Tuesday, August 14, 2007

My advice to undergrads: Post Bac!

And Science agrees with me! If you think you *might* want to go to graduate school, dont go straight into grad school!! Do a post bac! Taking a year or two 'off' from school to:

  1. See if you really really really want to do grad school
  2. Get you ready for grad school (learn a ton of protocols, how to present papers, how to interact with lab members, etc)
  3. Learn what a life of research really means (you have NO IDEA as an undergrad, I dont care how many summer internships you did)
  4. Make connections
  5. Get an idea of what you want to do long term (PI? Liberal Arts Professor? Drug R&D? Clinical? Molecular? Animal work?)
Grad school isnt going anywhere. Theyre still going to be there in two years if you take time off, no harm, no foul. Plus... what if you hate it? What if you read ERV religiously and have a romanticized view of virology... but you do NOT want to deal with grad school? Its better to find that out as a tech than after youve wasted your research mentors time and money for one or two years. If you realize you dont want a PhD while youre a tech, you can still have a great career as a professional tech. You dont have to write grants. You dont have to worry about neurotic grad students. You dont have to hire post docs. You can work 9-5. Hell, at this point in my career, I could probably make more money by staying a tech than getting a Masters or PhD, I just really want a PhD. Good techs and research assistants are worth their weight in gold.

Taking time off to do a post bac is one of the best career decisions Ive made-- Undergrads, think about it ;)


Ian said...

I agree - the two years I took between my undergrad and grad school were well worth it. But there was more to it than just getting some great field experience (or being an extra in a movie) - it was the chance to get some perspective on life.

In my experience, people who have done something other than "school" make better grad students - they learn to make decisions for themselves, they realise (hopefully) that they are doing what they are doing for themselves, and not because some professor is telling them to do it. I think that getting to that realisation is really important for getting through grad school. (That and stubbornness. Brilliance isn't an essential quantity for doing a PhD, but being able to slog along when it all seems pointless, that's the key to finishing. I think that almost everyone who finishes a PhD has to get past a point when the only motivation left is "I started this, I'm going to finish it".)

Bob O'Hara said...

And from the other side, the extra experience makes your CV look better, and hence makes you look more employable.

The Factician said...

I started a response to this post, but it got to long so I moved it to my blog. In essence, I agree with you that the post-bac experience is a good thing. But it adds to what is already a loooong trip to getting to be employable.

My response is here.

Kristjan Wager said...

Personally, I think ya'll should go into IT *winkie thingie*

Think of it - interesting work (ok, some times), nice pay, and the likelyhood of having to teach students is extremely small.

Seriously, I think it's not a bad idea to get some experience before going into graduate school, however, you risk getting into the situation which I am in, where you can't afford going back to studying full time.

It's ok for me, since I've never planned on becoming a scientist, and I enjoy being a consultant, but for others it might not be so easy.
If I ever manage to get my master's degree in computer science, it's nice, but job-/pay-wise it makes absolutely no difference.

Gerald said...

I know you can get burned out on school, and would like to take some time off. But if you really want to go to grad school, don't put it off for too long. Because when you work full time and have a family it becomes difficult.