Graduate School

The University of Mississippi

Time Off Before Doctorate Helps Biology Doctoral Student Succeed

By Jordan Orris

Michael Clear jumped back into academia after 2 1/2 successful years in private industry. After graduating with a Bachelor’s degree in Environmental Science, concentrating in marine microbiology, from UNC Chapel Hill, Clear began working at a biofuel company that makes ethanol out of algae.

The first part of his career was as a researcher, conducting research by analyzing microorganisms present in bioreactors, and trying to figure out how to manipulate them to maximize profit. He later transferred within the company to the biorefinery onsite to help develop procedures and train people in management of the field, using a mixture of engineering and biology. He even had the opportunity to travel to India to train others at a similar site.

However, as many graduate students find, especially in the sciences, there is not much upward mobility without further advanced degrees. Clear found it difficult to rise within the ranks of his company with solely a bachelor’s degree: “I knew if I wanted to keep doing cool research, I needed to go back to school. It was a no-brainer.”

Time out of school in pursuing a career before returning to graduate education is a great way to explore the “real world”, determine if you are happy in your chosen career path, save up for graduate tuition, and strengthen an application with experience.

“It wasn’t a big transition for me to come back,” Clear says. He jumped right into research, and is now in his fourth year of his PhD in Biology, focusing in Microbiology. He works in Dr. Erik Hom’s lab, researching fungal algal mutualism: how microbes interact with each other, and if there are rules to their relationships. He works with fungi and algae that form mutualisms, which occur when two organisms work together to help each other, and researches to discover “the magic that make these cooperations work.”

Soon to be armed with his doctorate, Clear says he is “not afraid to go back into industry.” He says he is open to academia, and desires post-doc work, but is ready to see where his passion takes him.