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Antagonism by PhDs towards MD/PhDs?

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MdPhDtomo

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Hey guys,

So I've been accepted into two MSTPs my first time applying. I must say I felt ecstatic AND relieved when I received my acceptances. As all of us who have gone through this long and, I feel, sometimes grueling, application process, I think we were all proud of ourselves when we achieved our goals. Being accepted into a MSTP program, at least for me, would give me the opportunity to achieve my dream of pursuing clinical and research work.

Recently, though, the PhDs in the laboratory in which I work in have greatly tampered this enthusiastic though balanced mentality towards my future. To give an overview, I am staying for only a short time in this lab and am working more for the experience than anything else. I have a professional rapport with the people in my laboratory, but I must say it is hard for me to become closer to them, especially after a couple of incidents.

Inititially they all seemed enthusiastic about my application to MD/PhD programs. But MSTP or not, they made sure to note that only certain ones had "good science programs." One graduate student noted, "Why do a PhD at all if you don't go to a prestigious school?"

When I let them know of my first MSTP acceptance, NONE of the graduate students, who all initially voiced great curiousity into which schools I got interviews at, congratulated me. One of them asked me whether I actually had a list of potential rotation PIs in mind. I gave them a list and explained to them the reasons I chose my first rotation PI. Response? A stare followed by silence.

Another graduate student made a subtle jab at the state in which I was going to do my PhD in. The same graduate student noted with a sour face, "What kind of PhD is a four-year PhD?" I told them that I knew a number of MD/PhDs who do great scientific AND clinical work simultaneously. Her response: "Yea, and there are also a number who do awful jobs."

The graduate student whom I work with, whom I didn't respect entirely from the very beginning (think along the lines of curious interpretations/treatment of data), didn't question my decision to potentially go to one of the graduate schools I was accepted into, but would pester me about why I would go to a certain MD/PhD program.

Ok, in short, all of the graduate students upon hearing my acceptance and matriculation decision ignored the fact I seemed excited by my academic future. Initially voicing interest and friendly concern over a colleague's application process, they became rude once the results were in.

I wanted to share my experience with you all because a lot of us have interests in academia. How do PhDs regard MD/PhDs? What is the MD/PhDs status - both in resources and in prestige - in academia? (because let's face it, academic can be harsh and shallow) Has any other MD/PhD encountered "antagonism" from a PhD over their career choice?
 

bunker

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There's some truth to the fact that MD/PhD has less "raw" research training time. It's also true that this may not matter for many individuals. There are Nobel winning MD/PhDs and PhD's. It's also true that graduate students are bitter towards MD students because of the unfortunate stigma that biology grad students are people who didn't get into med school.

Ultimately, do what you want to do and feel comfortable with. Don't put too much weight on any one opinion.
 
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I always hear PhD's putting down physicians. lol. A few years back I had to listen to some academic PhD who does career counseling go off on some rant at a conference about how physicians are nothing but glorified mechanics and they're not "real doctors". It was pretty silly, and it all stemmed from a kid identified himself as a pre-med before asking for career advice. And, if you want to get into specifics about who qualifies as a "real doctor" historically, you'll probably want to apologize to a Christian person of some authority because Christian churches birthed the title. But, we definitely owe no apology to some guy with an academic PhD that was invented sometime in the past century o_0

You'll just get used to it. And, from my experience, there is some truth to the stigma. A lot of my pre-med friends who didn't make it went into biology research--it only makes sense for them to do so and I would have done the same if I didn't make it.

Having said that, in the big picture it is the researchers who are having the greatest impact on the life expectancy, quality of life, etc world wide. So, they definitely deserve a lot of credit for what they do. I just don't understand the animosity o_0
 

GellaBella

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I will admit that I have been on the other side of the coin...although I would never be rude about it like your fellow labmates have been...during my time as a PhD candidate there were many conversations amongst graduate students and PIs alike about the "quality" of dual degree programs.

The thing is ...doing a PhD is really hard. emotionally. (as you will see). I think the hard thing for PhD candidates to handle is that it takes them at least 5-6 years (sometimes up to 7 or 8+ :scared:) to graduate with a degree in science and yet these MD/PhD types tend to get rushed out of the PhD part of the program in 3-4 years. It just doesn't seem...fair. oftentimes PIs that take MD/PhD students have projects that are very straightforward and almost guaranteed to work. Those projects go to the dual degree student so they can get out quickly while the PhD student gets stuck in the lab working on something that people will hope works in the end.

