Caroline Drake, Medical Student at the University of Manchester, Manchester, UK
Caroline did her PhD in the stroke field at the University of Manchester. Her thesis was entitled ‘Systemic inflammation and its impact on the brain’ where she investigated inflammatory changes in the brain prior to a stroke event. Due to the clinical implications of her project, she became increasingly interested in disease processes in people and began looking into her career options and decided to study medicine remaining at the University of Manchester. “I loved research but when I thought about my future I felt that being involved with a patient’s journey as opposed to just their disease was more the path for me. I also liked the fact that later on I could continue to do research and wouldn’t be closing the door on this all together.”
For Caroline, it was a difficult decision to make because it would mean an additional 5 years at university but she says that the pros outweighed the cons when she thought it through. “I finished my PhD in 2012 and am now coming to the end of my fourth year of medicine. I am still 100% sure that I made the right decision for me but I will definitely be glad to finish university.” The pros for Caroline are that she gets to spend time with patients and help them in their treatments. The cons are how doing a medical degree affects her lifestyle. “It is difficult to still have no money and watch my friends move forwards in their careers and buy houses, etc. It is also difficult to have no control over my timetable, during my PhD I had the freedom [of when] to run experiments that came from my own ideas.”
I asked if she missed anything else about her PhD. “The main thing that I miss about my PhD is the environment. I made many friends and enjoyed being surrounded by people that were excited about the work they were doing. There was always someone there to talk through ideas with and help when it was needed.” She also misses the travel opportunities she had when she had to present at conferences. “It was fun to have people from all over the world ask questions about your research.”
When asked what advice she would offer to someone considering a medicine degree after their PhD she said they would need to think about being an undergraduate for a further 4-5 years. She says she wouldn’t change the path she has chosen but sometimes it was harder than she had anticipated. If that doesn’t deter you, then she suggests, “Get some good work experience in a hospital, preferably with someone that you know as this will allow you to have more access and really get a good idea of what the job entails.”
And if you’re thinking of taking on a PhD, Caroline’s advice is to choose your supervisor carefully because “they are the ones that will guide you through your PhD and you have to get on well with them.” And when considering a PhD position, “you should ask lots of questions about the project, you need to be really sure that there will be enough for you to do in three years.”
This post is part of a mini series on post-PhD careers.