I’m all out of love for research


CREDIT: G. Grullón/Science

Alice and her friends answer questions that you don’t want to ask your preceptor, peer, or colleagues regarding your career in science. Got a question for Alice? Send it to SciCareerEditor@aaas.org.

Dear Alice,

“Women still have to overcome bias in many work places, and having a Ph.D. after your name or being called ‘Dr. So-and-so' instead of 'Ms.' or 'Mrs. So-and-so' immediately gives you more gravitas.” —Alice Huang

“Women still have to overcome bias in many work places, and having a Ph.D. after your name or being called ‘Dr. So-and-so' instead of 'Ms.' or 'Mrs. So-and-so' immediately gives you more gravitas.” —Alice Huang

Q: I’m in my fourth year of a molecular biology Ph.D. program. As I am getting closer to finishing, I’m starting to realize that I don’t want to teach and that the love that I had for scientific research as an undergrad is gone. My project is going well, but everyone else in my department is more excited about it than I am. I’m on track to graduate in another year or so, but should I bother? I don’t want to leave right before finishing and have all that time go to waste, but I also don’t want to waste my time on a degree I won’t use. Does having a Ph.D. help in nonresearch-related occupations like medical writing, intellectual property, or technology transfer, or am I better off leaving with a master’s degree?  

—Ms. Stuck

Dear Stuck,

A: Definitely don’t quit now with a master’s degree. You have already invested so much time, and you are only 1 year away from earning your Ph.D. As long as you finish, the time you invest will not be wasted because you will be honing your skills in presenting your research and writing it up for a thesis and, hopefully, for publication. Public speaking and writing skills are important for any career that you might want. In addition, in a relevant nonresearch occupation, a doctorate will usually net you a salary windfall that over a lifetime can become significant.

Women still have to overcome bias in many work places, and having a Ph.D. after your name or being called “Dr. So-and-so” instead of “Ms.” or “Mrs. So-and-so” immediately gives you more gravitas. You will be taken more seriously. However, a word of caution: In some situations, flaunting a doctorate degree may not be helpful at all. Use the degree in situations where you see an advantage. Good luck.



Alice Huang

Dr. Huang is one of the pioneering researchers in molecular animal virology. She trained at Wellesley College and Johns Hopkins School of Medicine. She has worked at the Salk Institute for Biological Studies, Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Harvard Medical School, New York University (NYU), and California Institute of Technology. She has served on the boards of the University of Massachusetts, Johns Hopkins University, and the Keck Graduate Institute at the Claremont Colleges, in addition to many other nonprofit organizations. She introduced vesicular stomatitis virus as an experimental model in virology. She carried out many of the initial investigations on the molecular biology of virion structure, replication, macromolecular synthesis, viral spread, and virulence. Her work on the virion-associated RNA-dependent RNA polymerase led to the grouping of many viruses as negative-strand viruses. Her studies on pseudotypes, especially between RNA and DNA viruses, demonstrate the spread of viruses to new host cells and provide important tools for genetic engineering.

As a teacher, Dr. Huang has taught and mentored undergraduates, graduate students, medical students, postdoctoral research fellows, and clinical fellows. She has guided junior faculty members and department chairs. As an administrator, Dr. Huang provided the vision and obtained support for beginning what is now known as “Silicon Alley” around the NYU neighborhood. She is a past president of both the American Society for Microbiology and the American Association for the Advancement of Science (the publisher of Science Careers), two of the largest scientific societies in the world. She also dedicated 18 years to shepherding the Institute of Molecular and Cell Biology, together with Sydney Brenner and Chris Tan, into a successful center of research in what is now known as the Biopolis in Singapore. She continues to consult with research institutions and governments, sharing her expertise and practicing science diplomacy and policy.

Throughout her career, Dr. Huang has advocated for women in science. She encourages thoughtful approaches to reforms in teaching, to attract students with diverse backgrounds and interests to become interested in and committed to careers in science. She has been honored for her advocacy as well for her research accomplishments. Her wealth of experience as a leader and team player in research, administration, and advocacy prepares her well to provide advice to those pursuing careers in science.

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