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Discussion in 'Physician Scientists' started by tiedyeddog, May 13, 2008.

  1. 194342

    Physician 7+ Year Member

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    I've been thinking about trying to go for a dual degree program for a couple of months now. I plan on applying next year so I've been spending more time trying to decide if the Md/PHD route is a good choice for me. Let me give some background information about myself. Any opinion would be great, telling me to keep my *** out of the dual degree program would also be appreciated, if that is how you feel.
    I'm very interested in what everyone's idea for occupation is after graduation with both degrees and if that changed from what you thought you'd do before entering the program(if you had any idea at all?)

    -I have a 3.87, taking MCAT in september (I'm on quarters.) Microbiology major.
    -I started doing research at the beginning of this quarter and I've enjoyed it but I probably don't have enough exposure, yet. I'm going to be doing research this summer, all of my junior year, and all summer between my junior/senior year. If it helps, doing research has been my favorite thing about college so far and I regret not starting earlier.
    -My girlfriend is pre-vet and is applying this summer to schools, so I sort of want to go to a school that has a vet and med school.
    -Basically, I think I would do well in an MD/PhD program because I don't ever want to do private practice in any specialty. I feel like I want to stay in academia post residency, if I have a choice. I like the idea of being a neurologist or neurosurgeon with clinical or basic research responsibilities. If I did do the PhD/MD program I'd do my PhD in neuroscience. Also, I don't think i'd consider the three years a "waste" but a time of intense learning and maybe even fun?
    Any feedback would be great, stories of how your life has played out in your program would also be awesome. Thanks. :)
     
  2. reine1jb

    reine1jb MD/PhD hopeful
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    I would say this is a very common and a great question for people thinking about applying MD/PhD...I have had similar questions while deciding what to do. In my opinion and I'm sure you'll get many other great ones as well there are a couple things you should consider

    1) Is research something you're extremely passionate about and want it to be a big part of your career (I realize with a relatively small amount of research experience this may be hard for you to answer right now but you should consider it) if you like the idea of research want to do a little of it, you can always do research as an MD student like during the summers and stuff like that and then maybe think about applying internally to the MD/PhD program

    2) Once you get to the point where you have a good amount of research experience (as an undergraduate) ask yourself again if you really are willing to spend 3-5 years getting a PhD. As many seasoned individuals can attest to on this forum (from what I've read), research can be extremely frustrating and disappointing

    3) If you want to teach or practice in a academic you can absolutely do this with just an MD. You can also do research as an MD only (ie do a fellowship after residency). Many do it just depends if you want the formal research training that the PhD will provide

    Truth be told from what I've heard, very few people at the end of their MD/PhD program end up doing what the NIH thought MD/PhD graduates would do. It seems that you either decide to practice or decide to do research. It seems to be very hard dedicate time to both clinic and lab so unfortunately, you have to choose one but then again some MD/PhD are incredibly skilled in managing their time so they can do both very well.

    Bottom line, I would say build up your research experience (and shadowing) really ask yourself if you need to do both degrees.
     
  3. GWD

    GWD
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    Seems like you are on track to be a successful MD/PhD applicant someday.

    There are opportunities for physician scientists in industry and private practice, but MD/PhDs are particuarly suited for academic careers, so you are good there.

    And while it's awesome you are eager about doing research, a feeling many of us can relate to, if you think your PhD years are going to be all fun and games... you got another thing coming.

    So, it sounds like you have a pretty good idea what you are getting into, and are making the necessary preparations to be a successful applicant, so if you still feel the same way in a couple of years a MSTP program might be a good option for you.
     
  4. 194342

    Physician 7+ Year Member

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    Thank you for your insight and helpful comments. If you don't mind, could you elaborate on how you thought life in the PhD portion would be before you actually started it and what you think of it now(if you're in those years now?) I guess that's a weird question. I just want to know what it's really like?
     
  5. GWD

    GWD
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    There are a lot of misconceptions about research that I think people have at the preliminary or undergraduated levels.. I'll try to list a few.

    1) Scientists spend a lot of time at their bench doing experiments: False. This is probably the part that most of us enjoy, and that we wish we could do more of. Unfortunately, the reality is that much of one's time is spent doing literature searches, reading papers, writing manuscripts, designing posters, filling out paperwork, writing protocols, sitting through various meetings, bull**** institutional certification training, etc, etc. In fact, by the time a person becomes an independant research, experimentalism is pretty much limited to designing experiments for others, and the majority of the time is spent writings grants and other such nonsense.

