June 15, 2017
By Wayne Schnarr
Why did I go to graduate school?
I had a job offer from Agriculture Canada, I would probably have been accepted into medical school at U.B.C. and I was offered a 4 year NRC Post-Graduate Scholarship (University of Victoria was allocated one and I was the only one who considered going to graduate school in 1973). I chose graduate school because I enjoyed research – based mainly on my 4th year project with Paul West – and I thought that I could always revisit the other options after my Ph.D.
What did I get out of my Ph.D.?
I acquired technical knowledge, most of which I never used again. I acquired bench skills which I used in the early part of my career. In my opinion, the most important skill I acquired was the ability to attack problems in a logical manner; a skill equally applicable in bench research, industry and finance.
Why did I choose to go into industry after my Ph.D.?
I could have pursued the post-doc path to a potential academic appointment, applied to medical school at Queen’s or started an industrial career. I chose the latter because the Canadian universities had just added hundreds of new professors to handle the baby-boomer undergrads, and 7 or more years of medical school and residency on top of 8 years to date in university was not appealing.
How did I get into industry?
Although my preferred field was natural products chemistry, I decided that polymer chemistry was probably my best route into industry (and not based on ‘the future is plastics’ career advice from the movie The Graduate). Ken Russell allowed me to post-doc with him for a few months while he assisted me in getting a post-doc position with Stan Bywater’s polymer chemistry group at NRC in Ottawa. It was not my passion and it is hard to excel at high-vacuum polymerizations if you are a lousy glassblower so when I noticed a bulletin board posting for an NRC Industrial Post-Doc at the Canada Packers Research Center in Toronto (started in August 1978), I jumped at the opportunity.
A student in any of the sciences considering or currently pursuing a graduate degree needs to ask a similar basic set of questions.
What help are you getting in assessing your career options?
Universities have to balance teaching and research. There are many questions such as ‘should the university be more focused on employable graduates versus well-rounded individuals’ which I will leave to people more-informed in this area. As a follow-up to this blog on graduate students and integrating it with a look at the research side of universities and hospitals, let me pose a very controversial question – are the universities churning out graduate students for a biomedical research infrastructure which is inefficient and unsustainable?
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