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Thinking about declining the only acceptance offer I got

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Hello GradCafe community, 

This is my first time posting on GradCafe, so my apologies in advance if I'm posting in the wrong forum or asking questions that may have already been answered. I did do a quick look through the website for answers/advice on my dilemma, but couldn't find much info, so I've decided to start a new topic. 

So long story short, I applied to 5 PhD programs in Management/Organizational Behavior (OB for short) last fall 2017. My bachelor's is in psychology and my research background is in social/cognitive psych. Part of my reasons for having applied to OB programs as opposed to traditional psych programs was that 1) I had understood that it's more competitive to get into and obtain professorship immediately for graduates of psych as opposed to OB programs and 2) OB programs generally pay their professors better than traditional psych programs. I still wanted to pursue my social/cognitive interests, so 4 out of the 5 schools I applied to were social psych focused (despite being labeled OB programs) and 1 was Industrial/Organizational (I/O) psych focused. Why did I apply to this I/O psych-focused program? To be honest, if I could do it over again, I wouldn't have. It was poor planning on my part and a severe underestimate of how much time it would take to work on applications, so the process was very rushed and lacked careful consideration from me. Anyhow, I only got accepted to the 1 I/O psych-focused OB program and rejected by all 4 others. 

I'm facing the hard decision of whether to 1) re-apply this coming fall 2018 to the social psych-focused programs which study topics I'm truly interested in (this includes both traditional psych and OB programs), having learned the hard way from all the mistakes I've made this application cycle OR 2) accept the 1 offer I got from the I/O-psych-focused program even though I'm not really interested in their research or topics. 

This decision has been weighing so heavily on my mind these past few months to the point that I've needed to see a therapist about it and that it has made me feel extremely stressed out and unhappy almost every single day. Deep down, I'm leaning towards re-applying to the programs I'm actually interested in and focusing less on the job prospects/salary reasons (I have been applying to a number of postbac opportunities to beef up my applications should I decide to go this route). One of my mentors is supportive of my decision and has been a great resource for me in seeking out these opportunities. I'd been feeling confident with my preference until another mentor recently expressed that I should try the first year of graduate work at this I/O program and if I find that I'm not enamored of it, then I may consider trying a different program then. His reasoning sounds logical, but if that actually happens and I decide to "transfer" to a different PhD program after my first year there, how possible would it be for such a "transfer"? I put "transfer" in quotation marks because I understand that it doesn't work quite like undergrad transfers. 

Any advice or perspectives, especially from those who have been in similar situations, would be appreciated. Thank you for your time. 


~Confused and Lost 

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I was in a similar situation - only got accepted into a program that I sorta applied for just because it seemed sorta nice (not properly researched it tbh). I end up rejecting it. Will reapply next year, it feels like the right thing for now. I don't want to do a PhD for the sake of a PhD - I wanna do research I love, and yes that limits the scope of programs I'll apply to and my chances but so be it. 

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A PhD program is a long marathon. Although I am in a different field, there were certainly some times where I had to dig deep within myself to find motivation to get through tough challenges. My colleagues and I got through it by going back to our interests in the subject matter and knowing that we were doing the best thing for our future goals (personal and career goals). In addition, quite frankly, I think PhD students are generally overworked and underpaid, but students have little power/say in changing in the system and it's something we have to do to achieve certain goals. So, I would advise a person to only enter a PhD program if it truly met their goals and they absolutely needed it for their goals. Don't do a PhD for the sake of a PhD and if you aren't interested in the program any more, there's nothing wrong with turning it down and applying to programs you actually want to attend next year.

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In your shoes, I would turn it down and reapply. There's no sense in putting yourself though hell by committing to 5+ years of hard work on topics you aren't passionate about. I think it's worth waiting to choose the right program for your interests and future career goals.

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"Transferring" isn't really a thing at the graduate level. If you leave without a master's, in all likelihood only 9 credit hours (so 3 courses or one semester) of coursework will be accepted by your new program. You'd also want rec letters from the faculty in the program you're leaving ideally. There have been past conversations (mostly in "Officially Grads" about transferring so I'd recommend reading those before you pursue this option). 

