Tuesday, May 22, 2007

Grad vs Med: The Smackdown

A lot of people have been asking me about school lately. My graduate school peers have asked how medical school is different, the doctors I've been working with have been asking about the PhD. Really, both groups mostly want to know which is "harder". Right now, I am leaning towards graduate school being the more difficult of the two by a hair, but that may be because it's what I've been doing for four years. I've come up with two metaphors to explain the differences between the two training paths; the first struck me within in the first year of graduate school after finishing two years of medical school, and the other has been very recent, having been developed after the struggle to publish and graduate.

Graduate school is like strenuous cross training; medical school is like doing 2000 right biceps curls. They're both hard, but for different reasons.
I can see now, looking back, that I was still smarting from the butt-kicking that is first and second year medical school. And the point of the metaphor still holds; that is, the first two years of medical school are grueling and involve very little thinking and a whole truckload of memorization, and graduate school is also grueling but because there is a lot of thinking and reading (and doing experiments, sometimes over and over).
But over these past few years I have developed a sort of fondness for med school. For one thing, I had WAY more free time. For another, there was a great deal of structure, which brings us to--

Imagine you are sleeping in your bed, and suddenly wake with the feeling someone is in the room. You open your eyes in time to see masked men chloroform you back into unconsciousness. When you next awaken, you are in a completely unfamiliar and uninhabited jungle, with no apparent trails, paths, or indication of where you might be. Next to you, you find a map and compass with a note: "500 miles to civilization. Good luck, and watch out for the tigers." This is medical school. Graduate school is the same, only when you wake up you are naked and they didn't leave you squat.
Clearly, when I came up with this metaphor, I was feeling the angst of the complete lack of structure which is rampant in graduate school. I am the kind of person who likes to make lists and cross things off. (Confession: I have also been known to add something to the list which I have already done so I can immediately cross it off. I know there are more of you out there: don't deny it.) People like me are bound to feel some angst in graduate school where everything tends to be "fuzzy", including expectations and deadlines. This drives me absolutely nuts. Being someone who enjoys a good rant, I'm sure I will be writing much more about the trials and tribulations of graduate school in the future.

For now, I have to say that the Grad vs Med smackdown is not over. It's the 6th round, and both contestents are reeling on their feet, but no clear winner has emerged. Stay tuned...


DHP said...

I think there are a few other metrics by which you can measure the degree of difficulty of the two. One that springs to mind is via an assessment of the number of complete fools around you. IMHO, grad school wins this one in a landslide. I have pretty extensive grad school experience with faculty and students in a few different departments spanning two schools, and I am amazed at the number of nimrods who get degrees (and the number of nimrods who allow them to get those degrees). Yeah, my med school class had a fair share of people who I wouldn't let change a bedpan, but by and large there is a pretty good weeding process in place. Grad school has a much lower bar for entry.

docmama said...

oh YES i love the to-do list of things already ta-done!

i definitely lean toward grad school being MUCH harder. i mean, they both have their pain - we've already established that we're gluttons for punishment. but the pain in med school is DEFINED and FINITE, whereas grad school feels a bit more like guantanamo - you've got no rights, they do what they want with you, and decide practically on a whim when they're gonna let you out...

full disclosure: perHAPS i'm biased by being neck-deep in the grad school abuse at the moment...

MammaDoc said...

Oh, I'm so glad to hear you all say this. I'm defending my PhD in 3 weeks, and then starting medical school in the fall. I didn't go the traditional MD/PhD route, but that's what I'll end up with. I keep feeling like I'll never make it in medical school because I actually think graduate school has been hard. Thankyou for thinking it's hard too. Thankyou, thankyou.

I have a committee meeting this afternoon and my defense is scheduled for March 9th. OMG. I'm totally freaking out.