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How do I leave my PhD program?



Hi. I hope I'm posting this in the right place. I'm in the second year of my MA/PhD humanities program. When I chose this program as an undergrad two years ago, there were two professors here who seemed like perfect candidates to lead my dissertation project as I have always envisioned it. Unfortunately, at the end of my first year in graduate school (last year), one of those professors left to work at another university. I did not have an opportunity to get to know the remaining professor until this year because she was on sabbatical for the duration of my first year here. I have spent this year getting to know her, and I don't think things are going to work out with her. On paper, she is a very accomplished scholar but she doesn't get along with the rest of the faculty because she can be narcissistic and often behaves in a volatile manner. A lot of grad students avoid putting her on their committees because they claim that she is difficult in that sort of situation as well though since I've only had her in class, I can't confirm that for sure.  Furthermore, her interests, while more related to mine than the other faculty members here are not  as similar as I imagined that they would be two years ago. So I'm stressed. It isn't that I don't admire her work anymore-I do--but I don't think she and I are going to work together very well and she is kind of the only person I could ask to chair my committee now. 

So I'm unsure what to do. I'm going to have a masters in a month. I feel like I should try to get into another program that might be a better fit but I have no idea how to do that. People act like changing plans is very taboo, and I don't want to insult the faculty at this university. I'm afraid to tell the head of the department or the graduate studies director that I want to leave. I'm worried that, if I do that, they'll hate me, and it will ruin my chances of being admitted to another program. I feel trapped here because I don't think I can write the kind of project I want to write. I've been spiraling into a deep depression this past year, and I expect it will only get worse if I stay here. I'm not sure what to do. 

How do you politely say that you want to leave your program and try to get into another one? Is this ever done? I want to do a PhD but I want to have the right mentors so that I can write a dissertation that is representative of my interests. What are the politics of a situation like this one?

Thanks in advance! 


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Are there any professors in this program you could see yourself working with or with whom you have a good relationship? If so, I would talk to them and seek their advice. No one will be angry at you for trying to get into a program which is a better research fit so I wouldn't worry about that. I would, when explaining things, entirely leave out everything you've said about the professor's personality since all of that is hearsay and nothing you personally have experienced. (P.S. There are lots of threads on here, especially under "Officially Grads" from people seeking to leave their grad program and go to another.)

In terms of your mental health, I highly encourage you to work with a therapist/counselor to get a handle on your depression.

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