Combine that with the huge discrepancy in pay in the end and you can imagine...PhD students are just a little jealous/pissed.

Many will say that you can't do quality science in the 3-4 years alloted to you, but I think, now that I am finally done and not dealing with PhD craziness anymore, the problem isn't so much that you guys won't have the opportunity to do good science in the time you have (that all depends on you and your mentor/committee etc), I think it's more that a normal PhD program is just too damn long. Looking back I was definitely ready to graduate by the end of my 4th year of graduate work...but my committee and PI kept wanting more experiments...check this...check that...so I kept working. The last 1.5yrs was awful because I wasn't learning anything new, I was just doing experiments over and over to get a publishable figure or whatever they wanted. Thank god I got into veterinary school cause who know when they would have let me go .. there are always more experiments to be done.

Anyways. Congratulations on your acceptances. That's really a great achievement. I'm glad to hear that you're looking at PIs already. Make sure you don't just choose them based on publications, or maybe even research interests...make sure you're a good fit with their personality and with the people in the lab...there is nothing worse than not getting along with your PI or labmates. It will make your time as a PhD candidate miserable.

Good luck, have fun, and dont let bitter graduate students (because believe me, when you're a graduate student you are bitter) get you down.
 

hopefuldoc97239

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I try to judge people's PhDs based on their quality.

I know an MD/PhD graduate who did more in three years than many PhD students do in 6 years. They're out there!

I also know an MD/PhD graduate whose PhD "dissertation" wasn't worth a master's degree, in my opinion.

I do feel like there's a problem with programs giving MD/PhD students too many shortcuts. To me, if you want two degrees you should have to earn both. But the MD/PhD program at my school will exempt these students from all kinds of requirements that they normally hold sacred.

I've heard rumors of MD/PhD students getting excused from core PhD classes for the reason that "an MD/PhD student obviously understands the material covered in this course." But then they're excused from taking that question on their qualifying exams "because they didn't take the course." Well... which is it? If they have equivalent understanding, then they should be required to take the question on their exams. If they don't have equivalent understanding, then they shouldn't be excused from the required course!
 

Ombret

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I know an MD/PhD graduate who did more in three years than many PhD students do in 6 years. They're out there!

I also know an MD/PhD graduate whose PhD "dissertation" wasn't worth a master's degree, in my opinion.

I had both of these types of creatures in my own MD/PhD class; you can learn something from observing both (and everyone in between). Remember, we are all just riding the bus. MDPhDtomo, ignore your labmates, they sound like a bunch of sour grapes. You may look up to some of these people, but in eight or ten short years, grad students will look as young to you as they now do to me. You certainly won't gain anything from dueling with them over this. You will run into straight PhDs who have bad attitudes toward MD/PhDs; you will also find MDs who feel this way about your MD or your PhD. Unless the person is your department chair, just ignore this. The only conceivable explanations for their attitudes are ignorance or jealousy.
 

gstrub

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One of my professors put it best during a discussion with me and several straight PhD students during a class where we were going around the table introducing ourselves. When it got to me and I mentioned that I was MD/PhD, he said "Oh, well then you are certain to have a career." The rest of the students looked at eachother blankly.

Let's face it, MD/PhD programs are not only more difficult to be accepted into than straight PhD programs, but having the "job security" of the MD portion is priceless. I know a post-doc in our lab with a 1st author paper in Science still toiling away pipetting because he can't get a job.
 

r1oid

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I agree with the above posts. If you are going to a MSTP program the quality of the PhD will be what you make of it. The reason we are given a few short cuts on classes is b/c its assumed we already have some body of experience and can fill in the gaps. Also to some degree the med re-entry window hanging over our heads is a constant motivator whether we need it or not.

Similar to the above posts we have had both regular PhD students and MD/PhDs hammer out the degree in 3-4 years and students who go 7-8 (rarely). You know your motivations and work ethic don't listen to naysayers on either side b/c they have their own prejudices/insecurities from which they see things. In my time I have gotten the unsolicited comments from both sides.

Med
-"Wow what a waste of a MD spot that could have gone to someone who could have helped people"
-"So you do the research stuff, I guess you don't like people huh"
-"Are you doing it for the free tuition"
-"Are you doing it to get a better residency spot"
-"MD/PhD's end up being bad clinicians" (from an attending)
-on the flip side "MD/PhDs are great resources on the wards" (from an attending)

PhD
-"it must be nice to not have to worry about doing work if they will graduate you in 4 years no matter what (I heard this a lot from various students, its not true for MSTPs)"
-"is the MD so you have something to fall back on if research doesn't work out"
-"its not fair you have priority getting rotations/lab placements" not really true, I generally hear that PIs think we come with more training so we're sought after.


