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Career advice: aspiring scientist interested cancer, cognition, and nutrition

Asked 8 months ago by Guest (120 points)

My background:

I am currently a junior in college majoring in Neuroscience and Philosophy. I am heavily involved in basic science research (neurodegenerative diseases) and have been published in peer-reviewed journals/presented many abstracts. Currently, I intend to go to medical school for an MD/PhD and am studying for the MCAT (medical college admission test) in preparation for next year's application cycle.

My Question(s):

I am writing for advice on potential career options for someone who is interested in working at the intersection of neuroscience/cognition, nutrition, and cancer. In particular, my interests lie in how certain dietary changes/habits can enhance cognition and/or sensitize cancer to better, more efficient treatment modalities. Is there anyone who has/is currently working in this area? Is it possible to be productive in something that is so niche-specific?

As a follow up question, I have been working as an assistant in my current lab for 2 years (freshman/sophomore year) and have developed a strong relationship with my PI. She has written me countless letters for various scholarships/fellowships and will continue to do so as I progress in my career. That being said, my research interests have definitely changed over the course of my undergraduate career, and I am more interested in nutrition then I am Parkinson's/Alzheimer's. Would it be unethical to search for other labs this "deep" into college? I am currently working on a large project in the lab and am independent, so I would be leaving a lot behind.

Any advice and insight would be greatly appreciated!!

// Answers //

Answered 8 months ago by mark-ER (6700 points)

Short answer:  it is productive to be very focused and "niche", but not so early in your career.  Keep an open mind, do not restrict yourself to one line of thinking.  In fact, vast majority (myself included) of research-oriented physicians benefit from multiple lines of investigation, often changing throughout their careers.  What you are interested in undergraduate != interests in grad school != interests as a pos-doc/resident and may not necessarily = research you pursue as faculty.

So that also answers your second questions = no, stick with your current lab.  Be productive, get something out of it (poster, publication and most of all learn how to do science; and large part of science is persistence).  You can search for a lab that fits your niche during your grad-school phase interviews and lab rotations that are a part of MD/PhD.

Overall, interesting major combo & sounds like MD/PhD (esp. neuroscience/psych) may be the right track for you.  Just remember it is a LOOOOONG road.  Most people do not get established as an independent (though still junior) investigator until their late 30s/early 40s, whereas your MD-only colleagues will be earning a 'real doctor' salary with real doctor medical responsibilities for 8-10 years by then.  Make sure you are OK with that; check out physician-scientist forum here on SDN.

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