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baroquekid

Science background and applying to law school

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Hi all,

I'm currently doing a thesis based Master of Science program but my ultimate goal is to apply to law school. My main area of passion is health and science policy -- and I am curious whether a potential pursuit/obtainment of a PhD in a scientific field would either hurt or improve my chances of getting into law school in Canada. I know most school welcome diverse student backgrounds, but I wonder if anybody has had a similar experience or has any insight on this matter.

Thanks in advance!

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Intuitively I can’t picture it hurting, but it might not help enough to be worth it. Most Canadian schools heavily emphasize undergrad gpa and LSAT, with everything else being a secondary consideration, if it’s a consideration at all. If you’re dedicated to doing the degree for its own sake, I would imagine it’s sensible to go for it. If you were looking to boost your admissions chances I think tons of LSAT prep would be much easier, faster, and more effective. If you want an anecdote to quell your worries a bit, there’s at least one person with a science PHD in my incoming 1L class this year, so it seemingly didn’t hold them back! Best of luck. 

Edited by PlatoandSocrates
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41 minutes ago, baroquekid said:

Hi all,

I'm currently doing a thesis based Master of Science program but my ultimate goal is to apply to law school. My main area of passion is health and science policy -- and I am curious whether a potential pursuit/obtainment of a PhD in a scientific field would either hurt or improve my chances of getting into law school in Canada. I know most school welcome diverse student backgrounds, but I wonder if anybody has had a similar experience or has any insight on this matter.

Thanks in advance!

I don't think it will affect your chances of getting into law school. What you should turn your mind to is whether a PhD will help your chances of getting hired in the health and science policy field once you get your JD - I can't really answer that, as I don't know. But I wouldn't focus on law school as that's only 3 years of a long career, especially considering some schools don't give a hoot about post-grad studies.

Edited by setto
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7 hours ago, baroquekid said:

Hi all,

I'm currently doing a thesis based Master of Science program but my ultimate goal is to apply to law school. My main area of passion is health and science policy -- and I am curious whether a potential pursuit/obtainment of a PhD in a scientific field would either hurt or improve my chances of getting into law school in Canada. I know most school welcome diverse student backgrounds, but I wonder if anybody has had a similar experience or has any insight on this matter.

Thanks in advance!

Would you even want to attend a law school that looked down on an applicant with a Ph.D? I can't imagine it would hurt your chances, anywhere.

That said, if your ultimate aim is law school it seems rather curious that you are contemplating a Ph.D. A North American Ph.D program will consume 4-5 years of your life, and it is unlikely to aid you in your ultimate pursuit of a JD; at least in any significant way (the 4-5 years of additional legal experience would be much better for landing a choice position). 

I would think rather long and hard about the reasons why you want to pursue a Ph.D if you ultimate aim is to be in the legal profession. If it something you are passionate about, that's one thing, but if you think it'll be a boost on your application + is a way to fill time....I cannot recommend against that idea enough

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If your aim is to work in policy, you likely don't even need a JD, and that time would likely be better spent doing, like, policy work. I wouldn't worry about getting into law school but more about whether your plan makes sense and what your employment opportunities would look like.

People sometimes make the mistake of assuming that combining two different backgrounds will necessarily make you a better candidate for some ideal job at the intersection of those two fields, but very often jobs don't exist in the intersection. It's typically one or the other and you will be shoved into the common mold of that role by employers. And if an entire, extra degree is just to give you personal context or to help you stand out in a job hunt, you have to ask yourself whether the time and cost is worth it, and whether you'd be better off getting relevant work experience instead.