For the most part though I have had very positive interactions on both sides. You will find most people will treat you like a regular MD or PhD student once you are in that part of the training. Only the people with a chip will go out of their way to make snide comments.
 

URHere

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Personally, I think that the more important thing to consider is how potential MD or PhD faculty/mentors view the dual degree.

In general, I've found three types:

1) Those who think that MD/PhD students are looking for short-cut, easy PhDs.

2) Those who know that MD/PhD students want to finish in 3-4 years, and think that they will work harder, longer, and faster to make that happen.

3) Those who don't care because they're darned well not letting you out until they want to, regardless.

Interestingly, my PI was in camp 1 until I finished my rotation with him. He even told me that he was prepared to dislike me before I even started, purely because of his preconceived notions of MD/PhD students. Clearly, that opinion changed somewhere along the line, but be aware that those judgments can go all the way up the academic food chain.

At the end of the day, if you are willing to work hard and focus on your training, the people who matter will see that. As for everyone else, you can't waste time worrying about changing their minds.

And for what it's worth - doing a PhD in 3-4 years can be emotionally draining too. Some students here have gone to great lengths to guarantee that they weren't the 5+ year outliers (sleeping in lab, living in cars parked on campus, etc). When you know that your peers are going to finish quickly, you can get frantic, even if your PhD is already progressing at a faster-than-normal pace.
 

whiteshadodw

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Hey guys,

So I've been accepted into two MSTPs my first time applying. I must say I felt ecstatic AND relieved when I received my acceptances. As all of us who have gone through this long and, I feel, sometimes grueling, application process, I think we were all proud of ourselves when we achieved our goals. Being accepted into a MSTP program, at least for me, would give me the opportunity to achieve my dream of pursuing clinical and research work.

Recently, though, the PhDs in the laboratory in which I work in have greatly tampered this enthusiastic though balanced mentality towards my future. To give an overview, I am staying for only a short time in this lab and am working more for the experience than anything else. I have a professional rapport with the people in my laboratory, but I must say it is hard for me to become closer to them, especially after a couple of incidents.

Inititially they all seemed enthusiastic about my application to MD/PhD programs. But MSTP or not, they made sure to note that only certain ones had "good science programs." One graduate student noted, "Why do a PhD at all if you don't go to a prestigious school?"

When I let them know of my first MSTP acceptance, NONE of the graduate students, who all initially voiced great curiousity into which schools I got interviews at, congratulated me. One of them asked me whether I actually had a list of potential rotation PIs in mind. I gave them a list and explained to them the reasons I chose my first rotation PI. Response? A stare followed by silence.

Another graduate student made a subtle jab at the state in which I was going to do my PhD in. The same graduate student noted with a sour face, "What kind of PhD is a four-year PhD?" I told them that I knew a number of MD/PhDs who do great scientific AND clinical work simultaneously. Her response: "Yea, and there are also a number who do awful jobs."

The graduate student whom I work with, whom I didn't respect entirely from the very beginning (think along the lines of curious interpretations/treatment of data), didn't question my decision to potentially go to one of the graduate schools I was accepted into, but would pester me about why I would go to a certain MD/PhD program.

Ok, in short, all of the graduate students upon hearing my acceptance and matriculation decision ignored the fact I seemed excited by my academic future. Initially voicing interest and friendly concern over a colleague's application process, they became rude once the results were in.

I wanted to share my experience with you all because a lot of us have interests in academia. How do PhDs regard MD/PhDs? What is the MD/PhDs status - both in resources and in prestige - in academia? (because let's face it, academic can be harsh and shallow) Has any other MD/PhD encountered "antagonism" from a PhD over their career choice?

