torn between phd and law school

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sysco
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torn between phd and law school

Postby sysco » Tue Feb 14, 2012 4:08 pm

I am admitted to a law school through early binding decision. But later I also got into a PhD program (not law-related) that I applied to with little hope of getting in. I thought I would be able to honor my choice to commit to the early binding school, but now with the actual PhD offer in hand, I'm feeling extremely torn and hesitant.

I understand that early binding admission is meant for only those who can commit if admitted. But I have no idea I will have a shot at the phd program, and now in, this option looms bigger and bigger in my mind. It's in a prestigeous school, interesting research direction, and also very importantly, I won't have any debt and will have a nice stipend to live on. The law school, on the other hand, will require me to take on over 10k loans.

Is there any regulations against people deciding not to go to the early binding decision law school? What negative effect will it have if I withdrew from the law school and attend the phd? If I withdrew, does it mean that I will never be able to apply to other law schools in other cycles?

If you're familiar with relevant regulations, or have any advice for my situation, I greatly appreciate any thoughts! Thanks!

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drmguy
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Re: torn between phd and law school

Postby drmguy » Tue Feb 14, 2012 4:13 pm

10K/year or 3.3/year?

Randomnumbers
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Re: torn between phd and law school

Postby Randomnumbers » Tue Feb 14, 2012 4:18 pm

It really depends on the field for the PHD, and whether or not you are getting funded. Obviously, if you paying to get a PhD, you are making a mistake. As you are getting funding, getting a PhD isn't an automatic horrible choice. That being said, the legal job market is brutal - but the academic job market makes it look AMAZING.

Law school - brutal job market, lots of debt.
Grad school - even worse academic job market, you get to be a underpaid minion for 4-12 years. If it is a biomed field, it's even worse.

Never go to grad school unless you really love the research. Don't go to law school unless you really want to be an actual practicing lawyer. Which do you really want more?

As far as the ED goes, I believe most binding ED's only apply to law school, but I would check the fine print on the one you signed. I'm guessing it is only binding for law schools in this cycle - as in, if you don't go there you cannot attend another law school this cycle, but could go to a non law school, not go to law school, or go to a different law school another cycle. Again, read the fine print.

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Doorkeeper
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Re: torn between phd and law school

Postby Doorkeeper » Tue Feb 14, 2012 4:25 pm

What is the law school? What is the PhD school (and in what field)? And do you want to be an academic or practicing lawyer?

We would really need to know these questions to answer your situation.

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pupshaw
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Re: torn between phd and law school

Postby pupshaw » Tue Feb 14, 2012 5:11 pm

Not 100% sure about this, but I'm pretty sure your ED contract would only prevent you from going to another law school. I think if you're not going to go to law school at all, (i.e., enter a Ph.D. program), then you shouldn't have a problem.

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Bangalmafia
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Re: torn between phd and law school

Postby Bangalmafia » Tue Feb 14, 2012 6:16 pm

EDIT: Haha... as I reread your post OP... I realize we're not quite in the same boat. But I figure my post at least fits the title of the thread.....

Heh... I'm in the exact same boat as you OP.

I had thought of going to law school since freshman year of undergrad. (I actually studied for the LSAT sophomore year.... and was just getting into the 170s on practice tests).

For me, I wanted to go into law because (say what you will of my motives):

1) I saw law as a path to money. I figured with enough studying, I could do well on the LSAT and push for Big Law. In my mind money was a door to influence and impact. (Call me what you want... but raising money to do good has long been one of my motivations in life...)

2) I've long seen myself as being more in tune with writing/social analysis than engineering or science. To this day, I'd still consider myself a better writer than engineer...

3) I thought the idea of working on "social issues" could be cool (trolling around TLS has made me realize most of lawyer work is actually just grunting through meaningless papers).

------

At the same time, the summer after college (admittedly through the insistence of my parents), I took the GRE on a semi-whim... ended up doing a lot better than expected, and threw out a few grad school apps that I thought were "reaches". These were for grad schools in Bioengineering.

Just within the last month, I received an acceptance letter from one of them with funding. It's a top 10 program and the research they do is pretty cool. (Diagnostics for cancer detection and lab-on-a-chip detectors for diseases of the developing world)

I know there are way worse places I can be in life.... but I'm at a point where I'm trying to decide which way to go as well. On the one hand, I feel sort of like an idiot for turning my back on an opportunity like this.... and on the other well... not quite sure I'm the researcher type. (I did research in college. It was alright. I wasn't ecstatic about it or anything... but then again the research area wasn't one I could get really excited about. The application was pretty far removed from what we were doing). Five years is a long time....

