I have a confession to make: I am almost 30 years old, and I do not know what I want to be when I grow up. I’ve been a full time student since I was in kindergarten. That means straight through elementary, middle, and high school. And then undergrad. And then, when I decided “to take time off,” I was still getting a MS in Teaching. And then, finally (or so I thought), came medical school. And for some reason, I decided to pursue a MS in Anatomy and then switch that degree to a PhD. I really took it to heart when everyone says you should “be a lifelong learner”.
For this post on the “dual degree”, I will focus on the decision making (aka gut feelings) used to pursue the PhD. When I was in undergrad, I (incorrectly) assumed that the research you were supposed to do as a premed involved bench work with pipettes and Petri dishes and Western blots (A). I didn’t want to do those things, but I still felt like research was intriguing to me. There was a scientific method you followed, which was a way to address questions you had on an area of interest. So even though I didn’t have a research background, I still looked into MD/ PhD programs (see www.aamc.org/students/research/mdphd for a listing of such programs). However, I did not apply to medical school right away as I decided to pursue another interest of mine: education (B).
When I ultimately decided to apply to medical school, I was in the middle of a school year, so I could not afford the time to research the programs. Fast forward, I get into a medical school anyways. And I dabbled with some basic science research during my first year. However, while some people did research in their “last summer” (the one between first and second year), I continued some education programs. Fast forward again to my third year of medical school…I knew that my school offered dual research degrees (MS and PhD). I figured now would be a great time to dedicate a year to this interest. It would be my chance to learn more about research basics, such as study design, lab techniques, federal grant writing, and presenting scientific work. So I enrolled in my school’s MS in Anatomy program, a one year foray into research. However, the more work I put into my project on the response of cartilage to load, the more I was pulled into research. I learned more about the novelty of our testing apparatus, and my mind began to wander with the different applications of its use, especially in furthering understanding of how we get from healthy cartilage in joints to degraded cartilage in osteoarthritis. So six months into what should have been one year, I decide to switch from the MS to the PhD program, which adds another two year to my time.
And while I “joke” above that it was a gut decision, the decision for the dual degree and then to switch the dual degree was based in my interests and in developing my story. I do not regret my decision for this route, but I will point out a few caveats. First, if you look at the AAMC link above, you will see a program called “Medical Scientist Training Program,” which is a great way to enter into MD/ PhD as many of those programs will pay for your entire education—all 7-8 years! This is not my program, so my decisions come with a cost (but my PhD years have been loan-free for me). Second, as Dr. Kameron Matthew’s post mentions (C), it is not necessary for me to have the PhD to work in research (just as the MS in Teaching degree I previously earned is not necessary for my interest/ work in education). But these degrees allowed me to pursue opportunities and experiences I might not have had otherwise. They provide career flexibility, as also as Dr. Matthew’s wrote, allow me the “know-how to speak both languages”. I still may not know what I want to do when I grow up, but I know my passions and how they are important to my personal and professional development into an amazing physician-researcher-educator.
FYI: You may read this and wonder where “magician” comes in. Well, for most of us writing posts for Voices of Diversity, we would really like to become a magician when it comes to creating time to accomplish all that we want, regardless of possessing dual degrees. I guess you could also make the argument for us to desire to become physicists to understand how to alter the time-space continuum, but those thoughts need to wait for another post.
See Dr. John-Paul Sanchez’s post from March 13, 2013 with some basic tips in finding a research mentor. You will see that there is more to research than just bench work.
The tale of teaching middle school students and why/ how I decided on that before medical school (aka gut feelings) will wait for another post. It’s another set of interesting decisions that boils down to one thing: It’s your story!
- See Dr. Kameron Matthew’s post from April 14, 2013 on her decision to pursue a MD/ JD path.
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