career advice_how to address an academic gap and is a second MSc the solution?


I am a 56 yo woman, with a MSc in Organic chemistry (UCDenver,1994) . Due to motherhood in a challenging economy, I worked where the money was, mostly teaching and management. Only now that my son is successfully attending his MSc, I can focus back on me. My goal is to get back into science and work specifically in synthetic organic chemistry applied to neurodegenerative diseases. I spent entire last yr applying to PhD positions, without success, and I get it: my knowledge and experience are outdated, industries, R&D, and even bench work requires that. I myself only heard about the chemistry of neurodegenerative diseases, 5 years ago...Due to not being accepted to any PhD program, I then decided to apply to a MSc in Med Chem. It would give me the specialization I need, only two years, and would be the first step for a PhD. And I am particularly interested at Danish institutions due to the excellence of their program and industry collaborations. My goal is clear to me: to work with chemistry applied to neurodegenerative diseases. I have the seniority and experience needed but lack the updated knowledge. My qyestion is: how should I address this gap (motherhood, without being pity) and the fact of applying to a second MSc? Should I mention that I was not successful in my applications to a PhD? It looks like that programs are built only for very young people, but I have no doubt I`d be very successful, mainly now that I can focus 100% of my time. Thanks


I think applying for the MSc makes perfect sense and I don't expect you would have to justify your decision to do it in any kind of defensive way. The reason itself for the academic gap should be a non-issue and the only practical consideration now should be whether - as you say - your knowledge is outdated as a result of your time away. That's exactly what you're looking to address with the MSc, so it won't be seen as superfluous. I would just focus on making sure you can frame it in a positive and progressive way when asked, so yes - don't describe it as though you're trying to repair any perceived 'damage' resulting from the gap or make up for shortcomings in your recent PhD applications. You have real-world experience and awareness that anyone coming straight out of undergrad will lack, and you want to augment that experience by bringing your knowledge in a new field up to the state-of-the-art!

I'd add that it's easy to get disheartened by rejections, but remember that (last I heard) the success rate for PhD funding applications is something like 15%, so any rejection could simply be a matter of bad - or even average - luck, and it's possible you don't need the MSc if learning what you need during the PhD is an option. Still, if you can spare the time and money, I expect the MSc will give both you and and prospective supervisors confidence that you're back in the game and make the eventual PhD more pleasant, since you'll feel in your element rather than under pressure to catch up.

Avatar for rewt

An Msc sounds perfect for you.
Admissions departments usually consider mature students on a case-by-case basis and can be quite understanding. There are plenty of Msc & PhD students who have taken long breaks between qualifications. Just say what you did and how it will help you finish your course. You obviously have a different skill set than a naïve graduate and some departments like that. Also, at my university full-time mature students have the some the highest completion averages.

PS: I am talking from a UK perspective


I suggest a different approach to your application.

Since you are a mature student with work experience, you could use that to your advantage. Can you ask your work to sponsor your study? I have known friends who were sponsored PhD by work. Have you tried speaking to your work supervisor about this?

It is true that a more recent master may help you update your knowledge. However, it will not solve the issue of potential ageism, if that's what you are worried about. I would suggest that you look for the supervisor first, have a chat, and if the supervisor is keen to take you on, do the master and then PhD under him/her. What you don't want is to spend money doing your master and still not get that PhD in the end. So work backwards with the end goal in mind. And if you want to do a PhD, always go for MRes instead of MSc.

Lastly, have you thought about the real reason that you are wanting to do a PhD? If you want a career in academia, know that there is very little job security and even lower prospect of tenure. Do you now have the financial security to allow you to do this now that your child is in university? If you want this PhD just to switch career, know that you don't need another piece of qualification just to do this. I would suggest networking for the right opportunity. I am not wanting to discourage you, rather I would like you to think deeply and make the best decision that is right for you.