Growing up, I always said I wanted to be a medical doctor. However, I never knew what it would take to get into that. I went to Kennesaw State University for my Bachelor of Science in Biology. During my undergraduate journey, I felt really lost. I went from thinking about being a medical doctor to a dentist to “I do not know anymore”. But why was I confused? I shadowed doctors and volunteered; I thought I knew exactly what I wanted.
So what changed?
My senior year, I joined a microbiology lab for research. I presented at two conferences. Not only that, but I also presented at the American Society for Microbiology Conference a week before I graduated. Something I never thought of before happened- I won second place at that conference. Was it possible that I am leaning more towards research? Could be.
I graduated in December of 2018. A month before that, I got a job interview at a clinic. I was offered the job and was due to start the day after graduating. I worked as a medical assistant full time, Monday through Friday, 8-5 pm. Luckily, the job was looking for fresh graduates and training was on them. Two months into working, I shocked myself with my thoughts. I really was not into talking to patients for the whole day and diagnosing them. Everytime a patient came in, I was only thinking to myself.
My research memories were hitting me. I missed the bench work, the article reading, the deep knowledge analysis.
So what next?
Being in a confused state, I had no idea who to talk to. During undergrad, there were clubs for pre-med, pre-dent, pre-vet, pre-pharm, and many more. No one really talked to students about other career pathways I could go into with science. I started looking up PhD programs on my own. I also contacted my professors, advising me not to go for a masters degree, mainly because I had a 3.85 GPA. They said a masters would help if:
- I needed to boost my GPA
- I did not have any research experience, and was interested in giving it a shot.
However, my professors just gave me insight on academic positions. My friend, Google, taught me that there are many other careers to be considered with a PhD. I started applying for lab technician position because I thought I would strengthen my research experience before deciding to apply to any graduate programs, as well as use the experience to confirm my decision of going to grad school. A professor wanted to phone interview me for a lab tech position. After he found out what my goals are, he referred me to the director of the program for a PhD student interview. In my situation, I was lucky! I took the opportunity and accepted the offer, and I never regretted the decision.
My name is Maya Maarouf. I am a first year PhD student in Translational Biomedical Sciences. Looking back at my undergraduate studies, there were interesting classes such as cell biology, human physiology, and toxicology. Taking those classes made me appreciate how intricate the human body is, which made me realize that I was more interested in how the body and medicine worked on a cellular level to get the response at a systemic level.
Translational Biomedical Sciences means translating “bench to bedside”. My program has a strong focus on Immunology, which made me appreciate medicine even more. Our body works so hard at a cellular and molecular level to try and prevent us from getting sick and such. As for my research, I will be studying Inflammatory Bowel Disease- hopefully identifying components to help develop treatment.
Why do a PhD?
Like said before, working at a clinic had me thinking of how much I would like to work on and research actual treatments that would help cure cure or alleviate symptoms, rather than talking and diagnosing them. Identifying myself as a scientist who’s working on a treatment gives me great pleasure. As a scientist, you could also just be identifying mechanisms of disease as well. There are plenty of microbes, viruses, and autoimmune diseases that we still do not know how they work in the body.
What’s nice about having a PhD or even a Masters, is the flexibility in career options such as:
- Pharmaceutical companies
- Government (NIH, FDA, etc)
- Medical Science Liaison
- Clinical Lab Scientist
- Science writing and communicating
- Science Policy
… and many other more. If you think about it, you are needed wherever they need an expert in your area of focus.
I have completed my first semester of grad school. Thoughts? I LOVE IT. My knowledge has been rapidly growing, and I became more confident in presenting science to anyone. My program requires two years of coursework. At the end of year 2, we have to take qualifying exams. Years 3+ is where you work full time on your research until you are ready to defend. Throughout a PhD, you will definitely get your own first author publication and probably a coauthor of multiple others. Once you are ready to defend, you can also start writing your thesis and compiling all the data that you got ever since the first day you got to lab.
Network and communicate as much as possible. Networking will open opportunities, just like how I got the opportunity to speak about my experience here.
I am writing this post because my decision whether I should pursue a Doctorate degree or not was hard for me. This is only because during my undergraduate degree, I was only exposed to careers such as: medical doctor, dentist, vet, or professorship. However, no one told me about other career options you can pursue in science. I had to research on my own and find programs on my own. Sad to say, I went through a period of time where I was lost and confused.
Communication is Essential
My advice to any student, always COMMUNICATE. Email your current professors, but also contact schools that you are interested in, let them know what your credentials are, and ask them what you should improve on. At the end of the day, they are the ones looking at your application; therefore, no one knows better than they do. I would be more than happy to speak to anyone interested in pursuing a PhD or a Masters, or anyone who does not know exactly what to do after getting your Bachelor of Science. There is a spot for everyone in this world!
I am on instagram @mayamaarouf where I speak about experiences and do science facts and debates often.
By: Maya Maarouf