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Which one for a PhD?

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Which one for a PhD?

Postby Neil » Sat Jan 01, 2005 7:57 pm

Hi All,

I did a masters in Biology. For the Fall 2005, I am been accepted for a PhD program in two labs with research areas: 1)Cell and Molecular Biology and 2)Biochemistry. The former lab works on cloning and characterization of a gene, while the later works on identification of proteins using bioanalytical/instrumentation techniques.

I wonder, which one would be the best bet for doing a PhD. To me the best bet means the one which gives more marketable skills, assuming that i have an equal interest in either of the areas. Which one of them, molecular biology techniques or instrumentation skills more worthy to start with?

Please suggest me. I look forward for any advice
thanks
neil p.
Neil
 

Which one for a PhD?

Postby Dave Jensen » Sun Jan 02, 2005 4:48 pm

Neil,

I'll put my headhunter hat on a moment and tell you that of the two areas of expertise, I'd put my money on the latter. The skills you'd learn in instrumentation and proteins would pay off handsomely in the near term -- and there is likely to be a solid future. While there is a lot to say for the molecular/cell biology lab, I wouldn't want to be tied down to a label of molecular biologist unless that lab is a very well-known one with a top professor who has lots of contacts with industry.

You hit the nail on the head with your comment "Assuming I have equal interest in both" -- your passion and enthusiasm for the work would be one of the lead determining factors in your success. (My response presumes you are interested in an industry career in biopharma).

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Which one for a PhD?

Postby Val » Mon Jan 03, 2005 1:48 am

Neil,

You need to know the definition of what is "marketable skills". You should look for the PI and the laboratory which will give you exposure to a broad range of techniques, so that you would be able to finish the whole product or project, from beginning to the end. Some people in academia tend to specialize only in a narrow aspect of a large problem. (In fact, that's what many PhD advisors like their PhD students to do). Such students know everything about this particular aspect, get publications about the aspect in top journals etc. On the strength of their accomplishments in this narrow aspect, they get postdoctoral fellowship grants or assistant professor positions. But if they cannot get those positions (this happens more often than not, according to my observations -- mostly in Oz), these people become unemployable. The only kind of employer who can take them on is industrial employer, and industrial employer is interested in your skills to complete a project, or be useful to other people in completion of their project. In other words, industrial employers are looking for people who can develop the _whole_ product (and you usually need 10+ years of experience to be able to do that), or the industrial employer wants you to be able to develop a scientific instrument which will be used by other scientists to finish off the development of a product.

Sometimes you get employed by a national laboratory. The employers favour the people who have diverse experience, and who are multi-skilled (e.g. to be able to do both theoretical work and experimental work), which is brought up by the ever-changing nature of the natl labs' projects. There, you will essentially need to carve up a niche, and develop a product which will make you standing out compared to your peers. This will be why you will get a promotion, or will move from a natl lab postdoc to a permanent position. Nobody is going to help you to develop new skills necessary to build that product... you will need to have the rounded-up skills as early as possible.

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Val
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Which one for a PhD?

Postby Doug » Mon Jan 03, 2005 2:04 pm

Neil,
First, I'll concur with Dave's point that the one that excites you more intellectually should be the one you choose. The second recommendation, which some may disagree with, is to choose the one that will provide you with the most intellectual development. Although technical skills are important, most of them can be picked up when you need them (in other words, a strong technician with fewer critical thinking skills will more often lose out to someone who is weaker technically but is a superior thinker). This is especially true if you are considering an academic career.
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Which one for a PhD?

Postby Ken » Mon Jan 03, 2005 2:54 pm

I'll second that technical skills may not be all that important. I was hired for my current position despite having done virtually none of the techniques that I'm currently learning. I expressed some surprise to the hiring manager that she would want to hire me, and she said she was more concerned about thinking than techniques, which can be learned pretty easily.
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Which one for a PhD?

Postby Dave Jensen » Mon Jan 03, 2005 3:16 pm

I like and agree with Ken's comments about thinking skills.

However, while critical thinking skills are extremely important, if you are considering employment in industry you will have to remember that (sadly) people will label you based upon your degree and choice of work experience to date. So, if you feel you can adequately develop your thinking skills in both of these disciplines, choose the one that leads you most directly into your desire industry niche.

The "label" phenomenon is very difficult to get away from. Despite your great critical thinking skills, if you are "labeled" as "another molecular biologist" it will hurt you. I realize this is a superficial element of the hiring process in industry only, but it is something to think about.

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