Have you talked with current grad students to make sure there's no research being done there that you're interested in? Would it be possible for you to complete a master's at this program and then later apply to PhD programs? 

Given what you've said here, I would decline the offer and reapply. If you aren't excited about a program and the prospect of being it, you shouldn't enroll.

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  • 3 weeks later...

Hello everyone, 

My apologies for the delay in reply. I had actually been waiting to hear back and felt a bit disappointed for the past two weeks as I had been under the impression that I would receive notifications or alerts via email if someone posted a reply, but I didn't receive any emails at all, so I assumed that no one had replied. I was confident I had set my notifications settings correctly to receive these alerts, but perhaps I hadn't? Anyhow, I was standing in line at a grocery store last night and thought I'd just log in and check and was really glad to see all your feedback! Thanks again for taking the time to write yours out. I appreciate it!

As an update, I declined the offer from the I/O psych-focused program and aim to apply again, this time with more focus and better time management. I have been applying to lab manager/RA/Research Coord. positions in hopes of strengthening my applications. 

@PsygeekThanks for sharing. If you don't mind me asking, what are you doing in the interim to strengthen your applications for future seasons? I've been applying to those postbac positions as mentioned above, but wanted to make sure I'm covering all my bases and and not overlooking any available opportunities/things I could look into to strengthen my apps. 

@SparkybobThanks for your feedback. No, there's no reason for me to leave home right away. I know the road ahead is going to be challenging, but I'm determined to do my best and re-apply. 

@TakeruKThanks for sharing. That's how I felt, too about PhD programs in general and that was part of the reason why I declined my offer. I thought about the  potential challenging times that I might likely face in the program where I would need to go back to my original motivations for pursuing the program, rather than focusing solely on prospective salary ranges, and didn't think that I had the motivation for this particular program. 

@brainlassThanks for your feedback. It definitely helps make me feel more confident about my decision. 

@rising_starThanks for the info and your suggestions. Yes, I talked with the faculty and grad students there on my campus visit. I've also read through the faculty research as well and it's heavily I/O psych focused. There's only one relatively new prof. with a social psych research background who studies topics of interest to me, but given this and other related factors, I didn't feel strongly enough about committing 5 years to the program. I didn't look much into obtaining only a master's there, but I believe they don't offer a terminal master's degree in this particular program. 

Any other feedback or advice from you guys or anyone else would be greatly appreciated. Thank you!

Edited by aspiring_scientist
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Just to add to this conversation -- I applied to three programs this year.  Master's level not phd though.  I have only been accepted* to a school I applied to as a sort of "well, I should apply to more schools, and their deadline hasn't passed yet, so why not?".  *accepted as in, they rejected me for computational linguistics but offered me a spot in their lingsuitics program.  After getting accepted, I realized I didn't want to go.  It's twice as expensive as the other two, on the other side of the country, and though their program is solid and respected, it isn't what I really wanted to do.  

I rejected them as nicely as I could.  I'm planning on reapplying next year to the school that is basically the only school I really want to go to.  I didn't think it was worth the time, effort, and money to attend a program that was not what I wanted.  

Honestly, at first I regretted the decision.  "Did I just throw away my only chance at post-undergraduate education?"  Maybe.  But was it what I really wanted?  No.  I'm burned out from undergrad, and I know if I"m not enthusiastic about grad school, I will just drop out anyway.  Take this anecdote as you will.  Best of luck to you!

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@aspiring_scientist I did end up making it off the waitlist into my top choice (HAPPY!!!), but how I would have improved my application: First, I feel confident I will submit at least 2 -3 manuscripts by fall, maybe earlier. So hopefully having something 'in press' or 'published' is a good thing - which I assume. I would also have reached out to labs in my current location and in that way be more 'networked' with the people I want to work with (i.e., they know the person I want to work with personally). I would also have retaken my GRE as my quant score could have been better. But I think publishing my Master's thesis and another pub on which I'd be first author would definitely benefit me. I'd also apply to more schools (I only applied to 5) and on lines of work sthat are more closely tied to mine.

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