Doctorate or no doctorate? Newly printed bachelor's and master's diplomas in hand, many young scientists face that question every spring. Should they seek a research job right after graduation, or sign up for at least four more years of student life?

Conventional wisdom is that everyone interested in research should have a Ph.D. But a few scientists have managed to excel in research without a doctorate. Their stories offer inspiration to those for whom a Ph.D. is impossible for financial or personal reasons. But they also suggest that young scientists think hard before opting out of continuing with graduate school.

A Nobelist's Story Take the case of Gertrude B. Elion, 74, scientist emeritus with Burroughs Wellcome Co., now located in Research Triangle Park, N.C. Elion got her M.S. in chemistry and, in 1941, after three years of anxious searching, found a research job at Burroughs Wellcome, which was then located...

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