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If I don't finish my PhD....

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If I don't finish my PhD....

Postby Michelle » Thu Oct 21, 2004 11:25 am

I'm a first-year grad student in an excellent Neuroscience program, straight from a BS in biology. I thought that this was a good step for me, but now I'm concerned that I jumped into the program too quickly without thinking it through. I feel very young in my program (I'm 22), and I'm constantly doubting whether this is right for me (which interferes with my work, etc). I'm having a hard time maintaining interest in my classes, zoning out during talks, and I'm generally having a lot of trouble maintaining focus and concentration.

I think I may benefit from taking time off and working, but I've been told that there are very few opportunities for someone like me (I'm intelligent, graduated top of my class at a great university, but I have little non-academic research experience). I would be willing to do research at a biotech company, or non-research medical jobs (sales/marketing), but again, I have no experience.

These issues are consuming me- Can you give me any advice?

Thank you so much,
Michelle
Michelle
 

If I don't finish my PhD....

Postby Dave Jensen » Thu Oct 21, 2004 1:09 pm

Michelle,

You've got a long road ahead of you, so if you are already started to feel a bit of that "burn out" that others have spoken of, perhaps you are right. It may be time to re-think that decision.

Neuro is a field which is so deep that there are dozens, perhaps hundreds, of fields that you can get into. Many of these are not directions that would be of interest to industry. Therefore, if you had an interest to begin with in the biotech or pharma industry, I hope you've selected an advisor and a field that will eventually look marketable on a CV.

But, if you truly do want to take a break and get some work experience, you'd be just as marketable as any other BS graduate (this isn't saying all that much, because job searches are not easy with a BS in Biology and no experience). You sound VERY flexible if you would even consider sales, etc. Just remember that if you have an eventual desire to do bench research, you are shooting yourself in the foot to go into a business position.

If you are in a major cluster area (a city like Boston, San Fran, San Diego, etc) than you'll find a job with your BS and you'll be able to see where that leads you. Should you find the bench still looks appealing after a few years of that work, you can go back at that time for the graduate degree. (There is a "glass ceiling" for those in research who do not have that advanced degree).

Have you spoken to a few people in various kinds of industry jobs to see what they think of them? Don't forget about the wonderful resource here at the AAAS with the NextWave site. There are many feature articles about what different career choices are all about,


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If I don't finish my PhD....

Postby Bill L. » Thu Oct 21, 2004 3:35 pm

Hi Michelle,

You might benefit from speaking with a career counselor at your university about a few things:

1. Is it possible to take a year leave - just in case you aren't sure you want to leave your program yet.

2. If you are sure you want to leave your program, you might benefit from talking with someone about the next steps and range of professional options available to you. Sometimes people in your situation are just sick of being in the classroom, sick of school in general, and just want to do "something else". But that's about leaving (more of a "gotta break out of this prison" mentality), rather than going towards an experience that you will find interesting, valuable, and fulfilling.

As soon as you can figure out why you might like a particular career path - even if just for the next 1-3 years: sales, research, whatever - it will be easier for you to target the resume, write the compelling cover letter, and sound like you have some sense of why you want the job in an interview.

Actually, they can help you write that resume and cover letter, and practice for that interivew - particularly the question, "So why did you leave your neuroscience program after a year?"

Be well,

Bill L. & Naledi S.

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If I don't finish my PhD....

Postby Michelle » Fri Oct 22, 2004 11:36 am

Thank you for the valuable advice.

I'm trying to tell myself that it's only October of my first semester, and I shouldn't jump to conclusions yet. But you're right that what I may be feeling is a general burn-out.

This is sort of off-topic, but I think that undergrad university professors may do an unintentional disservice to promising students when they discourage them from getting jobs. There's a big difference between having the ability to pursue a PhD and actually wanting to pursue a PhD and graduate schools seem to be much more focused on the former.

I will take your advice and see a career counselor. Again, thank you for the advice.
Michelle
 

If I don't finish my PhD....

Postby Dave Jensen » Fri Oct 22, 2004 1:06 pm

Every now and then I will dip into the "usenet" and read career discussions such as the one at sci.research.careers. Mostly very negative and full of complainers, and hard to read because your posts don't show up for about a day. However, there is an occasional gem.

