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grad schools

Thomas Holeva tholeva at bu.edu
Sun May 22 15:49:46 EST 1994

I just (in January) graduated from Boston University with a degree in Biology,
and have decided to take a year off before returning to grad school. I'm now
in the process of collecting as much data, official pablum and words-of-wisdom
as I can before venturing into the next level of my education.
So a little about me:

Most of my undergrad education was tailored towards the molecular biology
end of things. So naturally enough my first interests in the biology of the
brain and nervous system came from this chemical and cellular level of
interaction.  But I soon became fascinated with the philosophy behind the
science, i.e. how do such things as consciousness come about from a collection
of neurons, why do we perceive a certain collection of sounds as music and
even stranger find a certain 'beauty' in them. When I started to think about
these things, something in me 'clicked' for lack of a better term.  Perhaps
my desire (and hobby) to compose music and my intuitive understanding of it 
gives me a keener desire to understand the science behind the art.  I realize
that the answers to many of these questions lie more in the realm of 
philosophical speculation than scientific inquiry, but nevertheless for me
these questions provide coal for the fires of my scientific curiosity.

The second major factor which has guided my decision was a personal experience
with serious depression. To keep it simple, it basically ground me into the 
earth over most of my college years.  It wasn't much fun, and I didn't get much
help because no one picked up on my feelings until the situation became
very severe.  But, I'm finally on my feet and am looking forward to a bright
future rather than being fixated on a dark past.

OK, so with those two things in mind what I want to do is basically go
into brain research. I'm interested in the cellular mechanisms of what constitutes such states as depression and schizophrenia.  What makes up consciousness?
Language comprehension, the basis of art? How does the brain sort through
visual, aural, and olfactory information.  I think I have enough questions
for ten lifetimes....  

I would like to approach this from two vantage points: 
from the cellular/chemical and from the behavioural.
I think then that an MD/PhD program would be perfect for me,
allowing me to do my PhD in neuromolecular biology and the MD
in psychiatry.  
With that I could do research teach at a university, and also
practice psychiatry. I think that my experiences with depression has make
be sensitive to other peoples moods, and maybe I could help to save one
or two college freshmen from what I went through.

So after all this description of my intentions for school, I was wondering
if anyone else out there is (was) in the same situation of wanting both
to teach/do research and practice medicine, and although is a scientist
right down to his synapses is driven by an almost metaphysical need to
understand the philosophical questions behind the science.

I would appreciate any advice on what you feel you would do over, or wish
you didn't do.  Do you think an MD/PhD is a logical choice for my situation.
Or is it wiser to do a PhD, then an MD at another school? Or should I
move to Tibet, become a hermit, and contemplate Zen for my remaining years?

Thanks again for any advice or information anyone sends.  You could respond
by e-mail, but I'm sure other people in my situation would benefit from
a public reply.


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