Why I chose PhD, Part Two

This is the long-awaited conclusion to Part One, the fascinating and hackneyed story of my decision to go to graduate school instead of medical school.

I apologize for the monumental gap between posts. Graduate school is clearly more difficult and time-consuming than I expected, and studying is always more important than short-form navel-gazing. But I wanted to conclude my first post, if only to prevent this response from becoming my Chinese Democracy—eagerly awaited (*cough, cough*) and ultimately somewhat disappointing.

Previously, I mentioned that my interest in graduate school was practically unavoidable, and I used the metaphor of railroad tracks (the iron way!) to characterize its immutability. But coming to this understanding was difficult because I always wanted to be a physician. Medical school became my Polaris, and I navigated my undergraduate course under its direction, shadowing doctors, volunteering at hospitals, joining pre-med clubs. I enjoyed learning about medicine, particularly medical research, and was prepared—confident, even—to fulfill my lifelong dream of becoming a physician.

But gradually, I began feeling apprehensive, growing increasingly distant from, and uninterested in, the whole medical school thing. I diagnosed these feelings as pre-MCAT jitters (my last non-diagnosis as a non-doctor), but I couldn’t shake that deep feeling of restlessness.

So I thought about my decision carefully, talked it over for months with friends, colleagues, mentors. What I discovered were variations on a common theme, that what I enjoyed was not clinical medicine but medical research. I loved the methodical, almost pedestrian quality of research, and I should concentrate on learning the practice of research, not medicine.

So, around March of my application year, I scrambled, reading everything I could find about applying to grad school (cheaper!), taking the GRE (easier!), and interviewing at prospective schools (friendlier!). With each passing month, the restlessness began disappearing, replaced with a reassuring confidence that this was my profession. I gained confidence in my decision to navigate my career by intuition, not the stars.

My advice to prospective medical/graduate students: Think deeply about what interests you, discuss those thoughts with everyone you know, and confirm that your interests correspond with your career choice. While I have just entered this program and know virtually nothing about anything, I have at least solidified, for myself, the motivation for being here.

And ultimately, the only way to survive this graduate school hurricane, in my opinion, is to batten down the hatches with this knowledge and brace yourself for the impending storm.

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