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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 Mark L. » Sat Dec 15, 2012 1:42 am

Again I was unclear. If you read some of the articles below, you will probably agree that having a permanent career in academia after doing a post-doc is a long shot. A big question being asked now is why are we training so many PhDs and post-docs for jobs that don't exist. Since you indicated you are risk-adverse, I recommended following a "safe" career path until you were almost ready for retirement (so age 50). Then you just have to convince someone with a lab that you would be a good PhD student and live off of a PhD studentship for 6-8 years learning your craft, followed by a post doc position or two where you would make your "contribution" to science. Then you retire.


http://www.nature.com/news/2011/110420/ ... 2276a.html

http://sciencecareers.sciencemag.org/ca ... t.a1200101

http://www.nature.com/naturejobs/scienc ... j7343-381a

http://www.economist.com/node/17723223

http://www.plosone.org/article/info:doi ... ne.0036307
Mark L.
 
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Re: Still reasonable to pursue a medical science PhD?

Postby Duffy P. » Sat Dec 15, 2012 1:03 pm

Here are my thoughts on what has been an interesting thread to read.

Would I discriminate against someone who was older when hiring a PhD student? Not at all, because I'd rather have someone who was dedicated and enthusiastic and knows what they want in life, than someone younger who was just doing a phd because they couldn't think what else to do, or because it was easier than getting a real job.

Do I think that a phd is necessary to publish? A phd per se is not necessary; I've met people who are very good at what they do and are valued by their research groups but simply never got around to compiling everything into a thesis. However, I think the mentoring and support of someone on the "inside" of academia is essential. Apart from anything else, publishing is quite political, and even if you're doing good work you need to know how to present the results so that it will survive the peer review process (which can be harsh). Of course you can stick to low-impact journals which will make it easier to publish, but then the chance that you will "make a difference" is correspondingly smaller.

I can only offer insight from a branch of physical sciences. Notwithstanding the opportunities available for amateurs in zoology and astronomy, in my field the days of the solo scientist working independently are long gone. We need powerful super-computers (expensive), and the input required to produce novel results is now too multi-disciplinary and large in magnitude for one person working alone to be able to do everything. Sometimes at our conferences there is a guy in his 70s/80s who is self-trained. He does publish things, somehow, but his models don't make any sense to an expert, and he's basically regarded as a bit of a joke in the community. That is why it is imperative to work with other scientists in my field - you just can't reach the same level of understanding without some supervision or interaction with colleagues.

I'm not saying that you can't do science on your own; I'm saying that if you want to make a difference publicly, you have to cooperate with others and be ready to play the politics.
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Re: Still reasonable to pursue a medical science PhD?

Postby E.K.L. » Mon Dec 17, 2012 1:20 pm

I am not doing anything connected to neurology, but I am in the biotech industry, and before that I've been in academia and in my opinion, if you want to have a significant impact in your field through writing papers, then you have to gain some experience in a research lab. There is no way around it.

I would still say that getting into neurology through mathematics has been the best advice offered here so far, simply because it doesn't put you in a position of having to choose between science and accounting.
In my opinion waiting until you are 50 to fulfill your dream is just not going to work out; it isn't even about discriminating against older people (I actually had a student that old, once), but because it is very unlikely that a dream will hold out that long. Similarly, you might find out that doing science in practice in not that fun actually, so having a backup plan is very reasonable.
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