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So I'm currently in the end stages of my PhD in a social science, and am considering changing course when I finish and going to law school. From this perspective, I urge you to absolutely not do a PhD if you know now that law is the ultimate goal. Don't get me wrong, I value my PhD greatly and don't regret that I went down this road. But it's just not worth the investment:

  1. Law schools don't value it. Now, that's obviously a broad brush I'm using, and it varies from school to school. But almost no law school in this country actually factors in your graduate GPA, and most look at it only as a 'soft' factor, much as if you just had some interesting work experience. If law is your goal, the ROI is shaky here at best.
  2. Opportunity cost is too great. Speaking of shaky ROI, absolute best case scenario for a PhD is like 3-3.5 years, with 4-5, or even as long as 6+, being the norm in Canada. Even if you love the PhD experience, this is a lot of time you'll spend acquiring these skills and title, and it's just not clear that it's worth it. Just think of all the other things you could do in those 4 years, including just going to law school. It reminds me a lot of the conversation I had with my MA supervisor when I was considering taking a year to work in between degrees; he told me to do whatever I thought was best, but asked me why if I knew I wanted to do the PhD I'd want to hold my life back a year.
  3. The skills you'll gain are of questionable relevance. Now as I said I've not gone to law school, so this is speculation to an extent. But it's worth remembering that even though English Canada now insists on calling it a Juris Doctor for some reason, it is very much an undergraduate degree; you'll spend a lot of your time in lecture courses and studying for sit-down exams, a long with the occasional term paper; it's not clear to me how much if at all my PhD could help me with this, especially when my undergrad study skills are just getting more and more rusty as each year passes. While exactly what you'll do in a PhD will vary by field, you'll undoubtedly spend the bulk of it on research and analysis skills, writing scientific articles, and of course learning to manage the gargantuan project that is a dissertation. These are all excellent skills, but their applicability to the study and practice of law is tangential for the most part.
  4. A PhD can be a very draining experience. Now this obviously varies between people and their exact circumstances, but many find a PhD to be incredibly draining, as I'm sure many find a JD to be as well. Depending on your funding situation, you may find yourself making very little money for an extended period of time, and the money you do make may be a bit unstable. Many find that the workload between lab work, course work, thesis work, side publications, TAing, and RAing, can just be a bit much to handle, and some come close to burning out. Given how individual the work is, many also find a PhD to be a very isolating experience, and rates of depression and anxiety are sky-high. While much of this can be argued to be a worthwhile rite-of-passage to the academic world, the legal profession already has these trying times in law school and in articling, and you'd be signing yourself up for a double dose of punishment by doing both. You also might leave yourself in a mental state that leaves you less likely to succeed in law school than you are now.

So to answer your questions more directly, odds are a PhD would give you a slight improvement to your odds of admission, but that improvement would not at all be commiserate to the effort expended. And for your specific situation, another commentator raised a good point:

21 hours ago, setto said:

I don't think it will affect your chances of getting into law school. What you should turn your mind to is whether a PhD will help your chances of getting hired in the health and science policy field once you get your JD - I can't really answer that, as I don't know. But I wouldn't focus on law school as that's only 3 years of a long career, especially considering some schools don't give a hoot about post-grad studies.

Now obviously 'policy' is a broad field, but setto is right that this should be your consideration if this is for sure where you want to be in life. I'd go even further and say that you should seek to determine which of the two (JD or PhD) would help more, or even just start looking at jobs when you finish the MSc. I know people in my field who got rewarding government/NGO policy-focused work with only their MA, or with their (partly completed usually) PhD. Plenty of people also can do it with just their JD. It's essentially certain though that you will not need both, but if you finish one degree and find the job market is tough, you can always decide then that you need to go back and do a fourth degree. I just wouldn't advise you to set out planning to do all four.

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Wow, thank you everybody for your insights! Like many of you said, my thought process was that my potential pursuit of a PhD was going to help me in the job market later on, but I also agree that it is a big decision to make with many implications. Regarding my current MSc program though, not considering GPA, could I use it in my law school application to demonstrate my work ethic as well as analytical and critical thinking skills? In other words, could the MSc experience help my application holistically? 

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On 8/29/2020 at 10:34 AM, baroquekid said:

MSc experience help my application holistically? 

