Wednesday, October 6, 2010

Advice Wanted, Please Help

I recently received this email and I think it would be great if anyone with an opinion would give their two cents.
This past winter I took a microbiology class for the first time and I fell in love. Now I am currently doing my doctorate in public health in an area that has nothing to do with microbes but I've felt this pull to the sciences since I started. (I must mention that the last time I saw a science book was in high school.)

So my question is: Is it possible for an over thirty something grad student to catch up on the world of research? I don't expect to go for a tenure track position but at least industry. Do you know of many who have made the switch from some other field to science? Thank you.

I don't mind if you shared this with your blog friends so I can get multiple feedback. Thanks a million

Public Health Grad Student

Dear Public Health Grad Student,

I don't think age or the last time you picked up a book are a problem for successfully completing a graduate degree in microbiology, or any other science. If you have the drive, dedication and the passion, I think it's doable. I know one person who actually made the switch from public health to graduate school and they are doing fine. However, I do not know what they were studying at the School of Public Health. I switched from a communications degree and job in public relations to basic science. I had to take all the required prerequisites to get into graduate school before I could apply, which took about 1.5 years. Once in graduate school, I found the first semester quite difficult as I got up to speed, but after that I had no problems.

Also, I don't know if you are in a position to relocate or not, but if you aren't, you might want to look at the types of jobs available specifically in your area and read the requirements and specifications for open positions, including education and research experience. You might find that you are interested in positions that require a masters degree, which would ultimately take less time and still allow you to get research experience (assuming you do not enroll in a MS program that is only course based). Actually, a MS degree qualifies you for many good jobs in microbiology, so if you are worried about how long graduate school takes, you might want to consider this option.

I hope this answers you question and if it doesn't, I hope one of the commenters will do a better job. Feel free to email me if you want more specific answers or have any other questions.



ScientistMother said...

Juniper shoemaker made the jump from anthropology to pharmacy. Another blogger (the long road to med school) made the switch from public health to clinical neuro research.

Ambivalent Academic said...

"Is it possible for an over thirty something grad student to catch up on the world of research?"

YES! I know a couple who both started grad school after 30. They have done very well.

Girlpostdoc said...

Yes. Absolutely. I went from an arts background (with absolutely no science) into a genetics degree.

I disagree that age doesn't matter, it does. Academia is full of age bias. For example, how many R01 universities would hire a fifty something into a tenure track assistant prof position. A perfect world would be free of bias. Recognizing that there is going to be a bias for many reasons prepares you.

That said. I graduated with at least 6 other people from my PhD program who were in their late 30s. So it's entirely doable.

Anonymous said...

Short answer - it's very doable. GPD is right, there's always bias, but it's not so much that you can't find ways to overcome it. Being aware is half the battle.

MXX makes a good point, too, that you should do your homework early on and figure out what paths you might be interested in. Some require lots of moves; others may require more time/energy than you'd want to spend at this stage of your life. There's a million things you can do with a microbiology MS or PhD. The earlier you start looking at your options the better prepared you'll be for finding a job that fits your life.

Cath@VWXYNot? said...

The best student on my undegrad genetics degree course (other than me, of course :) ) was a mature student in his early 50s. I forget exactly what he'd been doing before the switch, but I think it was something mechanical. He went on to do a PhD.

Anonymous said...

I have known several folks do environmental micro as a second career once their kids were grown. one is place bound since her husband has a good job in the area, but she can potentially postdoc and do soft-money research for the long run. Another guy doesn't feel the need to stay where he's lived all his life and his wife is ready to move on too so he's likely to postdoc in another lab and will likely make it pretty far in academia/research.
the technology changes so fast that you're not likely to be behind since everyone else is having to constantly relearn all new methods every few years (at least that's the way my environmental micro field is going)