thanks, "basic science" and small colleges

aloisia schmid a-schmi at
Sun Nov 17 23:08:38 EST 1996

> Sadly, all the undergrad's who've come through our lab as Honors students
> and then tech's - each with grad. school aspirations - have changed their
> minds about research.  They want security and money and, in the end, have
> either gone to medical school, industry, or advanced through tech-dome.
> Sometimes I think about how different I would be if I had gone to medical
> school;  on one hand, I think I would have really responded to that
> schedule and structure and probably been a good "student."  But when I
> look at the things I have done as a grad. student, it does mean more -
> both the discipline of having to define my own time, think about who I am
> and what I want, etc. and the science itself.  I guess I'm just, at some
> level, a hopeless basic scientist and generalist (did I mention I majored
> in Bio. and Lit in undergrad?). 

>         Can you all tell my thesis slides are driving me crazy and boring
> me to tears!!! I was up 'til three a.m. last night.  And we won't even
> discuss the talk which keeps going through my head when I'm trying to
> sleep!
So it's me again, responding to Sarah Boomer's posting.
I just wanted to add two things.  So many women in science that I know are
now saying that they plan to go to medical school because that is the easy
way out.  And in a way it is.  It's more secure.  And what's interesting
is that these women--and men, for that matter-- who go to medical school
after all of this time and sweat in academic research, will probably be
better doctors than their non-PhD counterparts. 

I had to have surgery a few years ago and was absolutely appalled at how
my orthopedic surgeons and GPs knew absolutely NOTHING about basic
neuroscience and cell biology.  I am not being smug or condescending when
I say this---they really were so completely clueless, I was stunned.  For
example, I asked how long it would take to get feeling back in my legs (I
had back surgery) and they said well, the nerves would have to grow back. 
So when that happened, I would get sensation.  Now I happened to know the
rate of mammalian axonal regeneration from my own work, but these were
neurosurgeons and orthopedic surgeons and you would think this question
would come up alot, but they didn't know even that simple little
fact--that is, I might add, in all of the medical textbooks. 

My main neurosurgeon talked about wanting to have his own staff of
molecular biologists on call so that when he encountered an unusual
clinical problem he could present it to them and they could work on it for
a week or so and he could directly apply it to his practice without long
delays.  He was thinking about things like hereditary bone
abnormalities--and felt that molecular biology in this day and age ought
to be able to work in a one-week time frame.  

I am not trying to be critical of him or his assistants---he took horrible
pain away from me and I will be grateful forever.  But I can't help but
think two things.  That medicine would benefit from having researchers
practice it---so that people like my neurosurgeon would gain a broader
perspective.  But I also think that researchers might have some rather
unpleasant adjustments to go through in re-orienting themselves to this
way of thinking and this approach to science.   I am not entirely sure
that a researcher, especially one truly in love with the romance of
science, would find medicine a satisfactory alternative---no matter how
much security and money is involved.   So the plusses that Sarah listed
about research--having to organize your own time, and thinking about who
you are and about science at a very fundamental and yet complex
level---these are things hard won and even harder to give up.  

Maybe that's why we are all so willing to stick our heads in the sand?

Lastly, Sarah--courage!  All of my friends and I went through similar
traumas in preparing for the defense.  In fact I drank half a bottle of
wine before my defense---I was so nervous I felt like I was going to throw
up! And the wine didn't seem to make any dent in my cognitive abilities at
all--except that I was able to hold the pointer still, whereas without
that wine, I would have made everyone else in that room motion-sick.  In
fact, the best advice I can give you is to enjoy the experience.  I am
sure you will do a brilliant job and you should just revel in the fact
that you are being given the opportunity to show off all you have learned
and done as a graduate student.  My defense is one of my favorite memories
of all time----and that may be the key!  Not so much wine that  you forget
the experience.....

I'd be curious to hear what things people have thought about doing if they
don't get the acadmic job.  People always say industry----but what kinds
of jobs are we talking about here?   And what about government?  ARE there
places in the government for PhDs?  What other things do people do? 

                                       Aloisia (alice) Schmid

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