Tuesday, 23 August 2011

By on August 23rd, 2011 in personal, science kits

08:38 – Urk. I’m down to two of the chemistry kits in stock, which means I need to build another batch today. Fortunately, that doesn’t take long, as long as I have all the components at hand, maybe an hour or so to assemble a dozen kits.

I ran into Melissa while I was walking Colin yesterday. She’s the 20-something young woman who borrowed my Kindle for a few days. She’s a biologist, so our discussions are always interesting. (She reads science papers for recreation; I like that in a girl.) She said her husband was encouraging her to go back to school to get her Ph.D., but she’s not sure she wants to do that. It’d probably take five years to get her Ph.D., followed by a postdoc or two. Even then, job prospects are very uncertain. She’s not interested in joining academia, and there are a lot of Ph.D. biologists waiting tables, driving taxis, or serving coffee at Starbucks.

Time would also be an issue. She has what seems like 17 or 18 preschool children running around, but may actually be only two or three. And, in yet another demonstration of my obliviousness, I didn’t realize until she told me that she’s eight months pregnant. I just thought she’d gained a bit of weight.

What she’s really interested in is not the degree per se. She wants to do the science. I suggested she do it herself. Most or all of the technologies she’d need are already accessible for home scientists. Gel and column electrophoresis, PCR, -80C freezers, ultracentrifuges, and so on are now affordable for home labs. She was stunned when I told her I’d put together an ultracentrifuge capable of 60,000+ G for less than $150. (That’s sufficient to destroy a polypropylene Eppie tube.) She can easily get the same access to the literature that she’d have in a formal Ph.D. program. After a few years of study, for all intents and purposes she’d have her Ph.D. in molecular biology and epidemiology in all but name. And since she doesn’t care about the letters after her name, why go through what she’d need to to get those letters?

10 Comments and discussion on "Tuesday, 23 August 2011"

  1. paul jones says:

    You don’t say if she’s working or not – I suspect not. If she can get into a program, she’d earn a stipend and a tuition waver, so it wouldn’t cost her anything to go. Of course, she’d have to find childcare for her kids, which will be tricky (and probably eat up her stipend).

    If she really wants to do it just for the science, she should shop around carefully and, if she finds someone willing to take her on, she’d probably have fun. Plus, she’d be in the enviable position (I assume, since she’s not working now) of being able to chuck it if her advisor/department/committee, etc. are unreasonable.

    All I’m saying is that, it’s worth a look. She might also consider working as a tech somewhere. There are certainly lots of bad jobs in academia, but there are a lot of good ones, too, if making lots of money/gaining fame aren’t your goal.

  2. Robert Bruce Thompson says:

    No, she’s not working, and that’s part of the problem. She was working as a vet tech until she married, and possibly afterward. I’m not good at estimating the age of small children, but I’d guess her sons are maybe 5 and 3. She has a chronic heart condition that made it dangerous for her to have children and difficult for her to work a regular job, and she mentioned yesterday that the current one (it will be a little girl) wasn’t planned. She’s not shy about providing personal details. The first time we met, we talked for a couple hours, and she told me stuff that most women wouldn’t tell even a very close male friend.

    She’s extraordinarily bright and, like most stay-at-home moms of small children, starved for adult conversation. She reads a lot, mostly science and technical material, and I think she really, really wants to do hands-on science again. I mentioned getting set up to do plasmid minipreps, probe hybridizations, and Southern/northern blots in my home lab, and she said she’d love to get set up to do that kind of thing in her own home lab. I think she really wants to focus on what she’s interested in rather than working as a tech under someone else’s direction.

    Her husband is a finish carpenter and self-employed contractor and makes good money, so I suspect she doesn’t have a problem spending some money on equipment and materials. I encouraged her to write up a proposal from herself to herself for her Ph.D. project, do the work over the next few years, and then write up her thesis. Nowadays, one doesn’t have to have access to a university or corporate lab to do serious work in biology.

  3. Chad says:

    Off topic…

    Now that the rebels in Libya have won they can finally get together as a people and democratically decide which US-hating Islamic radical is going to be their next dictator. Today, freedom won…

    [Rebels overrun Gaddafi’s compound]

  4. Jim Cooley says:

    Don’t know if Old Farmer Dave still hangs out here, but he’d get a kick out of this:


  5. gfl says:

    I don’t know what the situation is in the USA, but here in Australia (last I read the relevant regulations, anyway) my alma mata (the University of Melbourne) will graciously — upon payment of a sum of money — consider a thesis for a doctoral degree (forget if Ph.D, D.Sc, or either). Never mind no supervisor, hours on campus, et al. Obviously managing to get published along the way would be a Good Thing; hard in some cliquey fields though I suspect.

    If your friend does study at home and does manage an “original contribution to knowledge” or whatever the wording is and later decides she wants the certification as well as the knowledge, there may be ways.

    Just thowing this out as a thought: I’m quite ignorant about the USA educational system, and would like to be even more ignorant. But nobody who reads Glenn Reynolds blog or Jerry Pournelle’s site can stay entirely ignorant.

  6. Miles_Teg says:

    U Melbourne has (allegedly) just overtaken ANU as the best university in Australia so I’d be amazed if they’d give out doctorates for cash, especially a DSc.

    Could you provide a link?

  7. Chuck Waggoner says:

    Off topic. Samsung is ready to buy HP’s PC business.


    This fits in with my perspective that one of the evil sides of big business is that they are not satisfied with just making a living and providing lots of jobs for people, they have GOT to make a killing–or else, the business gets killed. TG there are people outside the US that are ready to step in and provide those jobs for their own people, but that will be at the expense of US jobs, of course. And the US CEO’s making these decisions, are making, on average, 411 times the wage of their average worker. That is opposed to 12 times for Japan and 11 times for Germany. You would think–during times when the President bemoans lack of job growth and high unemployment–that he would be publicly attacking moves like HP’s. But obviously, he does not care about lost US jobs any more than the CEO of HP–who obviously is no better at running the company than Carly was. HP moves 40 million PC’s a year. If they can’t make money with that kind of volume, then the CEO needs to take a serious pay cut.

  8. BGrigg says:

    Off topic.

    There’s topics? ๐Ÿ˜‰

  9. Miles_Teg says:


    Qantas, the 800 pound gorilla of Australian airlines, has just doubled its profit. But last week they exported 1000 jobs overseas. So the US isn’t alone in this Chuck.

  10. gfl says:

    Replying to Miles_Teg:

    U Melbourne has (allegedly) just overtaken ANU as the best university in Australia so Iโ€™d be amazed if theyโ€™d give out doctorates for cash, especially a DSc.

    The work has (had?) to pass review just like any other doctoral thesis. My source is/was the (printed) Faculty of Science handbook circa 1990, which I no longer have a copy of. A quick search online certainly talks about “approved supervisors” and “time on campus”. As the fee structure of Australian Universities has changed, perhaps the rules changed too, but universities have lots of fine print in their procedures. ๐Ÿ™

    In any case, two take away points:

    1. there was never any “gimme” about the process that I knew of
    2. how good the University of Melbourne is is like “how long is a piece of string”; there were courses I took that I used every day I worked in IT (and may if I work in IT again); there were courses I realised in my first month in a real job were totally out of date and I could just forget about them. Ya wins some, ya loses some.


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