Sounds like they are jealous and are generally crappy people to be around. One PhD in my lab (we are good friends), tells me every day to study my ass off for the MCAT and go to med school. for good reason too, he works 60-70 hours a week, gets paid for only 40, comes in at the most bizarre times, sometimes midnight, just to do some experiment. his compensation? $45k/year or something, and he recently got a raise but now he pays more taxes... and more money goes to his retirement so he takes home less per paycheck. of course, when he looks back at his career he probably wishes he went to med school. you could make $40k/year as a high school teacher, and then work another 20 hrs/week and probably make well over $50-60k/year. i hate to say it, but most PhDs aren't compensated enough at all. i was looking to get a job in LA, and i was laughing because a post-doc there makes only $40k. you'll probably have to live in a bad part of town if you have to support a family on that paycheck.

as an MD/PhD you'll have the ability to do what you LOVE, but you'll probably also get good compensation at the same time. what's not to be envious about?
 

ariels

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A note about the quality of students... While I was interviewing, I asked each and every interviewer about their experiences with the MD/phd students (50 some odd people), and every single one told me, emphatically, that they are the best and most productive students they get. While they all lamented at the short amount of time they are available, they all agreed that, on average, students will be as productive as a straight grad student in the lessened time. Most also said to me that they won't let students out who haven't accomplished serious work, which I guess accounts for the handful of students taking 9-10 years to finish the program.
 

Neuronix

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I've gotten a lot of flack from PhDs over the years about being MD/PhD. But people love to talk ****. Just about everyone loves to talk about others to try to make them feel bad and try to feel superior. Yet that same bunch hates it when the **** goes their way. I just don't pay attention to it.

A note about the quality of students... While I was interviewing, I asked each and every interviewer about their experiences with the MD/phd students (50 some odd people), and every single one told me, emphatically, that they are the best and most productive students they get.

I had to comment on this. If a program gets word that one of their interviewers has bad things to say about MD/PhD or the students, that person does not interview in the future. It is very naive to think your interviewers reflect even a majority of PIs out there. Many of the interviewers are also thinking about recruiting the applicants to their labs. If they dislike MD/PhDs from the get-go, they would never volunteer. There's nothing in it for them, and it would be politically unpopular to just bring MD/PhDs to you to say anything negative. I was always surprised at how many PIs I requested who were "unavailable" or "out of town". I've come to find out that was probably more often a lie than a truth.

I had a hard time finding a lab in my area of research because of the anti-MD/PhD sentiment, and several in my own lab and group, including PIs, were so biased against MD/PhDs that they were actively cruel towards me. But, it's politically unpopular to call names and a lot of people know who I am so I'll stop there. Even as a student, if word gets around that you say anything negative about MD/PhD or the program, you will find yourself not invited or not selected to meet and greet the applying students. The reality is, again because it's unpopular and selected against to say anything negative, that most recruiting is done by your naive, cheerleading first year counterparts as a result.
 

PTPoeny

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There is definitely some resentment from PhD students and from some faculty. I think PhDs spend enough time bashing MDs that PhD students don't think of the first two years of medical school as worth anything.

At my school we get out of the survey course and a few other classes (like pathology and neuroanatomy) but are responsible for knowing all the material. I was taking a class with first year grad students and one of them got to ranting about how we (the two MD/PhD students in the room) didn't know how hard grad school was because we hadn't taken the survey course, and it is three days a week, four hours a day with tests every two weeks and we could never possibly have taken a class that hard. We both broke out laughing at that point and explained that the reason we didn't take that course is because we had done the first two years of medical school, which is definitely more time intensive and had covered the material they learned plus more, in fact a number of lecturers use the same exact set of slides for the first year medical students and that class. She shut up and sat down, it had never occurred to her that we got out of that class for a reason other than to get us through the program faster.

I have never had a grad student have a problem with me, or my work or the work of any particular MD/PhD student. It is always a hypothetical MD/PhD student out there getting off easy that they are railing against. However, there are faculty that disagree with the entire concept and because of that you do want to talk with some of the upperclassmen before picking labs for rotations.
 

gbwillner

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Tough skin: learn to have it. It will serve you well, not really to put up with these jerks, but for all the criticism you are about to have regarding your ideas from your PI/committee etc.

Don't concern yourself what those particular grad student say. They don't know ****. You'll learn that soon enough.

I know there are instances where MD/PhD students get off easy. I don't think it serves them well in the long run. I'm not talking about time, I'm talking about leniency with graduation. Not all programs force MD/PhDs out the door- mine certainly did not.

While MD/PhDs get out quicker than PhDs, they also are another breed (in general, of course). I had PhD-only friends take months off for vacation or put in 6 hr days. I took no holidays (ok, rare holidays) and worked full days, often coming in saturdays AND sundays. No one cut me any slack. But on the other hand, my PhD-only friends never gave me any crap. And no one could tell me I didn't earn it.
 

