on floundering

So we had our annual MD/PhD research conference-type thing recently where I presented a poster on all the nothingness I’ve achieved over the past year (thank goodness it wasn’t a talk!). Although the day was full of interesting talks and posters, the most useful thing I found out was that I’m not the only one floundering here! Oh how reassuring it was for me to talk to my fellow MD/PhDers and find out that many of them are just as lost and confused as I am! And to find that they share the same I-just-want-to-finish-this-and-go-back-to-med-school-what-was-I-thinking mentality that I do was just absolutely priceless! Although it made me feel better that I’m not the only one suffering through this whole thing, it makes me wonder if how my colleagues and I feel is normal. Does how we feel mean that maybe we shouldn’t have tacked on that PhD…that we don’t want to be academicians?

I’ve often questioned my reasons for pursuing a career in academics because of my experiences with my major professor as well as watching his dealings in the academic world (especially grant-writing and re-writing and re-writing). But every time, I always come back to the same conclusion: I just can’t imagine doing anything else. When I think about being a clinician in private practice and how I will no longer be asking research questions and trying to figure out wacky ways to answer them, it makes me sick inside. Will I still feel this way by the time I finally finish my MD/PhD (if ever)? I don’t even know if I want to feel this way or not. It would be so much easier to just go into private practice (though of course, private practice comes with its own issues—they just seem so much more manageable to me compared to grant-writing and the politics of the academic world). But I’ve never been one to go the easy route. I’m most fulfilled by doing the most challenging things possible. But do I really want to be pushed to my limits constantly in my chosen career? Do I really want to risk failure when the stakes suddenly seem so high? Maybe I only like being challenged during my education? No matter how hard I try, I can’t answer these questions right now. And as much as it bothers me that I can’t easily answer them, I realize that all I can do is wait, grow, and develop in order to find the answers. What I do know is that, for now, my colleagues and I still want careers in academics and that is enough for us to carry on with the long and arduous path that we’ve chosen.

Oh, and finding out that my peers’ major professors don’t make them make their Powerpoint presentations or answer their phones was also a big plus (now, if only I could grow a big enough backbone to stand up to my major professor…but that’s a whole separate post in and of itself…).

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2 Responses to “on floundering”

  • Keep the faith, baby. Now take a deep breath and listen to my story:

    I’m an MD-PhD. Did pediatrics and pediatric pulmonology. Then reality intervened in the form of my first child.

    Now I’m a flea in the community.

    I don’t regret doing the PhD. I learned a lot, grew up a lot, met my wife, saw a lot of baseball games, and generally enjoyed myself.

    But I was 36 years old before I became gainfully employed!

    I don’t expect anybody to feel sorry for us, though. We both have it pretty good.



  • Thanks for the encouragement and for sharing your story! I don’t regret doing the PhD either. If I hadn’t had all that “free” time in grad school, I wouldn’t have met my husband or remembered that there’s so much more to life than med school. I think that what I’m feeling now is the need to move on now that I’ve enjoyed myself a little. But then again, I probably should enjoy this freedom while it lasts. :)

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