higher education conundrum - please advise

<p>Greetings, the users on this forum seem to be very informed - and I am hoping that I could receive some helpful advice on my situation. I know its long - but please consider reading it, I have divided it into sections for your enjoyment.</p>

<p>• Background:</p>

<p>I will be graduating with a B.S. in Biology from a “public Ivy” university this semester. Shortly before I graduate I will have reached my 24th birthday.</p>

<p>My GPA is average for the department, and I have received formal recognition for research. (I have not taken the GRE for reasons listed below).</p>

<p>I would like to some day be a research scientist in molecular and cell biology.</p>

<p>• Situation:</p>

<p>Throughout my undergraduate career I have been a member of the military (enlisted reserves), and upon graduation I have volunteered to accept a 2 year assignment on active duty, with an additional 1 year on reserve duty. The nature of this assignment requires that the reserve duty be completed in Tuscan, AZ or Titusville, FL.</p>

<p>• Proposal:</p>

<p>After completing my active duty assignment, I will already be 26 years old. </p>

<p>My proposal is that once I am released from active duty - I would spend a year in either of the cities listed previously. During this time I would pursue a Master’s degree in Biology at the Harvard Extension School (Online) and complete the residence requirements once I am able to move (after 1 year).</p>

<p>Once I complete this, I will pursue a one-semester professional certificate program (to augment my resume), and apply for a research job. If I enjoy the field as much as I believe I would - I will apply for a PhD program, and aim to enter before my 33rd birthday.</p>

<p>I believe this is the best way for me personally to pursue these programs because I would like to complete this unique military assignment (and “get it all out of me” while I am young, and have no career or family - I will also have the rest of my life to hold a traditional job). I will also be collecting a respectable paycheck on active duty (due to all the fancy special pays) and qualify for the new GI Bill (which can pay a portion of my Masters program). Furthermore, I don’t think I could make it into a top grad school straight out of undergrad (even if I tried), simply because I am average, not excellent. Lastly, I grew up and graduated high school around Cambridge, MA (where Harvard is located) - therefore, when I do my residence requirement, and complete courses at the campus, I would get to spend some free time with my family and some friends.</p>

<p>• Primary Concerns:</p>

<p>If I take the path I propose I will not have started a career until I am around 30.
Furthermore, although the Master’s program at HES is very convenient for me, I am worried that employers would think I am trying to deceive them.</p>

<p>So basically - given the information and my concerns, do you think this is a viable career plan? And do you think I should have anything to be concerned about?</p>

<p>Your responses are appreciated!</p>

<p>What's the nature of the online master's program? Is it coursework/exam-based only? If so, you won't be as competitive pursuing research-oriented jobs as those who wrote a thesis.</p>

<p>Also, why another certificate program after your master's, and what in? To me, that seems like piling credential on top of credential without any real-world experience. Going out and working for those six months sounds like a better plan to me, unless the certificate is absurdly compelling for some reason.</p>

<p>I wouldn't worry about your age at all.</p>

<p>Thanks polarscribe - the Master's program is not fully online (and does require a thesis) - I am just saying that I could complete most of the general purely academic coursework online (when I am required to live off-site), and then complete the on-campus portion at Harvard and would be able to use the resources on campus to complete the necessary research and possibly meet faculty.</p>

<p>I'm interested in a certificate program in biotechnology - mainly just because I think it would be exciting (but also think it could help). However, truthfully, if I was offered a job without it, I would accept the job.</p>

<p>Thanks for the reassurance and advice!</p>

<p>"I would like to some day be a research scientist in molecular and cell biology"
This doesn't square with taking an online masters program. What you need is research experience and a Phd. After you're done soldiering, maybe you should consider applying for jobs as a lab technician. This will get you a foundation in research, letters of recommendation, research direction and a salary. After a year or two, you would be well positioned to apply for Phd programs.</p>

<p>I would just like to point out that you seem to be very concerned about your age but in most programs, people are not entering their Phd right out of undergrad. In my cohort for example, fewer than half entered right out of undergrad. The majority of graduate students I know worked as academic lab techs, industry scientists or did a masters before entering their program. There would be a heck of a lot of 26 or 27 year old Phds if everybody entered grad school straight from undergrad, but the average age for finishing a Phd is in the thirties.</p>

<p>Thanks belevitt - I know the online master's program is not the ideal situation, but in order to get it done quickly due to the circumstances I outlined earlier I feel that this would be a good way to compensate for my absence from academia and the workforce when applying for a job. However, I do understand that it won't provide the research experience I am seeking.</p>

<p>I would likely apply for a job as a lab tech as a stepping stone to grad school (as you outlined).</p>

<p>Yes, I am concerned about my age simply because I always hear about people who get their PhD straight out of undergrad - and I fear having no viable income at that age (during the time I pursue a PhD). However, your statement is reassuring. Thank you.</p>

