You typically need an undergraduate degree and
then a professional degree either an MD which takes four years or a PhD which typically
takes about five years. Then, if you go the MD physician route, you need a residency of
three to seven years and then at least one fellowship and maybe an additional postdoctoral
fellowship. So you’re really getting near forty years of age before you get your first
job. So it’s, you know, about twenty years of training after college, it can be, before
you’re qualified. Now along the way while you’re training you’re doing a lot of the
work. So it doesn’t feel like you’re not working. You’re actually doing work as part of training.
But really in terms of having a stable job where you have a title that doesn’t end after
one to two years it’s about twenty years to get there. So it’s a long road, but it’s fun
along the way or can be fun. Typically, if you want to run a lab you’re going to have
a doctoral degree and a number of years of postdoctoral work. We also have staff members
that work in my lab, many of whom just have a BA or BS and then work as technicians. And
that can be very fulfilling because right out of college you can go into a lab and work
and we train you on the job. And then there is sort of an intermediate level which the
woman who is my lab manager and runs my lab is a very capable person who is a professional
scientist. She got a Master’s and that gave her more experience in how to do science.
So she actually manages our lab. So we have a number of Master’s level people too. So
you can do it with a college degree. You’re better off with a Master’s degree. If you
want to run a group you’re really going to have a doctoral degree plus postdoctoral work.
I think one of the central personal qualities that’s very helpful is to be able to multi-task.
So in one day I might be in the clinic in the morning seeing a very complicated infectious
disease case and then I’m actually training physicians in training. So I’m actually flipping
into a teaching mode. So I’m dealing with a patient and then five minutes later I’m
teaching and meanwhile my email device is going off and I’m corresponding with administrative
people about money, and with my scientist people about data and I’m flipping in and
out of those jobs. So I think multi-tasking, being able to flip in and out of different
worlds, is very helpful. I think patience too. Some of the research we do we’ll do experiments
for three or four months and nothing will work. There’s nothing to show for it and yet
we know the project is good and it’s important and we have to see it through. So if you’re
somebody who needs a resolution or a gratification within a day or something this isn’t a good
career for you. You really have to be patient. I’ve been working on, for instance, a vaccine
for pneumonia for children since I started in science and I started in 1990. So now it’s
2008 so I’ve been working on the vaccine for 18 years and it’s not even close. So I have
a dream that one day I will see this come to fruition, but it may be a thirty year process
or more, or I may never see it and I just have to live with that.