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How to Decide on Your Area of Research?

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Marquis_Phoenix

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This isn't one of those clinical versus basic research. I'm just concerned about what is possible, and what isn't possible.

I'm currently in 2nd year undergrad. I have a strong grounding in psychiatric/neurological genomics (in essence, genome-wide association studies), as well as a strong grounding through coursework in molecular and systems neuroscience (learning theory, mathematical physiology). In terms of neuroscience, what interests me, is the work on molecular mechanisms of learning and memory. As to my capability to compete near the top of that game, I think there's obviously a chance given my strong biological grounding.

However, I also have a very strong interest in neurotechnologies that have been emerging from neural engineering such as brain-computer interfaces, neural prostheses, which I think is more promising in terms of controlled manipulation. Programming somatic or stem neural cells through gene therapy or RNAi with any great specificity seems far away given the complexity of the genome's regulation and the fact that protein engineering is far away too, with the folding issues. If you could simply skip to the neural network level, then you can avoid most of those molecular problems. Doing that however, tends to require those who are involved in neural engineering, however, who tend to have backgrounds in electrical engineering (signal processing, etc.), chemical engineering or computational neuroscience. The ones I know at the very top schools have been building robots since high school.

I think it will be possible in my lifetime to engineer the brain to an extent. Is it already too late to participate in this revolution? Am I stuck with my biological background?

I'm not sure when to make the leap. Whether to continue along these molecular studies of learning and memory during my undergraduate, and wait until my MD/PhD to switch to the engineering background required, or to make the transition right now during undergraduate, which will be an informal transition because no engineering lab will possibly take me with so many top tier engineering students to choose from, but moreover the time it will take me to get the grounding independently will cause my current biological/genomics research to suffer, and probably prevent me from entering a MD/PhD program. On the other hand, I'd lose two more solid years.

I also wonder if there's any point in making the transition because I won't be able to compete with the very best signal processing, mathematical or engineering background minds who have entered this arena, and that it's better to take the problems from the biological side (stem cell engineering, synthetic biology), where there's at least a slim chance of taking on a pioneering role in the next 50 years as this area emerges.

I want to set up my own neurotechnology company, it seems like patentable/translatable discoveries are easier to come by through the engineering side, than through the biological side. Perhaps this will change.

Just some meandering thoughts. Not quite sure what to do.

1) Switch fields at risk of damaging chances of MD/PhD program.

2) Switch fields are risk of being unable to compete at the very top (pioneering role).

3) Not switch fields, but miss out on a potential revolution.

4) Not switch fields, but miss out on increasing the probability of starting a neurotech company.

I think that ultimately it'll be an interface between the biological and engineering approaches, with them interplaying, so maybe there's a benefit straddling the two and not being "the best" at either?
 

gstrub

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Hmmm...allow me to address your unbrideled enthusiasm with the cynacism that will undoubtedly befall you should you be as successful as you plan.

1. You are an undergraduate, thus you do not have a "field." Your field is called college.

2. The field you work in becomes increasingly irrevelant the further back in time you go. Many people who do MD/PhD complete their research in a completely different field than they end up eventually working in. The purpose of the PhD is to train you to think and act like a scientist. If you already have a passion, that is great, but don't get hung up on working in one particular field or another. Have an open mind.

3. Your obvious ambition and experience will speak for itself when it comes to applying for MD/PhD programs. It will not ever hurt your chances if you vary the types of science you gain experience with, in fact it may help you. Conversely it may hurt you to come accross as narrowly focused on one field. Instead, use what you've learned in you current area of expertise and be able to adapt it to other fields; it is this quality of flexibility and passion that makes candidates stand out.

Don't get me wrong, it is to your advantage to have a plan for the future. Just bear in mind that the decisions you seem to be toiling with won't really come into play as of yet (except during discussions during interviews), and the decisions you should be toiling with are evaluating where you will apply, where you will live, and when you'll finally get laid.
 

solitude

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and when you'll finally get laid.


:laugh: funny but un-called for. Science dorks can get laid, I've even seen random hook-ups between applicants on the interview trail. I guess maybe this post belongs in the "good things that come out of interviewing" thread?
 

pky463

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:laugh: funny but un-called for. Science dorks can get laid, I've even seen random hook-ups between applicants on the interview trail. I guess maybe this post belongs in the "good things that come out of interviewing" thread?

Hahaha Science dorks get laid by other science dorks. My lab has produced 2 marriages so far.
 

OncDoc19

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:laugh: funny but un-called for. Science dorks can get laid, I've even seen random hook-ups between applicants on the interview trail. I guess maybe this post belongs in the "good things that come out of interviewing" thread?