<p>"and I fear having no viable income at that age (during the time I pursue a PhD)"
2009-10</a> BEST GRADUATE STUDENT STIPENDS - Graduate Student Stipend Comparison - what PhD programs in biological sciences pay their graduate students The low 30's may not be comfortable in places like Boston and New York City, but I wouldn't call them inviable. In fact, in places like North Carolina, incomes in the high twenties are enough to buy homes on.</p>

<p>Thanks for the list - I'm not sure if the new GI Bill applies to grad school - but if so, they do provide a pretty generous housing allowance. So that would help, in addition to the stipend.</p>

<p>If I did do a grad program - I'd be open to studying in North Carolina if I was accepted.</p>

I outlined earlier I feel that this would be a good way to compensate for my absence from academia and the workforce when applying for a job. However, I do understand that it won't provide the research experience I am seeking


<p>You won't be out of the workforce...you'll have served on active duty, and many employers value that if only because you've demonstrated that you can work a full time job with many demands, obey supervisors, get promoted, etc.</p>

<p>The GI Bill applies to some grad school programs.</p>

<p>As of August 1, 2009, the Post-9/11 GI Bill is effective for training. Approved training under the Post-9/11 GI Bill includes graduate and undergraduate degrees, and vocational/technical training. All training programs must be offered by an institution of higher learning (IHL) and approved for GI Bill benefits. Additionally, tutorial assistance, and licensing and certification test reimbursement are approved under the Post- 9/11 GI Bill.</p>

<p>To answer your earlier questions, I'm not sure I'd pay for the online master's at Harvard. In many traditional science fields none of your credits from an MS will be accepted, and even if some of them are it'll probably only be equivalent to a year at best, and probably more like a semester. For science PhDs the best thing to do is work as a lab technician for a few years to get research experience. The biotechnology certificate may be useful in the sense that it'll increase your appeal to certain biology labs as a tech. The usefulness of a master's degree in gaining admissions to PhD program is that you've proven yourself as a graduate student AND hopefully added some research to the pot. An online master's with only a short residential requirement and (practically speaking) very little contact with even the professors who teach you, much less a research internship, does not sound like something that's going to boost your chances very much. PhDs are less about you being able to pass the coursework.</p>

<p>IMO (and I'm in a different field, so take my advice with a grain of salt) you should serve the 2 years you volunteered for, don't worry about the online master's, and get a lab tech job once you are finished with your active duty.</p>

<p>Also, I agree with belevitt - I went into a PhD program straight out of undergrad but I am in a small minority. Most of my colleagues worked for a few years and earned master's in between their undergrad and PhD years. I'm the youngest in my cohort - I started when I was 22. The next oldest person began the program when she was 25, and everyone else was between 28 and 34 when they began. My psychology cohort is a bit younger but I think I was still one of the youngest, and most everyone was in their mid-to-late twenties when they began, with some people being closer to 30.</p>

<p>Well I was just looking for jobs at biotech companies and most required more than just a BS - I also stumbled across a depressing forum regarding the topic (Career</a> Advice Forum - Bachelors degree in Biology, what can you do with it? | Indeed.com)</p>

<p>We'll see how the economy looks in about 2 years - right now I'll plan on getting into a masters program and then getting some job experience before pursuing a PhD.</p>


<p>Job postings are not handed down from God. These are explanations of the ideal applicant. Sometimes they are hard minimums but there is certainly no way to find that out from the posting. Also, some companies really would love a MS with 6 years of experience but only pay well enough to hire a high school drop out with a bad attitude. I wouldn't hesitate to apply to any and all jobs you find interesting. You could always turn them down if you get them.</p>

<p>I followed that link you posted and boy, is it ever depressing. It's an exchange between recent college graduates in Biology who are working [or failing to work] in the dregs of the biological science job market- clinical lab technicians, routine assay operators for soon to be defunct pharmas, someone who shaves pigs. No doubt, the bachelors degree entitles you to nothing. However, without the college degree, I would have no idea how to enter into any professional job. You can appreciate how difficult it is to get the first entry level job without experience, now imagine doing that with all the honor and prestige that Podunk Area High School diploma confers on you.</p>

<p>I would encourage you to think of your military career as the first part of your career. The military is a viable, honorable, and challenging career that can lead to a lot of things.</p>

<p>So I think that your main concern is somewhat groundless.</p>

<p>Many employers might look at a two-year stint in the military as average, but a length of service like what you are describing is not easy at all. That shows real commitment. Plus you learn all kinds of management skills you wouldn't get in most fields by 30.</p>

<p>I agree that the certificate might not be necessary. It depends. There are a lot of options. You could do that only if it looked required for all the jobs you wanted.</p>

<p>By the way... I'm 33 and applying for grad school for a master's. I know how hold 33 seems when you're in your early twenties, but when you're 33, you'll feel you're a whipper-snapper. :D</p>

<p>Thanks belevitt - I agree, the education is necessary, so it looks like a Masters degree with research experience is a good starting point - from there I could get a decent job and move upwards with time.</p>

