deciding *against* a Ph.D.

David Adler dadler at koko.pathology.washington.edu
Wed Dec 23 00:52:59 EST 1992


In article <1992Dec17.181139.3264 at news2.cis.umn.edu> diqui at pathogen.med.umn.edu (Diqui  
LaPenta) writes:
>...My problem is not my adviser or even my project.  My problem
> is that the very thought of getting my Ph.D. only to devote my life to sitting
> at a lab bench and wrestling for  grant funding has become truly depressing. I
> have discovered, at this late juncture, that I am not well-suited to bench work. During  
> ...
> I suppose it would be beneficial to any others with the same dilemma to post
> responses, but you can also reply to me via e-mail at:
> 
> 			diqui at lenti.med.umn.edu
> 
> Thanks in advance for any suggestions and feedback,

I think you have already seen a number of stimulating responses and I thought I would add  
my own experience to the discussion.

I find myself now at the age of 45 trying to wrap up the completion of my Ph.D. that I  
started in 1973. Almost twenty years and 3000 miles later I may actually attain this  
thing. My problem in the early years, and I'm sure many others, was my personal need to to  
do the "definitive" experiment. Of course science doesn't really advance that way but  
rather the little pieces put into place by all of us. And not being satisfied with what I  
had done in the lab I left with the M.A. in the middle of writing my thesis. Well three  
years later, after doing other things - sort of not science, I found myself unemployed and  
desperate enough to apply for a lab tech job. I called a well known scientist at UW who  
works in a field with which I was familiar. After introducing myself and asking about tech  
openings he asked me if I was the "Adler" from a particular paper. This was one of the  
papers from my earlier graduate work. I was "shocked" that he knew this paper and  
proceeded to tell me it was a nice piece of work - I was still operating under the  
assumption that I had not done that definitive expt. and anything less was pretty  
uninteresting. Well to bring the story forward rapidly, he didn't have any jobs but he  
told me about a new faculty person down the hall, also working in the same area, who just  
had their tech quit on them. Two weeks later I was hired; and now ten years later and  
lot's of productivity - i.e. I've added a few more pieces to the puzzle, I am actually  
going to go in the front door.

Of course their are the practical concerns you mention. Getting grants is harder than it  
used to be and will consume your time and energy. Getting a real job is not that easy  
either. And deciding to do research as a career is not for the folks who need immediate  
reward on a daily basis (on the other hand good expt results, even if they are once every  
few months, induces in me one of the most euphoric feelings). Your concern about bench  
work is not necessarily troublesome since many successful scientists don't end up doing  
much bench work - their grad students, postdocs, techs do it. You need to weigh how much  
you want and need the intellectual challenge of research. And as others have said their  
are many career paths to which to apply your experience OR maybe you want to do something  
totally different.

My advice to you is to find a quiet place away from the lab and let your inner self tell  
you things. I've often suggested fantasizing to others contemplating these important  
decisions - i.e. let yourself wonder what you would really enjoy doing if  
anything/everything was possible.
	(Patti Smith says it  "...the sea of possibilities...see the possibilities")
Good luck imagining
David

BTW: I didn't realize this was going to go on this long - so my apologies especially since  
I have one of those funny little chromosomes, my partner refers to as the mutant one,   
that seems to have several socially undesirable traits mapped to it and this is really a  
group for the XX's.



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