Anyhow. //End rant

sysco
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Re: torn between phd and law school

Postby sysco » Tue Feb 14, 2012 7:41 pm

made a mistake about the 10k, that's too little:) I mean I have no funding for law school, will have to pay full tuition.

That law school is top 14. PhD is in the field of engineering, as it's very specialized there's no specific ranking, but forward enough in its field.

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mmk33
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Re: torn between phd and law school

Postby mmk33 » Tue Feb 14, 2012 7:44 pm

sysco wrote:made a mistake about the 10k, that's too little:) I mean I have no funding for law school, will have to pay full tuition.

That law school is top 14. PhD is in the field of engineering, as it's very specialized there's no specific ranking, but forward enough in its field.


It is much harder to research outcomes for PhD than law degrees, but it can be done and must be done. Get in contact with every person you possibly can who has graduated with the phd/worked with your prospective advisor. Information gathering is extremely important and there's no way to evaluate the phd option without it (this site provides a lot of good information on the JD route).

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Bangalmafia
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Re: torn between phd and law school

Postby Bangalmafia » Tue Feb 14, 2012 7:51 pm

Hey sysco what's the primary motivator to go PhD instead of JD for you?

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Bangalmafia
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Re: torn between phd and law school

Postby Bangalmafia » Tue Feb 14, 2012 7:53 pm

But hey fwiw... I'm sort of like you in realizing that being able to get a PhD debt free (and with money to live on) sort of makes the idea of paying 150k to go to law school seem like a strange thing to do....

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sunynp
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Re: torn between phd and law school

Postby sunynp » Tue Feb 14, 2012 8:08 pm

Get the PhD. The law school will understand that, after careful consideration, your interests have changed. Things happen to people. People change their minds. The only thing you are prevented from doing is going to another law school.

If you go to law school and give up this amazing opportunity, you will regret it.

sysco
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Re: torn between phd and law school

Postby sysco » Fri Feb 17, 2012 5:44 pm

For PhD, I like the research area (till today I still find it very interesting and feel excited when doing research) and the lifestyle of being a professor, being relatively free (the first few years will still be tough, of course).

But the thing is i also love money and doing actual work (meaning, dealing with specific projects and people, instead of facing the computer and writing papers all day as a professor), and will try all I can to pursue biglaw if I chose law school. Lawyers' work, thought lots of detail and repetitiveness, is still intellectually stimulating in many times.

If compare purely by money, the starting salary of an assistant professor in my field (if I'm lucky to get one) is similar to the average starting salary of a first year associate at big law. But I think room for growth is definitely bigger for the law path. What do you guys think?

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Doorkeeper
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Re: torn between phd and law school

Postby Doorkeeper » Fri Feb 17, 2012 5:48 pm

sysco wrote:If compare purely by money, the starting salary of an assistant professor in my field (if I'm lucky to get one) is similar to the average starting salary of a first year associate at big law. But I think room for growth is definitely bigger for the law path. What do you guys think?


In no academic fields is an assistant professor making 120-160k per year...except maybe some law professors at the top law schools.

Edit- And assistant professors in a medical school.

sysco
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Re: torn between phd and law school

Postby sysco » Fri Feb 17, 2012 5:55 pm

Doorkeeper wrote:
sysco wrote:If compare purely by money, the starting salary of an assistant professor in my field (if I'm lucky to get one) is similar to the average starting salary of a first year associate at big law. But I think room for growth is definitely bigger for the law path. What do you guys think?


In no academic fields is an assistant professor making 120-160k per year...except maybe some law professors at the top law schools.


It is the case in my field (a specific field in engineering), the assistant professor starts with 130k to 150k, and the full prof tops around 250k. For other fields like finance, assistant prof can easily go 180k to 200k.

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Doorkeeper
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Re: torn between phd and law school

Postby Doorkeeper » Fri Feb 17, 2012 6:00 pm

sysco wrote:
Doorkeeper wrote:
sysco wrote:If compare purely by money, the starting salary of an assistant professor in my field (if I'm lucky to get one) is similar to the average starting salary of a first year associate at big law. But I think room for growth is definitely bigger for the law path. What do you guys think?


