Law School Discussion


Which should I do...

get a JD at a state law school- full tuition scholarship
14 (29.2%)
get a PhD at a state school in Biology (brain tumor)  - they pay tuition and will give me a stipend to live off of (3-3.5 years-because I have my masters there already)
25 (52.1%)
slap myself in the head for not knowing what I want
9 (18.8%)

Total Members Voted: 48

JD or PhD in Biology


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Re: JD or PhD in Biology
« Reply #20 on: May 19, 2008, 04:36:59 PM »
Bravo JG- reading the exchange between everyone here is better than the poll I set up.

Re: JD or PhD in Biology
« Reply #21 on: May 19, 2008, 04:53:10 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.  :)

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. And what about lawyers who get out of law? What do they do? Go into industry? Yeah: companies like Best Buy, Wal-Mart. Not as counsel. As retail clerks. LUCRATIVE! Good luck paying off your $150k debt on $10/hr.


Re: JD or PhD in Biology
« Reply #22 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.


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Re: JD or PhD in Biology
« Reply #23 on: May 20, 2008, 06:02:41 AM »
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.     

Did it hurt when you pulled those numbers out your ass?

"Median annual earnings of biochemists and biophysicists were $76,320 in 2006. The middle 50 percent earned between $53,390 and $100,060... highest 10 percent earned more than $108,270."

Looks like spectacularly successful means about 15th percentile to you.

LOL...  Someone doesn't know how the scientific food chain works.  This is the problem with googling to support your argument.  Very few if any of the people in a position that would allow them to be included in that survey are under the age of 40.  Prior to that point they spent 10-15 years as someone else's low paid lab monkey.

Re: JD or PhD in Biology
« Reply #24 on: May 20, 2008, 06:13:47 AM »
In my opinion everything that JG said is completely true and valid. After PhD most people take a postdoc, which involves 3-4 additional years in the lab with a salary of 30,000. Most people are unable to get industry jobs straight out of PhD because they require successful postdoc experience. The postdoc also has to be very lucrative with a lot of publications, if it's not the person has to find another postdoc with a low salary once again and try to do better there. JG's logistics  point is a valid one too, frequently to get a good postdoc one has to move someplace far, because that is where the lab is.
Having said that, however, one can be very successful with a PhD, but only if they truly love science and if they are the best. Being the best is a relative term because for a PhD. For instance, to be very marketable upon graduation you have to do your PhD in a lab where the professor in charge does cutting edge research that others are interested in. So we are talking cancer, immunology, infectious diseases, etc. If you are working on some obscure genetics project of some organism you will not be in high demand upon graduation.
It would really help if this professor is famous in his field and if he really likes you and if the people in the lab are willing to share their experiences with you. Why is this so important? The professor will determine how much funding you'll get for your experiments, so if you are his star student he will give you the most latitude with reagents, send you to important conferences and just generally promote your career. In terms of post docs the prof in charge of your lab can help you out a lot, like write you a stellar rec, contact other profs to see if they need a post doc, etc. Or he can not help you at all. How the prof will treat you is directly proportional to how good you are. I have not gone to law school yet, but I do not think that the entire future of a law student rests upon his relationship with a single professor.
The relationship with people in the lab is important too, because they have been there for a while and have optimized their protocols. If you try to just go at it alone, you can still do it, but you will be a lot less productive. A typical lab is 5-10 people, so once again we are talking about dealing with a few people on a daily basis who you depend on. Once again if you are very good, your training will be short and sweet and everyone will be impressed. If however, you experiments do not work for a long time people will get tired of answering your questions. I am not sure if lawyers have these concerns.
So my opinion is, if you do a mediocre PhD you are pretty much stuck making 30-40,000 for the rest of your life or you'll end up switching fields. But you can be a mediocre PhD due to factors that are out of your control like you were interested in a project that is not well funded, or the lab was a bad fit, the profs personality wasn't a good fit. Or you can be an amazing PhD where everything will go your way and you'll be brilliant and those make the most money. A word of caution tho, generally these amazing PhDs are very hard working (thats where love of science comes into play), they work nights, weekends, pretty much all the time during their PhD and postdoc (so about 10 years). And like JG said in one of his posts only by mid to late 30s they start making the money and can relax a little bit.
This can be a problem for someone who plans to support a family with kids by that time. I know some people that have kids during their PhD, but generally their spouses have high paying job. When a couple who are both pursuing a PhD have kids they usually live in University apartments (which is okay, but I think it's preferable to buy something when you start having kids) and since average salary of PhD is 25,000, I think supporting a family on a 50,000 budget is no easy task.
So if I was the original poster, and I was choosing between law school and PhD I would ask myself whether
1. Will I do my PhD in a top university with a top faculty?
2. Is the prof where I plan to do my work famous? Is his personality a good fit for me?
3. During my Masters was I more productive, as productive, or less productive than my classmates
4. Do I love science and see myself in the lab for the next 10 years?
5. Do I want to remain in a specific location during the next 10 years or am I free/willing to go anywhere?
6. Do I plan to start a family within the next 10 years, if yes and already know with who does my spouse have a high salary

Re: JD or PhD in Biology
« Reply #25 on: May 20, 2008, 06:49:41 AM »
And what about lawyers who get out of law? What do they do? Go into industry? Yeah: companies like Best Buy, Wal-Mart. Not as counsel. As retail clerks. LUCRATIVE! Good luck paying off your $150k debt on $10/hr.

If all one can do is become stuck in a $10/hr job, then that is not a harsh reality of law school; that is a harsh reality of them lacking a work ethic and a modicum of intelligence.  Even if the person leaves the legal field and has to start over with zero credentials and experience, income well beyond $10/hr can be generated relatively quickly through hard work. 


