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Potential consequence of dropping out of the PhD?

Discussion in 'Physician Scientists' started by TheHappyLingcod, Apr 11, 2018.

  1. TheHappyLingcod

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    Hi everyone, I'm in the middle of graduate school right now and I'm fairly certain that it's time for me to leave to go back to medical school. Long story short, I started the program with the intent of having research be a major part of my career but I've since realized that research is not for me. Even if I finish the PhD, I'll never do another day of research after I'm done. I've given it several years of my life and I really gave my best effort to make it work. I just can't do it anymore.

    My question: My plan is to leave mid semester to have time to transition back. I am worried about the grad classes that I am currently enrolled in and how bad it would look on a residency application to have all those "incomplete" grades on my transcript? Is this something that will hurt me in the future? Does anybody have any experience with this issue? Thanks.
     
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  3. sluox

    Physician

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    This is not straightforward. Is it possible at all to push through and complete the PhD? This will be worth approximately 150-200k assuming medical school is worth 50k a year, regardless of the post-MD plans.

    On the second point, that depends on a lot of stuff--where you are, what kind of residency you are planning on applying, what your step I score is, etc. I.e. if you are going after a very competitive specialty, every bit of detail in your package might matter, so you might consider wrapping up PhD in a "cleaner" way (i.e. finish your semester and get a masters, etc). However, if you just want to be a garden variety doctor, drop out ASAP.
     
  4. mk04447

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    Avoid the mid semester plan, better off without the explanation. One thing to shift gears, another entirely to bail on your commitments. You signed up for a semester, you should finish it.
     
  5. Student's T

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    There is no shame in quitting the PhD; 10-20% of students drop out and go on to excellent careers as clinicians, and even as researchers. I would recommend, if you have not already, talking to your PD as well as the leadership overseeing MSIII/MSIV to find out in detail what your options are. Per discussions with my PD, about half the people in the program have had this type of discussion with him at least once while in the lab years. I agree that if possible it would be best to leave in a "clean" way - hand off your project, possibly get masters degree, and finish ongoing courses (last of those is probably least important IMO). It is advisable to keep the relationship with your PI as strong as possible even if you quit the PhD, as you can get a LOR that will alleviate some concerns from residency programs that you quit. Don't leave the lab hanging by just walking out unless you have no other options.

    The financial issues raised are more nuanced, but if you can finance the rest of medical school in some standard way there are probably not any meaningful long-term financial ramifications as the money paid in tuition will essentially be offset by earning a much higher salary earlier (especially if you have no future interest in academic medicine). In general, MSTP is a net even from a financial perspective (in present value terms), but in the program you do avoid accumulating the potential risk and psychological implications of burdensome debt and often can have a higher standard of living while in medical school than your peers. That said, you would have to find a way to finance the rest of your education which is something to make sure you have in order before quitting.
     
    #4 Student's T, Apr 14, 2018 at 12:54 PM
    Last edited: Apr 14, 2018 at 3:42 PM
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  6. Fencer

    Fencer MSTP Director
    Physician PhD Faculty

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    MSTPs cost institutions significant amount of resources. From the institution standpoint, despite NIH funding, it can easily cost between $ 50K to 90K per year per student.

    There is serious discussion for payback for early attrition, prior to completing GS-2. If you exit just after MS-2, you owe 2 years of SOM tuition. If you exit after GS-1, you owe 1 year of SOM tuition. That is, you have a year of PhD graduate research payback for a year of SOM tuition, stipend and fees.
     
  7. Student's T

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    Obviously I was writing from the perspective of a student. The programs clearly invest large amounts of money and resources.

    That proposed payback plan sounds reasonable, but it is unclear how many students leave the program before completing the second year in the lab. I have heard of this happening maybe 1 time in a sample of about 12 years at my institution. I am unaware if there is any published data.
     
  8. Fencer

    Fencer MSTP Director
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    Attrition within the first 4 years (MS1, MS2, GS1, GS2) occurs in about 8-10% of MSTP trainees. This is from talking to a former MSTP program officer.
     
  9. Future MD/PhD

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    Can anyone (especially the OP) shed light on what might cause a student to change their mind and drop out of the program? I would hate to find that after 2-4 years of work (not to mention the 4+ years of work put in to get in), I suddenly no longer want to get two degrees. I'm sure many of the dropouts also thought that they were certain that they wanted two degrees when they started the program. What are some of the warning signs? I never used to consider this to be a relevant issue, but an 8-10% attrition rate is kind of high.
     
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  10. TheSecondMouse

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    Seconded. OP, did you have research experience beforehand that you enjoyed? Is it just the research you're doing right now that's turned you off? Is there something different about grad school?
     
