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As part of my MSc I wrote a dissertation on a topic that interested me (clinical medicine - focused) and I got a good grade for it - my supervisor suggested sending it off to a journal for publication and I thought "why not"?

We started with the highest impact journal in our field (>100 IF) , expecting to be rejected and move on to a lower impact journal, but to my surprise it was accepted

Now my department, which did not give me any funding or support throughout this process (this is a uni that receives billions in funding every year btw), is urging me to continue my studies with a funded PhD and work with more established researchers within the same field

I am not sure what to do about all of this - I have a good non-academic job in the same field that I like and did the MSc part-time not expecting to go any further into academia, but now everyone is telling me that with my publication record I can be very competitive for grants, scholarships, and a PhD position in most institutions

Is all of this true? Would a single 1st author publication in a high impact journal help me that much if I choose to follow an academic career? And is there any way I could continue contributing to research without abandoning my job?

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    Is your MSc / potential PhD in medicine, pure science, or something else? Medicine is a bit different than other fields.
    – cag51
    Mar 11 at 23:36
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    Do you actually want "grants, scholarships, and a PhD position"? Mar 12 at 9:15
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    Seconding @cag51's comment: if you are in medicine, it may also help to specify what country you are in.
    – Vincent
    Mar 12 at 14:46
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    A single paper? It really depends on the paper. If it is a Nobel Prize winning paper sure. But you won't get your prize until you are in your 80s. So if you come back down to reality, the odds are not in your favor. Mar 13 at 12:28
  • If you're happy with your current non-academic job, then there's no reason to give it up. Some academics around you may think that academia is "better", but that's certainly not objectively true. If you choose academia, you may have a good start, but the rest of the journey will still be though. I wouldn't recommend to go there if one doesn't absolutely want to.
    – Nick
    Mar 15 at 18:45

4 Answers 4

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Allow me to comment on this from the perspective of a clinician who does a lot of research. I assume you are a prospective clinician, as well.

It seems you published a paper in the Lancet or in NEJM. This is a huge achievement, something others would not achieve despite submitting high-quality work. An original article in these journals can open many doors but also sets high expectations. I have seen brilliant colleagues submitting highest-quality work to these journals and receive desk rejections. They are extremely competitive and your publication will be well regarded in the medical community.

That said, do not expect to repeat this the second time you submit a manuscript. Yes, it requires a strong paper to publish there but it also requires luck. Based on your post, I understand you are a medical student about to start residency in the near future. Beware, this alone is a full-time job that requires sacrifices and heavy commitment. Doing research "on the side" will leave you with little to no time for other things. While your professors are right that you have in fact all chances for a very successful career, allow me one subjective advice: in medicine, it is essential to have physical and mental resilience to survive the first painful years. Yes, this publication will open many doors but also implies that something follows, something that requires your full commitment. What this means in practice: yes, this publication will open doors in clinical research but it does not end here, you will have to continuously invest more work in the future.

Also mind that in many countries publications do not matter after all for residency matching, it is all about grades. You may add a country tag so that we could give additional advice.

Again, congratulations!

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    The question talks about an MSc and a potential future PhD, so I doubt that OP is a medical doctor. I have asked them to clarify.
    – cag51
    Mar 11 at 23:35
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    @cag51 - Sorry, I misunderstood this. Since the post was upvoted by some users, I may not delete it at this stage?
    – Dr.M
    Mar 12 at 11:14
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    @Dr.M I'd recommend editing to phrase your answer along the lines of "if you are/were a clinician..." so it's clear however OP ends up responding (if they do). Your answer is still likely to be useful to other people who find this post even if their situation does not actually perfectly match the one that OP describes.
    – Bryan Krause
    Mar 13 at 16:22
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Would a single 1st author publication in a high impact journal help me that much if I choose to follow an academic career?

For graduate school admissions, the only way to know is to apply. Your professors seem to feel that you're a strong candidate, and they should know. But you will be judged holistically; it's impossible to judge the effect of a single paper without knowing the rest of your profile (and "chancing" applicants is not what we do here).

with my publication record I can be very competitive for grants, scholarships, and a PhD position in most institutions

Note that they are suggesting you would be competitive for PhD candidature, not necessarily for an "academic career." So, you should carefully consider whether a PhD would help your career goals or not. If by "academic career" you mean 'professorship at an R1," you should be aware that there are usually hundreds of applicants for every opening. On the other hand, and contrary to popular belief, interesting things do go on outside of universities, and many of the most interesting jobs require, or at least reward, a PhD. At the same time, there are many career paths where a PhD is not really necessary, and it can be very expensive (in both time in money) to earn an unnecessary PhD.

And is there any way I could continue contributing to research without abandoning my job?

If you mean doing "research on the side," that is unlikely to be viable long-term (unless included as part of your job responsibilities).

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    having talked to medicine majors, it appears to be relatively common in medicine to do "research on the side" in that field, although medicine also always comes with inhumane work hours it seems (in Germany)
    – Felix B.
    Mar 11 at 15:26
  • Good point, updated. I was thinking more of "Can I be a bookbinder full-time and also collaborate with a professor as a hobby?", which is a common question here but rarely viable in real life.
    – cag51
    Mar 11 at 16:27
  • @FelixB. It's not clear what role or degree OP has; "research on the side" is a thing for medical providers but I don't think there are a lot of other research on the side opportunities. There are, of course, a lot of explicitly research-focused roles in clinical trials, whether in academia, government, or industry.
    – Bryan Krause
    Mar 11 at 16:34
  • @BryanKrause I mean in the first sentence OP states the MSc was in the field of clinical medicine
    – Felix B.
    Mar 11 at 17:52
  • @FelixB. No, they said the dissertation was on a topic that interested them and said that topic was clinical medicine-focused; I think that makes it more likely that their MSc was not in clinical medicine overall but it could just be an odd choice of wording.
    – Bryan Krause
    Mar 11 at 17:56
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You have a choice to make and need advice on how to make it. If your university thinks that "all of this is true" then it would seem to be a fact, since you describe them as highly reputable.

But, to make the decision, you need to talk to a lot of people about the likely outcomes of a choice. You might have a future in academia, but only if you would consider that a good life choice. It has positive (life of the mind) and negative (lower lifetime pay) aspects. Stress comes with both options. Think about the lives of professors you've had. Think about the lives of people at your job who are above and beyond you. Talk to some of them about your future if you choose each option. Talk to family also.

You can continue doing research at your job only in some circumstances. But those are rare, even in large companies. And companies define "research" differently than universities do in most cases (rare exceptions). Most industrial research is product based, not idea based.

I can't claim "most", but many academics are there because they were driven to be there by an internal longing. That, for us, makes the negatives acceptable, and for some, trivial.

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    Also, family. If you (OP) don't already have children and/or partner, but plan/wish to have, then consider that both sides will "compete" for your time. Raising children without neglecting them takes time and effort.
    – Pablo H
    Mar 12 at 13:57
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Whether they think you would be competitive for grants or not is largely irrelevant here.

The deciding factor should be do you want a career in acadaemia?

If the answer is yes, go for it! I'm sure you'll be very successful. That being said, you could have just got lucky with your first paper, so there are no guarantees. It's definitely a strong first step though.

If the answer is no, then don't go into acadaemia. You could be as smart as Steven Hawking but if your heart isn't in it, you won't be able to research sustainably and succeed in the long term.

Everything else is secondary.

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  • +1, I think it is essential to consider "what do I want to do" and not "what opportunities could I utilize" as baseline for these kind of situations.
    – kopaka
    Mar 14 at 8:14

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