an open letter to the director of the md/phd program

Dear Mr. Head Honcho Who Has No Clue What His MD/PhD Students Are Suffering Because He’s Too Kooky Himself:

Before it comes to your attention that I am not making satisfactory progress in your program and thereby hurting your chance of receiving NIH funding for it, I would like to make clear the failures in your program that have led to the waste of my valuable potential, which five years ago, you thought would blossom through your program.

First off, we need more guidance. Even those of us who were very much involved in research before coming to medical school do not know how graduate school works. We assume that someone will tell us and guide us through the process since it is in your best interest that we finish in a reasonable amount of time. I waited and waited for this guidance and it never materialized. I even tried seeking it out through your required semiannual meetings with my appointed advisor. The last time I met with my advisor, I told him of my concerns with my major professor’s mood swings and unwillingness to be open to my ideas and outright unprofessional behavior towards me. I also told him that I was not making the progress I would have liked to make by that time and that I feared that I would not finish my PhD any time soon because of my major professor’s failure to be a good mentor to me. He sent you a report of my progress. But you seem to still think I am doing just fine because I have not been called to your office yet. My cry for help fell on deaf ears. I tried going to my graduate group advisor, but he told me that he cannot help me because of my unique situation being in this program. So I had nowhere to turn but my classmates, who were and still are just as confused as me. This lack of guidance is a big reason for why I am most likely not going to finish my PhD in the allotted time.

Second, you need to enforce guidelines on your major professors as to what they can and cannot make their graduate students do. I fully understand that since we are paid by them, that they should have a certain leeway in what we do for them, but certain things are just plain unreasonable as they take too much time away from our own research and do nothing for our professional development, especially considering that this program requires us to compress four-plus years of research into a mere three years. We need major professors that will do their best to make sure we finish our PhD in the allotted time because we have the rest of our medical training to do as well. And it is in your best interest to produce graduates in the allotted time to impress the people at the NIH. I should not be reduced to being a secretary. I was never told that answering phones and making Powerpoint presentations were what I should expect as a graduate student. I should have some rights. When I tried to nicely tell my major professor that the things he was making me do were not part of my job description and that they were impeding my progress, he dared me to go ahead and take it up with you because you would be on his side too. What choice does such a statement leave me? What recourse do I have when the whole system is working against me?

Most dangerous of all the offenses that my major professor has committed and your lack of supervision and a proper system of checks and balances has allowed is the fact that my scientific creativity has been oppressed by the fact that I cannot bring up new ideas without being yelled at and having doors slammed at me. I would love nothing more than to have an open discussion where the merits and lack thereof of my ideas were discussed rather than tantrums thrown because of the fact that I dared to think for myself. How am I supposed to develop as a scientist when every new idea I have is shot down simply because my major professor did not think of it first and not because there is actually something wrong with it? As I mentioned before, I brought up this issue with my advisor who had nothing to say or do about it.

As you can see, the oppressive environment that I have been placed in and the fact that my major professor equates me with being a secretary (minus the salary) as well as his refusal to allow me to change projects even though mine is not working after two years of work on it have seriously stunted my progress and growth as a scientist. This outcome could have been prevented if someone listened to me when I asked for help and if your program were better structured such that these issues could more easily have been caught and remedied early on. At this point, all I want is to finish, which is sad because this experience has truly turned me off to academics when I was once so sure that a career in academics was exactly what I wanted. I hope that I have shown that any failure to make satisfactory progress on my part has been due to a system that clearly does not support its students or their development. I hope that my letter has brought this issue to your attention so that future MD/PhD students may be afforded with better opportunities than I myself have received here.


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