In no academic fields is an assistant professor making 120-160k per year...except maybe some law professors at the top law schools.


It is the case in my field (a specific field in engineering), the assistant professor starts with 130k to 150k, and the full prof tops around 250k. For other fields like finance, assistant prof can easily go 180k to 200k.


Hmm. I looked up some engineering assistant professors at Michigan and they seem to make 70-90k, but ok. In terms of money, you'll probably be able to pull in the low-mid 200s if you get promoted to associate/full-professor. You also will get extra sources of income from grants, or any other projects of the sort. It's really hard to determine a static figure for a science professor's income since there are multiple revenue streams. This being said, there's a much lower peak salary for an engineering professor than there is for a lawyer, but I wouldn't make a career choice that affects the rest of my life based upon the slim chances of getting a partner slot at a biglaw firm.

lawgirl46
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Re: torn between phd and law school

Postby lawgirl46 » Fri Feb 17, 2012 6:04 pm

As a general rule of thumb, it's no longer a good idea to get a Ph.D. if you're planning to use it to become a professor. You'll never get a job and if you do you'll have no control over where you live. My personal experience is as a humanities/social sciences Ph.D. and deciding other things in life (most importantly control over where I live) are more important than taking any academic job I could get. I know it's easier to get a (much better paid, though I share the disbelief on the numbers you're citing for hard science assistant professors) faculty job in the hard sciences than in the humanities or social sciences, but my understanding is that the expectation is still that you do multiple post-docs and move around a lot before getting a tenure track job.

In short, it's extremely important to get an accurate sense of what your employment prospects are like after getting the degree and what that employment will require.

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nickjive
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Re: torn between phd and law school

Postby nickjive » Fri Feb 17, 2012 6:14 pm

Depending on what type of engineering you're doing, there are many non-scholarly jobs in the field (if you don't want to be a professor). The Intels, GEs, Northrup Grummans, and Microsofts of the world would be happy to use your skills.

Humanities and social science skills for lucrative positions? Not so much....
(I have a master's in a social science. Bill Gates wouldn't hire me for some damn reason)

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Doorkeeper
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Re: torn between phd and law school

Postby Doorkeeper » Fri Feb 17, 2012 6:16 pm

nickjive wrote:Depending on what type of engineering you're doing, there are many non-scholarly jobs in the field (if you don't want to be a professor). The Intels, GEs, Northrup Grummans, and Microsofts of the world would be happy to use your skills.

Humanities and social science skills for lucrative positions? Not so much....
(I have a master's in a social science. Bill Gates wouldn't hire me for some damn reason)


If it's in Econ his Foundation might enjoy your services...

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dextermorgan
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Re: torn between phd and law school

Postby dextermorgan » Fri Feb 17, 2012 6:22 pm

PhD in Engineering? Do that. If you still want LS after then reapply. ED only locks you out of law schools, and only for that cycle. Usually.

sysco
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Re: torn between phd and law school

Postby sysco » Fri Feb 17, 2012 6:25 pm

dextermorgan wrote:PhD in Engineering? Do that. If you still want LS after then reapply. ED only locks you out of law schools, and only for that cycle. Usually.


Thanks for your comment, it's a great relief that ED only prevents me from this cycle.

Yes I have a few friends who got phd and then do law school. At this decision time, I want to think ahead as much as possible to weigh the two options. I only want to get one degree...don't want to be in school forever.

sysco
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Re: torn between phd and law school

Postby sysco » Fri Feb 17, 2012 6:40 pm

Can anyone comment on the lifestyle and nature of work for a lawyer (say finance area)? I have pretty clear picture of how an academic career and life would be like, but for law, all I know is just about admission and getting the job, not how the job will be like and how many time the job leaves me to live other aspects of my life.

sysco
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Re: torn between phd and law school

Postby sysco » Fri Feb 17, 2012 7:15 pm

lawgirl46 wrote:As a general rule of thumb, it's no longer a good idea to get a Ph.D. if you're planning to use it to become a professor. You'll never get a job and if you do you'll have no control over where you live. My personal experience is as a humanities/social sciences Ph.D. and deciding other things in life (most importantly control over where I live) are more important than taking any academic job I could get. I know it's easier to get a (much better paid, though I share the disbelief on the numbers you're citing for hard science assistant professors) faculty job in the hard sciences than in the humanities or social sciences, but my understanding is that the expectation is still that you do multiple post-docs and move around a lot before getting a tenure track job.

