Another college question- Opinion on this

I have been musing over this dilemma for some time now, and the other college thread made me decide to write this one. Ok here is the thing, I am in my third year of college, and I have switched degree plans three times. At first I started out wanting to be a Physical therapist. I was making 30k a year at a factory, and figured I wanted something new. I realized that physical therapists don’t make much money, but it was the job security I was after. School for PTs was pretty competative, and I later learned how much Pharmacists make, and that they don’t have much more schooling, and the program was just as difficult to get into. So I switched plans. No change in classes though, as they were pretty similar.

Later, after working in a pharmacy for a year, just in the last 6 months actually, I decided pharmacy wasn’t for me. The customers overwhelmed me and I tended to lash out in minute ways, and I discovered that my defense mechanism was a bit of arrogance. All this world needs is another grumpy, arrogant pharmacist that cannot handle the stress of a high pressure, fast paced job.

So I decided to switch my degree again. I was sticking to a biological field at this point because most of my current credits (64) were mostly maths, chemistry and biology (probably 30 credits in the sciences and math). Now, I chose biochemistry because I still plan on doing some pharmacology, but it is open to whatever grad school I get into.

But my dilemma is that I am not really all that good at it. I get B’s in chemistry, and tend to slack off and not study as hard as I need to. I guess I get distracted by those that absorb it readily and don’t need to study so hard. Math is definately not my strong suit, and I get low B’s, and have to work pretty hard to keep them up that high.

Now to get into grad school, I only need to maintain a 3.0. I gather that grad schools are not all that competative (the ones I am going for anyhow), and that many people do not go to graduate school, so they accept most of the ones that meet minimum requirements. 99% of the biochemistry students go pre-med. Very few go grad. The question isn’t whether I can get in, but what sort of scientist I can be at my best. Mediocre. I find the subject interesting, and am somewhat passionate about it, but I have this constant feeling that I am dooming myself with high student loans for a career that may not be for me. I know it sounds silly, but I have always had pretty high marks in my english classes, and anytime I am assigned a paper I get special praise from my teachers. I feel passionate about writing, and while I am no editor, I am pretty creative and see myself as an artist of words.

I realize that I can write with any degree, and that learning this field may not hinder my writing skills, but am I doing myself a disservice? Should I be in an english degree, or working on some creative writing degree? Or am I doing the write ( ;)) thing by challenging myself with a field that makes me work hard for decent marks?

I should also mention that I am 28 years old, and by the time I graduate with a masters or PhD in any field, I will be something like 35 years old. (2 1/2 years undergrad, and ~4 years grad)

At this point, part of me is really regreting starting school. I could have gotten an AA degree in some techincal field and been making 35-40k a year with minimal loans. When I graduate with a B.S I will have something like 40-50k, and a degree that is meaningless in my field without a PhD. (not much money in jobs that only require a B.S in Biochemistry- lab techs- something like 12-15 dollars an hour)

I know I am not putting in everything about myself, but knowing what is above, and that my intelligence is only mediocre, do I stand much of a chance? The field isn’t highly competative, but I am a writer yearning for a story more than a scientist with a specific goal in mind. Writing, though, is better left a hobby, or should it be?

Believe me, you don’t want to go into a Ph.D. program unless you are absolutely passionate about the subject and can’t ever imagine yourself doing anything else. Realize that Ph.D. programs make you microfocus on one tiny little area and that is basically all you do for a few years. Four years is VERY optimistic for completing a Ph.D. program. The average in the hard sciences is 7 years and many take longer than that. Assuming you complete the Ph.D. program, there will be few job opportunities generally speaking. Most Ph.D. in the sciences do one or more postdocs before they have the experience and the publication record to get a job.

To be blunt, you sound like a poor candidate for a Ph.D. program. Those programs are something you should never default to because your other options haven’t panned out yet.

Shagnasty - Ph.D program in neuroscience dropout

You seem quite intelligent, and certainly articulate.

My advice is to finish the Bio degree; you could always consider a grad program in creative writing later on. Or, if you want another alternative that are more literature-based than science-based, you might consider going to library school. Librarians who have science subject degrees are usually in demand as academic specialized librarians. You indicate that you sometimes have problems when asked to provide customer service, but I would think that the clientele of a university life sciences library would be much easier to deal with than what you described above.

