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  1. Situation: My doubts about graduate school have resurfaced and become more potent. While I am in my third year at a top ten university, I no longer think my department is right for me given my change in interests and disposition towards theory. The department is largely tilted towards early modern Europe while I am interested in near contemporary Europe. I accepted admission because it was the best offer and because I identified three faculty who worked on contemporary Europe. When I began coursework, I realized one of them had no interest in graduate students--I had very much wanted to do a field with them. Too bad, I told myself. Another had accepted to co-advise me, but, on the first day, told me he wasn’t my advisor. Ok...The third is my advisor. We get along fairly well and he's a cool person. My advisor is a brilliant historian of the time period I’m interested in studying, but his interests have shifted increasingly towards postmodernism. While I was initially enamored with postmodern thought, I no longer have any interests in postmodernism as a subject or as theory—the realization was gradual, but it’s clear as day now. My interest has shifted towards the history of a libearlism as a political philosophy and a political project in the same time and space. My advisor is not a foremost expert on the subject. Given the abysmal job market, it doesn’t seem rational to remain at a program that doesn’t provide me with the intellectual environment to produce the best research I could even if resources like funding are casually thrown around. I was foolishly ignorant when first applying to graduate school. With a bolstered resume (MA, languages, grants) and knowledge of what I’m actually doing as a historian, I could get into a better program that can better train me, advise me, and prepare me for the type of research and questions that interest me. This might include doing a JD PhD in order to have the legal wherewithal to address my questions. Although it would mean having to restart from scratch, I would know exactly what I would be getting myself into. I would thus be better positioned to finish a new program in five years, meaning I’d have spent nine years total combined in graduate school (since I wouldn't be able to apply until next year). The number seems high but the returns would be greater I think. I'll also have the peace of mind that I did everything within my abilities--no regrets. I am considering emailing a professor with whom I would love to work to get their opinion on my work and avenues of exploration. Perhaps this might lead to a better chance to get into said program. Competition is obviously tight at the top three, but an ardent advocate on the inside would be helpful. I’ve also considered contacting my undergraduate advisor and anonymously emailing department representatives at other universities to ask them their opinions regarding PhDs that transfer. Concerns: 1) I"m concerned about burning bridges with my advisor and maybe other professors even though I feel justified. 2) I would need letters of recommendation. I presume two professors with whom I did fields would grant me those, but I am not sure I should trust a letter from my advisor. 3) I'm not sure how graduate committees weigh a student who has dropped their program after four years, though my department recently took one on. 4) The top dogs know each other and the paranoiac in me wonders if my embittered advisor who spent years teaching me would hurt my chances. 5) Obviously, there's no guarantee I get into a better program. I would say that I received two unofficial phone interviews with Princeton the first time around that did not lead to an official interview. I'm not surprised: I told the professor I was uncertain about my subject and bluntly told them that it might not be in his time period. Again, I had no idea what I was doing the first time around. However, they seemed interested in my potential as an undergraduate. I feel awful that my department spent over 150k dollars funding me so far and that I would most likely need a fourth year (50k) of funding while I semi-secretly begin to apply elsewhere.
  2. Do graduate students have to do whatever research is available, regardless of their interests? If you've had a harder time than you thought getting into grad school, do you suck it up and do whatever you have to do to get your degree at wherever you're accepted? Is it wrong for me to be picky about which lab I join when it's hard to find a lab of interest that has funding? I'm a masters student and I just finished my first year of grad school. I have spent the last year in a lab doing research I'm not that interested in, and my advisor and I have just recently decided that I'm not a good fit. She says it's not due to my performance; we just don't communicate very well and our work styles are too different (i.e. I'm a perfectionist and can be too cautious, hence I work slowly). However, I'm actually not that upset that I don't have an advisor right now, because I didn't actually want to be in her lab. The question is, do I try to join another lab at my own institution, even if it means that once again I'm researching a topic I'm not interested, or do I try to transfer to another institution where I can actually have a passion for my research? For years, well at the beginning of my, I knew that no matter what career direction, I wanted to go to graduate school and study a topic that I was really, truly interested. My dream was to be PASSIONATE about my research; not do lab work as a chore, but because I genuinely wanted to. However... my graduate life turned out to be nothing like I hoped it would be. Despite having a BS in Molecular Biology with a GPA of 3.45 and GRE scores of 156 (verbal), 160 (quantitative) and 4.5 (essay), I didn't get into school nearly as easily as I hoped I would. I applied to ten different schools, and only got into one (my safety school... and my last choice). Some schools I knew I wouldn't get into, but most I felt were right up my alley and suited my interests. I had already spent two years out of school getting research experience to strengthen my resume, but I really started to resent my job and didn't want to take any more time off, so I decided to enroll in my safety school. Sadly, it turns out that my advisor of choice didn't actually have the funding I thought he did, so I had to settle for an advisor who, despite being incredibly nice, patient, and understanding, she was not doing the kind of research that I wanted to do. Also, she did not have enough funding for a full assistantship, so for this past year I've had to do work on the side in order to supplement my income, and there's no sign that that would ever change until I graduated. After a year study, she could tell that I was not a good fit for her lab. Still, she's offered to write a positive letter of recommendation should I want it, and I haven't actually been dismissed from her lab, so I'd like to think that that's a good sign. The fact of the matter is, I'm just not satisfied with where I'm going to school. It's a nice school in a quaint little town, but I just can't find any professors whose work truly interests me. I know that my credentials aren't THAT impressive, I know that there are literally THOUSANDS of applicants out there that have better grades and more research experience than me, and I know that applying to grad school isn't AT ALL easy, but I guess I still thought that there was room in the academic world for me to pursue my own interests. So now I've got a dilemma. One choice is take a semester off (meanwhile doing some form of work to pay the bills) while waiting to see if I can get into a lab of interest at a different institution next spring, all at the risk of once again not getting into a school of interest. The second choice is that I try to find a professor at my current school who already has funding, and do whatever research is available so I can finish my degree sooner than later. Anyone have any experience with a situation like this? I know that this is a long post, and I appreciate those of you who took the time to read it all the way through (pant, pant, cough, lol) but I'd really love some feedback, here. Thanks.
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