Medical School or Graduate School????

Karen Allendoerfer ravena at cco.caltech.edu
Sat Apr 27 12:23:41 EST 1996


Yvonne,

I was considering both these options, too, when I was an undergraduate.  I
went on to get a PhD only, which I received in 1993, but I haven't ruled
out going back to medical school, maybe that says something.

For most people, these really are different careers.  Do you want to do
science, or do you want to be a doctor?  Or, have you considered MD-PhD? 
The cons of that are the length of time it takes, but the pros include
(usually) having your education funded by an MSTP grant.  MST programs are
very competitive, though.

When I say to friends that have MD's that I really am concerned about how
bad the job situation is for PhD's, they pretty much uniformly say that
"medicine is changing too" and "isn't like it used to be."  Often this
means that "you can't get rich doing medicine anymore."  The question of
money doesn't particularly interest me, but even in terms of job
satisfaction, there seem to be a lot of dissatisfied MD's out there, too,
due to the changes in the health care system, the rise of HMO's and
managed care, the health insurance mess, etc.

When I decided to go to graduate school over MD-PhD, it was because I
decided I really wanted to do science, that was my first choice. The idea
of "doing both" was appealing in a romantic sense, but I decided that I
wanted a life, too.  I didn't need TWO full-time-plus careers.  

If a career in science was "all it was cracked up to be" back in the 80's
when they were telling us about the impending professor shortage, I would
have no regrets at all.  Science as a career, when the system is working,
can be quite rewarding.  I have really enjoyed and for the most part
respected the people I have met and who have become my colleagues (this
experience contrasts with that of the people I know who went to law and
business school).  I also really enjoy the freedom to make my own schedule
and hours.  I think I would have a pretty hard time in a company that
required I be there at 9 am on the dot every morning.  I enjoy teaching
undergraduates, going to meetings,and giving talks.  I like being able to
say "I'm a scientist."  I like spending my time reading challenging papers
and thinking about theories. I've learned more "ancillary" skills than I
expected to:  like, developing prints in a darkroom (I sure never expected
to learn about the different kinds of contrast paper), how to draw blood,
how to work all kinds of audio-visual equipment, how to use computers,
software, and the world wide web, and how to speak in front of a group. I
gained a lot of confidence by going through graduate school.

But as other people have already pointed out, the job situation for PhD's
is grim.  The last person who left the lab I'm in now sent out 200
applications for 7 interviews and 3 offers.  And once a person gets the
coveted job, I've heard the pressure can just ratchet up even higher. 
I've watched three people go through the postdoc to PI (PI = "principal
investigator," usually an assistant professor) transition, and they all
claim to have worked harder THEN than they ever did in their lives.  I've
also watched the consequences for a lab when the PI doesn't get his/her
grant funded repeatedly:  the demoralization, the questioning of the whole
system and worldview, the having to find another job.

Things are changing really fast, and it's unfortunate, but also unlikely
that the situation that exists now will be at all the same when you get
whatever degree it is that you want and are looking for a job yourself.

Good luck,

Karen Allendoerfer  

In article <4lr3d1$i5b at news1.mtholyoke.edu>, ymchadwi at mtholyoke.edu
(unchained melody) wrote:

> Hi, I'm a sophomore in college, majoring in Biology.  I am currently 
> following a pre-med program, but I'm now beginning to wonder about 
> graduate school.  Can anyone help me figure out the pros and cons of 
> medical school and of graduate school?  I would love to research and/or 
> teach, but I am *very* interested in the medical aspects of science.  
> Smile, and have a great day!!
> 
> 
> Thank you,
> Yvonne M. Chadwick
> Mount Holyoke College



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