Re: JD or PhD in Biology
« Reply #26 on: May 20, 2008, 07:24:09 AM »
I agree completely with everything surenough said.  The list of questions to ask yourself is excellent.

If you decide to get the PhD and want to have a chance of success, do what you can to maximize all of the factors that are within your control.  Don't go unless you can go to a top university with a faculty member who is well-funded, publishes regularly, has connections, and has a record of former students who get faculty positions.  Get on a well-funded project your advisor is interested in, ideally in a subject that might be of interest to industry.  Assemble a committee of people who like you and who are well-connected in the field.  Get your experiments to work quickly, and publish your work.  If your project is not working after a few months, change it--too many people spend years trying to make an experiment work instead of accepting that their project is flawed.  Assess your skills and desires regularly and honestly.  If you do science for a year or two and realize you're not one of the best scientists you know, or that you don't like it that much, continuing on the traditional PhD/postdoc path is just a waste of time that will lead you straight to perpetual postdoc-land. Have a Plan B for your career, and use it.



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Re: JD or PhD in Biology
« Reply #27 on: May 21, 2008, 12:33:40 AM »
Here is something you guys can argue about- check out that graph....enjoy!


Re: JD or PhD in Biology
« Reply #28 on: May 21, 2008, 07:25:41 AM »
That graph is not surprising.  My impression (and someone can correct me if I'm wrong) is that the left bump is primarily a  combination of (1) people who take low-paying public interest jobs because they want them (prosecutors, PDs, DOJ honors program, judicial clerkships, etc.); (2) people who take low-paying and less prestigious public interest jobs because they couldn't find anything better (some times of legal aid, some local government-type stuff); and (3) people who take low-paying private jobs because they couldn't find anything better (personal injury law, insurance defense, etc.).  The right bump is where the medium-to-big firm people are. 

When you go to law school, you run a risk of being in the involuntary parts of the left bump.  To avoid that, you need to go to a great school, go to a good school and do well, or go do a pretty good school and do really well. 

Of course, even if you do end up in the left bump, you'll probably be doing as well as or better than most scientists are doing at a similar point in their careers.  (I say that because you're not taking out student loans; if you were, the possibility of being in that group would be much more troubling.)

Re: JD or PhD in Biology
« Reply #29 on: May 30, 2008, 10:34:35 PM »
Hi Fellow Biologist,

This is simple: get a MS/JD combination. After 15 years working as a biologist, options to support a family on a middle class lifestyle are difficult if you go the PhD route. Training in the life sciences is long with little pay. A PhD program will take 5-6 years with a stipend of 20K and then most likely you will have to do a post-doc at 40K. Your progress will depend on publications and they are hard to get unless you are in a well funded laboratory. Further, the reputation of your thesis advisor will have an impact on your ability to get quality publications. A tenure track position at a solid school requires 4-6 first author publications with an impact factor greater than 10. These means publications in journals like Cell, Nature, Journal of Cell Biology, PNAS, or maybe the Journal of Biological Chemistry (marginal at best). Not all labs can get these publications due to the lack of resources or funding. Applications for NIH grants and federal funding for the life sciences are approved at a rate of 10%. 9 out of 10 times your grant application will be rejected. Getting a NIH/NSF/DOE grant is key to landing tenure a track position and it takes 7-8 years of training to get to this point.

Thus, your options are to leave academia and get an industry position. Given the glut of post-docs, the competition is fierce. For example, Genentech receives 3000 resumes per month. Further, industry is interested in candidates who have done research in a specific area of the life sciences that is related to the research interests of the company. For example, a six year PhD thesis in yeast genetics will not get you a job with Genentech's cancer division. Some areas of biology are estoric to the needs of private industry. Further, most biotech industry jobs are only located in hub cities in the US (eg the Bay Area, Boston, San Diego, DC, NJ, and Raleigh, NC). With the exception of the RTP area, these areas are quite expensive to live in with an entry level scientist salary of 70-100K.The overspecialization of the PhD in the life sciences limits your real world options and will require a more general degree to get a private sector job in a non-hub area.

To avoid this, get a more marketable degree in the health related sciences. This includes a Nursing degree (MSN), Pharmacy (PharmD), Medicine (MD), and Dentistry. These are the only marketable life science degrees in non-hubs areas of the US. Otherwise, you will have to work in academia at a low wage on a research grant. If you enjoy the study of law, go to law school and use your science background in IP law. A first year JD/MS will make 120-170K and  you can find jobs in non-hub areas (eg like Atlanta, Chicago, Dallas, or Houston...where housing is more affordable). Plus, a solid background in the sciences will lower a law firm's expectation about your law school class ranking. Even if you finish below the top 25% of your law school class, there are academic jobs that pay about 120-150K in a transfer technology office which are located throughout the country.

Personally, I thought that the MS/JD gives me the best option without the PhD commitment or overspecialization problem. It gives you the graduate level training and knowledge to compete for an IP position. The JD will be the rate limiting step in your progress not the science degree. Some blue blood firms like the PhD for show to impress their clients but this means nothing if you have practical scientific training and publications. The University of Minnesota has a great program with JD/MS or JD/PhD options. Remember the law degree is key and first year class rankings then experience (parttime or summer experience at an IP firm). Don't get caught up in this law school rankings talk (total BS). You don't need a JD from Yale....there are many patent attorneys with a JD from Franklin Pierce and Santa Clara with a solid science background.

The advantage you have is that only scientists can take the Patent Bar exam and understand the technology developed by the clients of an IP firm. A law school grad with a history major (or liberal arts) can't draft a patent based on the life sciences or communicate with the USPTO. Thus, this eliminates much of your competition.