length of grad. student careers

Majumder lab jhmorris at utmdacc.mda.uth.tmc.edu
Thu Aug 1 10:23:58 EST 1996

In article
<Pine.A32.3.92a.960731190749.62656B-100000 at homer30.u.washington.edu>, 
> So - here are some specific questions for the group:
> Is seven years under such circumstances a horrific, disgraceful thing?  Am
> I right to just want to leave science and get my masters in education and
> say it was fun but...
> What is the average time - particularly in a field like molecular/virology
> and are other dept's dealing with these kind of problems?
> How do other dept's perceive issues like weeding the garden (masters
> doorprizes), equalizing committees?
> What do you all do when the project crashes and burns and the student has
> been a productive, decent, and loving person for 3-4 years?

No, seven years is not horrific, but it is longer than average.  A lot
depends on the school which you attend.  Some have more stringent
requirements, and hence, longer tenures.  I'm in molecular
biology/molecular genetics, and it took me almost 5 years exactly to get
my PhD, but I had a very nice project, and an advisor who was willing to
say "it's time to go" without my having to ask.  On the other hand, there
is a guy in my lab who started at the same time as I did, who is still
there, going on 6 years.  His project was a nightmare: untried,
open-ended, full of pitfalls.  My PhD advisor will give him the boot
pretty soon and let him graduate, even though his project is
less-than-spectacular.  Dr. K thinks that he's paid his dues and had
established himself as a thinking scientist.  It's a real shame, because I
personally think that this guy is smarter than I am, but he's taking so
long just because he got a bad project.  Funny, when we first started, the
two of us chose between two projects, I got the good one, and he didn't.

Things like weeding out, etc. depend almost completely on your department
(from which your committees are chosen) and your advisor.  A good advisor
and committee will understand your problems and be humane.  After all, the
object of grad school is to establish yourself as a capable scientist
first, and provide groundbreaking data second.  Unfortunately, department
selection is mostly a matter of luck.  I didn't appreciate my old
department until I left and went to my present department.

--Julia Hsi Morris

jhmorris at utmdacc.mda.uth.tmc.edu or zzhao at utmdacc.mda.uth.tmc.edu
Dept. of Neuro-Oncology, Box 316
University of Texas M.D. Anderson Cancer Center
Houston, TX

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