Grad school

SLF notmyaddress at
Mon Nov 18 11:44:26 EST 2002

> From: L. Lintott (llintott at
> .......
> To make a long story short, I am thinking about returning to grad school
> to get my Ph.D. (I have a MSc.). Complications include, I am a single
> mother of two kids, 7 and 10 and I am 37 years old.
> .......

> But now I find the dream of running my own lab has come back to haunt
> me, I beat it down for awhile and then back up it comes. I can't decide
> if its some kind of mid-life crisis or if its just that now that the
> kids are older I am finally starting to think more about myself and what
> I want.
> Enough background:
> Here are my questions
> 1. As I have a MSc already and 10 years lab experience, is it realistic
> to think I could get the Ph.D. in 3 - 4 years (keep in mind I am in
> Canada where 5 to 6 years to obtain a Ph.D. is relatively normal).

Maybe.  IF you really hit the ground running and have a supportive boss.

> 2. I am counting on the 10 years of tech experience (I do have some
> publications) to allow me to avoid the endless years of post-docs, is
> that realistic?

No.   being a tech and being a postdoc are really different.  You will have to
do at least one postdoc to develop an indpendent project, unless you are
a truly phenomenally successful PhD student.

> 3. Assuming points 1 and 2 work, I would be looking for a job in 5 to 6
> years, which would make me 43/44. What I want is an academic position,
> preferably at a smaller university. I want to teach and have a research
> program, I'd be happy with a small lab, a tech and a couple of
> students. What are the odds?

I don't know how things are in Canada.  Here in the US, the chances depend upon
how well you do in terms of publications during PhD and postdoc, and whether
you "match" what some university wants ( and they don't always tell you in the
advert what that is.)   University positions get between  150 and 400 applications,
and of course, only one of them might get the job.

My advice is that if you really, really cannot imagine NOT doing it, then go for it.
But if you don't absolutely have the passion, then I would look for alternatives
that give you some independence and job satisfaction, for example, putting
your science experience to work in business or law.   Something with retirement
benefits! A PhD in the current climate is a helluva road even if you are
single and 22.


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S L Forsburg, PhD  Associate Professor
The Salk Institute, La Jolla CA
"These are my opinions.  I don't have
time to speak for anyone else."


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