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Messages - JG

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Choosing the Right Law School / Re: JD or PhD in Biology
« on: May 19, 2008, 09:11:26 PM »
Not only are those numbers higher than what you said the "absolute max" was, they exclude graduates who go into industry where the pay is, on average, higher.

When I said "the most spectacularly successful Ph.D. will probably make no more than $45-$55K," (I did not say "absolute max"), it was in the context of a discussion of starting salaries (I compared it to the $30,000-$160,000 range for lawyers, which I thought was obviously a starting salary range).  If that wasn't clear, I apologize. 

Comparing lawyer starting salaries to across-career salaries for the highest-paid subset of biologists is not meaningful.

Also, mgrignan is right--the numbers you quoted include industry scientists.

Choosing the Right Law School / Re: JD or PhD in Biology
« on: May 19, 2008, 04:01:33 PM »
So if you take the median salary of the highest-paid subset of biologists listed on that site, including biologists with decades of experience, you get a number higher than the starting salary for low-performing lawyers?  How does that undercut my argument? There's a big difference between the "median annual earnings" of members of a profession (what that site talks about) and the starting salaries in a profession (what we've been talking about). 

Unfortunately, that site doesn't have starting salaries for biologists (something that would be complicated anyway by the fact that for the first several years of working as a biologist, you may be classified as some sort of trainee and not an employed scientist).  But it does list the 2005 median salary for law grads 9 months after graduation as $60,000 (a number that is higher, by the way, than the median overall salary for microbiologists, wildlife biologists, or zoologists). I assume your contention that most law grads make $30,000-50,000 must have come from somewhere else.

Also, there's no need to be rude.  :)

Choosing the Right Law School / Re: JD or PhD in Biology
« on: May 19, 2008, 01:17:32 PM »
Yes, and that tough-to-get $45K-$80K job comes not after a 3-year J.D., but after a 5-7 year Ph.D., one or more post-doctoral fellowships of two to four years each, and likely a move to a part of the country they didn't get to choose.     

Choosing the Right Law School / Re: JD or PhD in Biology
« on: May 19, 2008, 12:39:06 PM »
Law isn't lucrative for everyone, but it is, as I said, "relatively lucrative" compared to science.  And it can be lucrative for some; not so for science in the early years. 

The law has 25-year-olds making anywhere from $30K for the mediocre to $160K for the most successful.  The biology Ph.D. world, on the other hand, has 25-year-old grad students making anywhere from $15K to $25K.  Even after graduation from school that takes twice as long as a JD, the most spectacularly successful Ph.D. will probably make no more than $45-$55K.     

Choosing the Right Law School / Re: JD or PhD in Biology
« on: May 19, 2008, 09:35:01 AM »
Majmun is right.  Unhappy lawyers stay in the profession because it's relatively lucrative and they need to pay off their law school loans (or maintain a certain lifestyle).  When you're massively in debt and have the opportunity to make $160,000, it's kind of hard to leave, no matter how much you hate something.  On the other hand, if you decide you don't like science, you don't stay for the awesome $20,000-$50,000 that early-career scientists (grad students and postdocs) make.  You just leave.

Anyway, this isn't the sort of decision you should make based on general job satisfaction surveys.  Find out what both career paths look like, in concrete terms.  Find out what happens to people who "succeed" in the traditional sense in both paths, AND what happens to people who don't.  Then decide which one is more consistent with your values and desires (the value you place on money, your desire to move around the country, your spouse's ability to move around the country, how much you value the informal lab working environment, etc.)

You may want to post or read archives at

Choosing the Right Law School / Re: JD or PhD in Biology
« on: May 17, 2008, 07:23:23 AM »
oh yeah, by the way I notice there is talk about debt- there would not be any either way so lets not factor that in (both options are tuition free).

Sorry, I missed that when I was writing my comment.  With no debt and a decent law school, I'd say there's no question.  But there's still a financial difference, right?  In the first three years of your PhD, they'll give you a stipend; law school probably won't.  So in the first 3 years, you're up $60,000 or so with the PhD option.  (Not that I am recommending it!)