One fellow recently used a great analogy, when he called getting the PhD like "getting a hunting license." Many people think that it earns you the right to have work, and it doesn't. It is simply getting the qualifications out of the way -- the license -- and then it is up to you to find the work. Like a hunting license, there are a lot of people who come away empty handed from the job hunt at the end of the day.

Lots of people have the ABILITY to get a PhD. But only those who truly know the work involved, the years of toil and postdoc, etc, should really be in queue for one.

Dave
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If I don't finish my PhD....

Postby Karen » Sun Oct 24, 2004 2:14 pm

Michelle,

I\'m also a first year student in a PhD program for Molecular Biosciences. I have been thinking about dropping out. The only advice I can give you is, like what everyone else said:

1. talk to as many people as you can. For example I am talking to three people in Industry with PhDs, and next week I am scheduled to talk to one woman with her MS/MBA.
2. Find out what is out there- easier said then done. Write up your resume and send it out. You never know what you will get out of it.
3. Take some weight off your shoulders. I was just like you, I felt unfocused because my goals are somewhat unclear. So I was able to drop one class and postpone my quals for year but I did not delay my graduation time (if I actually graduate!) This gave me some time to think about what I wanted to do.
4. Remember you may feel alone upset and depressed but you are not the first and not the only one going through this post undergraduate transition. In the end you will be surprised and most likely satisfied with the path you CHOOSE because it will ultimately make you happy.

good luck,
Karen
Karen
 

If I don't finish my PhD....

Postby David » Sun Oct 24, 2004 4:25 pm

"One fellow recently used a great analogy, when he called getting the PhD like "getting a hunting license." Many people think that it earns you the right to have work, and it doesn't. It is simply getting the qualifications out of the way -- the license -- and then it is up to you to find the work. Like a hunting license, there are a lot of people who come away empty handed from the job hunt at the end of the day."

Do you think this is a very simplistic argument? It is true that a PhD in biological science is not a right to have work, the same with any other degrees. I do agree, not only for biological sciences but for any other field, a degree is like a hunting license. At the end of the day it depends where you go hunting is very important. If you went to a place where there is almost nothing (or few) to be hunted and there are many hunters, of course your chances are very slim to get anything. This is the case in biological sciences. But, of course, if you went to a place where there are many (or some) to be hunted and very few get the license (regulated license) then it is all upto you. This is the case for a field like medicine, dentistry, pharmacy, computer science... I think the problem is as the National Research Council puts it they are many PhD (many of them very outstanding) in this country competing for few jobs. 80% of PhD graduates DO NOT get jobs as a faculty memeber or scientist in biotech companies or research institutes. The number of supply is also to increase in the future as many schools continue to admit many graduate students and hire postdocs from other countries for a very small amount of money to do a quality work.

This is just my thought, I am not trying to be a complainer or a whinner but I am just trying to be realistic and young people like Michelle should think about their decision.
David
 

If I don't finish my PhD....

Postby Chris » Sun Oct 24, 2004 6:07 pm

Hi Michelle,
When I started my Ph.D., I really did not particularly enjoy all the classes or my rotations. In addition, all I heard from those around me was how horrible the job market was for Ph.D. level scientists and that I might be doing a post-doc for a really really long time with no guarantee of a job. This was about 6 years ago and I seriously considered getting through my qualifying exam and leaving with a masters and then going to law school. So, to make a long story short, I wound up in a lab with a project that I was very interested and did end up getting my Ph.D. Now I'm in my first year of postdoc and am really happy that I finished. My plan has always been to go into industry and in a year, I think I will be able to find a job.
Chris
 

If I don't finish my PhD....

Postby Dave Jensen » Sun Oct 24, 2004 9:38 pm

David,

I recall that only 15-20% of PhD's stay on the academic track and eventually get the tenure track position. Those numbers may be high. However, industry jobs await most of the others. That's why forums like this one exist . . . To help with the transition. A lot of people were planning to be in the Ivory Tower, and then they find themselves interviewing with ABC Biotech, or Big Pharma Inc., etc. And the focus of this forum is on the life sciences, so I have no numbers of any other degree types.

I guess I'd like to dispute that number of 80% of PhD's do not get jobs. You qualified it, meaning that you stated "as a scientist," though. Many people don't WANT jobs as a scientist. They get their PhD and then go into sales, marketing, regulatory affairs, business development, manufacturing operations, quality, etc. There are so many fields that use that PhD, so perhaps this is what happens to your 80%.

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