Warning: Long ruminating monologue ahead. I would sincerely appreciate any input.
I am 24, from Germany and have been running my own online business which I founded right after school for the last couple of years. As the business is location-independent, I travelled a lot lately but would like to do something else now. I have always had a keen interest in all things science ('brain science' specifically) but up to this point I have never really considered actually persuing a career in science or medicine. But now I do.
Things changed when I started to study psychology part-time (originally intending to continue to focus on my business).
I find subjects like biological and cognitive psychology just too fascinating. Whenever I consider other options, I end up feeling almost forced to become some sort of
professional in the area of, well, nervous systems and mental processes.
I am interested in anything from the over 30 types of synesthesia to conjoined twins sharing a brain
. My apartment looks like a neurological or psychiatric practice with paintings of Kandinsky and colorful posters of purkinje cells hanging on the wall. I used to hypnotize other people when I was like 15 and find myself reading psychiatry research papers online... duh. I really love all this stuff.
So now I am certain that I want to become either a (cognitive) neuroscientist or get an MD to become a neurologist, psychiatrist or physician-scientist (MD/PhD?).
Note: My current psychology programme does not have a focus on the biological side of things in terms of course contents and research, hence I want to switch to another university. I also see myself more as a natural scientist or physician than as a psychologist. For research, I might as well get a science degree. For clinical practice, a medical degree seems a lot more sensible to me.
Here's what troubles me when trying to decide between the two options:
Medicine (in Germany or Austria)
+ actually have good chances of getting into medical school
+ no need to look for masters or PhD positions somewhere, get in, stay for 6 years, done (no undergraduate studies necessary to get into medical school here)
+ over 50 specialisations (psychosomatic medicine, pediatric neurosurgery etc.)
+ training for a specific job plus possiblility to do research (or combine both)
+ would be useful for clinical research in industry as well (being able to give medication to patients)
+ job security
+ fastest way to get a doctorate (not that that is really a deciding factor, but I suppose it would be something worth having in all types of contexts, even outside of academia and clinical practice)
+ would have my MD at the age of 30 which is not unusual at all (whereas only having a life sciences bachelor at 27 sounds more scary than uplifting)
+ possibility to get the MD first to leave open the option of working as a medical doctor and get a PhD afterwards (one university I would have good chances of getting into, for instance, offers a PhD track in 'medical science' for people who completed their MD).
+ cheap (In Germany and Austria, getting a medical degree does NOT cost a lot in terms of tuition fees. Getting a medical degree here is cheaper than, err, getting any university degree at all in the US/UK, apparently.)
+ seems more suited for a more 'formal' career VS my entrepreneurial endeavors so far
+ better investment in my 'market value'?
+ would be able to 'work with brains' in the long run (VS not liking academia after getting a neuroscience degree and doing perhaps completely unrelated work in industry?)
+ possibility to open an own neurological or psychiatric practice at some point in the distant future
+ I really like the idealism and altruism which is part of being a physician (if one did not get into medical school to be called 'doctor' by everyone, I guess :-)
+ could get various hypnotherapy certificates, yay! :-)
+ MDs have a pretty strong political lobby, an own bank, all sorts of organizations, tons of possibilites for further training, medical knowledge and practice is and will be in much more demand than basic research, 'medical doctor' is an actual job etc.)
- a lot of rather mind-numbing learning by heart (what is the musculus abductor digiti minimi pedis there for, eh?)
- lots of topics I find less interesting than those of a neuroscience degree (practical side of things, often rather mundane, less philosophically interesting subjects)
- often more superficial (than e.g. molecular biology)
- might feel a little bit out of place with most fellow students being fascinated by the medical profession and not necessarily science (which I am primarily interested in)
- not all, but many medical students (in my admittedly limited experience a lot) seem to be more practical in their aspirations and diligent students rather than interested in 'deep' questions and really understanding in detail how something works for the sake of simply knowing how it works (obviously, this cannot be said about e.g. Eric Kandel, Vilayanur S. Ramachandran, António Damásio or Oliver Sacks, but I suppose some of you might know what I mean. I imagine studying with people fascinated by science to be much more enjoyable than studying with people who like certain TV shows, shiny white coats and perform medical procedures according to a scheme they learned by heart without questioning it.)
- no specific training to do research
- pay and working hours are not exactly spectacular for physicians in Germany right now (young physicians currently striking for higher wages and less than 60 or 70 hour workweeks with several 24 hour shifts each month - might not be the most brilliant backup plan as an alternative to academia ever conceived of)
- would already be 30 when taking up a PhD programme (if I could and would like to do that)
B.Sc. Neuroscience (Netherlands)
+ found a university
where I could study exactly
what I am more interested in than in anything else. I could literally choose courses ranging from molecular neurobiology, general science courses (physics, biochemistry, computer science) to cognitive neuroscience, neurology, psychiatry and philosophy of mind. There are research groups in areas I find interesting as well (psychopharmacology, memory, neuroplasticity). I could even take courses in entrepreneurial management, social entrepreneurship and the like, in case I would like to focus more on the entrepreneurial side of things.
+ could study in English (which I would actually prefer over studying in my native language)
+ small groups of students (~12!) and problem-based learning VS one in a dozen situation in medical school
+ am not very keen on permanently living in Germany in the long term and would rather live in e.g. the Netherlands or Switzerland, anyways (rather sooner than later)
+ international environment
+ I might be happy like a guinea pig in a bowl of salad sitting in a room with only 11 other students basically getting a private lecture on neuroscience by a professional researcher in the field
+ could take entrepreneurship courses and create something like memrise
+ job prospects and economic reality aside, there would be nothing I would be able to identify myself with more than with being a biologist. As a little boy, I learned the Latin names of native species of amphibians, thinking it would be obvious one ought to know what Bufo viridis and Bombina orientalis are :-)
- 3 years B.Sc., 2 Years M.Sc., at least 3 years PhD in Europe. I would be 32 then, with no regular work experience and a degree which is not exactly in demand in industry (at the moment).
- is it even worth trying when I am already 24? Not that I would be the first to do this, but still?
- lack of permanent positions in academia, idea of getting tenure dangling as a carrot in front of me for years?
- might feel just a little strange sitting in a room with 18 year old, highly motivated people from India instead of having gone to medical school (not a cliché and not meant in a derogatory way at all, but I think you get the idea)
- being in my third postdoc position some day when other people around my age have regular jobs and families leading me to wonder what the heck I was thinking? :-)
Further notes: I am more interested in the biological and medical approach to neuroscience than in, say, cognitive science or computational neuroscience.
I have already read quite a lot about some of my concerns (or rather similar concerns) here and found some pretty good advice. But I would really like to hear from people who had to make a similar decision (as neuroscience VS medicine is not an unusualy dichotomy, as far as I know).
I'll do an internship at a neurological clinic soon which I am sure will help me decide, but what I would really like to hear are personal stories, recommendations, warnings and so forth.
Even worth it still getting a neuroscience degree? Did anyone here get into science in my age or later in their life? Did you get a neuroscience degree and become a lecturer, science teacher or the like? End up in the pharmaceutical industry? Be happy with it?
Loved it? Happy in academia? Went for medical school instead? Did something completely different?