Will I ever leave school?

“Will I ever leave school?” This is a question that I often ask myself. My dream is to receive a M.D/Ph.D and to work as a doctor who conducts his own research. Medical School alone requires an extra 4 years (plus the years of residency) after college before I am officially a doctor, but the Ph.D will add another 4-6 years. That is over 10 additional years after college before I am doctor; I will be at minimum 32 years old before I begin my career. So why am I doing this to myself? Because I love science, specifically health related science. Going to school isn’t work for me (but it’s not quite play time either). It is a challenging activity that keeps me interested and productive. As a doctor with an M.D/Ph.D I will be familiar with conducting research which will allow me to excel at clinically related research. To get a better understanding of what lies ahead, I spoke with a co-worker in my lab who is currently in the “Ph.D” phase of his M.D/Ph.D program. This means that he has completed his first two years of medical school, in which he is constantly studying and taking tests, and is now conducting research. To put it simply, to get a Ph.D the candidate must have noteworthy publications (publications in prominent magazines such as Nature or Cell) and present his work at his dissertation. A committee from the school then decides whether he receives a Ph.D or not. I also asked my co-worker, Bali, the differences between communicating his work to people within his field, as opposed to people not in his field like the general public or grant committee members. He described the process as having four levels of how specific he needed to be. When writing a paper for a journal Bali needed to be very technical and formal. He can’t allow any emotion to seep into his writing as to avoid any accusations of his results having a bias. This was his top level for specificity. The next level, he described, occurred when giving a presentation at a conference to people in his field, or talking to his supervisor. Because this level involves communication through speech, Bali could put in his own opinions and emotions when describing the research. While he could not scream that he is conducting the best work in the world right now, he still needed to get people excited and interested in his research. The third level of specificity is used when Bali is writing a grant proposal. He told me that most often, the people on the grant committee are scientists but not scientists in the field of research you are proposing. He said that this requires him to still be formal, but because he is writing about why it is important that his research be funded, he is allowed to put in some of his voice.  He also writes his grant proposals in a very simplified manner. The board members are familiar with experimental design and the scientific methodology of thinking, but they do not necessarily need to know the specifics of “why the Hb9 gene-carrying stem cells express GFP when differentiated into motor neurons.” The final, and least specific, level Bali described is when speaking with friends, family, or other members of the non-scientific community. He says that when speaking to friends he tries to simply things as much as possible. The applications of his work are often much looser and he says that his work could help treat knee injuries, but if he were talking at a presentation a tighter application would be that his research can be used as a model system to understand why cartilage in knees gets damaged over time. Hearing this information from Bali has further increased my interest in striving for an M.D/Ph.D because I find that by learning how to speak about a subject in both a highly technical manner and very simple manner requires a greater understanding of the material. So, will I ever leave school? I will but I am not in a rush to do it, and who knows, maybe I will be the doctor that puts a nose on a guys forehead or the doctor-researcher that cures cancer.

(Insert pun involving nose here): http://www.edmontonjournal.com/health/Chinese+doctor+creates+nose+mans+forehead+ahead+unusual/8970477/story.html

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One thought on “Will I ever leave school?

  1. I like your context here (will I ever leave?). That’s a long trajectory, but an interesting one. I also like the description of the 4 levels of specificity.

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