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Switching between PhD programs (from America to Europe)


GradStudent89

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Hi everyone,
 
I'm a second year PhD student at an American university, however, I'm unsatisfied with my course/department and life in the US in general. Lately, I've been thinking about re-applying to another program in Europe (I'm pretty familiar with the context).
 
Long story short: 
- I believe doing a PhD in an European university would allow me to reach a better balance between researching and teaching duties, and perhaps have more publications by the time I graduate.
- The cost of living in the city I intend to move is considerably lower than the city I'm currently live in. Also, I'd like to move there permanently after I graduate.
- My supervisor has tons of time-consuming administrative duties and I'm not getting enough mentorship. I don't really relate to other research projects in my department.
- I'm currently enrolled at a Sociology program and I would like to switch back to Psychology (my original field)
 
I'm afraid, however, that my current status as a PhD student would be a dealbreaker (technically, I'm still a master's student though). I've read a lot about doctoral students trying to switch between programs within the US, but not between continents. Do you think it's feasible to do that? How would universities perceive my application, and what would be the best way to explain my decision?
 
Thanks for the comments!
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> You'd generally need a Master's to do a PhD at most European schools (except UK I believe, but you really want to check this). Bachelor (undergrad), Master's and PhD generally tend to be separate in (mainland) Europe (i.e., you enroll in a Master's before you do a PhD). Note that most places do require you to do teaching (the amount varies, but again, it also varies per university in the US). However, some of my friends in for example the Netherlands teach way more than I do in their PhD.

> A lot of places (especially in Psych) do not have an annual application (like the US), but rather have an opening when a PI gets funding. This is because most universities don't treat PhDs as students, but rather as employees (i.e., researchers). Some schools have an annual grant you can compete for; you usually need to write a grant proposal for this.

> Do you think you have a fair shot in getting into your university of choice? You may/may not be able to apply for permanent residence based on the country upon your PhD - some countries require 5 yrs of continuous residence (PhDs tend to be 4), income, or other requirements. However, doing a PhD somewhere does not automatically qualify you for permanent residence. Furthermore, although cost of living may be lower; did you check the stipened amount/paycheck (note that taxes are a lot higher in a lot of European countries).

> What makes you think your advisor would be better at the other school? Note that you usually work only with the PI at most European schools (since you are tied to a specific grant - which is where the money comes from - this was actually a reason why I left), so whether or not you like other research in the department may be less of a concern.

 

In terms of feasibility. Sure, it would be possible. There are tons of US PhD students in Europe. I don't think it is necessarily a deal-breaker to be enrolled in a PhD before, but you certainly want to come up with better reasons (e.g., you really like a certain project) than research-teaching balance (unless you do more than 2+ days teaching at this point, I don't think you'll get a better balance), cost of living, or an unavailable supervisor (my experience in Europe varied per person with how much they prioritized their students). 

 

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Hi Psygeek, thanks for your response! 

I forgot to mention... I have a master's degree in Social Psychology from an European university, so I'm eligible to apply.

Some extra considerations:

- There are three programs I'd like to apply, two of which have annual applications, I assume the number of admitted students per cohort is quite small though.
- In all these programs, PhD students are expect to devote 20% of their time to teaching and administrative activities. Right now, teaching consumes 50% of my time.  
- There's a good fit between my previous research experiences and the research projects in these departments. I don't know how good my chances are, but I'm pretty confident in all three of them I would be able to do a great work.
-The country I intend to move allows international students who earned a doctoral degree over there to apply for a permanent residence permit after 4 years. Of course, a residence permit is worthless if I can't find a job after graduation, and I know academic jobs are more scarce in Europe than in the US, but that's a risk I'm willing to take. 
- Indeed, moving to Europe doesn't guarantee I will get a better supervisor (although I had a great one in Europe!). However, I still have to address the fact that things are not going well with my current supervisor. Btw, I mentioned I'm not really interested in other research projects to suggest that switching supervisors within my department is not an option (I should have made that clearer).

It's probably smart to emphasize my interests in a specific research project while applying to a different program. Perhaps the fact that I want to switch fields will help me account for that decision.

 

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5 hours ago, GradStudent89 said:

Hi Psygeek, thanks for your response! 

I forgot to mention... I have a master's degree in Social Psychology from an European university, so I'm eligible to apply.

Some extra considerations:

- There are three programs I'd like to apply, two of which have annual applications, I assume the number of admitted students per cohort is quite small though.
- In all these programs, PhD students are expect to devote 20% of their time to teaching and administrative activities. Right now, teaching consumes 50% of my time.  
- There's a good fit between my previous research experiences and the research projects in these departments. I don't know how good my chances are, but I'm pretty confident in all three of them I would be able to do a great work.
-The country I intend to move allows international students who earned a doctoral degree over there to apply for a permanent residence permit after 4 years. Of course, a residence permit is worthless if I can't find a job after graduation, and I know academic jobs are more scarce in Europe than in the US, but that's a risk I'm willing to take. 
- Indeed, moving to Europe doesn't guarantee I will get a better supervisor (although I had a great one in Europe!). However, I still have to address the fact that things are not going well with my current supervisor. Btw, I mentioned I'm not really interested in other research projects to suggest that switching supervisors within my department is not an option (I should have made that clearer).

It's probably smart to emphasize my interests in a specific research project while applying to a different program. Perhaps the fact that I want to switch fields will help me account for that decision.

 

Ah yeah, having a Master's helps. You'd be surprised how many people from the US without a Master's apply each time to my university back in Europe. Not a chance.

I guess you could just apply then and motivate based on point 2 & 3 + your interest in the project fields (note however that a lot of people from my social psych cohort ended up in different departments though, so I don't know if that's really 'enough' reason, since it's pretty common)

Do note that often US PhDs are regarded as better/prefered over European PhDs.

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  • 3 months later...
On 8/9/2019 at 5:58 AM, Psygeek said:

Do note that often US PhDs are regarded as better/prefered over European PhDs.

Do you mean in Europe or just the U.S.? OP said s/he was interested in staying in Europe after graduation iirc...

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On 11/28/2019 at 9:43 PM, StartingtheProcess83298353 said:

Do you mean in Europe or just the U.S.? OP said s/he was interested in staying in Europe after graduation iirc...

in Europe as well. American R1 PhD is putting you up for the job market a lot better than majority of European PhDs. 

Besides, its not like there even are that many R1 European Psych school equivalents anyway. 

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