    2) Experiments usually work and/or give you clearcut results: False. 98% of research is spent banging your head against the wall in frustration, and things not working. Only about 2% of the time do you get anticipated results that work, make sense, and advance your work.

    3) A PhD thesis is pretty straightforward and clearly defined: False. Typically your project will end up getting changed a few times, it ALWAYS takes longer than you or advisor anticipate, and your committee and review boards will always want you to do more, or add this experiment, or validate another, etc.. until it drags out and many people get burnt out.

    These are just a few examples off the top of my head. I'm not trying to scare you away from research. I personally find it very rewarding. You just need to be aware that it is not all peaches and cream like it may seem when you are intially getting involved in the field, and you have to be able to accept these things.
     
  6. 194342

    Physician 7+ Year Member

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    Great, thanks! It's better to find out now rather than after committing to do it.
     
  7. redoc

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    Oh, I learned these lessons from my undergraduate research experiences...At least I'm mentally prepared
     
  8. Neuronix

    Neuronix Total nerd
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    The magic number seems to be at least 2 years of significant experience. If I understand your post you're going to come out a bit light. Not so light you won't be able to apply, but it's going to be a weak point.

    This is a bit of a dream. I hope you realize this. You really won't get special consideration at the school you want to go to for this one, and due to the competitiveness of both it's likely you will be separated. The best you can do is shoot for a metro area. I hate to sound negative, but it's happened to me a few times now. It continues to happen even when you apply for residency.

    Sure, whatever. You don't know how you'll like it till you get there. I think everyone in my class is really sick of research and doesn't plan on doing it anymore when they're done. The ones that were most gung-ho coming in seem to be the ones that got screwed the most. But hey, maybe they're just the ones that complain the most... I dunno...

    The thing is you don't know whether you'll like something until you're really doing it. So you might as well go do it. The big thing I notice between normal grad students and MD/PhDs is MD/PhDs are under a lot of pressure to get done--mostly self-induced. We don't want to spend a long time in the program and want to get good PhDs right? So while the PhDs put off experiments and go party we're working our asses off. Grad school ceases to be fun. Then again I've realized I don't think anything I work at 60+ hours a week would be fun to me. I have too many outside interests in life. It begins to hurt a bit having 0 social life because you work late every evening.

    I'm starting my 6th year. I've written several publications that haven't been accepted (as well as a second author, same fate). I want to graduate on the timeline I set out and nobody wants me to until they get accepted. So basically I'm being told my own graduation is out of my hands. My boss likes my work a lot and thinks it's great and is as frustrated as I am. I had a grant that was supposed to start 9/1/07. I cooperated fully and promptly with the NIH for everything they wanted and it's still mired in paperwork. I chose a specialty that's competitive and probably won't be able to match to any of the big name places cause the PhD doesn't really mean as much as I once thought it did and I'm not a clinical superstar either.

    My last girlfriend, who I lived with and loved deeply, applied to med school at all the local schools and only was given interviews at places >5 hours from here. She applied to Pitt because she thought it was in Hershey and it was on the USNews list and that's where she ended up getting in (w/ full scholarship). She didn't get into any of the dozen or more schools in Philly, NYC, NJ, or MD.

    Also while I've been in the program mom had her trailor and car repoed, has been in out of the mental hospital, and is back with the guy who usually beats her. Dad has had 2 organ transplants (while I was on Neuro rotation actually).

    I like your list. I happen to do a lot of work with animals and humans. I spend more time dealing with that beuracracy than I spend doing experiments. This whole thesis thing wouldn't be as much of a problem if it hadn't taken 4 months to get my thesis project's IACUC RENEWED. I only started 2 months in advance of its expiration. What, should I start a full year next time? On a renewal?!

    I am currently attempting to "remain resolute and resourceful in an atmosphere of extreme pessimism." The one lab next door is letting go of post-docs and asst profs cause the money has run out. I just had a conversation with the PI on the other side and he's so sick of academics he advises his own grad students to go to med school when they're done. His daughter recently started med school (MD only of course). One of the biggest name PIs in my field who happens to be where i'm at recently had all his work suspended. I shouldn't go into details, but I've talked to him and everyone around him and the whole thing sounds like total BS to everyone involved.

    I want out and it's unlikely I'll ever be coming back to basic science. I just hope I can get out soon.
     
