Organic Chemistry Pre Grad Intern Vik Kohli
IE Final Reflection
The Intellectual Entrepreneurship Pre-Graduate program has been a rollercoaster ride to say the least. I have not only learned a great deal about graduate school, but I have also learned a lot about myself. Prior to enrolling in the course, I was under the impression that graduate school was similar to college- you take a couple classes, do some research and get a PhD. Suffice to say, I quickly learned that is not the case at all. Unlike most of my peers who have a renewed sense of desire to attend graduate school, I am one of the few who have changed perspectives and had the epiphany that graduate school is not for me. Through months of research, attending seminars, and consulting with my mentor, I found that graduate school is not the only route I must take to reach my goals.
For context, I am currently a sophomore cell and molecular biology major with a passion for medicine. Ever since I was a child, my affinity for science and interest in helping people at high degree culminated in a desire to become a doctor. When I came to UT, I signed up for the pre-medicine track and filled my schedule with math and science classes, however I still felt a void in my journey into medicine. After a seminar about undergraduate research, I had the epiphany that instead of waiting 8+ years to practice medicine, I can start contributing to the medical community now- through research. With this state of mind, I joined a bio-inorganic chemistry lab under Dr. Emily Que at the beginning of my sophomore year. Here I currently conduct research on metal complexes with fluorine tags in effort to synthesize MRI probes for cancer cell imaging. In fact, this is where I met my mentor, Audrey, who is a graduate student in our lab. In short, up until the beginning of this semester, I found a passion for research alongside medicine, and decided to set a career goal of attending medical school and graduate school at the same time to earn a dual MD/PhD degree.
As soon as I enrolled in this class at the start of the semester, I began to hoard Audrey with questions about graduate school. Almost every day in lab I would have an inquiry about the process, academic life, personal life, or even her career goals. She would always answer my questions to best of her ability, and often times, I was surprised by her responses. First off, I learned that graduate school does not have a fixed number of years before you earn your degree, unlike medical school's strict four year policy. In fact, it takes most graduate students five or six years to successfully defend their dissertation. I also quickly learned that research is not always as glamorous as it might seem. Specifically, in an inorganic chemistry lab, certain compounds can take up to a week to synthesize. And if there is a problem at a particular step in the synthesis or low yields, one reaction can take months! However, even though research can be tough and exhausting, the process can be quite rewarding. Through my mentor interview assignment, I was able to figure out exactly what the life of a graduate student in the sciences entails, and honestly, I did not find myself excited for the process. I love what I am doing now in terms of research, but to spend five plus years on variations of the same project with little certainty seems a bit taunting. However, this interview did not convince me enough to change my goals.
After the mentor interview, Audrey and I attended various seminars held by esteemed scientific researchers. Many of the speakers talked about their projects and had real success in their work. However, when it came to medical applications and true societal utility, I began to have doubts about the entire process. Specifically, I remember attending a seminar where a principal investigator discussed her work with RNA localization in vitro. Her results were interesting and had direct applications to oncogenesis detection. However, an audience member asked her if steps were being taken to formulate a detection tool that can be used on patients by health professionals, the investigator informed him that this tool is years away from fruition. This shocked me because the work she presented took nearly all of her post-doctoral fellowship, and for the utility to take even more time did not sit well with me. I of course understand that innovation takes years to perfect and progress, however my passion is to directly help others in a meaningful way as soon as possible. It was during these seminars where my doubt for graduate school began to grow.
By the time I was ready to conduct the faculty interview, I had a solid understanding of graduate school and my personal hesitation. It was not until after I sat down with a faculty member of the chemistry department and the principal investigator of my lab, Dr. Emily Que, that I changed my perspective. When discussing my career goals with Dr. Que, the questions I asked helped formulate my intentions in medicine and academia. It also helped that Dr. Que's husband has an MD/PhD, so she knows very well what that process entails and yields. One of the most important things I learned from this interview is that after successfully attaining the dual degree, almost all scholars focus on one aspect- practicing medicine of conducting research. It is truly difficult to run a lab and see patients on a routine basis. Moreover, Dr. Que informed me that you do not necessarily need a PhD to conduct research down the line- an MD in more than enough. This was definitely the tipping point. Not only will I most likely focus on practicing medicine in the future, but if I ever wish to rekindle my interest in research, I am free to do so with just a single MD degree.
In conclusion, I truly believe that this course has been valuable to me in the respect that I have more clarity on what the future holds for me. Prior to entering the internship, I was determined to attain an MD/PhD degree so that I can merge my passion of medicine with my interest in research. Leaving this internship, I now understand that graduate school does not merge well with my personality and career goals, and so instead, I am determined to go to medical school to attain an MD and perhaps return to research down the line.