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Should I re-apply now or tough it out?


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So I am currently in a master's program, but I am straight up not having a good time. I like the program itself, but a lot of the professors just don't really seem to care. I don't know if its the pandemic or because our coursework is online, but I just feel that I'm not really getting any kind of encouragement or help or anything. They are just kinda doing the bare minimum and a lot of us in the program are just struggling through because of it. I wouldn't graduate until spring 2022. It is a research-based degree and I should wind up with a publication or two from it, and I'm really trying my best to do well. I know these programs are tough, and I was expecting it. But I feel like this is tough for the wrong reasons. 

I applied to PhD programs last year, but did not get in. Most of the programs said it was mostly my personal statement that prevented me from getting in (I didn't get any of that information until after I was accepted to the school I am currently at.). I did plan on re-applying after I graduate from here, but now I'm questioning whether or not I should wait that long. Should I apply now while the cycle is still early, or should I just tough it out through this program and stick with my original plan?

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I empathize with your struggles. Times are difficult and confusing right now. But I think you need to hear some tough love...

If you are struggling this much with your master's program, you will not struggle any less with a PhD program. Plus, starting a master's program and not completing it is PhD application suicide. Admission committees will see that as indication that you can't handle their program.

 In graduate school, you are expected to be mostly self-sufficient, with mentorship from your advisor. If you need extra help from your professors, it's your job to go to office hours. If you need a study group, set one up. If you can't understand a concept, look up youtube tutorials from professors at other schools. If you're not sure how to get the help you need, ask your advisor. 

Encouragement from professors is nice but your motivation should be coming from somewhere inside. 

Again, I'm not trying to be harsh, but it seems like you need a mindset adjustment more than you need a new program. 

I hope that helps a little, and good luck!

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A challenge that is hard to overcome when making the adjustment from undergraduate work to graduate work is that the former is generally a "lean back" activity in which direction, expectations, and support are provided while the latter is ever more a "lean forward" experience in which one learns by doing and support is increasingly elusive and subtle.

Yes, COVID-19 and remote learning pose a different (if not unique) set of challenges to a first year graduate student but as @drunkenduckpoints out, the expectation is that graduate students are going to do almost all of their own heavy lifting. 

Now, if you agree with the recommendation that you change your mindset, the question is then what kinds of changes should you make? IMO, the first is to understand that a major source of the fun of being a graduate student comes through independent discovery. How much can you knowledge can you find on your own using the course syllabi and materials as your basic road map, compass, and rucksack? If you find yourself a bit lost, how can you find your way back so you can move forward?

Meanwhile, given that you are not happy with level of support you've received so far, how can you change the circumstances? You've indicated that classmates are having similar experiences -- can you form groups that provide opportunities to build relationships via social activities (virtual coffee house visits, maybe watch parties) and share knowledge (study groups)? Can you figure out how to interact with your professors in ways that are appropriate?

As you think about your options, I would keep in mind that COVID-10 and remote learning pose different challenges to professors than to students. I want to be careful about how I phrase this because it can be taken the wrong way easily. A person further along the journey of life, an established professional, is going to have more "stuff" in her life than she did when she was a graduate student. And also if she's at the point where she understands that she has more days behind her than ahead of her, if she understands her mortality, COVID-19 can be orders of magnitude more terrifying and traumatic. There's something paradoxical here -- a person with resources (like a home and a 401k) is almost certainly in a better position than a young person trying to make ends meet on a TAship or on loans. But that thought may not inspire confidence -- it may actually add fuel to the firepit of fear. So I am suggesting that you try to have empathy (not sympathy) for your professors. 

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