  9. 194342

    Physician 7+ Year Member

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    Wow, thank you so much, Neuronix. Your reponse has been very helpful to me. I'm interested in going for a neuroscience PhD(which I believe you are doing/about to finish?)

    I just wanted to comment on the qoute from your response. If it makes a difference, I'm an ohio resident and she's applying to Ohio State through the west virginia vet reserved seats. I know of only Ucal-Davis and U-penn that was both vet/med campuses. I think an acceptance for me to either of those is a stupid thought. :p

    So, right now we're trying to get into Ohio state, her in the vet program and I'm hoping i'd be competive for Ohio State's MD/PhD program. I know it's not an MSTP but it is fully funded and I love Columbus. If I don't get into the MD/PhD program I feel I have an excellent shot at the pure MD program, so I'd just take that so we could be together. Edit: I haven't taken the MCAT yet, I don't have an excellent shot anywhere, right now, I guess.

    I know most of my posts probably sound like pipe dreams but thanks for encouraging me and telling me about your experience, Neuronix. On a related note, My girlfriend got to do tons of vet related work in undergrad. She probably has a firm grasp on what it's like to be a practicing vet. I feel it's super hard to actually get a grasp of what med school/residency/life as a doctor is like. My dad is a retired surgeon and I don't think living with him has helped me grasp it any better than anyone else. While I can spend every second of my day shadowing a doctor I'm not so sure it brings me that much closer to what it's like to be a doctor in today's world. I feel your completely right to say most people(certainly me) have no idea what it's really like being an MD/PhD student. I guess my rant is done.
     
    #9 194342, Jun 3, 2008
    Last edited: Jun 3, 2008
  10. Neuronix

    Neuronix Total nerd
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    I'm in Biophysics. I wanted a more basic treatment of the aspects behind the imaging I'm doing. I was also unhappy with the overlap between the grad cirriculum in Neuroscience and my undergrad cirriculum (I took a lot of grad classes as an undergrad that wouldn't have counted) as well as the teaching requirement for Neuro MD/PhDs here.

    It's not stupid, just a long shot.

    I like your devotion. Just make sure you're doing the right thing. I wouldn't want to see you do something for your girlfriend and then have you guys break up (seen this a few times).

    It's ok, nobody does until you do it. Individual experiences and perspectives will vary. If this is what you want, don't let me talk you out of it. Regardless of how I feel about MD/PhD now, I had to see it for myself.
     
  11. blazinfury

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    Just a personal question Neuronix, do you regret doing MD/PhD? I understand that it's a magnanimous time commitment with little rewards, but if you could have just done the MD path, would you have taken it, now that you look back. The reason that I ask is because people are swaying me from doing MD/PhD because they say that I can do the same research with just an MD. Although that is true, I guess that I want to do research, as well as be a physician. I understand what one gives up, but this guess back to the hackneyed phrase: "no pain, no gain" -- which really classifies research well because there is little gain until one establishes themselves. But how does one establish themselves as a prominent scientist in the community. Does it have to do with what schools you graduated from or from the mentor with whom you work with, or the complexity and skill of your research and publications.
     
  12. Neuronix

    Neuronix Total nerd
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    I don't know. Ask me in another 10 years when I figure out what I'm doing with this thing. Things haven't been going particularly well for me this past year and it's looking like my PhD is going to be pretty mediocre as a result. Yesterday the patent office at my school decided there wasn't enough market demand for my patent submission and nixed that too.

    I easily could have. I would have graduated at only about $120k in debt. This is because back when I applied several schools had that MD and MD/PhD admissions simultaneously thing going on and several even tossed me MD-only scholarships. But, I believed very strongly in MD/PhD, and it's only been up until about 1-2 years ago when I began to waver.

    I don't even know any more. Seems like a combination of all of the above and a massive amount of luck.
     
  13. QofQuimica

    QofQuimica Seriously, dude, I think you're overreacting....
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    If I follow your time line, you're just starting your junior year of college now, correct? In that case, you should have plenty of time to get enough research experience to make you a competitive applicant for MD/PhD programs if that's what you want. This is assuming, of course, that you keep up your GPA for the next two years and you do well on the MCAT.

    Things to consider:

    1) If you're not sure about MD/PhD, you can always apply MD-only and get a PhD later. There are a lot of options for doing this, including transferring in from your med school (check to see if Ohio State allows this) or doing a PhD after med school or residency. You could also do a research fellowship after med school to get research training instead of a PhD. If you do decide to apply for MD programs, you absolutely *must* have some kind of clinical experience (shadowing, volunteering in a hospital or clinic, etc.). Significant community service is also the norm for competitive MD-only applicants.