Yes, however, bear in mind that this is only one of the many soft factors, which no one really knows exactly how it will work out for you. 

For safety, just treat it as a very slight bonus. 

 

On 8/29/2020 at 10:34 AM, baroquekid said:

a PhD was going to help me in the job market

I.P. lawyer for you?[You mentioned Master of Science and possibly a Ph.D.]

If you care, you can dig into this topic.

 

STEM students with graduate degrees are a minority in law school. Each year, I think University of Toronto has 10 students in a class, tops. (could easily be fewer than that). 

 

Most of the so-called STEM students in  one class have only Bachelor of Science. Even them are a minority as well. (20%)

 

For certain majors like computer science, I doubt on average there could be consistently at least a student with a graduate degree in University of Toronto. [Probably all gone to the Empire in the south and earning six-figure salaries. (after currency conversion.)]

 

It may be a niche for you. 

Edited by ScipioAfricanus

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On 8/29/2020 at 8:34 AM, baroquekid said:

Wow, thank you everybody for your insights! Like many of you said, my thought process was that my potential pursuit of a PhD was going to help me in the job market later on, but I also agree that it is a big decision to make with many implications. Regarding my current MSc program though, not considering GPA, could I use it in my law school application to demonstrate my work ethic as well as analytical and critical thinking skills? In other words, could the MSc experience help my application holistically? 

You're focused too short term.

A PhD, or a MSc, is not going to help you too much in terms of admission.  But they would definitely help you in terms of seeking employment after you graduate.

The bigger question is whether, given the huge time commitment a PhD would cost, is whether that advantage would be worth it.

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10 hours ago, ScipioAfricanus said:

Yes, however, bear in mind that this is only one of the many soft factors, which no one really knows exactly how it will work out for you. 

For safety, just treat it as a very slight bonus. 

 

I.P. lawyer for you?[You mentioned Master of Science and possibly a Ph.D.]

If you care, you can dig into this topic.

 

STEM students with graduate degrees are a minority in law school. Each year, I think University of Toronto has 10 students in a class, tops. (could easily be fewer than that). 

 

Most of the so-called STEM students in  one class have only Bachelor of Science. Even them are a minority as well. (20%)

 

For certain majors like computer science, I doubt on average there could be consistently at least a student with a graduate degree in University of Toronto. [Probably all gone to the Empire in the south and earning six-figure salaries. (after currency conversion.)]

 

It may be a niche for you. 

Thanks for bringing that up -- my science background is more biology based but because of my research dealing with experimentation of novel pharmaceutical drugs I know how important the implications of patenting could be. I also do radio and podcasting on the side as EC work, so I've dealt with some copyright and trademark matters as well. I'd definitely like to keep my options open, and for the longest time I actually wanted to do something that connected all of my areas of passion together -- I think this is definitely an attractive option.

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9 hours ago, Malicious Prosecutor said:

You're focused too short term.

A PhD, or a MSc, is not going to help you too much in terms of admission.  But they would definitely help you in terms of seeking employment after you graduate.

The bigger question is whether, given the huge time commitment a PhD would cost, is whether that advantage would be worth it.

Right -- and I think I could always have that option of pursuing a PhD later if I wanted to after getting a JD. My priority right now is definitely the JD, and depending on the experiences that I'd gain during law school and later in the workforce, the PhD might actually not be necessary at all.

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32 minutes ago, baroquekid said:

Thanks for bringing that up -- my science background is more biology based but because of my research dealing with experimentation of novel pharmaceutical drugs I know how important the implications of patenting could be. I also do radio and podcasting on the side as EC work, so I've dealt with some copyright and trademark matters as well. I'd definitely like to keep my options open, and for the longest time I actually wanted to do something that connected all of my areas of passion together -- I think this is definitely an attractive option.

Pharmaceutical patent lawyer sounds cool. 

 

For I.P. firms, the majority are in Toronto, Ottawa, Vancouver and Calgary. When choosing schools, bear that in mind if possible, especially since some schools will not give you great "national mobility"(for lack of a better word).  

