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deciding *against* a Ph.D.

David Kristofferson kristoff at net.bio.net
Thu Dec 17 17:27:20 EST 1992

>>I'm facing a serious decision regarding the direction of my scientific career.
>>I am in the 4th year of my Ph.D. program in microbiology, and I have battled
>>a terrible lack of motivation for the last 1 1/2 years.  It has been bad enough
>>for my adviser to threaten to discontinue financial support if my productivity
>>did not improve.  My problem is not my adviser or even my project.  My problem
>>is that the very thought of getting my Ph.D. only to devote my lilfe to sitting
>>at a lab bench and wrestling for  grant funding has become truly depressing. I
>>have discovered, at this late juncture, that I am not well-suited
to bench work.


>Although posted to womenbio, your concern probably affects males
>and females alike.

No doubt.

>There are many careers, including science admistration, for those
>who find they do not like  bench work.  Many of these, however,
>require the Ph.D. degree as sort of a badge of honor for employment.
>Many years ago, my wife chose do discontinue her Ph.D. studies
>in favor of a master's degree after getting married for some of the
>same reasons you have cited.  She now finds that she is shut out
>of many interesting jobs, none of which involve bench work, because
>she does not have the Ph.D. degree.

>Jim Cassatt

Jim makes an excellent point assuming that you want to continue to do
something related to science.  Not having more information about your
other choices, it is hard to advise (but remember the old Greek saying
that the easiest thing in the world to do is to give advice 8-).  If
you are close to getting your degree, nonetheless, there is a lot to
be said for sticking with it even if you do go on to other things.
However, if you want to switch into something completely different,
having a Ph.D. can sometimes also be a disadvantage from the
standpoint of being "overqualified."

I went through similar periods of self-doubt, not only during my Ph.D.
but also during my 4 yr. postdoc period, and I finally made the switch
from bench work to being a manager at a biotech software company,
IntelliGenetics (IG ... I was one of those geeks who would rather sit
at a computer analyzing data than producing it).  My first job at IG,
however, was doing technical support for scientists who used our
software.  Although I was "overqualified" for the position, I
thoroughly enjoyed the work and busted my hind end to do a good job.
This led to subsequent promotions.  Other people here (most are former
bench scientists) have started work as technical writers or software
quality assurance specialists, for example.  I also note that it is
never too late to go back to school in another field if that is your

Unfortunately the lab environment puts a lot of pressure on a person
to do well at a particular kind of task or face the rather severe
pressure of being a "failure."  No one wants to be perceived as a
"quitter."  The truth is, in my opinion, that one can become
excessively fixated on the notion that science is the only truly
worthwhile thing to do with one's life (particularly when you are
surrounded only by people who are intensely focussed on that goal).
If one ever looks outside of the lab, there are actually many other
*interesting* (and often better paying) career options.  Getting out
from under that burden takes a lot of fortitude, but you'll probably
be amazed at how good you feel when you finally find something that
you *really* like to do.  Rest assured that there *is* something out
there for you, and don't be afraid of being put down by others in your
attempt to find it.


				Dave Kristofferson
				BIOSCI/bionet Manager

				kristoff at net.bio.net

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