How I decided that I didn’t want a Ph.D and found something else.

When I graduated with my Bachelor’s in Neuroscience, I had no idea what I wanted to do. It seemed like all my science major friends had it all figured out. Everyone went down one of two roads: Medical school or Ph.D. I had neither the grades nor the ambition for medical school and I was hesitant about the time commitment for a Ph.D. What am I going to do afterwards? Work in a lab? But I hate writing papers and begging for money! Surely there are more science professions out there than becoming a doctor or doing academic research!

Uncertain and frustrated, I decided to take a few years and work in a research lab to see if research was truly something I was interested in. I would use the time to consider whether I really needed a Ph.D. In 2016, I joined Dr. Sabine Fuhrmann’s lab at Vanderbilt University. The lab studied eye development using the mouse model. My two and a half years in the lab proved extremely fruitful. I not only gained research experience and learned many techniques, but I also had the opportunity to talk to graduate students about their experience. The range of responses baffled me. Some loved their program and their mentors. Others dreaded the experience and felt burned out. My main takeaway was this: If you want to pursue a Ph.D., you NEED to know what you will use it for. It is absolutely crucial to have a tangible goal because graduate school is not easy; you will likely endure weeks of sleep deprivation, run countless experiments that just don’t work, and advisors whose sole purpose in life seems to be making your life living hell.

You will undoubtedly encounter many hardships and adversity along your journey, so it is imperative that you have a destination to look forward to. Your goal can be a dream job, a strong ambition to contribute to science, or maybe you’re just a masochist. That works too. But one thing is for sure: those that don’t have a light at the end of their tunnel will quickly find themselves lost in the darkness. Without a goal, you start to question why you are undertaking this massive journey. You lose motivation, and then you eventually burn out.

Now I’m not saying that Ph.D.’s are overrated or that pursuing a Ph.D. isn’t worth it. I just knew that personally, I was not suited for the journey because I didn’t yet have a destination in mind. As I was searching over potential careers, some people in my lab suggested that I try looking into the biotechnology industry. I would still be able to do research, but it would be towards developing drugs, technologies, and products. I was beginning to tire of the slow-paced research in my lab and desired a more dynamic work environment. This could be it! And many of these positions don’t even require a Ph.D.!

And that was when I found the Professional Science Master’s degree at San Francisco State University. There was a program specifically designed for biotechnology and for the first time in my academic career, I felt excited. The program would consist of core classes in modern science techniques as well as some business, but the most attractive aspect was a one-year internship at a biotechnology company. This seemed like a great opportunity for me to transition out of academic research and explore new fields and professions.

I applied for the program at San Francisco State University and the rest is history. The first semester is coming to a close and I am having a great time. All my classmates and advisors have been extremely supportive and knowledgeable. I have never been more confident in my future. What career I end up pursuing is still very much in the air, but I am aware of the wealth of opportunities before me. I won’t completely eliminate the prospect of a Ph.D. somewhere in my future I am looking forward to the careers I can explore with my present and future experiences. Life is scary when you don’t know where you want to go but remember that you are never alone. You can always consult the people around you. The internet is also a great resource. Take your time in exploring your options before making your next big decision. We are all bound to make mistakes but having confidence in your vision of the future can make all the difference in the world.