<p>Thanks MmeZeeZee - I definitely count the military as a part of my life experience, but there are very little translatable skills (except perhaps teamwork) to molecular biology. By the time I'm done with my service I will have 4 years reserve, and 3 years active. I may even stay in the reserves at that point until I can retire. The only reason I proposed getting a certificate was to prove my skills - because as I outlined earlier, with no direct experience this could be a weakness in my application to jobs. Also, congrats on your decision to apply to grad school! 33 is young definitely - but I just don't want to be lost at that age. Because of the responses here, it seems like this plan might actually work!</p>

<p>Spartaa, I think it's a great plan. My husband recently joined the military (at 35!) and I've met a lot of people doing second careers post-military with a spouse that remained military.</p>

<p>Aside from the deployments, that is the sweetest deal because as a student/intern you still have tricare and a home. You can't really beat that.</p>

<p>Thanks again. I'm really happy with it too - I think it will all work out! That's great about your husband, one of my favorite parts of the military is that I get to work with all different types of people: age, religion, personality, background, "class", and even in my reserve unit we have 3 people, just in my platoon that didn't even grow up in the USA.</p>

<p>Yes, now that I'm almost done with my undergrad, deployment wouldn't not be as much of a hassle. There are government benefits as you mentioned, but also USAA bank offers a lot of good deals on insurance. Anyways if you have any questions about the military, you can send me a message.</p>

<p>I think you have a great plan! BUT, please consider the following.....</p>

<p>I'm guessing your real rationale for an online MS program is to put Harvard on your resume since ...hey...the GI bill will flip the bill, why not.
Not a bad idea at all. Anything you can do to distinguish your self apart from others is a great choice especially nowadays. Be advised that this online thing is what it is and the REAL experience that will help a lot is an academic lab tech experience and a strong reference from a reputable scientist IN ADDITION to this MS degree. which you may or may not already have. </p>

<p>If you do academia you NEED to stick with it. FOREVER
Only about 8% or so scientists get jobs as Research Professors with their own labs. You HAVE to bust your but 60 hrs + a week for at least 12 years or more to get there. That is Grad school plus postdocs. If you don't accomplish this AND by luck get your projects to miraculously give you exceptional publications then you are hosed as most other people around you are. </p>

<p>#1 advice to accomplish this EVER: stay positive. Always. There is always more you can do and harder you can think about a problem.</p>

<p>If you get to the point along the way (along with the 90% of your classmates around you) where it is not gonna happen or financially is no longer possible at an older age:</p>

<p>Consider this:
I just turned 34 and I'm finishing up my PhD in a cell and molecular program from a top 5 "public ivy" school as well (hey maybe we're in the same place) :)
I am looking for jobs right now along with my gf (also finishing up her PhD, yes I have to find two jobs as many other couples in science do).
The alternate/industry job market for a PhD in this area (or any biomedical "basic science") is soooooooooooooooooo incredibly hard.
First, these schools do not hire students as trainees: you are for the most part cheap labor. These institutions are great places to work with wonderful people and fun projects but it is what it is. Your only option once you finish may very well be a post-doc in academia which currently pays $38k/year. This is where people aimlessly wonder working days/nights and weekends for up to 10 years. A lot of companies require you do an academic postdoc (2 years minimum) mostly because if you can adjust your life to make that little then they can suppress your salary when you start. From a business sense, research is very expensive, time consuming and non-productive. PLUS my School currently has about 250 PhD student and around 250 postdocs. That is 500 people just from your neighborhood to compete with for a job.<br>
If you are concerned about getting a job and keeping it now (without layoffs) with a BS wait until you get your PhD. It is near impossible to get out of that environment unless you know someone in a company high up that can open a job for you personally that serves as a starting point. With that said. I still think it is worthwhile to pursue but be aware of all this. You WILL be in a situation where you are approaching 40 with the same amount of time and likely effort spent as a surgeon-in-training but instead of getting job offers for $300k you will get no job offers at all. Until some random luck by networking delivers you a measly 40-60k a year entry level job. </p>

<p>That may sound horrible to post but it is true.</p>

<p>On the upside:</p>

<p>Enjoy your time in the military: it will be one of the best experiences of your life. The people you meet and bond with will become lifelong friends. Keep in touch with them.</p>

<p>The best advice i got from a career fair recently for grad students IF YOU'RE NOT GONNA MAKE IT AS A PROFESSOR: "when 5 or 6 o'clock rolls around, put your pipette down. If you have spent days and nights doing that one experiment 30, 40 times, it's not gonna help you in the long run to spend anymore time on it. Instead go out....take advantage of your university culture. Network. THE PEOPLE YOU MEET AND CONNECT WITH WILL BE YOUR MOST IMPORTANT ACCOMPLISHMENTS IN YOUR LIFE. This is how you meet your significant other, friends that console you when you're down, and people that will get you a job. Your PI will not like it but tough S%&t"</p>

<p>"Wow I just realized how long I've been rambling"</p>

<p>With that said I've had a great time and experience with this. I learned everything from science, martial arts and asian philosophy, various sports and recreational activities, international cooking (hmmm) etc.</p>

<p>My next move will hopefully be a job in Drug development and manufacturing through the generous networking of a former training partner. </p>

<p>Good luck</p>