WOW! I'm shocked by this. Why would you hook up with someone on the interview trail? I would be worried that it would somehow get back to the administrators and you definitely don't want to be "that person". Honestly if you must do that, save it for revisit, at least then you are already in.
 

j-weezy

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:laugh: funny but un-called for. Science dorks can get laid, I've even seen random hook-ups between applicants on the interview trail. I guess maybe this post belongs in the "good things that come out of interviewing" thread?

this is funny on so many levels.
 
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1. You are an undergraduate, thus you do not have a "field." Your field is called college.
Whatever, people are specializing earlier and earlier. There are some amazing undergrads out there. Don't be so crabby.

3. Your obvious ambition and experience will speak for itself when it comes to applying for MD/PhD programs. It will not ever hurt your chances if you vary the types of science you gain experience with, in fact it may help you. Conversely it may hurt you to come accross as narrowly focused on one field. Instead, use what you've learned in you current area of expertise and be able to adapt it to other fields; it is this quality of flexibility and passion that makes candidates stand out.
I disagree, and actually I think it can only help you to have an early focus. In my experience, the most successful grad students were the ones who came in with a definite idea of what they wanted to do, and then set about finding the mentor and situation that could help them do that. People who came in 'with an open mind' usually ended up bumbling into bad situations and were more likely to become crabby and disillusioned.

In the interests of full disclosure, I was the kind of dilettante you described. I liked all kinds of science, and had really varied and enjoyable experiences as an undergrad. When I applied to MD-PhD programs I found myself at a disadvantage compared to people who'd spend four years in the same lab and popped out a couple of papers; and since I entered grad school with 'an open mind' I ended up in a field that, in retrospect, did not suit me. Now in residency I'm shifting again, to something that I think is more 'me,' but it wasn't at all an advantage to have taken the long way around. All it means is playing lots of catch-up.

Marquis_Phoenix said:
I think that ultimately it'll be an interface between the biological and engineering approaches, with them interplaying, so maybe there's a benefit straddling the two and not being "the best" at either?
No, IME it's best to have something in which you ARE the expert, and then collaborate with people who have other kinds of expertise. You can't do it all on your own, and if you don't have something that's 'yours' you don't bring anything new to the table.

Although it's true that people who switch fields often have good insights because they see things with new eyes, overall I don't think it's effective to *plan* to be this kind of person. I think it's more effective to pursue directly that which most interests you and most suits your talents, and meanwhile just keep your eyes open to the wide world of science around you. If you need expert advice/collaboration, then go find an expert. But sitting on the fence is not all that productive a strategy. There's just too much to know these days to keep up with just one field, never mind two.
 

Dodo23

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:laugh: funny but un-called for. Science dorks can get laid, I've even seen random hook-ups between applicants on the interview trail. I guess maybe this post belongs in the "good things that come out of interviewing" thread?

So unbelievable, it's hilarious :laugh: ...

WOW! I'm shocked by this. Why would you hook up with someone on the interview trail? I would be worried that it would somehow get back to the administrators and you definitely don't want to be "that person". Honestly if you must do that, save it for revisit, at least then you are already in.

...It's also incredibly unwise, as OncDoc rightly says. :rolleyes: Besides, what's the point when you might not even end up at the same MSTP?

------------------
Sorry for continuing the threadnap. To the OP, it can't hurt to have a 'unified' lab experience (i.e., 4 years in the same lab), especially if you can get a publication or two out of it. That said, my own circumstances and changing interests led me to switch labs nearly halfway through undergrad, and it hasn't hurt me so far on the interview trail - if anything, it's given me a lot more to talk about. And I believe my two significant research experiences have been more different from each other than the two you're debating between, though I was able to find a common thread linking the two with what I want to do as an MD/PhD student. I think MSTP interviewers are especially interested in how you think scientifically - I've gotten a lot of thought-provoking questions during interviews that were not necessarily directly related to what I've done but were an extension of it.
 

magwi11

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Besides, what's the point when you might not even end up at the same MSTP?

Given that these were described as "random hook ups" the point might in fact be that you might not end up at the same MSTP... otherwise: *awkward*
 

Dodo23

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Given that these were described as "random hook ups" the point might in fact be that you might not end up at the same MSTP... otherwise: *awkward*

Yeah, you're right. Sheesh! :oops:

All the more reason not to play with your future in that manner, I should think. :confused:
 

NickMB

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to answer the basic question of how to decide your area of research....well, you just get your feet wet in different areas until you hit one where you just can't get enough of it!

