Molecular Biologist to Social Scientist - possible?


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======= Date Modified 27 19 2009 19:19:50 =======

I would like to do a PhD but due to family commitments can only do it part-time. My background is in Molcular Biology. Quiting work is to do a full time Phd is out of the question, I can not do that to the family. However, my current job is home based (Accounts Manager for a Foresnic company) and I get lots of free time and my hours are flexible, so I think P/T is the best option for me and my family.

I have come across a number of Social Science supervisors whose research interests include biotechnology and Foresnic DNA profiling and one of them has agreed to supervise me if I can think of a thesis! However I am finding it difficult to think of a project since my mind is more quantitative then qualitative.

Im not asking anyone to give me a project idea, I will think of one my self. However, is there anyone here who is or has been in a simmilar situation to me who can be kind enough to offer some tips in how I can come up with a original thesis? How should my research proposal be structured?


Hello Mystic Guru, you sound as if you've almost answered your own questions... if you've found someone to supervise you then it's obviously possible for this to be academically viable for your own background.

If you enrol on a Masters then it will equip you with the necessary methodological background that you'll need for your proposed PhD. It will also familiarise you with existing literature and research in that field, so you would be in a better position to formulate a future PhD research question. There aren't really any short cuts, especially if you're intending to cross disciplines. If you've found a university that runs a Masters in your topic, why don't you enrol on that and see how it goes? It's quite common for students that do well in a Masters to continue at the same college to develop their research into a PhD. I'm afraid I've no idea about how many years it would take, or what the possibilities of transferring from a Masters onto an MPhil/PhD though - can you ask your prospective supervisor, as it may be university-specific.


Hi Mystic Guru,

I'd probably second Rubyw's view about the usefulness of doing a Masters to gain experience and help you formulate ideas, also to get a feel for whether a phd is really what you want to do (but at the same time it is possible to go straight in without a masters if you want). Re. your background, there's lots of scope for phd projects that span disciplines, so 'crossing over' from molecular bio to social sciences is definitely feasible in theory :) I'm doing an ESRC/NERC interdisciplinary studentship so am supervised between biology and sociology (kind of!), so that might be something to look into Finally, don't worry about the quantitative thing, lots of social science type phd's take a quantitative approach, maybe a good starting point would be to just start to do some reading about quantitative social sciences methods (have a look at something like the Sage handbook of quantitative methodology for the social sciences). Getting to grips with the types of approach out there and reading about example studies might help you to clarify the sort of research question you want to tackle.

hope that helps, good luck!


Thank you both for your advise.

Unfortunately, I would rather go straight into a PhD. I see your point in regards to a MSc since it would help but I can only do this part-time and I dont want to spend close to 10 years (2 for Msc + 5-8 yrs PhD)!

I will look into the reading material that you suggested. My main problem is coming up with a original proposal. I know the subject area is Forensic SCience (i.e. DNA profiling) but applying that to a original "social" question is prooving tough.

I can think of a hundread interesting ideas but all require lab work but unfortunately I need to do this P/T so its not possible time wise and I can not afford the additional 3-7k bench fees on top of tuition.


I switched from molecular biology to anthropology via a masters. If you can manage without a masters I can see the attraction although I don't think I would have coped, personally. I have found that my interests and working methods have drifted toward the biological and my principle methodolpgy is quantitative analysis. If you can't work in the lab - what other kinds of data can you use and anayse differently? How is your maths - there are some very interesting techniques around these days such as SEM (structural equation modelling)/path analysis that are being increasingly applied across different disciplines.

I hate lab work personally but I am looking into reenalysing some SNP data from someone else's project - there's a lot of DNA output around that you might be able to get access to and analyse in a different way with different questions in mind. Could you get some forensic data to do a metastudy/reanalysis?


Quote From Smilodon:

I hate lab work personally but I am looking into reenalysing some SNP data from someone else's project - there's a lot of DNA output around that you might be able to get access to and analyse in a different way with different questions in mind. Could you get some forensic data to do a metastudy/reanalysis?

Is this your PhD project or Post Doc? Sound very interesting, however I am unsure how you can reanalyse sequence data in another method? I am not fammiliar with the metastudy approach. Also, you would encounter an issue with the Data Protection Act, OI dont think you can use sequence data from people beyond criminal DNA profiling without their consent.


It's for a postdoc and the dept in question already own the data as part of an ongoing study. All these kinds of analyses rest on phenotypic assumptions which can be challenged/altered - that's as much as I can say about that.

I don't know your area at all so these are just random thoughts. A metastudy would be one where you put together the data from several studies.

I can imagine data protection might be a problem - won't that depend on where you are getting the data from? Also - perhaps it's a case of having the proper ethics approval and promising continued confidentiality. You will undoubtedly need this anyway from the sound of it (I do - can be a pain). You probably wouldn't actually need identifying information e.g. names anyway.

I do get the feeling there should be possibilities there. I suppose you have been over the work of your potential supervisor for ideas.

I also recommend unselective reading in reasonably recent (last year or so) journals of relevant interest. That's how I came up with my PhD topic which was not connected to my masters studies at all. I also would have had no idea my supervisor might be interested in it if I hadn't happened to mention it to him.