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Is it too late to change my mind?


robot_hamster

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I am almost done with my second semester of grad school (I'm currently going for a MS). My adviser wants me to pin down a thesis topic, but I feel like I can't do that because I seriously don't know what I want. I almost feel like I have been traveling along the wrong path. Is it too late for me to change? I need time to think about what I want to do, but I feel like I don't have time to sit down and do any serious soul searching until after the semester is over. I am right in the middle of writing papers, studying for tests, and of course I have all of the papers I have to grade as well (I'm a TA). Has anyone else just up and switched? Can be it done or am I stuck now? I guess I could always finish this degree and if I wanted to go back for a PhD afterward then it could be in something else...

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The way I look at it, you have a couple of options:

#1: Look into taking a leave of absence and working for a while. If it is an official leave, it will probably have a specific time when you have to come back or notify the school as to your intention of returning. This will give you time to clear your head and do some soul-searching about what you want to do. If you just quit, you might never be able to return and you might end up shutting (slamming) the door to that opportunity in the future.

#2: Talk to your adviser about changing your emphasis. Did you accept money for research or a particular program? If so, you might be stuck.

#3. Finish the program, work in the field for a few years (it's only time...right??) and decide later if you should pursue something else. Tell your adviser what your dilemma is and ask for ideas or areas where there are opportunities for your theses.

#4. Talk to other MA students or PhD students. You'll probably find that you are not alone. The PhD students probably have some insights and experiences, many of them having been in the same quandary you are. Take a deep breath. Let it out s-l-o-l-w-l-y-y-y-y-y....

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You don't have to love your thesis topic. Just pick something that you can reasonably complete in the time you have left in your program and do it. You can explore other career options when you're almost done writing.

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I believe that it's never too late to change, but some times it's harder than others. It's hardest when you don't have a clear vision of what you want to change to. I think rising_star's advice is very sound. Finish the degree you started, and you can do your soul searching once you're further along in the program, toward its end. Once you start changing and walking away from what you've already achieved it'll be much harder to go back and finish it. From my own experience, it's much more practical to choose a topic that's reasonable in its dimensions and that your advisor is excited about, even if you are not in love with it, than to work on a topic that your advisor does not fully support but that you are more excited about. [i wish someone had given me this advice when I was doing my MA, it would have saved me a lot of heartache]. Of course, ideally, you can sit down with your advisor and find a topic that you are both excited about.

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I think this is partly stemming back to all the problems I have been having anxiety/depression-wise. It is true, I simply don't know what it is that I want. I have this fear of going down the wrong path and then being stuck there when it comes to my career choices. I think you're right though, no sense in backing out halfway through. I guess I had it in my head that what I do for my thesis topic needs to be important and to actually mean something. But maybe you're right, maybe I am just setting myself up for heartache and failure. I will be sitting down with my adviser, but not for a few weeks (they are busy too). My biggest obstacle is going to be getting my committee together on time (according to the timeline) because no one will agree to be on it if they don't know what my thesis topic is.

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Just relax in knowing that for now you're in the MS, which is 2-3 years (probably 2). If this just isn't what you want to be doing by the end of that, you can easily back away with your degree. Even if you want to go on to the PhD, you can do something else for a year or so. That's why my advisor suggested I do an MS first even though I wanted to go straight PhD (it's what she did, too).

As for a topic, it's not the end all be all. Some in my cohort wondered why I have gotten my committee/proposal put together so quickly, and it's because I just picked something. My topic is interesting, novel in its own way, and will let me try out a few different methods/techniques that I can apply to other things. The MS is sort of a dry run for the PhD, in my eyes, so as long as you are working on something interesting to you, it doesn't have to be the love of your intellectual life.

So, I guess what others said earlier (I just looked those posts over).

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I think this is partly stemming back to all the problems I have been having anxiety/depression-wise. It is true, I simply don't know what it is that I want. I have this fear of going down the wrong path and then being stuck there when it comes to my career choices. I think you're right though, no sense in backing out halfway through. I guess I had it in my head that what I do for my thesis topic needs to be important and to actually mean something. But maybe you're right, maybe I am just setting myself up for heartache and failure. I will be sitting down with my adviser, but not for a few weeks (they are busy too). My biggest obstacle is going to be getting my committee together on time (according to the timeline) because no one will agree to be on it if they don't know what my thesis topic is.

I totally relate to this right now! It seems like the general push from my adviser and the department as a whole is to go for my PhD, which would mean at least another 4 years of school, on top of an additional 4+ years of postdoc research (likely working under some jerk), and then IF I'm lucky, I MIGHT land a Tenure-track faculty position, which I then have to spend ANOTHER 7+ years getting tenure. I'm 26 right now, so chances are I'll be in my FORTIES by the time I actually land a job secure enough to have a family, but I'll be too old to have a family. But I feel like if I don't go in that direction, all it will do is make me frowned upon by my department.

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