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    aspiring student

    I've been trying to decide what I would like to major in for a few years. I incurred a SCI about a year and a half ago, and I figured that instead of waiting for a cure to come along I could help create one. I am leaning towards biological\biomedical engineering, but I'm not sure. So my question is what fields of study are at the forefront of SCI research? How can I help create a cure?
    c6/7 complete

    c6/7 complete


      c6/7 complete


        justin, depending on you enjoy and do well, biomedical engineering, biological sciences, cell and molecular biology, neuroscience, and anatomy/physiology are just some of the options for people who would like to do research related to spinal cord injury. You are of course already an expert on spinal cord injury. At the same time, please do not restrict your studies to spinal cord injury or even to the spinal cord or even neuroscience. Study the history, literature, mathematics, and art. This is the most important time of your life. Inhale all the knowledge that you can. You will not have this opportunity again. Wise.



          Here's what I told oscardude.


          Other than the fact that I was really chatty and philosophical that day, I think there's some decent advice in there!



            hey man, im one year post and im back in college again. i have changed my major to become a recreational therapist. i want to get people back to society asap. and when the cure comes, i will help them walk back into society. i have a passion for this major, so good luck with yours...

            Josh S.

            Josh S.
            T6 complete as of 7/17/03


              Hi Justin,

              A few years is a long time. I'd take all the general ed classes, along with a spattering of beginning courses in the many different areas you're interested in.

              You want to get a good grasp of what you like, what's achievable, and sometimes overlooked by those of us with sci, what will pay you enough money to survive with an sci.

              I didn't decide on my major until my junior year. I was going to teach history a few years after graduation, then maybe go to law school, but realized I needed more money than teaching could give me.

              I then went into computers, and now make good money, enjoy my work, but I still yearn to teach history. Now that I make some decent money, I have more options...such as going on to law school, which I would love to do, or teaching history in a few years, my first love.

              But I didn't know any of this until well into college, and I'm always amazed and jealous when I meet people who know what career they want and who have a passion for their future life's work from a young age. They just know, like they were born with knowing what they were going to do in life, as someone posted.
              I didn't.

              Good luck, and your desire to help find a cure is really commendable.

              "I believe this is America. Whatever happened to 'I don't agree with you, but I'll defend to the death your right to say it'?""
              ~Judge Shirley Rowe Trkula

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                Justin, I was hoping that you would respond with some more information about yourself so that I could respond more fully. In any case, let me put my professor hat on and give you a more general answer with a

                A Career in Medicine. Becoming a doctor gives you a wide range of choices and directions. The route is straightforward. Four years of college with any major you want as long as you take physics, chemistry, organic chemistry, and calculus. If you are at a respectable college, get A's in these courses, and then get into a 90th plus percentile score on your MCATs, you can have your choice of getting into a medical school of your choice. You should choose a medical school that you would be proud to hold a degree from. In medical school, you have a real responsibility of learning in a mere four years everything about the human body so that you can take care of people and make the right decisions. For two years, you learn subjects like anatomy, physiology, neuroscience, pharmacology, microbiology, histology. Then you take medicine, surgery, urology, obstetrics and gynecology, cardiology, orthopedics, gastroenterology, neurosurgery, neurology, etc. You have to choose whether you want to do the surgery or medicine track. Your evaluations during your clinical rotations and good scores on your Medical Boards I and II are essential for getting into a good internship and residency. Depending on what you choose, you usually spend a year doing a surgery or medical internship, followed by 3-7 years of residency. To specialize in spinal cord injury, you could do neurosurgery, orthopedics, urology, or physiatry.

                A career in biomedical engineering. You need go to college at university with a biomedical engineering program. If you are interested in doing biomedical engineering with an orientation towards spinal cord injury, you need to hook up with a rehabilitation institute or unit that is associated with the University. Yes, you have to take all the courses that a premedical student takes and more because there is engineering. With a bachelor of science in engineering or biomedical engineering, you can look for a job in a hospital or company that can use your skills. There is no prescribed career path in biomedical engineering but you can choose a commercial, academic, or medical route.

                A career in research. You can go for an MD-PhD. The standard path is to apply to Medical Scientist training programs in about two dozen medical schools that have such programs. It is six years in which you combined a medical degree with a Ph.D. thesis. It is a slightly longer route but you end up with training in research and medicine, can go the route of clinical scientist or a scientist with a clinical commitment (like me). It is a long haul and very competitive but the MD-PhD program has the advantage of being funded and you are paid to go to school.

                Physical Therapy or Nursing Career. I will leave it to others to describe this career path but just want to point out that there are research paths in these careers as well. For example, I have a student who went to the University of Pittsburg for a wonderful MPT-PhD program (Masters of Physical Therapy and Doctor of Philosophy). It is a six year program that is funded by NIH. Likewise, there are Ph.D. paths in nursing.



                  Are the medical scientist training programs the only way to become a clinical scientist? I've been looking at the admission statistics for some of these programs and it looks like 95% of the applicants do not make the cut. What are my other options for becoming a clinical scientist?

                  Also, do you think a person with quadriplegia could be successful as a clinical scientist? I am c6/7 and cannot move my fingers. During chem/bio lab at school I am totally reliant on others to complete the physical aspects of the lab. Would you want someone like this on your research team at Rutgers?

                  c6/7 complete



                    I have a quadriplegic scientist on my research team. There are ways around not being able to use your hands. You will probably encounter more bias in medical school admissions committes, people who think that it will not be possible for a quadriplegic to be a doctor.

                    You should be doing research already. One of the best ways to answer the question whether or not you can do it is to do it. Then, nobody can complain.

                    You can be a clinical scientist with a Ph.D., an M.D., or both. You can get both together in one program, such as the medical scientists training programs. Or you can get each of them individually or separately. I got mine separately.

                    The world of science is changing. It use to be one in which one does everything by oneself. However, today, scientists typically work in teams composed of technicians, graduate students, postdoctoral fellows, and others. There are often many hands to do things. There are many non-manual roles for people on research teams, roles ranging from data analysis, writing, and experimental design to modelling and database.

                    When you say "clinical scientist", I am not sure that there is such a thing yet. A majority of MD-PhD's go on to practice and don't do much meaningful laboratory research. They often tend to go into academic medicine and collaborate with scientists but do not themselves do all that much research with their own hands. Some go on to become professors. Others do really clinical studies, such as epidemiology, clinical trials, and organization of scientific teams to work on medical problems.

                    As a quadriplegic, you will need to find your strengths and what you can do that would contribute to the field most. If you can find that, half your battle is won. The rest is just convincing others what you are and can do. Yes, there will be skeptics but the proof is in the pudding and when you do it and how it will help others.



                      I echo the thoughts of those who recommend taking lots of gen ed courses first.

                      Find out what areas interest you most; then pursue more courses in those areas.

                      Speak to people (perhaps friends of your parents) who work in a field you think might be interesting and find out what the work is like in the real world.

                      And if you can't figure it out when you're still in college, that's ok too.

                      I was out of college for 7 years before I decided to go back to law school and now I've been practicing law over 23 years. I don't think I would have appreciated it as much had I just jumped into it in college ... so keep your mind open and enjoy. Those will be some of the best years of your life!