Let me first say that I've changed my mind about a billion times over the last few weeks. I've been trying to figure out what I want, and that hasn't been nearly as easy as it sounds. Up to even last Wednesday, I was leaning in one direction. And then, last Thursday, I had a bunch of doors open up to me. I felt like it was the first time I truly had multiple viable options. And once I had those options, figuring out what I wanted was much easier.
Last Thursday, I had three things happen. Here are the three scenarios:
1. I got my financial aid package from the medical school.
2. I spoke with a woman in pharmacology who would basically co-mentor me (with Dr. B the other co-mentor) on the project I am working on now.
3. I spoke to two women on my thesis committee who offered me a co-mentorship new project in their labs.
And here's the way things shook out:
1. I got enough financial aid to cover med school tuition and daycare. It's still a drop from what I bring home now, and it's all loans, but it means we could make things work.
2. I spoke with the woman in pharmacology. She was very nice and very on the ball. After explaining my project to her, she said she could supervise me in more of a genetics-type angle to the project, or she could give me an unrelated new project that was more contained. Honestly, if I am going to start a new project, I'd rather have nothing to do with Dr. B. I told her I really appreciated her input (especially after never having met me before--she was very generous), but I was thinking that I'd rather just abandon the project.
3. I met with M (the woman from my committee I've known a long time), C (another woman on my committee), and George (the MSTP co-director). I filled them in on the meeting I had with the pharmacology woman, and I also told them that I decided I didn't want to keep my current project. There are just too many issues with it. We talked about the previous project M and I had talked about involving the new faculty member. We all agreed that while it sounded interesting, I couldn't wait around for a few months until he got set up. Instead, M and C had been talking about collaborating for a long time, and they thought this could be the opportunity. I would do more rat heart stuff (like what I did in my first lab) and tie it in to C's insulin studies (which is what Dr. B's lab does, even though it's not what my project has been about). The nice thing is that all of the methods are established, I'd be well supervised by two mentors, there are a lot of people in the labs that I could bounce ideas off of, and the project is publishable whichever way the results turn out.
So, after all of this, I decided: I'm going to go into M and C's labs. We're estimating that we can crank out enough rats to get data in about 6 months, so ideally the project should take a year or a little more. Considering that I wasn't planning to go back until July 2009 initially, this means I can either go back November 2009 (but still graduating at the same time as July 2009) or, worst case scenario, go back to med school July 2010. It's only a year beyond my initial plan.
And for the first time, when we were all talking about the project, I got really excited. I've already started reading literature and planning experiments. Both M and C have good labs that are scientifically active. They have lab meetings, go to national/international scientific meetings, and network with other labs. And I really feel like they both want me to succeed. It's what I've been missing since I started the PhD. My first boss would just leave for weeks at a time, and I struggled on my own. At least I eventually got things working. In this lab, it's been a struggle to get anything to progress. And I've had a boss that alternates between micro managing and disappearing for weeks.
I was really leaning towards going back to med school and just being done. But I had a big part of me that didn't want to give up on the PhD. Ultimately, I moved past keeping the PhD just to finish--whether it was to keep my ego intact or to not have loans. Once I got past that, I was able to dissect out what it is that I really want. And I wanted the chance to be in a good project. I told myself that a project would have to fulfill certain requirements, or else I was just chucking the PhD and going back to med school. I wanted a well-defined project in a scientifically active lab that involved a good mentor and a topic that I could get excited about. I wasn't convinced I could find that. Until I talked to M and C, I hadn't found it yet.
M, C and I met on Friday morning to hash our some initial ideas. I really think this could move quickly. They will both be gone this week at seperate scientific meetings, but when they are back next week, we plan to flesh out very specific aims. I'll write up a brief proposal to send out to my committee, and then all we need is final approval from the physiology graduate education director (who basically has already given it unofficial approval).
I'm dreading dealing with Dr. B. He thinks that he will be my co-mentor no matter what. Both M, C, and George agreed that it is George's job to explain the situation to him. Until we get final approval, they all said to keep him informed but not to tell him that this plan is set in stone. I just can't wait to be done with him. And I think next week, I will be.
So, for now, that's the plan. I really appreciate all of the support and encouragement I've gotten. And I know that most of you are probably thinking, "what an idiot--just go back to med school and be done!" And I've had that thought too. But I've really done some soul searching, and I still like science and research enough that I'm consider having some involvement with them in the future. I do want to see patients--I love that aspect. But I just feel strongly that my calling lies partially in research too. Goodness knows that a more sane person would walk away--three labs for a PhD? That's crazy!
I just feel like this is a real opportunity for me. I'm excited for a fresh start. And I know that M and C won't let me slip through the cracks. The only sad part is that poor Kim is by herself in the lab now, and I'll miss being able to chat with her all the time. We'll still probably try to do lunch as much as we can. But other than Kim, there's nothing I'll miss about this lab.
I guess that's it for now. I know it sounds crazy that I am not just going back to med school. I wish I could explain better how I feel. There's just a part of me that really feels like going to M and C's lab is the way it is supposed to be. I hope I'm not reading the wrong signals--I guess we'll know in about a year.