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DBL%20Hendrix%20small.png College chemistry, 1983

Derek Lowe The 2002 Model

Dbl%20new%20portrait%20B%26W.png After 10 years of blogging. . .

Derek Lowe, an Arkansan by birth, got his BA from Hendrix College and his PhD in organic chemistry from Duke before spending time in Germany on a Humboldt Fellowship on his post-doc. He's worked for several major pharmaceutical companies since 1989 on drug discovery projects against schizophrenia, Alzheimer's, diabetes, osteoporosis and other diseases. To contact Derek email him directly: Twitter: Dereklowe

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January 8, 2013

More on Grad School Pressures

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Posted by Derek

The next entry in the discussion on grad school and mental heath is up here, at Not the Lab. It's a very realistic look at what the pressures are; I think that most organic chemists will nod in recognition.

And I particularly enjoyed the first comment on the post, from a reader outside the US: "Dear Americans: a lot of your professors appear to be totally f*ing mental.". There's a lot of empirical support for that position, I'm afraid.

Comments (10) + TrackBacks (0) | Category: Graduate School


1. didntgradschool on January 8, 2013 11:58 AM writes...

After I got my BS in a hard science discipline (not chemistry or chemical engineering), I decided I'd rather try industry than gradschool. I'd heard a bunch of horror stories about grad school, my mental and physical health had already taken some hits, and I was sick of academia. (I tried not to allow myself a life outside of school, and I wanted empirical evidence that I could actually do the work, rather than just being good at school work.) I also didn't want to get into something when I didn't understand where the money was coming from.

Question: Is the non-thesis option for a masters really worthless?

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2. Libbie on January 8, 2013 12:48 PM writes...

I think the first year of graduate school, I have a Ph.D in Sociology, almost felt like a nervous breakdown. You have to learn a new paradigm for thinking and it almost feels as if the professors remove your brain, rearrange it, and then put it back. It changes your focus and your conception of reality. A few students in my program over the period of time I was there did have nervous breakdowns. I try to explain this to my current students who are applying to graduate programs so they have a context to understand what is happening. So far, no casualties.

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3. iVoid on January 8, 2013 7:25 PM writes...

Sorry but I dont think (on average) that US professors got anything on JP/Korean professors lol

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4. Anonymous on January 8, 2013 10:08 PM writes...

Reply to #1 - Depends on the company and who the hiring decision-maker is. I'm at a small company, I have a thesis MS after quitting a PhD, and my boss earned a coursework MS at night. As far as the non-scientists running the place know, we both have the same degree. Unless you're at a company ruled by PhD snobs, I wouldn't call a coursework masters worthless.

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5. Anonymous BMS Researcher on January 8, 2013 10:20 PM writes...

At one point in grad school a group of female grad students took a survey with questions about self-confidence, morale, etc. Their main interest was in comparing male versus female grad students. They did find a statistically significant difference between male versus female students -- the women had a bit less self-confidence -- but by far the dominant trend in the data was common to both men and women: the longer one had been in grad school the lower one's self-confidence. And mine was actually a very supportive department with faculty I liked and respected who genuinely seemed to care. Independent research is just very hard to learn, very different from undergrad where basically I just did what they told me to do. To become a scientist I had to decide for myself what to, which was not easy.

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6. Ken on January 9, 2013 10:31 AM writes...


If you're pursuing a research-based job, it's likely impossible nowadays to get your foot in the door without research experience given the supply of chemists out there.

My industrial-based department is currently looking for a masters-level chemist for a research-based position. The candidate is required to have some research experience and resumes lacking that are not even considered for an interview.

In all honesty, the thing that absolutely makes or breaks the candidate's interview is a presentation on their research. Communicaing research well and more importantly comprehending and thoughtfully answering questions about that research are key skills that are needed.

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7. Anon on January 9, 2013 10:31 AM writes...

Can anyone really be surprised?

Read the comment from students about their own mental health - many are going (did go) f*cking mental. Then realize that PI's are drawn from this pool.

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8. Greg Hlatky on January 9, 2013 8:04 PM writes...

@7 Anon:

"I was scared of my father, my father was scared of my grandfather and by God all my children are going to be scared of me." - George V

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9. Anon on January 10, 2013 4:24 PM writes...

@8 - exactly.

Kids that are bullied are more likely to become bullies themselves. It is a learned behavior. One must hope it can be unlearned.

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10. Lu on January 13, 2013 8:10 PM writes...

A psychiatrist at a students' health center of a major research university once told me that he spends most of the day treating graduate students for depression.
There is an occasional bipolar kid or someone who just wants some Ritalin but most of his patients are graduate students taking antidepressants for the first time in their life.

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