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Console me

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  • Console me

    My derm resident wife (s/p 3 years research in med school) just told me she is going to take an extra 3+ years to get a PhD in a physician-scientist track. Rationale from her: "I have nothing to lose..."

    How do I be supportive when I think this is a terrible career decision that is going to cost us $1m in lost income? If she actually had a passion for research I would feel differently, but she's already done 3 years and I just didn't see the spark. Mind you that I do this for a living myself as an academic research faculty member.

  • #2
    Money vs happiness -  Happy wife = happy home.

    Hard to tell SO what the balance between home/career is.   What did she do when you went through the decision tree of doing academic research over PP?

    Could be worse, she could have chosen academic internal medicine


    • #3
      I never did residency and had no debt. I was much better at science than medicine, it was an easy decision for me.  I fully subscribe to the happy spouse/happy life philosophy. However, I don't think research is going to make her happy.  She likes working in lab but not writing.  Once you're the boss, all you do is write grants, papers, letters and prepare presentations. It's not that fun actually.


      • #4
        Tough situation for sure. Have you had a good talk about it. "What do I have to loose" does not seem like a well thought out reason to go into a PhD program. Have her do a SWOT...This is where she rights down her strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, and threats of getting the PhD versus staying on the same track.

        I did one for my move to Cali and it helped me feel like it was the right decision. Then in 5 years if she looks back with regret, at least she will have a well thought out reason written down for why she did it. Here is the article from my SWOT.


        • #5
          Ask her what does she have to gain

          A motivated research driven md can accomplish 99.9% of an md/phd imo

          Sometimes residents need to jump from the education nest and fly on their own but many get stuck in the continuing education rut

          But if she's looking down the research tract for derm you might be out of luck regardless.


          • #6
            support her because she's a smart person and made a decision.  especially if it is not something that was predominantly based on list of reasons, it would be hard to convince her.  it's not really 1 million in lost income.  its just another road she has chosen to take where the income will be different.  maybe it's another way of telling you to go do residency and you get the (presumably) higher paying job.

            it could be worse.  she could decide retire early and not work at all.  



            • #7
              Agree with others that "what do I have to lose" is an odd rationale for getting a PhD/MD.  I don't think it is worth telling her she is "Going to cost us $1m in lost income."  Presumably she herself is smart enough to know that you make less money if you make less money.  I also don't think it is a good idea to tell her she doesn't have the "spark" for research.  I would presume that she knows what she wants and likes better than you.

              I can't tell from the OP whether you also have a PhD, but certainly telling her it's something she shouldn't do because it's a bad move for household income when you did the same thing wouldn't seem right at all.

              Life isn't all about accumulating net worth.  If she wants to do it, she should be able to do it with the support of her family if it doesn't put a lot of financial strain on the family.  If it is just a whim, you should have a dialog to try to help her methodically think through exactly what she wants to do.   Try to help without forcing your opinion.


              • #8
                I know the MD/PhD track well because I did one myself through the MSTP. Let me say, as a full-time scientist, if you do not absolutely love the job, eat/sleep/and breathe for it, it's not for you. Research is even worse than medicine, where at least the pay is good. One thing you might not appreciate is how judgmental the science world is.  If you're not in the top 1% elite, it's a pretty humbling existence where you scrape by to publish in second/third tier journals and face a constant string of grant rejections.  >90% of post-docs don't get a faculty position. Of the 10% that do, half won't get tenure. That's an even more humiliating experience.


                Clearly, I don't think she has the passion-- research has always been a hobby to her, not the main event. On the other hand, she is a ************************ good resident. I think some of the posters above identified her need to be on the constant education rut.  Advancing to her potential is the big issue for me, I don't see the career value for her in this unnecessary training adventure.  Adding insult to injury is the opportunity cost of this endeavor: it ain't free.




                • #9
                  I know academics and publishing well, having spent 5 years getting a PhD and 4 years as a post doc.  No, I didn't maximize my wealth over this time period, but it was a rewarding experience.  I was in a field where I was paid to get a PhD, so it wasn't an out of pocket cost to me.   It was also a field with small and shrinking number of tenure track faculty positions at major research universities, so I ultimately changed careers.

                  Yes, research is very hard.  If you are doing original scientific research, you are always operating at the edge of your understanding of a subject, which is a consistently humbling experience.  The more you learn, the more you realize how much you don't know.  I agree with you that research is something you have to be passionate about because the work is so hard and unprofitable that there really isn't much else redeeming about it.  That said, in your wife's case, it may be a three year detour, but ultimately she will still have large earnings potential if she decides she doesn't like research, so this detour wouldn't be catastrophic.


                  • #10
                    There's always an opportunity cost to everything. The title doesn't pigeonhole one to a career, but it all can be a rut as a safety perspective.

                    The SWOT analysis is a great way for her to step back and assess the situation from her point of view. You appear to have done yours to a point of costs and weaknesses.

                    Have you two spoken about this beyond a casual response that she gave? You still have time to work through it together.

                    One suggestion:. Be a spouse, not a professor.


                    • #11
                      My approach to this would be:

                      1. If this is really what you want to do I will support you 100%

                      2. Can we talk about your tangible goals from this project? Do you want to publish? Write grants? Have protected time?

                      3. Can we sit down and go over some calculators together (e.g. PoF) about how 3 years of diminished income in late 20s/early 30s will affect our financial future?

                      I very much agree with others that have said that a PhD is a generally very difficult process that has what is often a very nebulous set of returns. The biggest thing I could see as an MD is heading for a career with lots of protected time.


                      • #12
                        I would be concerned about 'lumpy' income in a two scientist household which Im sure is your concern as well. Its a lot easier to not worry when one person has a very predictable and safe income.


                        • #13
                          When I saw the headline I thought Oh God, not something similar to what Vagabond wrote recently. Thank goodness, it is not.

                          Secondly I feel that the 3 years time off from derm attending position and opportunity cost is being blown out of proportion. How many times would we say the same thing if the wife takes 3 years off to take care of young children. or work 0.25FTE for those years. or work in pediatrics with low pay. Somehow it magically becomes very important because it is a high paying specialty and money is left on the table.

                          Let me ask some frank questions. Was there anything implied or agreed upon beforehand that the wife will become an attending dermatologist after residency and will not choose any other option?. Was it implied that she is expected to bring the big bucks. If the husband were an ortho bringing in $1M+ per year will one make as much fuss on a spouse dermatologist taking 3 years off to try and do something else in life ( no disrespect to the OP).

                          I understand she may not be passionate but "what is there to lose" maybe one way of saying that one wants to try something different before getting to the grind of boring clinical life seeing the same rash over and over and over and over again.


                          • #14
                            I wonder whether she has a more formulated reason for doing this than she's given. It's odd to do it for the vague stated reason of "I have nothing to lose" unless there is a drive or desire for it. I have know idea, but I wonder whether she's ambivalent about an alternative career path and his might be a delaying tactic?
                            My Youtube channel:


                            • #15

                              I would be concerned about ‘lumpy’ income in a two scientist household which Im sure is your concern as well. Its a lot easier to not worry when one person has a very predictable and safe income.
                              Click to expand...

                              Not sure I understand this point.  Most academic positions are less lumpy and more predictable than almost any other job.  Relatively low income with no material upside, but no downside either.