From MD to PHD: Why I Changed My Mind

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At some point in your life, you’ve probably had to wrestle with the question about your purpose, or what your passion truly is. For some, it’s almost like their life is mapped out so perfectly, but it’s not always the case for others…like myself. However, I have learned that there is nothing more empowering than being true to yourself and acting on your personal convictions. Such was the case about my decision to pursue a PhD degree, and I want to share my story.


I always knew I loved science. Growing up in Guyana, I was initially captivated by the idea of becoming a medical doctor as soon as I graduated from college. After graduating high school, I attended Howard University in Washington D.C and declared Biology as my major, with a minor in Chemistry. I took all the required and recommended courses for medical school, and even engaged and participated in extracurricular activities that would improve my resume as an ideal pre-med student.


During my sophomore year, I was offered the opportunity to conduct undergraduate research at Howard University Medical College. This was my first exposure to research, and I found it very intriguing. With the supposed prospect of attending medical school and being a medical doctor one day, I participated in the Atlantis Project Fellowship. This opportunity allowed me to shadow medical doctors at the Hospital Universitario Miguel Servet in Zaragoza, Spain to achieve more experience in a healthcare setting. I thoroughly enjoyed the experience, especially the immersion in the Spanish culture and making lifelong friends on the trip.


After my shadowing experience, I had some uncertainty about being a medical doctor but told no one about it. I then applied and participated in the Summer Undergraduate Research Program at Princeton University and ultimately, it was my participation in this program that solidified my interest in pursuing a doctoral degree and becoming a scientist. However, it wasn’t that easy to listen to my convictions, as there was a huge personal battle I was waging. I had already invested so much in medical school applications that I felt stuck: I had studied and paid for the MCAT exam, even submitted my primary MD applications to medical schools, and was worried that I would disappoint my family if I told them I did not want to go to medical school anymore. I felt guilty and anxious about changing my life plans, and I was mortified at the idea of telling my parents, who would probably be angry that I had spent over $2000 that would now be wasted. Now I know you’ll probably ask why I did not just submit MD/PhD applications? Well, I was previously attempting to suppress my interest in research, telling myself that route was going to take ‘too long’ to complete. Unfortunately, by the time I actually acknowledged this was what I wanted my life’s work to be, it was too late.


Nonetheless, I knew I had to be true to the convictions I felt about becoming a scientific researcher, and could not ignore them any longer, because at heart, my own happiness depended on it. I was passionate about doing research and being in a position to actively seek out answers to unknown medical and scientific questions I was curious about. I believed that at this point in my life, I could make a more meaningful contribution to the world as a scientific researcher than as a medical doctor. Things began to become clearer when I was encouraged by a Principal Investigator that I had a lot of potential and should consider going to graduate school. I realized that ultimately, it is more important to follow your passion than to be concerned with approval from others. This proved to be validated in so many ways, as my family and close friends were more concerned with my happiness than chastising me over my indecisiveness, and they were very supportive of my decision. I learned that it is often our own fears that hold us back.

There is nothing more empowering than being true to yourself and acting on your convictions


This experience taught me the true value and importance of always following your heart and your dreams, no matter how clichéd that may sound. Often times, people become unhappy in their profession because there is a lack of passion and devotion to their current discipline. Similarly, others fear that it may be too late to make life-changing decisions, especially those catapulting your life into an entirely new and dissimilar vocation. I was almost trapped in that mindset but can attest to having experienced the best feeling of relief after deciding to pursue what I was most passionate about. I am very excited and delighted to be on this journey, and I believe that I have the potential to make a meaningful impact in the world of science.

Rukia Henry2 Comments