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MS? PhD?

Thu Jan 27 11:42:45 EST 1994

Megan Igo writes in <2i6l88$2vj at mserv1.dl.ac.uk>:
>I am a second year grad student in a Molecular biology

>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 would greatly appreciate input from people out there who
>have experience in either area (or both!!)

As graduate students we all must (have) face(d) this dilemma
- "What am I doing here?!?"  Especially at the Master's
level, it's far too easy to compare ourselves with the Ph.D.
students and feel inferior.  The question shouldn't be "Am I
good enough?", though.  If you've been accepted in the
graduate program, you can do it!  Rather the questions
should be "What do *I* really want to do?  Can I accomplish
it in this program?  Does it require the Ph.D./Post-doc
route or can it be done with a Master's?"

I know the frustration, though.  While I wasn't questioning
my choice of field, I was feeling inferior, that I couldn't
do it.  Not only was I a "lowly" M.A. student taking classes
with "nearly-finished Ph.D.s", I also felt my undergraduate
training was inadequate and that I wasn't "brilliant" like
so many of my colleagues (including my advisor's only other
advisee).  Now it's easy to look back and say "but I could
have done it"!  Like you, I started graduate school with
plans of getting a Ph.D.  In the back of my mind all along
was the "wish" to be a collections manager/curator - to stay
in Botany and an academic setting, but not have to teach (I
still have a bad case of "stage fright").  I thought a Ph.D.
was required to meet my goal.

As I was nearing the end of the Master's, I felt that I just
couldn't go on!  I finally got up the courage to talk to my
advisor about it, and I found him to be much more
understanding than I was afraid he might be (I had
envisioned that I was "letting him down").

In my case, the story has a happy ending.  Within two weeks
of the discussion with my advisor, he strode into my office,
"plunked" a job announcement on my desk, and said "APPLY!"
It was for the job I've now held for almost ten years, as
Curator of the Iowa State U. Herbarium!  Serendipity?
Perhaps... and I sometimes wonder what would have happened
if I had gone on for the Ph.D.  BTW, while I am able to do
what I wanted to do with a Master's, having a Ph.D. might be
advantageous, especially in an academic setting.  I
sometimes find that I have to work harder to prove my
competence to some of my colleagues seemingly just because
I'm "Ms." rather than "Dr." Lewis.  Yet I still believe that
*for me* the time/energy involved in getting the Ph.D.
wouldn't have been worth it.

Moral:  Do what your "heart" tells you to do.  It's your
present and future at stake, don't be too intimidated to
talk to your advisor about what you want.  If your advisor
is really unapproachable about such things, consider
changing advisors.  Don't lose your dreams as you deal with
the present realities of prelims, communicating with
advisor/committee, financial hardships, pressures from
spouse/significant other, etc.  And, finally, you are not a
failure if you decide that an MS or MA is as far as you want
to go!

Good luck!

Deb Lewis, Curator
Ada Hayden Herbarium
Iowa State University
dlewis at iastate.edu or s1.daq at isumvs.iastate.edu

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