Sunday, August 24, 2008

It's graduate school that sucks; not research

Yes, I honestly believe that. Research does not suck like graduate school does. Here's why:

1. Hordes of minions. This is something I've been looking forward to since before I came back to school. I worked for a biotech company for a while, and I went from being a minion to having my own minions. I can't begin to tell you how awesome it is to do research when you have your own minions. All that drudgery, all those banal things you hate can be tasked to other, often more capable, people. You can focus on the best things about research: thinking about data. Coming up with theories. Designing experiments to test those theories. Communicating your ideas to others. Personally, I also really enjoy writing grants and papers, as that really boils down to doing all of the above. In any case, this one is easy: in grad school you are a minion; in research, you get to command minions.

2. Having some small measure of power over your own destiny. I've always felt that, in graduate school, you have all of the responsibility, but none of the power. You are expected to produce, but all you can bring to bear is your own blood, sweat and tears. Others control everything: lab space. Equipment. Supplies. Manpower other than your own. You have to wait for your boss to edit stuff, which can take years. Wait for him or her to submit papers. Ask permission from your committee. Obviously, some of these requirements make lots of sense; after all, you're only learning. However, as a very take-charge person it was a relentlessly frustrating situation for me to be expected to produce, on a schedule, but have so little ability to ensure that could happen. Now, I am not so naive to think that at some point you are magically no longer beholden to anyone; no matter how high you climb you can't just do whatever you want (ahem, recent NIEHS Director badness). But, no one, and I mean no one has a more deranged power-to-responsibility ration than a graduate student. As a full fledged MD/PhD, at least you get a little leverage and a little say in your own little lab-verse.

3. Did I mention minions?

4. You can have a life outside of the lab. In my ideal career, at least, I will also have clinic, and patients. I won't live and die chained to my bench. I will be able to be out, teaching, seeing patients, speaking, hearing talks, going to conferences. Yes, I got to do some of this in graduate school, but I think that when you are a PI this whole new world of freedom opens up for you--I can't wait.

5. Minions.

Okay, I'm sure there are more, but for now I must return to the luxurious weekend. I have but a few precious hours to do whatever I want (I've been reading fun books like a madwoman--it feels like forever since I've read fiction) and I'm going to dive right in, baby. Also, I am already working hard to secure my horde, and I have a pile of applications to go through.

Wednesday, August 13, 2008

Whatcha, whatcha, whatcha want?

You've survived almost EIGHT YEARS of intensive schooling and, dare I add, intermittent torture. You are possibly mildly in debt, or at least way behind saving for retirement. Most of your friends make more money than you, and ALL of them have more spare time. BUT, up ahead, you see a light... blazing more brightly with each passing day: graduation.

What's next? Disneyland? Rampage of revenge? Huddling in a ball and crying for days as though you just survived a plane crash? Perhaps. But the biggest question for most mudphuds is:

What the heck am I gonna do with the five years of employment I have before I retire?

It's very fun to see where your friends end up. Some you expect, some come out of left field. It's even more interesting to hear why they choose what they choose.

For me, it's peds because they are a lot of acutely ill patients that you can actually make almost or completely better. And it's derm because, well, dermatology is the awesomest thing ever.

A lot of people think of derm as lots of acne. I think that in some private practice settings that's true. But what I want to do--academic derm--is very different. There is a huge variety in patients and conditions, lots of research, surgery... it's heaven. I love that people come from hours and hours away to see you, and that often you are able to help them when numerous previous doctors have not been able to. I love seeing them come back better, and happy. Also, don't discount how horrible some of these conditions can be. I have seen many patients that are physically debilitated, and that isn't including the ones who don't date because of embarrassment.

Anyway, enough about my choice. The thing is to figure out yours. From what I've seen you need to answer an important question:

Do you want to do research?
It seems a lot of mudphuds end up burned out on research. It's very sad. I can't blame them, but I wish we could figure out why this happens. I mean, yes, graduate school is often hellacious. But a lot of what makes it so is intrinsic to graduate school and not research in general. In any case, be honest with yourself, and decide if it's for you. I think it's important to choose this before you settle on a specialty, because some are much more amenable to research than others. It's good to find an example--someone who is in your field of interest who is doing what you would like to do, and--this is important--doing it well.

For me, I was trying to decide between peds rheum and derm, and what it came down to was research. Peds rheum is a very under served specialty, and the clinical aspects would always be so demanding that doing research would be very difficult. And here's the thing: research is hard enough without adding extra crap.

Anyway, those are my nonsensical ramblings. Now that I've chosen my field my full-time job is arranging meetings to try to be admitted to said field, and it's time to get back to that. Please share your thoughts on field selection below, and with luck your 4th year schedule will allow you, as mine has, to mull these things over at some length. And also to have days where you don't have to change out of your pj's.

Monday, August 4, 2008

Entry for Most Disturbing, Strange, Offensive, and Yet Amusing Patient Quote Ever Contest

(it's a very specific contest)

From a pretty old, gnarled southern dude, said to me for reasons that, even on very careful and repeated reflection, are still not clear:

"There's two things a man lies about. The gas mileage of his truck, and how many women he's bent over."


Any other entires out there?