I am a German just about to graduate with a BSc Psychology from a Scottish university. Based on my interest I have narrowed my future career down to a) medicine, or b) neuroscience research. I have been accepted into a 2-year MSc Neuroscience at NTNU and am currently doing an internship in a research institute. Alternatively I could start medical studies in Germany next year.
I have been wanting to do medicine for a long time but didn't get in immediately. Now have a place in German medical school pretty much guaranteed from next year, would take 6 years to complete. However, I would be 32 by the time I finished, work-life balance is not great, plus will have to rely on parents. So looked into neuroscience instead, which seemed interesting too.
That is until a couple of days ago. I did some research into career opportunities and it looks atrocious. Wherever you look, young scientists are struggling. PhDs take longer than I expected, then people get stuck for years in temporary postdoc contracts, all while working 50 to 60 h a week. Only a fraction manage to get tenure track positions and become lecturers, many just drop out of the system. 90% of the experiences of young neuroscientists I have come across on the internet painted a bleak picture.
So now I am reevaluating again. The reasons that made me drop my plan to do medicine seem to apply to neuroscience just as well. Doing a 2-year MSc, then 4-5 years PhD will take me just as long as doing medicine, I will start earning some sort of salary once I start a PhD, but it will be very low, I will have to work just as long hours in both professions, but at least medicine pays well and you essentially have a job guarantee.
My question is: how bad is it? In your experience, what are research conditions like (both in neuroscience and related fields)? Would you recommend research to a friend, or should I go with medicine instead?
Medicine for sure. Like you said, career opportunities post-PhD are bleak. (I'm a biology postdoc.)
Disadvantages to medicine that I perceive to be (and means I wouldn't want that option) are: shift work, moving around to get training and then permanent positions and ... the big one, dealing with human health issues. If these things are fine with you, then take the medicine route.
Definitely medicine. The conditions after a PhD are as bad as you read. These are no exaggerations. If you complete a degree in medicine you would still have the option to get into research by doing a "real" PhD (Dr. rer nat) in neuroscience afterwards instead of the common Dr. med, but with the huge advantage that you can always work as a normal doctor if things don't work out after the PhD. As you said, medicine is still a job guarantee in Germany. If you go for neurosciences and things are not working out you are pretty much screwed and left with little options.
Wow, that sounds pretty depressing. Wherever you look the neurosciences are described as an emerging field, and then researchers are treated like this ...
medicine - after 6 years of study and some years of struggle, by the time you are in your 40s you could be set for life. You could even look for work as a "real" doctor outside Germany etc. People will worship the ground you walk on!
If you did a phd, you might still be looking for a job in your 40s.
Lectureships are basically permanent as well, which is the first step on the road to being a professor.
Generally, it goes lecturer to senior lecturer to reader to professor. Some teaching fellows are also permanent at some universities.
I think in the UK, only 3% of science PhDs get a permanent academic job and the chance of being a professor is 0.3%.
75% of UK science PhDs have a job outside of science or industry.
Even though I won't be able to work in science, I still feel that undertaking my PhD was useful for so many things and I'm glad I did it.
I see what you're saying, but I think a good education benefits the recipient and society as a whole. My subject-specific knowledge may be pretty much irrelevant to most people but the personal qualities and professional skills I have acquired and developed such as objectivity, capability to make evidence-based decisions, computer literacy, writing abilities, problem-solving abilities, presentation skills, resilience etc are very useful. Of course, these skills can be attained without doing a PhD. I don't think people should be prevented from getting qualifications just because they won't be able to use them directly afterwards.
I think that actually what needs to happen is that students are told very clearly their chances of an academic career before applying for a PhD, so that only those that seek an academic career will do a PhD, or those that just want to do one for personal reasons. And/or the benefits/skills/personal attributes that a PhD holder offers need to clearly highlighted to employers, so that they are an advantage rather than a hindrance. And obviously science needs more money, because then it can afford to pay experienced scientists rather than taking on PhDs and postdocs as cheap labour and then there would be more permanent jobs available.
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