I originally wanted to work in oncology with a genetic therapy focus. Now I'm in love with neurology with a genetic therapy focus. We'll see how my current research project goes, but I'm starting to pay closer attention to neuroimmunology as it relates to motor neuron disorders. It's all about what you'd prefer to keep you up at night :laugh:
 

OncDoc19

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Yeah, you're right. Sheesh! :oops:

All the more reason not to play with your future in that manner, I should think. :confused:

I'm with you Dodo. In general I am anti-random hook-ups but on the interview trails seems to be the worst possible place for one. I think this is a hot topic today on SDN though. There is a thread in pre-allo where someone is lamenting meeting a cute girl at an interview and not getting to see her again and other are sharing there hook-up stories. One person claims to have slept with a couple of interviewers :eek:
 
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solitude

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In general I am anti-random hook-ups but on the interview trails seems to be the worst possible place for one.


Sorry to continue the threadnap (nice portmanteau, Dodo), but I have to disagree with this. I'm not disputing your stance against random hook-ups (that's an argument for another day), only the assertion that the interview trail is the worst possible place for one. Come on, I can think of a bunch of places that are far worse for random hook-ups than on the interview trail...your ex's apartment, your parents bedroom, family reunions, an STD clinic waiting lounge, the list goes on and on.
 

magwi11

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Yeah, you're right. Sheesh! :oops:

All the more reason not to play with your future in that manner, I should think. :confused:

I know, it's not like this process needs any more drama.
People are stupid, just be thankful that you know better :rolleyes:
 

OncDoc19

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Sorry to continue the threadnap (nice portmanteau, Dodo), but I have to disagree with this. I'm not disputing your stance against random hook-ups (that's an argument for another day), only the assertion that the interview trail is the worst possible place for one. Come on, I can think of a bunch of places that are far worse for random hook-ups than on the interview trail...your ex's apartment, your parents bedroom, family reunions, an STD clinic waiting lounge, the list goes on and on.

Well I won't deny that perhaps it's not the absolute worst place, that was a little bit of a dramatic overstatement. However, the places you mentioned would result only in embarrassment and are not potentially life-altering as having an adcom find out that you used an interview for random sex could be.
 

j-weezy

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Sorry to continue the threadnap (nice portmanteau, Dodo), but I have to disagree with this. I'm not disputing your stance against random hook-ups (that's an argument for another day), only the assertion that the interview trail is the worst possible place for one. Come on, I can think of a bunch of places that are far worse for random hook-ups than on the interview trail...your ex's apartment, your parents bedroom, family reunions, an STD clinic waiting lounge, the list goes on and on.

P I M P
 

Dodo23

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I'm with you Dodo. In general I am anti-random hook-ups but on the interview trails seems to be the worst possible place for one. I think this is a hot topic today on SDN though. There is a thread in pre-allo where someone is lamenting meeting a cute girl at an interview and not getting to see her again and other are sharing there hook-up stories. One person claims to have slept with a couple of interviewers :eek:

Sorry to continue the threadnap (nice portmanteau, Dodo), but I have to disagree with this. I'm not disputing your stance against random hook-ups (that's an argument for another day), only the assertion that the interview trail is the worst possible place for one.

OncDoc, I totally hear you on the random hook-ups thing (sorry Solitude!). I think random hook-ups are a bad idea in general, but especially on the interview trail, with so much hanging in the balance. I saw that thread on pre-allo and immediately thought of this one. I was wondering when someone would mention it here.

Come on, I can think of a bunch of places that are far worse for random hook-ups than on the interview trail...your ex's apartment, your parents bedroom, family reunions, an STD clinic waiting lounge, the list goes on and on.

:eek: Oh, for shame! You can't be serious... Still, almost in spite of myself, I had to laugh at that. :laugh: Go figure.

BTW, I had to look up 'portmanteau.' :oops: (Come on, people, admit it! You did, too.) I thought I had a decent vocabulary, but I've only seen portmanteau used to mean 'a large suitcase,' in Victorian novels. I never knew it also meant two words/morphemes fused into one! Well, well, you win the vocab war. :D

And now that I've successfully threadnapped the threadnap, I'll peace out.

X Dodo.

P.S. If I seem overly excited, it's because finals are over, finally! Yay!!! :hardy:
 

ajaaja2

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lol. how about you guys not worry your pretty little heads about when he's gonna get laid? :)
 

scooter31

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to answer the basic question of how to decide your area of research....well, you just get your feet wet in different areas until you hit one where you just can't get enough of it!

Also very sage advice for random hookups at interviews

Thank you, you've been wonderful! Enjoy the veal!
 

OncDoc19

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I second that. Solitude is a P I M P. He be big pimpin' spending cheese, he be big pimping on the B L A Ps.

