Mind the gap

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ASBMB Today is seeking essays on gap years. Click here to send your contribution for consideration.

I went to graduate school late. So late in fact, that except for a retiree and a middle-aged war veteran who were both finally pursuing their passion for writing, I was the oldest person in my journalism program. My older cohorts had lived a lot of life between college and graduate school, and, frankly, so had I. I’d ridden the throes of a seizing media market for more than a decade as a writer and editor and was working at a venerable but struggling publishing house and pregnant with my first child when I enrolled. I went to grad school with few illusions about my field. I knew what I would be in for when I graduated, and I still wanted to be a part of it.

We three “nontraditional students” loved school. We spoke up in our classes, chatted with our professors about their lives like the peers that we were, read everything on the syllabus and more as we sought a greater deftness in the storytelling we’d been doing for years, and carefully considered the ethics and the real dangers of the work. Some of our twenty-somethings classmates viewed us warily at first, but as we hit the pavement together and worked until daybreak on deadline we all became friends.

President's Message

Steven McKnight's column will resume next month.

Gap years — or decades — between college and graduate school are something of a convention in fields like mine but less common in the life sciences. A Ph.D. or medical degree takes the kind of time and energy long associated with unencumbered youth and provides a neat path forward in a young person’s life. Some undergraduate advisers might warn passionate science students against a gap year turning into two or — heaven forbid — five years away from research and inadvertently dissuade them from taking a break. But as more institutions try to keep science undergrads engaged by helping them explore science-related careers outside medical school and academia, gap years become a natural outgrowth of this effort.

We’d like to hear your perspective on gap years. If you took one (or two or more), how did it go? If you didn’t, how did that go? If you advise undergraduates, do you think gap years put them at a disadvantage for academic, research, clinical or industry careers? Do they help? If you are an undergrad sweating the choice between a gap year and graduate school, what are your concerns? Head to our Submittable page and share your thoughts. We’ll consider them for publication in a future issue.

Lauren Dockett Lauren Dockett is the managing editor of ASBMB Today.