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MS or PhD?

Tonya Frederic frederic at engpub1.bu.edu
Wed Jan 26 17:43:30 EST 1994

> I am a second year grad student in a Molecular biology field.  I have 
>recently (two weeks ago) left my permanent lab for a variety of reasons, 
>most of which resulted from a combination of not really getting the kind 
>of guidance I needed from my advisor and being too intimidated to know 
>how to ask for it without coming across as stupid.  It seemed that the 
>other people in the lab were much more advanced scientifically than I am 
>or will be soon, but I kept feeling as though I should be able to think 
>at the same level with the postdocs and 4th & 5th year grad students.  I 
>now realize that this demand I was placing on myself was unreasonable. 
>        The next decision I have to make is whether to finish this 
>quarter with a Master's and get a job in industry, or to find a new lab 
>and get a PhD, which was my original plan.  I am 25 and have spent 21 of 
>those years in an academic environment, so I really don't even know what 
>the "real world" is like.  I recognize that there are compromises with 
>either decision, such as a limit on earning potential if I leave with an 
>MS, and a limit on how much of my time and my life is mine if I continue 
>with on the PhD track and do the postdoc thing, etc.  I would greatly 
>appreciate input from people out there who have experience in either 
>area (or both!!)
>        Megan            igo at uclabio.bitnet or igo at biovx1.dnet.nasa.gov
>        UCLA Bio Dept

   My situation is very similar to yours.  I am a second year graduate
student in biomedical engineering and have received very little guidance
from my advisor.  He is the Dean of the college and so has no time to
get involved with technical details.  I felt way out of my league for 
over a year since I was the new kid in the group and knew nothing.  
I was handed a very difficult research project and expected to forge 
into new areas on my own.  The research was expecially frustrating since 
I felt the project was extremely unrealistic and based upon incorrect
assumptions.   Luckily a new collaborator with my advisor convinced
him to give me another project; although still difficult, it is reasonable.
   For a while I considered switching advisors and I worried about whether
to get the PhD.  I had very tough qualifying exams facing me that I just
didn't have the motivation to study for and I was also tiring of coursework.
Various faculty members were cheering me on, but I just wasn't sure I wanted
to go through all the hell to get a PhD and I wasn't sure that the opportunities
it would bring outweighed considerations such as family life and stress. 
Although I no longer felt overwhelmed and mentally inadequate in regard to
my research, the path ahead looked very intimidating and possibly unnecessary.
I finally decided last December that no, I would not get the PhD.  I plan
to finish my Master's degree by the end of this summer and then get a job
in industry.
   Having made this decision, I feel much more comfortable.  I realize that
I can always go back to school in a few years if I feel limited not having
the PhD.  I'm only 24, and my mom went back to school at 28 to finish a B.A. 
and again at 42 to get her Master's, so it's never too late.  In addition, 
my future now seems more compatible with family life.  When my husband finishes 
up his PhD next year (probably) and takes a post-doc somewhere, I won't be 
tied down here trying to finish up my PhD thesis.  I might actually feel 
ready to have children in a couple of years after settling into a job in 
industry, whereas before it seemed like the timing would never be right.   
   Well, I hope this helps a little.  Try to think about where you want to
be 10 years from now and what's most important to you, and realize that
whatever you decide it's not set in stone. 

BU BME dept

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