You may not necessarily need to write off pharmacy because you don’t like working in a commercial pharmacy. What about a hospital pharmacy?

There’s also pharmacological research; that may be a better fit for you. But I’ll reiterate what you already know: there is not time enough or money enough or anything enough in the world to do something you dislike as a career.

I wish you the best in figuring out what you were meant to do. I didn’t discover it until I was in my thirties (fortunately, I was already doing it, it just took me some time to find my feet). But doing what you’re meant to do is worth it. Good luck, and don’t worry about the age thing – compared to some of my classmates, you’re just a wee baby!

Or a research position? I assume you’ve thought of that already and rejected it but figured I’d mention it. If you have rejected that idea, I’d be interested in knowing why.

If you’re interested in something involving words, students from all disciplines can and do go to law school. It would be an expensive three years, but lawyers with scientific knowledge are not that common and are increasingly needed. (For patent law, you really need a PhD to do most biotech work, but you can practice in chemistry with a BS pretty easily. It’s also possible to “try before you buy” with patent law, unlike most practice areas, by becoming a registered patent agent.)

I did consider Hospital pharmacy initially, and also considered research. The PharmD program is expensive and very competative. I had a near 3.6 GPA and didn’t get an interview for the UMKC pharmD program (85 accepted out of over 400 applications). Of course that might have to do with the 58 I got on the PCAT. :wink: I also heard that the jobs at the hospital are pretty harsh, rotating shifts, night jobs, etc coupled with lower pay than the retail sector discouraged me. As for the research end, there was simply a lack of passion, coupled with the high cost and extreme competition, I rejected it for research that was easier to get accepted into- Pharmacology, rather than pharmecuetical research.

I have to say that I am pretty passionate about science in general. Oddly enough I had considered doing the neuroscience degree here at MU. I feel pretty passionate about the workings of the brain and consider it absolutely fascinating. Not sure what level of zeal I need to obtain it though, it isn’t all dogged determination? As for the lack of passion in biochemistry, it doesn’t stem from lack of interest. I find it all extremely stimulating and almost exciting- it just doesn’t have the same sort of passion I have in my heart for writing.

The library job sounds pretty interesting, but that also requires a PhD, right? And isn’t the pay pretty low? I am not a money slut, but the idea of getting a job that makes 35k, after getting a degree that costs me twice that isn’t exactly encouraging. Especially considering that I was only making 5k less a year before I accrued all those costs. Yeah, job security, but I would be working a part time job on the side just to pay back the student loans.

I did think of being a science writer. Not exactly sure what they do, but I have heard that all you really need is a degree in the field you are writing, or in a related field. Unfortunately I believe most “science writer” jobs are typically in the computer or electrical sciences.

Never thought about patent law. I am not sure I have the personality to do law work, especially if it involves getting in front of a lot of people in a courtroom and talking. Public communications classes are hard enough. :smiley: Now if there was paralegal type of work in patent law, that would be great!

Granted, my source is merely my sister, but she is in her 3rd of 4th year of her PhD program in Virology at the University of Texas Medical Branch. She is completely done with classes and is doing her research on her Dissertation thesis. She ran into some complications which set the research back almost a year, but she is confident she will be done sometime in the next few years. My impression of her statements is that Postdoc work is only necessary for acedemia, and isn’t important at all for work in the private sector. I have also heard that the 7 year figure is for PhD, postdoc and trying to obtaion tenure.

As far as I am aware, if I get into pharmacology, the day I am granted my PhD, I am eligable for entry level work in the private sector. No postdoc work necessary. I could be wrong though.

doh, or, not of. :slight_smile:

competetive (sorry, had to get that out of my system)
Richard N. Bolles’ What Color is Your Parachute could help you answer many of your questions.

The issue is not so much what degree should you get, but how do you most enjoy using your gifts?

Preparing yourself for a niche doesn’t really work - although it was really smart of you to try out the pharmacy world. Sounds like you’re learning a lot about yourself.