ChemMed

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I work in a great lab where we have researchers from all back grounds. (FMG MD's who are board certified, MD/PhD's board certified, PhD's and a whole other slue of MSers who assist with the clinical research) Everyone here generally accepts each other with a great deal of respect. We are also mostly post-graduate. My decision to move into being a physician was also met with mixed responses, even here. Most everyone was pretty decent about it and they are happy for me. No one questions my PhD training. By the way it is possible to do a PhD in the hard sciences in 4 years, you work very hard but it can happen.

In my graduate training we had a few MD/PhD's in the lab and there was a feeling of "these guys are treated different" and you are. You do get to have medicine as a back up if everything falls through. PhD's don't have this and that can make them "leaner and meaner" per say. But how people respond to good news (like getting into an MSTP program) is a personality trait. Just because they may have a harder time of it does not excuse them from behaving well. They did choose to do their PhD after all.

On the flip side, in graduate school people are still in training and hence also still learning how to be professional and growing up a little bit to. I know I grew a lot while in those years. Give them a little slack and just forget about what they are saying if you don't like it. Keep positive and congratulations. :)
 

sakata8242

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I get that on occasion here at my institution, even my lab, as well. I think it is based somewhat on resentment of the fact that straight PhDs often spend 5+ years on their PhD, then end up doing another ~3 years of post-doc (if they're lucky) doing pretty much the exact same thing for less pay. I've heard comments from post-docs directed at MDs working in the lab to the effect that the latter can't do [insert your favorite bench-top technique] worth a damn. I couldn't help but laugh.

Don't let it bother you. In the end you will be a much more marketable candidate for career options, with a wider (and more useful) skill set than a PhD.
 

tortuga87

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consider spinning your answers to accomodate both sides:

MD: "want to work in clinic but also want to develop new cures to treat others better"

PhD: "love research and want to focus on it. MD will ensure I can do this throughout my career with the added job security"

They are both technically true
 

chuck84

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Perhaps some of the antagonism encountered by MD/PhD students is influenced by some of the MD fellows going into research that have absolutely no research experience. As a research assistant, I was basically a mentor for a couple physicians and some (not all) were far from being a successful scientist, or for that matter, able to use a pipette.
 

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I have experienced this antagonism as well (100% from PhD students) and the reason is simple: they are jealous. Maybe I should drive my Lambo to lab instead of using the helicopter all the time to ease the tension.
 

QofQuimica

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I did my MD and PhD separately, and my experience has been that there is quite a bit of intellectual snobbery on both sides of the fence. MDs look down on PhDs just as much as PhDs look down on MDs. People in combined MD/PhD programs are caught in the crossfire from both sides, and people like me who went from being fully in one camp to fully in the other are to some extent seen as selling out. In the end, what other people say and think doesn't matter, and even what you say doesn't matter. Let what you do speak for you.

As for these labmates not being happy for you, well, OP, they ain't as good of friends of yours as you thought they were. Be professional and a team player in your dealings with them, but look for support and encouragement elsewhere.
 

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I found myself I think at a similar place as you when I applied/started. If I wanted to do a straight PhD I was a shoo-in about anywhere I could imagine. Thanks to a mediocre MCAT score that wasn't that case for MSTPs. I'm now at a good mstp (I guess they're all "good" really) but it is definitely no Harvard in terms of research. After being through this a year though I really understand that the name of a school where you train (especially for your PhD) is just that, a name. It will mean something and will take you places, but won't substitute for competence. After rotating in a "big-shot"s lab here, I realized that I really don't want to be in that environment. People that are "big shots" tend to travel constantly, are perpetually writing grant after grant, and usually don't have time in their schedule to work with you. At the very top places, those are essentially the only people available to you. While I understand that environment is great for some people, its not for me. Where I am now, I have people available to me who are here not solely for the purpose of running a journal article factory.

To add to this... although I had myself convinced otherwise during the application process, I now understand that there is MUCH more to a great program than good research opportunities. Although you're research is really important, finding a place that the director is easily accessible, that has an administration that really cares about the MSTPs and where the students have good cohesion would be my top factor in choosing a school at this point. While you cannot control who your classmates are, some programs definitely do a much better job than others keeping the MD-PhD students united.

I didn't read everyone's responses... but in defense of the PhDs you've encountered, someone doing a straight PhD at a top institution is going to have a more intense research experience than you. Period. You and the NIH are taking a gamble with the MD-PhD training as it exists today. Odds are if you got into a program, you've demonstrated that you're good at research and you're very smart. While most PhDs will have more experience in lab, you will have an unparalleled education and perspective on the state of medicine to support and influence the work you do. Can that education take you as far as an extra year or two of working in a lab? I hope so.
 
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