Changing fields in grad school

Wed Apr 2 11:04:00 EST 1997

Ok, I had to add my 2 cents here because some of the comments made to 
Beth resonate with things that have happened to me.  So, an addendum to 
Lisa's post, with lots of snipping:

>Dear Beth,
  From your post, it sounds like you've >already
>learned everything you feel you need, and that you are mainly looking 
>to do
>this "hot" project to make a name for yourself.  Quite frankly, we like 
>think that students come to study and learn from us, not just to use 
>facilities for their own self-promotion.  Of course we appreciate 
>students, but we also like to take a certain amount of credit for their
>training and development when they go off into the world and do 
>makes us look good, too.  It does sound like you are a very advanced
>graduate student, with all of your other work experiences, but perhaps 
>could restrain your hubris a bit for the sake of your long term goals?  
>suspect that you have inadvertently gotten into a situation where 
>professor feels totally committed to you because you have not totally
>committed to either of them.  Why did you go to graduate school?  Was 
>just to get the a PhD as a sort of "membership card" so you could be a 
>member of the group?  Or might you be able to learn some new stuff that
>might interest you as much as or even more than crystal structures?

This is interesting to me, because i went to grad school after 5 years 
in a government lab for just this reason-my supervisor said i knew more 
than anyone in the department about my field and I had PI 
resoponsibilities, but in order to advance i had to meet government 
standards-I needed PhD after my name.  No offense Lisa, but often we 
tell grad students that a PhD is a union card to do science-why are we 
suprised if they treat it like that?  And I found (and was warned about 
this, so it wasn't so bad) that going from directing lab technicians and 
publishing my own research to being lower than scum on the totem pole 
(which is how first year grad students are sometimes treated) was a 
shock.  But it was also a lesson in human relations I hope I never 

  I >may
>be totally off base here, but sometimes when you are very familiar with
>something, and very good at it, it doesn't seem possible to change 
>You've been doing crystallography for a long time.  Might you find a
>totally different project in the department there that excites you just 
>much and that you could do just as well at?

Likewise, I came to work with one professor.  Fortunately, in 
retrospect, he couldn't take me on the first rotation, so I did work in 
a genetics lab.  By the time I rotated with the professor I came to grad 
school for, he wisely told me that he wanted me to learn, therefore my 
rotation would not be isolating the novel protein the lab was chasing, 
which I had much experience with,  but instead learning how to work with 
DIC miscroscopy and isolate asters and microtubules from dividing sea 
urchin eggs.  By the time it came time to choose labs, I had completely 
changed what I wanted to do.  I can never go back to that government job 
anyway due to funding constraints (my position no longer exists!) but I 
wouldn't want to.

I hope you do continue on for a PhD, >it
>sounds as though you have lots of good ideas, and would do very well in
>charge of your own research group..but as they say, you must crawl 
>you can walk..the graduate school experience is meant to prepare you in
>more ways than just scientifically and technically for a science
>career..there is also a kind of social training that will help you just 
>much in your future career as the scientific stuff.  I have seen 
>scientific minds go by the wayside because of a lack of socialization
>(mainly this means being aware that all of us have feelings and egos, 
>like to be respected and liked by our peers, and also that 
>among university faculty are rarely simple) an ideal world, we 
>say that this is a terrible thing, that brilliant minds should be 
>to make their contribution no matter what..but the research world is 
>ideal, it is made up of very human researchers with very human failings 
>feelings..and realistically, success depends on the good will of peers 
>in a
>peer review system

Excuse me while add a cynical aside here, but in my 5 years of grad 
school, I have to admit that there seems to be infinitely more "suck up" 
necessary in acedemia than government, at all levels, with infinitely 
less at stake reward wise-how did we get into this mess?
>Another option is to try and obtain your own funding (you don't say if 
>is already the case??) perhaps you could get some support from NSF or 
>for your proposal; this would give you a lot more credibility and 
>with your current professors. 

I did this too, and having an NSF felloowship makes all the difference 
in the world-now you have some leverage (ie, money). however, I believe 
it's too late forBeth to apply to NSF, and Howard Hughes-they require 
you to have less than 20 graduate hours when you apply.

 I believe AWIS also offers graduate

As far as I can tell, only for your final year, and only to write up 
your work (or am I confusing AWIS with American Society of University 

I would talk to your professor in the cancer lab about
>sponsoring your effort to write a proposal to an outside agency.  If 
>got it, it would also really help you in the future.  You still have 
>of time to become famous; your best objective right now is probably to 
>a good grounding in a range of fields and to set up a good
>impressive list of publications and a successful stint in a good lab as 
>post-doc will do the most for you in terms of your future job search 
>least if you're headed for academia).

ditto-but I would add that if you're headed for academia, you probably 
reached your peak earning years before you went to grad school.  If 
however, you stay in crystallography and go back to Biotech, the story 
is probably different.  My own feeling is that "hot" in graduate school 
is more trouble than its worth.  "hot" in postdoc is better.

Much more than I intended to write!
Julia Frugoli
Dartmouth College

visiting grad student at
Texas A&M University
Department of Biological Sciences
College Station, TX 77843
FAX 409-847-8805

"Evil is best defined as militant ignorance."
																										Dr. M. Scott Peck

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