The problem with niche thinking is not so much that the world keeps changing (it does), but that there’s no grand Rule Book anywhere that says people who follow the magic formula of preparation get the job they had in mind. You probably noticed that life’s not fair; I’m sorry to say, that extends to education and careers as well.

There are a lot of ways of being a scientist, and a writer. What do you really hope to accomplish?

  • fessie (whose unemployed Ph.D.-having Hubby is just starting to work on that question)

Patent lawyers do not get up in court and talk. At all.

And that’s all I’ll say about what patent lawyers do, for fear of alienating my patent law brethren and sistren with my candid yet oh-so-uninformed opinions. But suffice it to say that while I love my job (as a lawyer who gets up in front of a lot of people in a courtroom and talks), I would gnaw off my left arm before becoming a patent lawyer. Conveniently, I don’t have the brain for patent law, so it looks like I’ll get to keep my arm.

I’d looked into science writing as well; I’m a bit of a polymath when it comes to the sciences–my academic training is in physics and engineering but I’ve read across several other fields–and this is about the best reference I’ve seen with regard to what science writers do. I haven’t read this book in detail but I did page through it at the bookstore the other day, and it seemed to have a very diverse amount of anecdotal information.

The thing about science writing is that it is like any other type of journalistic writing; most science writers are freelancers who are always jumping for more work. Except for poorly paid (and probably part time with editorial responsibilities) positions at city papers there just aren’t any permanent science writing positions; even the major popular science rags tend to rely on freelancers, so the stability of it is somewhat questionable, though no doubt a good science writer is in a better position than a short fiction author, financially. A lot of science writers seem to have PhDs, but I don’t know how necessary that is; most popularizations are general enough that someone well versed in the basics of the field can pick up the details in a few hours of interviews and research to write a three column, and very few science writers tend to specialize in one restrictive subfield where PhD-level training would be of any great value. From what I’ve seen, science writers are not, by and large, wealthy or well-off; $30k-40k per year is a pretty good average unless you’re the tops of the field or manage a best selling book, and there is a lot of competition for that, especially since actual research scientists have gotten into the popularization game; you can thank Carl Sagan and Stephen Jay Gould for that. :wink:

As for getting a literature or creative writing degree to prepare for being a writer; in my own personal and uninformed opinion, I think that is a waste of time in and of itself. If you want to study literature because you love literature, that is justification; however, I haven’t found literature graduates to be any more literate in there writing on average than any comperable batch of liberal arts graduates, and literature is rife with authors whose training doesn’t even extend to the college level; Patricia Highsmith professed to have learned absolutely nothing at school that contributed to her writing skill, and Steinbeck seems to have suffered for years in the mediocrity of academic trained method before finally letting go of the dicta he was fed and writing how he wanted to write. Roald Dahl, Judy Blume, Robert Heinlein, et cetera. There are, of course, many great authors who are graduates of literate and fiction writing programs, but I think they’d probably be superior writers regardless. The ability to write well comes from a passion for writing and perfecting prose, along with a curiosity about the world and a desire to translate that onto the page.

And I have to echo the sentiments of others that the purpose of exploring possible careers is as much winnowing out those things that you don’t like as it is finding your dream job. Some of the greatest successes in life are people who found themselves at the brink of failure.

Now if I could only convince that of, about, and to myself… :dubious:


My roomie in college was a Biochem major - she was going premed, but like a lot of them at the University of Wisconsin, didn’t end up going that route. Instead, she got her Masters in genetic counselling. Now, she works with expectant parents that might be having a baby with genetic defects, helping them through the pregnancy, getting them informed, and telling them about support groups or other resources that are available.

I second or third or whatever the science writing route. There is the journalistic type of writing as well as more technical writing. A fair amount of this is done in the pharmaceutical industry. For example, applications for grant funding, documentation that the right research protocols were were followed, and dosage/side effects information for various audiences from patients to physicians. It is a real plus for these jobs to have the science background, some work experience, and an aptitude and fondness for writing.

It is also, especially as you get started, probably necessary to be flexible and willing to write about a broad set of topics and in a wide variety of formats as you build up experience and a portfolio.

