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Transferring? Pros and Cons?


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Hi guys!

So I am currently a first year in a PhD program straight from a Bachelors degree. I added on the MS option a couple of weeks ago so I could get my MS then my PhD.

I met with my adviser to talk to him about potential master's thesis topics. A few things concerned me. First of all he completely was against all my ideas! These are good ideas too, but apparently not in the scope of the program. I don't want to give away too many details but the research I would like to do is in a similar field but the research I am currently doing for my Research assistantship deals with a very specific research focus which I am not interested in pursuing at all! He wants me to do my thesis on something related to my RA. I told him I would rather do something related to my interests, and he questioned me about if I had mentioned this when we interviewed. Just so you know, I did AND I looked at the personal statement I sent to the program and it said very explicitly my research interests were in this. So his options were for me to work entirely with a different university, like request using their data, or doing something completely out of line of my interests!

Just so you know I do really like the program and the people here. I am very unhappy at the location and had been planning to just stop going here once I get my MS. I had thought I would be able to pursue a thesis with my research interest since he had told me on the interview that this could occur but apparently that is not the case. I also don't want to spend the next year and summer doing a thesis that has nothing to do with what I want to do research in or designing a product that I do not have the appropriate skills for.

Also what bothered me is my advisor did not even remember I was a PhD. student, he thought I was a MS and to make matters worse at the end of the conversation, he implied I talked unprofessionally. I do talk professionally and am open to critiques but honestly I felt very nervous after he told me my options or lack of options. Now I want to transfer. Why waste their funding, my time, etc. on doing something completely unrelated to my interests. Considering I am a first year I do know I can get a letter or two from undergrad again, and also there are two professors at this university who really like me and have done some research with me who I think would be willing to write me a recommendation letter.

I just don't know what to do? I've read some posts and it seems like people tend to tell people to NOT transfer and just stick it out.

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One more thing... if anyone gives me the advice to stick it out, could you give me advice on how long it might take to complete a thesis? I am actually finished with my coursework at the end of this semester. Overloaded big time (with a 4.0) and had some transfers from undergrad go through. My adviser basically expected me to finish it by spring. If I do decide to complete the last requirement of the thesis and do something completely uninteresting, how long does that take for most students? I'd really rather not stay to do work on the thesis but considering I need to wait a year to reapply anyway, I'm not sure what the best route is. Thanks again!

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Since you'll have a gap year anyway it really does makessense to stay on and finish the thesis. It'll look much better on your record. How long it takes to complete a thesis varies from school to school and depends quite a bit not only on the general requirements of the program you are in but also on how happy your advisor is with your progress. In Europe many Masters degrees are completed in two years, such that you do coursework in the first three semesters and you write your thesis in the fourth one, so it's at least possible to finish a decent paper in a few months. I think UK programs are often just one-year programs that include both coursework and a thesis, so I imagine they also don't spend more than 2-3 months actually doing the writing. I have less experience with American degrees, but I'm sure others will be able to tell you more about that. Logically, it would make the most sense to pick a topic that your advisor will be happy with, even if you are less pleased (optimally, find one that doesn't make you suffer even though it's not your favorite). At this point the goal is to finish the degree as soon as possible, while staying on good terms with your advisor, whose LoR you may still require when you apply next year. Unfortunately the best way to do that is to write a paper about a topic of your advisor's choice. It may be harder to stay motivated when you don't care about your topic, but motivation can come from having the end in sight. It's just a few months. At some schools you can request to have the residency requirement suspended if all that you have left is writing the thesis, maybe that's also something to look into.

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It sounds like there are multiple things going on. You and your advisor are not really connecting, you are not interested in the research that you are doing, and are not thrilled about the location of the institution. When you think back to when you chose to enroll here, what were the positives of the school?

In my experience, there is always the good, the bad, and the ugly of any graduate program. I also find this hold true with jobs as well. The question is really are these things that you can deal with or not. If you learned to accept the program faults and all, would it make your time there easier?*

Part of "coping" through these challenges is how your approach it. Personally I agree with your professor to do something that is related to your RA position because it is going to be a lot easier to get your thesis done and you'll hopefully already know the relevant literature through your position.

Personally, I would stick it out to get the master's. Why? (1) you have only spent 5 months in this program. You really need to spend at least a year and see if you are feeling the same way as transitioning into graduate school has its ups and downs (2) you are gaining research skills and you'll have a better idea on how to approach your dissertation when the time comes, (3) research interests tend to change in graduate school. Yours may change as well, and (4) it is a safer bet to "transfer" with a master's than with just a semester or so of coursework.

As to how long a thesis can take? I would ask the students in your program. I don't know what type of research you do but at least in my field some tend to be more time intensive than others and it also depends on whether you are collecting your own data or using a complied dataset. Your advisor or committee members can also slow down the process by not giving you edits in a timely fashion or by not believing you are ready to defend. Older students in your program can give you a better idea of how long the average person takes to complete his/her thesis.

One last question you should probably ask yourself is if you walked out the door tomorrow, what would you do? Could you get a job with the experience you have now?

I wish you the best of luck on your decision!

* I say this because some people spend a lot of time and energy trying to change a program or a job into what they want. Sometimes it just isn't possible. If you can embrace it for what it is and try to not make it into something that it is not going to be, you may decrease your frustrations with the situation.

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  • 2 weeks later...

Thank you so much for your replies! I thought about it and decided to just try and bump out a Master's thesis as quickly as possible. I figure I can get something good done over the summer and/or fall if I work hard at it. I do have enough job experience to get a good position somewhere so will try and get this done as quickly as I can, and try and find a position elsewhere. Thank you again for all your help!

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Oh and one other thing for anyone reading who may be in a similar situation, although this might vary depending on what field you are in. I decided to volunteer and put myself out there in the area I would really enjoy doing research in. It's not exactly doing research in that field but I am getting related experience to it which will really help me when I officially begin working on that research at a different institution. Also it's a volunteer service so I am helping an organization and the people I encounter. Just a possible recommendation for anyone feeling like they aren't doing research they intended to do. It might not make you feel completely better about the situation, but helps nonetheless.

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