grad school

Fisher, Roxanne RFisher at
Fri Nov 22 04:19:45 EST 2002

Dear L:

I think you should at least seriously consider getting a PhD if the thought
of returning to school  keeps coming back to you.  My test for things like
this is:  would I be  bitter old woman if I didn't try to do it or would I
always wonder what would ahve happened if I didn't try it.

You might want to consider other career paths such as getting a law degree
or MBA- they would lead to more money and stability, but if that's not where
your interests lie, that's just not for you.

You will be giving up stability and income, but if you are increasingly
frustrated as a tech stability might seem like a bad path.

I would examine potential grad programs and advisors carefully.  Some are
more welcoming than others to non-traditional age students and students with
families.  My PhD program at University of Maryland was full of people who
had children.  Most of the students who ad children (both from the US and
international students) lived in the graduate student apartments where there
was a real sense of community.  The kids had play mates from all over the
world.    I started graduate school when I was 28 and I was on the younger
side for my department.  I have a friend who started when she was 42 or so
and she ahs finished, and is doing a great post-doc.  On the other hand, the
department in which I did my post-doc had almost all students right out of
college who were single.  

Advisors will ahve different attitudes toward age and family too and thus
need to be chosen carefully.  Some advisors expect you to be in the alb from
sun-up to sun-down and other just want to see good progress and face time
isn't as important.  It's sometimes difficult to find out about these issues
so you should look for a department that contains several faculty members
whose work interests you.

That said, you do bring lots useful skills to a potential graduate school
lab.  You probably already know lots of techniques from your various jobs,
you know how to handle data, how to write up data, how to motivate yourself,
how to troubleshoot a problem, how to deal with salespeople and ordering,
how to organize a lab, etc.  so even though you wont' be putting in 16 hour
days in the lab (probably) you also won't spend hours web surfing or
chatting with your buddies over coffee or stewing about problems with other
grad students or your roommates.

I think it's worth a closer look.  Yes, you will make your children move,
but if they ahve a happier, more fulfilled mother that's good, and they will
probably meet kids from all over and see many places they would never see if
you remained rooted in one place.  Just think- even if you started a job at
45 you have twenty to twenty five years in that job!  To me, that's a long

I think if you are interested in a smaller university or college setting one
post-doc should be enough, at least that's my experience on the college job
market and the experience of most people I know.  Also, when I was
interviewing for jobs it was obvious that lots of faculty at colleges either
had kids or a strong outside interest.


Roxanne H. Fisher                                  rfisher at
Assistant Professor of Biology                  phone (412)365-1893
Chatham College                                     fax (412)365-1505
Woodland Road
Pittsburgh, PA 15232

-----Original Message-----
From: L. Lintott [mailto:llintott at]
Sent: Thursday, November 14, 2002 5:45 AM
To: bionet-women-in-bio at
Subject: grad school

Hi all,
I am looking for a bit of advice from you all.
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.  

I finished my MSc 10 years ago (wow time flies) and decided to work as a
technician for awhile before deciding on the next step to take with my
career.  My oldest was 1 then and I was very unhappy with the whole
experience I had as  a  Masters student, so I decided to take a break
from school.  
When I became pregnant with my second child I suddenly found myself a
single parent.  With two little ones and little support (no family
nearby) going back to school was not feasible.  So, I continued on as a
technician.  Not that there is anything wrong with being a tech, it has
fed and clothed my family and allowed me to try several different
avenues in Science, I have gone from molecular Cancer research, to
Agriculture research, and worked on a variety of molecular projects
including finding markers for both disease resistance and plant pathogen
diagnostics, and looking at plant-pathogen interactions.

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). 
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?
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?

Other more personal issues include:
Guilt about making my kids live below the poverty line for 5+ years.
Guilt about moving my kids around (I would defiantly have to move to go
to grad school, and then probably to get a job).
Worries about the risks, i.e.. Giving up a decent paying job, and
possibly ending up with no job.

I have discussed it with some friends in Science, so far most of the
woman say 'no', and the men (including some who know me from my 1st grad
school stint) say 'do it'.  That in itself is interesting, don't you

Well, once again, this is to long, so I will stop now and wait for


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