Thursday, July 11, 2013

The upside of academia

I have an awesome summerstudent (the same as last year) who is trying to decide whether to go to grad school or med school. And every time we (the disgruntled postdocs in the lab) talk about science, about how little we get paid and how dire the funding situation is and how hard it is for us to transfer to an independent position, he leans more toward med school. Without realizing it, we’re creating a disgruntled summerstudent… So today we listed all the things that are pretty great about academia and about going to grad school now. I thought I’d share them here too:

- the relative flexibility of academia is great. My friend who is a pediatrician has an awful time when her daughter is sick and she has to go to work. She needs an enormous network around her to be able to combine the demands of her job and caring for her daughter. Whereas in academia, whether you have children that are sick or parents that need extra care, it is a lot easier to take a day or even some time off to do that. I understand that this is different when you’re teaching, but right now this is one of the aspects I really enjoy. 

- it’s good to start grad school during lean times. When I started grad school (in 2005), the times were great. There was a lot of funding and the lab that I was in grew exponentially for a couple of years. Now, when I’m at the point where I should transfer to an independent position, the times are tough. If you start grad school now, chances are that in 8-10 years, when you’re at this point in your career that I’m at now, the times are going to be better. And instead of being used to all that wealth in the lab (as I was), you’re used to lean times and things can only get better.

- you come out of grad school without additional debt: going to med school in many cases means getting in a ton of debt, whereas in grad school you get paid to go to school. And even though MDs probably end up making more, the looming liability lawsuit or even a very unfortunate accident that renders you unable to work can leave you in huge debt for the rest of your life. 

What do you think is great about being in academia or going to grad school?


  1. I love doing science, discovering new things, seeing things (in data) that no one has seen before. Love having time to write a blog. Love interacting w students. Going to conferences. Doing collaborative projects with awesome colleagues. But of course, some of my MD colleagues do exactly those things as well!

  2. Science is great besides...

    the relative time flexibility you mention mostly means that you may be working all the time. I'm doing behavior experiments 7 days a week and if I'm not doing these then I have to do other preparations, miscroscopy, coding etc. So yes I'm flexible to organize my schedule but my schedule is always full. I would not call it real flexibility based on my experience.

    For a ph.d is is not absolutely critical to be in a lab that has a tremendous budget. It seems more critcal to me to have good supervision to learn was is really important in experimental research. I know several people coming from 'wealthy' labs who never learned to use material carefully and/or never good a decent mentoring so the money was just waisted throughout a period of a ph.d.

    - in case you wanna stay in academia the only rescue seems that you do not get any additional debts, as your salary will never compensate for the debts if you stay in basic science... besides if you're an md you can actually go into basic research, yet the other way round, no way!

    So yes science is great.
    The systems isn't so much in my opinion.