  11. ConfusedChemist

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    At least, for the people I know, it was largely that they realized that getting a PhD would make more sense (Career-wise) in residency, not med school. It's a common thing amongst premeds I find-they just aren't aware how common getting a graduate degree in residency is-and how much more useful it can be to have your MSc/PhD in the field you actually are going to practice in (i.e. the value of being an 'expert' in your field, which makes you more attractive to hire, etc)
     
  12. Future MD/PhD

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    Very interesting. Thank you for your input. Why aren't people broadcasting this type of program instead of the current, highly funded MD/PhD programs? I personally get a little annoyed when people constantly warn that most students end up choosing a different specialty than they thought they would, because it makes me feel like my PhD will be done in vain. Alternatively, if you already find yourself in an MD/PhD program, why not just stick it out until the end if your plan is to get a PhD later? Seems a bit dramatic, no? I'm not trying to be facetious. Since so many people claim that research would have moved on by the time you finish the program, then it almost seems as if the main point of the PhD is to gain a discipline around research. Or is this "moving on phenomenon" the precise reason why people would rather get a PhD during residency, even though they're already in a program?
     
    #11 Future MD/PhD, Apr 17, 2018 at 10:56 AM
    Last edited: Apr 18, 2018 at 12:23 AM
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  13. sluox

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    I would argue this is not the typical reason. Very few people do PhDs during/after residency. There are specific research training pathways for straight MDs (fellowship) and they work as well as PhDs.

    The typical reason why people drop out of PhD is that they are not happy with what they are doing on a day to day basis: experiments fail to work, tough bosses, unfriendly collaborators, no end in sight for the research to progress, changes in lifestyle and life goals (spouse moving, children, parental care duties, etc). These are difficult to predict, idiosyncratic to the institution and circumstances, and not easily prevented. Of course having a payback clause would be great to deter people who are doing PhD strictly due to financial reasons, but a lot of times it really end up penalizing people who are in situations beyond their control.

    I fail to see how institutions losing money on students make a compelling argument to do charge-back. This kind of strategy will likely have unintended consequences: people who care about and are affected by financial penalization will be the ones who actually care about money--i.e. the poor, the women, the minorities, the immigrant, etc. Universities have enough money to float a few students once a while and I'm not gonna cry a river for them for losing a little money on lowly paid student labor.
     
  14. sooleiool

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    I agree with this sentiment 100%. MD/PhD students are indeed a huge investment for programs, but the unintended consequences of requiring payback I think would be far worse. The lack of diversity in postgraduate education, especially on a socioeconomic level, is depressing and it really permeates throughout interactions with my peers. Mental health support is also still very much lacking or subpar for graduate students, and I know of many instances where this led to a negative outcome for the student, including having to drop out of a program, that I think would be considered unfair and unjust in any other occupation. The majority of MD/PhD students are also in their 20s, an age where any individual goes through an immense amount of personal growth and reflection. A 12+ year commitment in training is a lot to ask of anyone; if someone changes their mind, it's hard to fault them (this is why I also advocate for gap years prior to enrolling in an MD/PhD program rather than entering immediately after undergradate). Until these kind of issues can be addressed or at least become more transparent, then I think the payback should not be widely implemented. Sorry, I'm done using my soapbox...
     
  15. Future MD/PhD

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    No! Please! Come back! lol. When you say mental health support is lacking, do you mean to say that students are no longer able to receive free counseling by the university? Or are you referring to something else? I find emotional well-being to be a huge deal, and if borderline counseling is not a thing at all institutions, then I kind of need to know.
     
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  17. sooleiool

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    I can't speak for every program. Most institutions should provide free counseling services, I do not claim to be an expert on this, since I can only speak from personal observations and experiences. My issues are that often, these services only provide 1-2 counselors for the entire student body of a graduate program, and sometimes that may also include other schools (medicine, dentistry, non-laboratory based graduate programs, etc.). The counselors end up being continually overrun, and accessibility becomes an issue. I also often find that sometimes, these services aren't properly advertised. There is still such a stigma with mental health, and I don't know how hard institutions promote mental well-being as something that isn't so taboo. It's often something mentioned at orientation, found on a specific webpage, but otherwise forgotten about. Success with counseling is also very dependent on whether or not you click with the counselor's personality. If you don't click with who's offered by the institution, and your health insurance may not cover regular counseling, it can be difficult to find resources or a support system. I've seen this happen with multiple peers at all levels of training, and it's not something that can be fixed overnight, clearly. I don't mean to chide counseling services offered, as I know they do help many individuals, but these are things I've noticed in my training, especially as we also hear more about the level of mental health issues that arise during graduate training.
     
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  18. Future MD/PhD

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