In short, it's extremely important to get an accurate sense of what your employment prospects are like after getting the degree and what that employment will require.


What you said about being able to choose where to live is also very important to me. My hope lies in the chance that even for academic job, you can still somehow control the general big area you're in, and since the lifestyle of professor is much more flexible than lawyer, being 2 to 3 hours of drive away from the dream location isn't too bad. I know of many profs who only come in to office once a week.

lawgirl46
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Re: torn between phd and law school

Postby lawgirl46 » Fri Feb 17, 2012 8:18 pm

sysco wrote:
lawgirl46 wrote:As a general rule of thumb, it's no longer a good idea to get a Ph.D. if you're planning to use it to become a professor. You'll never get a job and if you do you'll have no control over where you live. My personal experience is as a humanities/social sciences Ph.D. and deciding other things in life (most importantly control over where I live) are more important than taking any academic job I could get. I know it's easier to get a (much better paid, though I share the disbelief on the numbers you're citing for hard science assistant professors) faculty job in the hard sciences than in the humanities or social sciences, but my understanding is that the expectation is still that you do multiple post-docs and move around a lot before getting a tenure track job.

In short, it's extremely important to get an accurate sense of what your employment prospects are like after getting the degree and what that employment will require.


What you said about being able to choose where to live is also very important to me. My hope lies in the chance that even for academic job, you can still somehow control the general big area you're in, and since the lifestyle of professor is much more flexible than lawyer, being 2 to 3 hours of drive away from the dream location isn't too bad. I know of many profs who only come in to office once a week.



The hard scientists I know--including engineers--are in their labs all the time, much more than M-F 9-5 (more than one has a bed in their office). And I can assure you there is not a pre-tenure professor in the country who comes in once a week.

I guess I would just reiterate that it's really important to have very frank conversations with people in your field about these questions before you commit to at least 5 years of school and another few years as a post-doc. I think most grad students feel weird asking these kinds of quality of life questions and just hope they'll luck out instead of honestly confronting the limitations of academia from the outset.

The Chronicle of Higher Education has lots of online discussion about academic life in their "Forums" section: http://chronicle.com/forums/

It's definitely a hard choice and it sounds like you have two great options. I would just encourage you to avoid thinking that because the tuition is free, grad school comes without significant costs.

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Bangalmafia
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Re: torn between phd and law school

Postby Bangalmafia » Sat Feb 18, 2012 8:45 am

Fwiw... this is one additional aspect that I'm keeping in mind.

Maybe I'm wrong... but I think a PhD from a top engineering school can allay the need to go to a T14 law school. As in, it might be easier to come in from a great PhD program, enter into a law school that offers a scholarship, and then start practicing.

--LinkRemoved--

Plus as is often mentioned. Engineering PhDs are all beginning to require Post-Docs prior to entering academia. These end up taking around 1-3 years anyhow. If you start getting burned out by academia at the end of it all, law school is still a viable alternative.

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englawyer
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Re: torn between phd and law school

Postby englawyer » Sat Feb 18, 2012 10:02 am

Unless you are passionate about research, go for the T14 JD.

Some points:

The chance of graduation is fairly small (they don't write this in the brochures). PhD programs are generally pyramid shaped. You might enter with a class of 10 students and only 4 graduate each year. The others quit after MS and go to industry etc.

PhD programs are "flexible" in length. How long you will stay there is largely out of your control...your prof could keep you there for like 6-7 years. If you are not PASSIONATE about research, you will get sick of slaving away for some a-hole prof for 18k a year or whatever very quickly (this is probably why all those people I mentioned above quit).

As others have mentioned, if you want to be successful in the academic job search, you will have to take a post-doc WHEREVER you get one and then a professor job WHEREVER you get one. Your life would not be settled for like 10+ years and even if you manage to snag a post-doc and then professor position you still might not make the cut for tenure. All things considered, the median/likely outcome of the PhD path would be you working at some large company as a researcher making ~80-100k.

With a science background and a T14 law school, you will have great career options. Biglaw is virtually a lock even with soso grades. And the job market for IP-qualified people is more robust than the general legal market.

Purposefully doing a PhD->JD path is a terrible idea. That is like 10 years of education that is highly non-necessary. PhD->JD people are generally those that thought they wanted research but then realized it was a bad fit...I am sure if you ask them whether you should do PhD/JD or just JD they will tell you just JD. This is especially true given OP is looking at a T14 law school.




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