Working in Industry before MD-PhD

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7+ Year Member
Jun 13, 2014
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Hi everyone,

I'm new to these forums and just discovered them recently, so I apologize if I am doing this wrong, but I am wondering how it looks to be working at a research job in industry while applying for an MD-PhD. Is there stigma against industry in academia since I certainly felt that in part when I was working in a lab during my undergraduate years?

My overall path has been somewhat more complicated but essentially I did home-grown behavioral research in high school, joined a biochemical lab in college, and then planned on applying for a PhD but instead took a gap year to try clinical work and some clinical (generally behavioral again) research at a pediatrician's office. The gap year solidified my interest in becoming a physician-scientist, but this included ultimately spending a larger portion of my time doing research that I had been and that research being in the basic sciences again. Consequently, I thought it would be a good idea to spend my second gap year while applying back in a lab environment, but I've had some trouble getting employers to be excited about hiring me once I tell them that I'm leaving for medical/grad school in a year and might miss 20+ days of work for MD-PhD interviews during the intervening time, haha. I think I finally got a bite at a pharmaceutical company that I would enjoy working at, but I am wondering if I might just be shooting myself in the foot with a trajectory of behavioral research -> academia -> clinical/behavioral research -> pharma/industry while explaining that my long-term plans are to work in academia. For me, the convoluted process has strengthened my resolution that I am pursuing the right career path and given me diverse perspectives, but I can also see it looking like I'm a waffler who doesn't know what I want, especially if I say I want to do something that I am not doing now, and even more especially if MD-PhD programs want their students to stay in academia and not industry.

Any thoughts would be greatly appreciated. I'm not going to frame my life based on what looks best, but I do want to know what sorts of stereotypes exist and how this may come across. Thanks again so much!

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There is no stigma. When I did my PhD, about 1/4th of the faculty all spent time in industry but left for the "greener pastures" of academia. Honestly, I wouldn't tell an employer that you are considering leaving due to school, and would keep it silent from coworkers/bosses. You really won't need 20+ days of interviewing, and maybe 10-15 at most (assuming you have the grades and credentials).
No, working in industry will not work against you. The bigger concern here is as you say looking like a "waffler", but for different reasons. MSTPs want to see commitment to a laboratory long enough that you are able to speak about the field intelligently, cultivate a relationship with a PI such that s/he can evaluate your potential for a career in research, and maybe even get a publication. You start off with a great story - thinking a PhD was sufficient, then trying to get in some clinical perspective with another lab. But now you jumped into another lab. And now you want to get some experience in industry prior joining a program? If your long-term goal is to complete an MD/PhD program, given how long this track is, you are better off finshing up your project in your current lab and applying as quickly as you can vs. losing another year or two in industry prior to starting.

Subjectively, you probably have a great personal statement that you can qualify with a number of diverse perspectives. Objectively, directors may look at your history and see that you will be unable to commit to a single lab environment long enough to complete a PhD once you join their program.

This worry becomes less important if your previous lab experiences produced publications and if you have great numbers, however.
Thanks so much to both of you for your thoughts!

Just to clarify where I was vague: The most recent switch is simply because my experience was 80% clinical, and I was the only one remotely doing research in a non-mentored environment. I got the clinical experience, but at the expense of intellectually-engaging research, which was also clinical/behavioral/statistical rather than biochemical (I don't think you need an MD-PhD for the former and it's not really what I hope to do regardless). I then ended up in industry simply because they would take me, not because I specifically sought out that type of experience. Job apps were tough because of my time constraints and while it is very possible I did the math wrong, it seemed that 18 apps could potentially yield 10, 2-day interviews, and I wanted to be transparent about that. Also, I am currently applying to schools so I am going to med/grad school next year.

That's just in case you were curious though. I appreciated the thorough answers to all of my questions from both of you. Thanks!