An NCI-designated Comprehensive Cancer Center
By Samuel LaBarge | February 20, 2012

Samuel LaBargeThe National Science Foundation has an interesting article relating to doctoral degree completion times. In 2003, of participants responding, the registered time to degree (RTD) in the biological sciences exceeded six years. The RTD is the time spent actively enrolled in a graduate school.

Six years is a long time to spend on just one focus — your dissertation. That’s longer than the time spent as an undergraduate. Longer than medical school plus an internship. Graduate school is an arduous trek.

So the question is, ”Why a Ph. D.?”

The time spent obtaining a Ph. D. is not about an increase in salary. It is not about an increase in status or extending your name by three letters. It is not about putting off a real job or not knowing what you want to do with the rest of your life. The long hours and circuitous thought processes to obtaining a Ph. D. mold a burgeoning graduate student into a capable tool that can push the boundaries of human knowledge and increase our understanding of the universe.

For me, this question of “Why a Ph.D.?” can be placed into the category of innate wonder about biology.

Although I did not begin to grasp a firm understanding of biology until starting graduate school, my curiosity was seeded from an early age. When I was a young boy, I had two ideas: the human heart was similar in shape to a box of Valentine’s Day chocolates, and sleeping was a light switch to my brain that was on during the day and off when sleeping. So convinced was I that, when I learned that the human heart is an actual beating, functioning organ, I was overcome by a certain curiosity that has not left me to this day — a curiosity that further pushed me to learn that my brain did not completely shut off when I slept.

Whether I knew it or not, this early epiphany paved the way for a lifelong fascination with the natural world. I am sure you can ask any scientist and they can recall a similar story from childhood when the natural world became something of wonder.

So, for me the answer to the question of, “Why a Ph. D.?” is simple: I want to know.