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Hi everyone!



Sorry for the long post, but just looking for some quick advice on grad school/applying!



I'm currently finishing my first year of grad school in a 2 year thesis-based MSc in epidemiology. After a lot of discussion and contemplation, I've decided that I really want to apply to med school once I'm finished. However in a recent conversation with my supervisor, he suggested that my project was coming along really well and that if I transferred to the PhD stream this summer I could probably finish it in an extra year and a half (so 3.5 total, as opposed to 2 years for the Masters). I am enjoying the project, however given the timing of admissions (I'd probably finish in Dec 2017), I'm a bit torn on whether to delay applying for another 2 years to transfer. 



I am interested in pursuing research as a clinician, so that's why I'm drawn to getting the PhD as opposed to simply sticking with the MSc. However, I'm a bit unclear as to whether there would be a significant benefit to having a PhD vs MSc, especially since this will be before I start medical school and decide what to specialize in (for instance, my project is examining lung cancer outcomes, however I don't know at this point if oncology is what I'll end up in). I know I could apply for MD/PhD programs, however that would be an extra 3-4 years (vs 1.5) at this point, and since you typically start your research only a year into medical school, I think I might have the same problem about the focus of my research.



Alternatively, I know if I apply now and decide later that I really do want to pursue the PhD, I could do so after medical school part-time or through one of the clinician-scientist training programs, so I'm not sure if that's a better option, especially considering the difference in funding/salary at that point. 



I think another issue that's drawing me to the PhD is that this would be my first time applying (if I applied this Oct, assuming I stick with the MSc), so I don't have the best idea what my chances of getting in this year are. My undergrad GPA is decent (3.88/4), and I do have a number of ECs and a couple of publications (not first author), but unfortunately most of my research activities (conferences, first-author publications) will be done this year after the October application deadline. I'll be writing my MCAT in late August, so I'd have to decide before I get those results. 



Thanks for any and all advice! 



TL;DR  Applying to med school and want to do clinical research. Trying to decide whether it is worth it to delay applying for 2 years to transfer from MSc to PhD 


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Based upon what you write, I would take the faster route to medicine which will not disadvantage yoyu in any way (except, should you not get in on your first application, you will possibly be at a loss of what to do). I do not see a PhD being of significant benefit to you. I am giving you my gut, I went to med school directly from undergrad.  

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  • 2 weeks later...

If you're more than 50% sure you want to be a clinician researcher, just finish your PhD now. If you stop at the MSc now and decide to do a PhD during or after medical school, you'll just end up taking longer to finish. You'll also be more productive and get better publications and research by continuing your current project as opposed to picking another project up later. I've also heard that it can be difficult to follow through with a PhD when you have the promise of better money in front of you after going through medical school. Scheduling will also become increasingly difficult. Here's the thing: you can do research as an MD, but the general consensus is that your research time allowance is not enough to be productive. If you want to make an impact in research as a clinician, you need a PhD to increase the amount of time you're allotted for research. You're not far off. Why rush? Take the extra 1.5-2 years now and get the PhD. It will look better on a med school application than an MSc, anyway, and if you don't end up in medical school, a PhD provides a better fallback than an MSc. You may also be able to defer admission to medical school while you finish up the PhD if timing is an issue. I know a couple of people who have deferred for as long as a year after being accepted at, say, U of C. Sounds like your undergrad GPA is solid, no concern there. Logically, unless you have some undisclosed reason to rush into medical school sooner rather than later, and you're at least 51% sure you want to be a clinician-researcher, you should just finish the PhD now.

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Your situation sounds a lot like mine was a year ago, as in I decided I wanted to go in to med last summer, 6 months in to my Master's, got offered from my PI to transfer to a PhD (with a sweet scholarship) and complete it in 3.5 years.  Speaking of which.. we even have the same GPA...  O.O



Be careful of that 3.5 year PhD offer.  PIs often offer these attractive timelines because they want to keep a good student.  Once you're in the PhD program, unexpected things may happen in your project leading to delays (which happen a lot) and 3.5 years can quickly become 5-7 (since there is no pressure for you to actually finish in 3.5 years).  Also make sure you check with your department about the regulations to PhD completion time and all the administrative requirements (committee meetings, thesis proposal, comprehensive/qualifying exams etc.) that may introduce further delays.  Think about it, you'd have to submit your thesis at the end of year 3 years in order to defend in time for 3.5 years, which means you'd have to start writing you PhD thesis in a year and a half.  In Canada, 3.5 year PhDs are extremely rare. 


No matter what, I'd choose to apply to med this cycle.  Seeing as you're new to the med school application, whether you're accepted or rejected, it'll at least be a good learning experience.  My learning experience also turned out to be my offer of admission so there's that.


You should talk to your department about (i) the feasibility of completing a PhD in 3.5 years when you started in the master's program, (ii) if you were to transfer to the PhD program this summer, and receive an offer from med school for next year, what would happen to your degree (i.e. can you switch back to Master's and just take it, assuming you write and submit your thesis next summer), (iii) how much would your timeline be delayed if you stayed in the master's, finish next year and start immediately on the same project with the same prof in the PhD program.

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Be careful of that 3.5 year PhD offer.  PIs often offer these attractive timelines because they want to keep a good student.  Once you're in the PhD program, unexpected things may happen in your project leading to delays (which happen a lot) and 3.5 years can quickly become 5-7 (since there is no pressure for you to actually finish in 3.5 years).  

This, it's a trap.

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