If you get biglaw, it's manageable.  If not, it's probably not.  And as others have said, from Wash U, you cannot count on biglaw.

Also, don't forget to think about the numbers in terms of take-home pay.  A first-year federal clerk in a locality with no cost-of-living adjustment makes around $4330/month, but he takes home only $3000/month.  Take $1100 off the top of that, and you're living without much discretionary income at all.  Living like a student is doable during a two-year clerkship before you take your biglaw job.  But it doable in the event that you don't get biglaw and wind up in $40K-$60K jobs for quite a long time?

Current Law Students / Re: Which law dictionary do you recommend?
« on: May 16, 2008, 08:59:40 PM »
Get Black's pocket edition unless you do all your reading with a computer with internet handy.  You probably won't use it much, but it's cheap.  Don't get anything else. Black's is the standard.

Most terms will be explained or their meanings picked up from context, but not always. I once saw a professor ask a student to explain a new term in a case.  The student couldn't, and the professor chastised him for not having looked it up before class.  (I'm sure the whole class was googling it and IM-ing him the defniition as soon as it became clear he didn't know, but it was too late.)

Choosing the Right Law School / Re: JD or PhD in Biology
« on: May 16, 2008, 08:33:14 PM »

I got a PhD in biology (genetics) straight out of undergrad.  I decided to go to law school when I realized that what I wanted out of my career--a stable, fairly high-paying job in the city where my family lives--wasn't going to happen in science.  I can't recommend that anyone get into a field that requires 5-8 years of grad school and 3-10 years of postdoctoral training, all in preparation for a slim chance at getting an ok-paying faculty or industry scientist job in a geographic region not of their choosing.

A J.D. is more practical because law school is about getting a job in 3 years.  You make resumes.  You have summer jobs.  Career services meets with you.  The people who do well at decent schools have their pick of six-figure jobs in the cities of their choice, three years after they start (that's what happened to me).  The people who do just ok might not have as much choice or money, but they get jobs too. 

In a bio PhD program, no one really talks about jobs.  Most people enter their PhD programs with little or no understanding of their long-term goals.  They drift through their Ph.D.s in denial about the fact that they will ever have to get a job.  They have a vague sense that after their PhD and a postdoc or two, they'll become professors or maybe go into industry.  After graduation, almost all get a low-paying postdoc because it's easy and everyone expects it.  After a few years of postdoc training, a minority of them manage to become competitive for tenure-track jobs, and if their spouses' careers allow it, they move to whatever part of the country has an opening.  The remaining postdocs keep on going, hopping from postdoc to postdoc indefinitely.  Eventually they realize they're not going to get academic jobs and they've been in academia too long to be competitive for industry jobs.  And at that point they're in their late 30s or 40s, with no career prospects and no savings.  Then they start thinking about exit strategies--law school, high school teaching, accounting degrees, etc.  It's not good.

You're actually more employable with your MS in biology than with your PhD, because you're still eligible for technician positions in both industry and academia.  On the Science Magazine career forum, it's not uncommon for people to discuss whether it would be ethical to leave their PhDs off their resumes so they can get MS-level jobs.  Seriously, PhD- level biologists are a bitter and underemployed lot.

I'm not saying that a JD always works out and a PhD never does--that's obviously not true.   But don't fall into the trap of thinking that no debt = no risk.  There's a risk in devoting your prime working years to training for a career path that may not have a future.

Here's a great article about humanities PhDs that largely applies to scientists too:,kamenetz,53011,1.html

Here is an article naming research science as one of the careers with the highest ratios of training to pay:


Everyone has given good suggestions.  I was in a similar situation (starting law school at 28, debt-averse, choosing between Wash U full ride and a T10).  I took Wash U and it worked out well, but it was a tough choice. 

Crunching the numbers and taking a close look at the LRAP are great ideas.  Also, in case it's helpful, here's a site with a calculator to help you estimate what your loan payments will look like if you take a job that makes you ineligible for LRAP.  It's not perfect--the estimate will be on the low side because it doesn't take into account the interest that will accumulate during law school, and it doesn't allow for graduated repayment plans--but it gives you an idea.

If you're taking out loans for living expenses, don't forget to include those.

Good luck.

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