists, but is there really important information that is kept hidden only to the insider academics? Sites like researchgate also help solve the quicker/easier problem.

With regard to Jim Austin's comment about sacrificing 20 years or so that could otherwise go into science training - 20 years is possible, but it's also possible with my planned trajectory to be about 13-15 years before I can settle down and pursue science full time being financially independent. Maybe I could pursue the PhD part time planning ahead over the span of 15 years? But it doesn't seem crucial after reading more, unless I'm wrong about that. Like I said it's not the career I care about just the ability to publish. It seems reasonable I can collaborate with those in the field without a PhD, maybe not as well but it could suffice.
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Re: Still reasonable to pursue a medical science PhD?

Postby MSR » Thu Dec 13, 2012 5:47 pm

The end goal for me is to learn the things I'm interested in and be published if I find something novel.


How do you expect to find something novel without access to a lab or patients? All that you can do is read novel data published by other scientists and physicians. While you certainly have access to data from across the world through published studies, what you lack is the knowledge and experience to effectively evaluate that data. Do you believe that you have the background to determine if a study is valid and if the data has been correctly interpreted? Where do you expect to publish these novel findings? These factors are what make your amateur biomedical scientist trajectory improbable. However, I certainly think that reading about your interests is good, as is lobbying for funding and resources to study diseases that you find important. What are unrealistic are your (rather lofty) expectations. I'm not trying to be negative, just trying to be frank with you.
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Re: Still reasonable to pursue a medical science PhD?

Postby MSR » Thu Dec 13, 2012 5:49 pm

It seems reasonable I can collaborate with those in the field without a PhD, maybe not as well but it could suffice.


What do you think that you would bring to this collaboration? What would make me take you seriously?
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Re: Still reasonable to pursue a medical science PhD?

Postby Rich Lemert » Thu Dec 13, 2012 5:54 pm

There are some fields of science where amatures can still make a contribution. Astronomy is one (a lot of comets are discovered by amatures). Entymology is another (a close family friend discovered three different new species of butterflies). In both cases the amatures are doing the tedious 'grunt' work so that the professionals are freed up to do the things they have the training/equiptment for. In both cases, also, the amature contributions have to be vetted by a professional. (The family friend worked with an entymologist at Oregon State to confirm and characterize his discoveries.)
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Re: Still reasonable to pursue a medical science PhD?

Postby Nate J » Thu Dec 13, 2012 6:28 pm

MSR wrote:
The end goal for me is to learn the things I'm interested in and be published if I find something novel.


How do you expect to find something novel without access to a lab or patients? All that you can do is read novel data published by other scientists and physicians. While you certainly have access to data from across the world through published studies, what you lack is the knowledge and experience to effectively evaluate that data. Do you believe that you have the background to determine if a study is valid and if the data has been correctly interpreted? Where do you expect to publish these novel findings? These factors are what make your amateur biomedical scientist trajectory improbable. However, I certainly think that reading about your interests is good, as is lobbying for funding and resources to study diseases that you find important. What are unrealistic are your (rather lofty) expectations. I'm not trying to be negative, just trying to be frank with you.


I don't need a lab or patients if I'm not doing experimental studies. Not every study requires study subjects. I don't need or plan to do the experimental ones. You say that I would lack the knowledge and experience to effectively evaluate the open data, but I still fail to see how knowledge and experience is exclusive to a PhD designation. In decades past this was likely the case, but thanks to the internet information is not only readily accessible but easily searched. I also don't see how a non PhD publisher is unable to learn about correct study designs and interpretations without a doctorate degree. You could be right in your concerns but I don't see support for the statements yet, although I'd be genuinely interested in any that you have. You ask where I expect to publish findings, my answer is uncertain at this time but one journal I've looked at is Medical Hypotheses.

MSR wrote:
It seems reasonable I can collaborate with those in the field without a PhD, maybe not as well but it could suffice.


What do you think that you would bring to this collaboration? What would make me take you seriously?


I would bring to the collaboration the facts on the matter that can be verified by anyone who wishes to check them. Any novel idea would be showered with references and logically follow to support a theme. If my lack of credentials get in the way of the data then I would question those dismissive of it if they truly like science.
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Re: Still reasonable to pursue a medical science PhD?

Postby MSR » Thu Dec 13, 2012 7:21 pm

Okay, here is an analogous situation...

What are the chances of me doing some self-teaching and going to consult for Ernst and Young? If they don't want to work with me, then I'll just say that they're not open-minded. After all, a CPA is merely a credential. I can learn everything I need to know on the internet. They should find me credible simply based on my own assertions and my ability to reference the tax code.

Make sense now?
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Re: Still reasonable to pursue a medical science PhD?

Postby V » Thu Dec 13, 2012 7:40 pm

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Last edited by V on Tue Jan 08, 2013 8:18 pm, edited 1 time in total.
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