One more thing: the starting salary may be very low if you are from certain STEM major. For some people majored in STEM, to be a I.P. lawyer is to take a cut of 2/3, at least in the beginning.  [ funny, hum? all the talk about how I.P. lawyers earn so much relatively. ]

Articling could be as low as a little more than 50k CAD

1st year could be as low as a little more than 70k CAD

 

It may and can get much better latter on. Be informed and make your decision accordingly. 

Good lucky and take care. 

Edited by ScipioAfricanus
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49 minutes ago, baroquekid said:

Thanks for bringing that up -- my science background is more biology based but because of my research dealing with experimentation of novel pharmaceutical drugs I know how important the implications of patenting could be. I also do radio and podcasting on the side as EC work, so I've dealt with some copyright and trademark matters as well. I'd definitely like to keep my options open, and for the longest time I actually wanted to do something that connected all of my areas of passion together -- I think this is definitely an attractive option.

So I actually know a recent JD grad who went this route, having a BSc in a biomed field - he found it to be a major leg-up. Your MSc would definitely set you apart from the crowd.

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A science background gives you a “leg up” for IP work (more specifically patent work) but it is by no means sufficient for a job. Every year Ottawa and Toronto hire a number of students for IP positions, and those applicants rarely have non STEM degrees, and lots of students aren’t able to get jobs. It’s a niche market, but that also limits the number of openings.

A PhD and a law degree are relatively divergent pathways. It’s unlikely the PhD would give you much ground over the MSc in legal hiring, and the opportunity costs is fairly significant. I think you need to decide if you want to do the work of a PhD, or the work of a lawyer, and choose accordingly. Hedging your bets here only results in never ending school and debt. 

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On 8/29/2020 at 6:34 AM, PurplePanda said:

The skills you'll gain are of questionable relevance. Now as I said I've not gone to law school, so this is speculation to an extent. But it's worth remembering that even though English Canada now insists on calling it a Juris Doctor for some reason, it is very much an undergraduate degree; you'll spend a lot of your time in lecture courses and studying for sit-down exams, a long with the occasional term paper; it's not clear to me how much if at all my PhD could help me with this, especially when my undergrad study skills are just getting more and more rusty as each year passes. While exactly what you'll do in a PhD will vary by field, you'll undoubtedly spend the bulk of it on research and analysis skills, writing scientific articles, and of course learning to manage the gargantuan project that is a dissertation. These are all excellent skills, but their applicability to the study and practice of law is tangential for the most part.

I agree with what you bolded, but perhaps it is valuable for someone who has actually been to law school to comment on your speculation.

First off, calling it a JD makes sense because it does not fit neatly into the academic progression of understanding a subject (undergraduate), mastering a subject (Master's), and contributing to a subject (Doctoral). It is a professional degree which is pedagogically quite distinct from undergrad -- or graduate -- study.

Thinking of law school as "very much an undergraduate degree" is the wrong approach. In undergrad the focus is on knowledge, whereas in law school it is legal reasoning. It is cliche but law school teaches you to "think like a lawyer". It should come as no surprise then, that it is common for law school exams to be open book. 

It simply doesn't matter that your undergrad study skills are rusty, those skills are of similarly questionable relevance to law school. There is a reason why law schools don't require any particular study.

On the other hand, many of the skills you mention as defining your PhD seem to me to be more directly attributable. Law school rewards clear and cogent analysis over knowledge; the specificity required in scientific articles is similar to legal writing; and managing all the information for a dissertation is a similar process to managing the legal information necessary to apply your legal reasoning.

Good luck.

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Just want to add that most of the life sciences patent work is in Ottawa/Toronto, compared to say Calgary/Vancouver.

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5 hours ago, Mal said:

Thinking of law school as "very much an undergraduate degree"

Mal is right. This confusion mostly is because Canada uniformly classifies J.D. as an undergraduate degree.( For instance, your government aid). 