See if your school has a technical writing class. Also, check out the Society for Technical Communication to learn more about the field.

A minor point. You say “once you get in grad school you only need a 3.0” That’s not quite how it works. The classes are that much harder, so you will be struggling to get those Bs. Also, a B- can be considered like a crisis situation, kind of like a D would be in undergrad, as an indication that you’re really not getting the material. So don’t make any decisions based on thinking once in grad school you are home free.

Oops, I meant “All I need to get into grad school is a 3.0.”

More about writing. My wife is kind of a science writer. She got a Masters in Biology, and was in the PhD program but decided she didn’t like research. She does medical writing mostly, but has done books for kids on various issues. (She has done a Dose and Dosages book for Nurses, btw). She has no creative writing background, and has found that her biology degree is far more useful. There is a medical writers association with a fairly good jobs board. There are lots of things like medical encyclopedias which offer the opportunity to do as much work as you can handle once you prove trustworthy. She’s making more than the amount Stranger gave, but she has people offering her work now, so it takes a while. No benefits, but I’ve got those.

I’ve been interviewed by a lot of writers for EE trade rags, and my opinion is that these guys have the basic technical background but can abstract the important high level facts about a story from an interview. None have PhDs, and I suspect it would be a hindrance. When you are writing across the breadth of a field digging too deeply is not helpful. I’d be terrible at it.

Well, I am a patent lawyer, and I brought it up first, so I’ll speak to this.

I have never entered an appearance in any court. I have argued one patent appeal before a three-member board of administrative law judges within the USPTO, in my eight years of practice. They were very patient with my nervousness (unlike most “real” judges, as I understand it), and I won my appeal.

I do spend a lot of time talking to scientists about why their newest idea is cool, and helping them brainstorm about what you could do with it. Then I write it up, including defining in words the parameters of what is “new” about their idea (this is the hard part of patent drafting, but also the fun part). I also argue with patent examiners, over the phone and in writing, about whether the ideas my clients have thought up are in fact new and nonobvious.

There are indeed paralegal positions in patent law, although they mostly don’t involve much substantive work. You could, for example, apply to become a docket clerk, who keeps track of the massive numbers of deadlines for a patent practice. Depending on the size of the organization, the docket clerk often also handles the nonsubstantive tasks associated with filing patent applications in foreign countries. (In larger practices, there is often a “foreign filing specialist” who handles this work.) Doing something like this would not give you direct, hands-on experience in practicing patent law, but it would allow you to hang out with a bunch of patent lawyers and talk to them about what they do. You could also become a secretary/assistant to a patent lawyer, which would involve getting familiar with procedural stuff, and might also involve things like typing and proofreading patent applications - again, giving you some insight into how it all works, without practicing yourself.

Patent law may be the only area where you can “practice law” (of a sort, maybe, depending on your definition) without being a lawyer, though. You can be directly responsible for writing patent applications, filing them in the USPTO, and sheperding them through the examination process (“prosecution”), by passing the patent bar, administered by the USPTO. I was a patent agent working within a law firm for two years, and the firm put me through law school for the following three years (while I worked there half-time). I stayed for two more years, then moved to my current position.

But patent is not the only area where scientific knowledge is valuable to a lawyer. I know a couple of lawyers who do pharmaceutical regulatory work. One of my law school classmates was an MD who wanted to get into medical policy work. There are lots of options. Your school career office can probably give you some guidance, and maybe names of some alumni that you could talk to.

Great replies everybody. I think I have many more options than I thought before. I still sort of plan on applying for grad school in the sciences. I may or may not get in, and I may or may not make it, but it won’t be through a lack of trying. I don’t know how great a scientist I would be but I guess we really don’t know until we do something how good we will be. I definately have no intention of changing my major again, so it is nice to know that won’t be an issue.

I now know that even if I fail in grad school, I have many other options. I like the idea of a patent clerk/lawyer type of career, and a science writer is always an option, so that is good. It is nearly impossible to write as a hobby while in school, but I am working on finding ways to do so. No matter what I do, I think I will write, and will try to get published.

Great stuff!