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Hello everyone,

This is my first post on gradcafe. I'm trying to omit as much identifying details as I can, so I apologize in advance if this is confusing or lengthy.

I got admission into the PhD program at the same university I attended for undergraduate. This was originally my "safety" option, and the mentor/adviser is someone I've worked closely with during my undegrad research years. I haven't gotten any interview offers for any of the other schools I applied to, and I'm starting to worry that I won't get in anywhere else. I could just take this admission, but I'm struggling to feel confident about this decision... for 2 reasons:

1. I'm not completely sure that I want to do this JUST this specific concentration of my discipline anymore. Basically, I've been trying to choose between 2 concentrations of my major, and my school only offers an official program for one of them. Which means there's no possibility for me to pursue the secondary interest in any capacity, whether it's through a second mentor or through applied work (as there is no dedicated department for it). The other schools I applied to have both of these concentrations as many people study an intersection of both. I was hoping to study in this intersection, or at least leave room for myself to do collaborative work that touches on both subjects.
2. I feel that I wasn't well prepared to apply to grad school this cycle. I spread myself thin across many applications, and across several disciplines of my major. I think I ultimately didn't know what I wanted to research, and only realized it when I found myself in a circumstance where I couldn't have certain research topics as an option for my PhD. I feel that if I spent more time researching the programs and PIs early on, I would have been able to craft a much better application to the schools that I really wanted to go to. That, and taking the next year to do more research and applied work. I didn't contact PIs early and do the homework months ahead as many successful applicants have. I should've just narrowed down what I wanted to research and worked really hard on a handful of applications.

These apprehensions are pretty fundamental to my career trajectory so I feel that I should turn it down and reapply to my dream programs next year. However, I'm concerned about turning down my adviser as I will need their recommendation letter again next year when I go through the application cycle again. Like I mentioned, I have worked with them intimately for the past years and they wrote my strongest recommendation letter. I'm sure they'll use a similar letter again, but I would still have to go through the motions of asking them whether they'd be willing to be my letter writer again. I feel like I have justified reasons for turning down the admission, but I'm scared that it will be awkward between me and them if I turn it down considering I'm not doing for another immediate acceptance. Should I be concerned, or am I worrying unnecessarily?
I'm racking my brain trying to figure out what to do because I am genuinely interested in this PI's research and this concentration of my major in general. I thought I would be okay with doing this program if I had been rejected by programs with more interdisciplinary emphasis, but I guess I was wrong. I also don't want to burn any bridges or hurt any feelings.

Thanks in advance, and sorry about the super long post.

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That's a really tough spot. I'd suggest maybe asking the adviser what you should do. Tell him/her you were initially interested in the program, but you've moved into more interdisciplinary interests and the program to which you've been accepted is no longer the great fit you thought it would be?

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Thank you for your response! I agree, being straightforward would be the best course of action. I'm going to mull it over for a bit longer before I decide, but if I do plan on reapplying next cycle, I plan on having an honest conversation about my interdisciplinary interests. I see that there's no way around it if I were to not get accepted anywhere else, anyway. I'm not set on this gap year thing as I do have interest in this adviser's research, so I still have some thinking to do. I just wish there were opportunities to do research (and later do applied/career related work) on the secondary concentration of that discipline. I didn't mention this earlier, but the profession I might want to go into requires a graduate degree with the secondary concentration, so that's also a limitation of doing purely this first concentration. And like earlier... I kind of only realized that I wanted to do this profession around now. (I was planning on going the academia/professorship route previously).
This all probably sounds incredibly flaky on paper lol, but I genuinely tried to figure out my interests before applying. Anyway, thanks again. :)

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Seconding the advice to talk to your advisor. You actually sound like you've thought about this and you have some good reasons to want to reapply to other schools next year. If you share this with your advisor, hopefully you can get their support. A good advisor wants their students to succeed, and if that means pursuing interests at another program, that should be just fine. Of course I can't promise that your advisor won't be upset by this, but frankly, if that's the case, you probably don't want this person as your PhD advisor anyway. 

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Hello, thank you for your reply! :) I really appreciate the advice. If I don't hear back from other programs in the next few weeks I'll probably go ahead and talk to my adviser about everything as you both suggested. I can't change how I feel/what I want, my only regret is that I didn't come to this conclusion sooner for my adviser's sake. Thank you for the encouragement, especially on the part about good advisers wanting their students to succeed. My partner was telling me the same thing and it's definitely a valuable point.

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You’re over thinking things. I’ve applied 3 times now, they don’t really care, they submit hundreds of letters a year. 

First time, I said I got into UCSD but they didn’t offer funding- can you resubmit a letter for next cycle? Done 

second time, reminded and letters were resubmitted. 

Third time(this cycle) - I couldn’t attend last cycle, although I was accepted many places. Can you resubmit? Their responses were “of course” and “no problem” 

and you know what else? I changed my intended major each time lol 

Just do it. Do whats best for you. If you can during this coming gap year, volunteer part time in a lab that has the other interest you mentioned. They accepted you because you deserve it, but they also want what’s best for you. If that means going elsewhere, they will be happy for you. 

Also, write them thank you cards for mentoring you and writing letters. 


Edited by WhyTry
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Hey WhyTry, thank you for the advice and reassuring words! I was hoping I was overthinking things so I'm relieved to hear everyone's responses haha.
And thanks for sharing your application journey, it really helps a lot to know that other people also went through periods of changing interests. You're right, I realized I have to stick to what I want and do what's best for myself. I'll definitely be sure to write thank you cards. :) 
Again, thanks for all the advice and encouragement!

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