Moritz – Medical student & PhD student in psychology

If you are interested in working in a healthcare setting, maybe working in a lab or hospital environment, specifically looking into the behaviour of the body and brain, then read on…this could be the job for you.

What attracted you to this job?

I have always been interested in how things work, and medicine is really all about understanding how the healthy body works, and how to go about fixing it when it’s not doing what you would expect it to, and putting that knowledge into practice and actually helping people is a fantastic experience. Through my medical degree I became interested in how the brain produces all the experiences, thoughts and actions we take for granted. What could be more fascinating?

What does your typical day involve?

Currently most of my time is spent working in the laboratory. I will either be setting up and running experiments with my participants, making sense of the data I have collected in these experiments or doing background reading to better understand my experiments and the field in general through the work of others. I also have regular teaching sessions in the hospital where I will talk to and examine real patients under supervision in order to keep my practical skills and medical knowledge up to date until I return to the medical school at the end of my PhD.

What gives you the most job satisfaction?

That depends on the time frame you are looking at. The day-to-day running of experiments, especially month-long ones like mine, can be a bit monotonous, but the really exciting part comes when you complete an experiment and you can see the data you’ve spent months collecting, especially if it produces some exciting answers to questions that were previously un-answered. In the meantime what keeps me going is discussing things with colleagues: we might be just helping each other out with practical questions or discussing exciting trends in our field.

What do your friends and family think about your job?

I guess the most controversial thing about my current job is the fact that I will be at university as a “student” for what seems a small eternity – a medical degree is six years at my university and the PhD is at least another three – which some of my friends cannot understand. But on the whole they think it is a great thing to do even though they might not want to do it themselves. In the current times with the high tuition fees it is worth noting that as a PhD student you do not pay tuition fees but in fact have a stipend that is generous enough to cover living expenses.

Tell us more about your environment in terms of work-life balance

In research, it is completely up to you to decide how you will allocate your time. If you get it right, and stay organised, your life will be surprisingly free to pursue the things you love outside of science – and I certainly find myself more productive if I get my exercise! Having said that it does require a lot of work and dedication and you certainly have to put in the hours.

How did you get to where you are today?

I moved from my home in Germany to an English school at 16 where I took my AS and A2 exams (A2 in chemistry, biology and maths). I wasn’t sure if I wanted to be a doctor or a scientist, so I decided to be both! I then applied to do medicine at a university that offers an MB/ PhD programme (there are a few in the country that do this, notably Leicester, UCL and Cambridge) which allows you to take out a certain amount of time to do a PhD in the middle of your degree. I applied to do this about two and a half years into the course so you definitely don’t have to decide before you have started your degree!

What advice would you give to someone thinking of following your career path?

If you find yourself unsure of what it is you want to spend the rest of your life doing, do not worry: do something you think you will enjoy but that will keep your options open. A degree in science, any science, will allow you to take up just about any job you can think of, even outside of science, while a non-science degree does have some limitations in where you can apply. I chose my path, at least partially, based on my indecisiveness. Coming from abroad I found the British system fantastic in many ways, but it does force you to specialise very early, which means making some fairly serious decisions when you are still quite young – it is okay to put them off if you are not ready to make them yet, and if you look you will find programmes allowing you to do just that!

How well is your job compensated? What is the starting salary for someone in your field and how much can this be expected to rise?

Being a PhD student with funding is reasonably well compensated allowing you to live without having to take up extra work. Obviously, from thereafter it really depends what it is you want to do – medicine? Academia? Work in R&D for a large company?

What kind of hobbies or extracurricular activities do you do to relax?

I am quite passionate about rowing and so I spend quite a bit of my free time on or around the river as a rower or a coach. So what little is left of my free time is divided up between girlfriend, friends, cycling, reading and games.

Have there been any embarrassing moments?

Enough to fill at least one episode of Scrubs. This attempt at humour probably being one of them…