 

In United states, J.D. would be listed as professional doctorate very often(I am hesitate to write always). It is much less easier to give the students the false impression that they are somehow doing another "easy" undergraduate degree. There are a lot of signs that J.D. is very different from Ph.D. For instance, you don't see schools requiring a professor candidate to have a Ph.D. in law in North America. But in the field of STEM, a professor without Ph.D.? hum.....

Edited by ScipioAfricanus
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I should make it clear, I don't mean to make take a swipe at the JD by any means in saying that it's 'very much undergrad'. I just meant to emphasize that despite (mostly) requiring a previous undergraduate degree it is very different in nature from a graduate degree, particularly because it requires you to learn a new field, rather than learn to master and conduct research in one you already understand.

On 9/2/2020 at 3:54 AM, Mal said:

First off, calling it a JD makes sense because it does not fit neatly into the academic progression of understanding a subject (undergraduate), mastering a subject (Master's), and contributing to a subject (Doctoral). It is a professional degree which is pedagogically quite distinct from undergrad -- or graduate -- study.

Fair enough, I'm honestly just weirdly saltly about the JD change mostly because I find to too American, not because I have any huge objection to it. @ScipioAfricanus makes a decent point that professional degrees may be best thought of as just being outside of the progression.

 

On 9/2/2020 at 3:54 AM, Mal said:

Thinking of law school as "very much an undergraduate degree" is the wrong approach. In undergrad the focus is on knowledge, whereas in law school it is legal reasoning. It is cliche but law school teaches you to "think like a lawyer". It should come as no surprise then, that it is common for law school exams to be open book. 

This is where I would disagree with you though. Undergraduate study, at least in my discipline, is not focused on knowledge. Honestly, I sometimes bemoan just how little factual knowledge one needs to absorb in order to get a BA. Even when I've taught research methods, which is for us one of the more fact-based classes, tests are always open book or take home (as is the increasingly the norm) and the goal is at all points to get the students to 'think like a researcher'; nobody needs to memorize facts or formulas, they just need to be able to solve a problem when presented with facts. In other courses the clarity of analysis is sometimes nearly the sole marking criterion, and factual correctness, when explicitly accounted for at all, comes second to clarity of analysis and writing ability. Frankly it's becoming problematic - criminology students can get through without actually understanding much about criminal law or the penal system, political science students don't necessarily need to know how a bill becomes law, etc.

Now, I do actually have a decent degree of familiarity with what assessments in law school look like (I've held some interesting positions at my university that gave me a lot of unusual exposure to the workings of our law school) and agree that what's expected is still clearly different from what undergrad classes (in my discipline) look like.  But from what I know (and again, my first-hand, student-perspective experience is limited to my discipline) undergrad in my discipline and in law are more alike than an undergrad in law and graduate education in my discipline. And to be clear, this is largely because in grad school in my discipline, there are no examinations at all (save for the qualifying exam), and very little emphasis placed on classes at all. While the way in which I would have studied for an exam for my BA vs how I would for my JD would likely differ, I haven't 'studied' at all since I finished my BA because I haven't had an exam. The experience is mostly devoted to research production - learning analysis skills, learning the ins-and-outs of publish, conducting research (whatever that looks like for you), and a bit of writing. The courses themselves are essentially entirely seminar based - no lectures or explanation from profs, just 3 hours a week of discussing readings with your colleagues.

That said, obviously my comments are based on my own experience at my own university in my own discipline, and my knowledge of law school is likewise limited to what I can observe at my position at my university - others' experiences may vary, perhaps even wildly. And yes there will be some varying degree of utility to the skills one gains in a PhD (scientific writing should be a good starting point for legal writing, provided you ever actually got good at scientific writing). Maybe when I do give up on academia and go back to do a JD I'll be able to report back and see if my thoughts on this have changed, but as is stands I think my undergrad will have provided me with more preparation than my graduate degree(s) did.

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