    2) I'm probably going to go into industry; I have my PhD in pharmaceutical chemistry, so I'm thinking of working for a pharmaceutical company. My story is that I did separate degrees (PhD first, now in my third year of med school). This is not the most efficient way to go about things, but it will get me there in the end. If I could do things over again, I would have gone either MD/PhD or MD in the first place. Why didn't I? Well, because when I was your age (assuming you are a trad), I got engaged to my ex-husband, and he didn't get into grad school anywhere in FL where I got into med school. So I went to grad school with him, and I didn't go to med school. This was a mistake. I realize that most 20-year-olds are starry-eyed, die-hard romantics (and I was too), but just keep it in the back of your mind that this girl may not still be around in five years, and/or *you* could decide that maybe you really don't want to spend the rest of your life with her. Like Neuro suggested, don't sacrifice too much for the relationship to the point where you aren't doing something that makes you happy with your own life.

    3) On doing a PhD--I don't have too much more to add to what others have already said. It does tend to be a long, frustrating, and torturous road that is occasionally punctuated with brief episodes of euphoria. But unfortunately, those moments can be few and far between, and the grad school attrition rate is incredibly high. I dropped out of grad school once (which is why I have a separate MS), worked for a while and went back, almost dropped out a second time, and finally got my PhD on the third try. If you do decide to do the PhD, the best advice I can give you is to make sure you pick the right mentor. Having the right mentor is hands down *the* most important thing for a grad student, not how glamorous the project is or how big of a name he is.

    Best of luck to you with school. :)
     
  14. GWD

    GWD
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    Oh boy.. where to start...

    I agree with Neuro and Q. Don't make any decisions that will affect the rest of your life based on someone who you are not even as much as engaged to, regardless of how "in love" you may believe yourself to be.

    In the interest of full disclosure however, UIUC also has both an MD/PhD and DVM program.

    Secondly, Neuro seems to be consistently the most disenchanted PhD candidate on here, which is unfortunate because he seems like a very nice and talented guy. Yeah... we all get frustrated... OFTEN... but I wouldn't accept his weltschmerz as indicative of all MD/PhD students. I continue to enjoy my current situation more and more each day, and I'm completely confident I made the right choice for me.

    Which is due in large part to what Q said, which is probably the single most valuable piece of advice anyone could give on this board... your choice of mentor means EVERYTHING. People at our level are here to train.. it doesn't matter what school you go to, or the prestige of the lab you join, or how many Cell papers you have... your mentor and the group you end up in will be the springboard that determines the trajectory of your career, and it will be the difference between a wonderful graduate experience, or 4-8 years of misery and regret.
     
  15. Neuronix

    Neuronix Total nerd
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    There's been worse, I'm just the most negative at the moment ;)

    This is me trying to get my PhD:

    [YOUTUBE]http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=r4FmLQui8EI[/YOUTUBE]
     
  16. magwi11

    magwi11 MD/PhD - MS3
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    At least you get it in the end right?

    And it looks delicious!
     
  17. 194342

    Physician 7+ Year Member

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    Thanks a ton for the comments, this thread has turned out to be very helpful. Do you all think many past Md/PhD'ers eventually go on to do private practice? I've heard of a few that have done so but never got around to ask why they don't use the PhD portion of their degree. Anyone have any thoughts on why someone would do this? Just tired of dealing with labs?
     
  18. Neuronix

    Neuronix Total nerd
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    One study that includes unpublished data tracking recent graduates suggests that the rate is on the order of 20%. Every MD/PhD from my lab has gone into private practice except the one who was on my project last. Unfortunately, he recently at the age of 35 died in his sleep completely unexpectedly :(.

    I've talked with several and it comes down to what you might suspect and what I have talked about in other threads. In some clinical specialties, especially the one in which I'm doing my PhD, the pay, hours, job flexibility, and job security are far better in private practice. We're talking about 3-fold different salaries between a 90% research position and a private practice clinical position. The academic positions may come with a few weeks to a month of vacation to start, while the private practice position comes with 3-4 months of vacation!

    There are also some subjective reasons. The constant begging for grants. The constant dealing with beauracracy and academic attitudes. Those are a constant for everything I guess.
     

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