:laugh: Wow, that was so late 90's. However I must concur and say that solitude indeed a P I M P.
 

NickMB

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to answer the basic question of how to decide your area of research....well, you just get your feet wet in different areas until you hit one where you just can't get enough of it!

Also very sage advice for random hookups at interviews

Thank you, you've been wonderful! Enjoy the veal!

Oh, I see what you did just there :laugh:
 

Picklesali

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Sorry to continue the threadnap (nice portmanteau, Dodo), but I have to disagree with this. I'm not disputing your stance against random hook-ups (that's an argument for another day), only the assertion that the interview trail is the worst possible place for one. Come on, I can think of a bunch of places that are far worse for random hook-ups than on the interview trail...your ex's apartment, your parents bedroom, family reunions, an STD clinic waiting lounge, the list goes on and on.


Oh dear.... :rolleyes:


(I can't believe I didn't see this thread yesterday. HAHAHA!!!)
 

solitude

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:laugh: Wow, that was so late 90's. However I must concur and say that solitude indeed a P I M P.



Whoa, I leave SDN for half a day and I've developed a Casanova reputation! So for the record, I was half joking about the initial interview random hook-up comments, and entirely joking about the indecent hook-up locales. It's, of course, my pleasure to spice up the forums though, science dorks can always use a bit more loving.
 

solitude

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OncDoc, I totally hear you on the random hook-ups thing (sorry Solitude!). I think random hook-ups are a bad idea in general, but especially on the interview trail, with so much hanging in the balance. I saw that thread on pre-allo and immediately thought of this one. I was wondering when someone would mention it here.

I mean yeah, there is a lot hanging in the balance on the interview trail, but it's not like random hook-ups between applicants are going to have an adverse effect. Hooking up with an interviewer, that's certainly a different story.



BTW, I had to look up 'portmanteau.' :oops: (Come on, people, admit it! You did, too.) I thought I had a decent vocabulary, but I've only seen portmanteau used to mean 'a large suitcase,' in Victorian novels. I never knew it also meant two words/morphemes fused into one! Well, well, you win the vocab war. :D

Isn't it a great word? Once I learned the word I started spotting examples everywhere.


P.S. If I seem overly excited, it's because finals are over, finally! Yay!!! :hardy:

Yay, congrats! Now do you get a few days off to celebrate?
 

JChiang795

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You're asking about a lot of things in your post but I'll try to address what I can.

If engineering research is something you want to do or get involved with in the future, then start now. I have been involved in neuroengineering research for 3 years (started my sophomore year) and applying MD/PhD this year with a focus in BME/Neuroengineering. From my personal experience, I have not seen that many undergraduates do really cutting edge/blow your mind away things (your so called pioneering role). All that stuff comes from people who have spent many years in signal processing/IC/imaging field, much more than what you would be exposed to as an undergrad. In terms of working in an engineering lab, I doubt you would be far behind your peers.

Your background is actually advantageous in an engineering world because people who have spent all their time doing engineering stuff may not have as solid a foundation in molecular neuroscience. So instead of playing catch up, you can offer to do some interdisciplinary work, which given the novelty of neuroengineering, can be quite unique. It's true that you won't be the "best" in either, but really, the best pure engineering research comes from huge companies (like Intel, Google) and the best molecular biologists are full time molecular biologists. There is not enough people melding the two fields together so it's very possible to find a niche interfacing the two in academia

Just some meandering thoughts. Not quite sure what to do.

1) Switch fields at risk of damaging chances of MD/PhD program.

I think if anything, an engineering background would enhance your MD/PhD credentials since there aren't that many out there. Also, during interviews you aren't grilled as hard (IMO) since the interviewers usually don't have an engineering background and end up just nodding a lot.

2) Switch fields are risk of being unable to compete at the very top (pioneering role).

Answered above

3) Not switch fields, but miss out on a potential revolution.

Goes both ways, that sounds like the risk of not doing anything

4) Not switch fields, but miss out on increasing the probability of starting a neurotech company.

I have some experience with business/medical device with neuroengineering tech and I agree it is easier to do with engineering rather than some bio discipline because of the IP issues. If you want to start a company in the future, it's better to go the engineering route.

Again this is all my own humble opinion but I hope it helps.
 

Marquis_Phoenix

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Thank you for the perspective. I appreciate the advice. I'll leaning towards switching into an engineering program.
 

Dodo23

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Yay, congrats! Now do you get a few days off to celebrate?

Short answer: yes. I'll be doing other stuff as well, but a break from studying will be nice. Thanks for asking!

OP, I hope you got all your questions answered. Good luck deciding on your field. :luck:
 
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