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Came for a masters, but supervisor is expecting me to continue as a PhD...


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Maybe I'm just extremely anxious and stressed right now with some major papers/presentations coming up, but I feel like I've had enough.

 

I started my masters this year, under a professor who I somewhat knew from before. I've already spoken to many people, both online and in my personal life, about how I quickly learned to not enjoy my research topic, and I'm not even a full year in. I don't like my work environment, I'm starting to not like my research topic, there's just a lot of things I see as negatives (always been a pessimist anyways...).

 

However, I put all of this to the side, with in my mind thinking I can finish my masters in 2 years (or hopefully less) and move on, hopefully to a new school with a new professor and a research topic I can enjoy more (this is where I in a sense screewed myself over; I only applied to two schools, put all my marbles in one bag with one professor for one school who's work I loved, said I was in for the most part, until a few months before the fall start, he said he couldn't fund me, so I went to my option B aka my only other option).

 

Anyways, that's what kept me going, knowing I can move somewhere else to where I could hopefully be more happy if I decided to continue to pursue grad school.

 

Having said all that, my current professor for some reason has me in their mind as a student who will be going straight to a PhD with them. I never once said anything, since I was never committed to a PhD to begin with. I don't know where I gave such impressions; I always took this as a wait and see scenario in regards to seeing how the masters goes before committing to anything else). On funding letters, they have me listed for years well beyond my 2 years masters, listed me as a potential transfer to PhD student in some, spoke about working with other professors not now, but "for your PhD, we can do this and that", etc.

 

I realized a lot of these things over the past week, and it has me cranked up to 11 in regards to stress and anxiety. I already feel like dropping out at times, and now I find out that my supervisor has plans for me to stay in the same spot I am in for the next foreseeable future (at least another 5 years at minimum).

 

I've thought before about dropping out, and reapplying to a masters again this fall (I've since then decided to try to finish the masters), so the fact that my supervisor has this idea in their head scares the hell out of me. I feel like I need to get out ASAP, as in finish my masters, and then move on.

 

How can I let me supervisor know that I don't plan on staying for a PhD? I know for a fact that I never once said it, so it's not as though I led the supervisor on in any way. I never committed myself to anything beyond this masters which is already feeling like hell. I want to clear the air, since I don't want to continue with any misunderstandings of my plans or intentions; I want it to be clear. However, I'm not sure how I can go about doing this. I'm also extremely scared that if I bring this conversation up, they may do something to spite me, whether it's working/treating me harder during the rest of my masters, or even being less forgiving for any future references.

 

Sorry for the wall of text; as I mentioned, it's just a very stressful week, but I want to set a personal meeting so I can somehow clear the air. I rather let them know of my intentions now and finish my masters ASAP, then give the wrong impression which can delay me finishing up where I am.

 

Advice, I need it! Thanks.

Edited by HYHY02
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That sounds like a rough spot to be in. I don't have any experience with this as I have no thesis in my program, hence no supervisor. One approach you may want to consider is to start a conversation after you get a comment which presumes you are going to do a PhD.... For instance, "So do most students in this program do a PhD?" Wait for the response. Then it's up to you how to continue. Perhaps you could say, "Well I actually haven't planned that far ahead. I might want to take some time off to work, or stop after a masters..."

 

Well you get the point. It's a soft approach to let them know you might not continue on. Then if you do decide to apply to schools somewhere else when you're in your last year, it won't be such a surprise to them that you might not stay at that school and you should be able to figure out how to best approach that conversation as you'll know your supervisor better by that time.

Edited by jenste
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Phrase it more as "I've been thinking about my academic career, and I have decided that I would rather take time out/find a job/transfer to another program than go straight into a PhD here" than an "I-never-told-you-I-wanted-to-continue-onto-a-PhD-where-did-you-get-that-idea-from" accusation. Your supervisor might have thought that your silence implied an intent to continue with the PhD (if there aren't a lot of terminal Masters in this program then that might be a reasonable thing to suppose), or he may have misunderstood something you (or someone else) said. I don't think an indirect approach is going to work - you will need to come out and explicitly tell him that you want to leave. 

 

Articulate the decision as being in your best interests: you want to explore different avenues or research, you think that a break/change will help you become more successful in your future PhD program. Be polite, diplomatic and remember to thank your supervisor for their support and assistance (even if that's a lie). 

 

Good luck! Hopefully the meeting will take a load off your mind.

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You can apply to the PhD program at your current institution, and simultaneously apply to a couple others. I did that when I was apply for PhD straight out of undergrad; I could tell my ex-boss was somewhat expecting me to stick around for another 5 years, but I eventually got into some of the better choices. He wished me well and said gaining educational experience at another school will be better than staying at the same place for another 5+ years. Just don't outright state that you don't want to stay for PhD. Wait till the results come out, then make your decision. If he's a reasonable person, he would want the best for you after seeing the different places you are accepted to.

Edited by Tall Chai Latte
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Let me add my agreement to emphasize how right everyone else is: apply to your own program but apply to others too, get in somewhere else, then pull the switcheroo when you get in somewhere.  Don't burn your current house down until you have another house built somewhere else.

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I agree with what everybody else has said. Don't outright say that you don't want to do a PhD there, with him, but tell him you're applying to multiple places to be safe.

 

I was actually in a similar experience a couple of years ago where my adviser for a clinical program started ushering me into the PhD without any encouragement from me. At first, I tried to keep an open mind, but at the end of the day I knew that I did not want to be in academia. I was sooo worried about disappointing him and worried that his views of me would change if I told him that I didn't want to do the PhD. After months of anxiety and fretting, it finally came down to me sitting down with him and telling him, "I don't want a PhD." Luckily, my adviser is an awesome guy who understood and was genuinely supportive of my declining the academic route.

 

Anyway, the point of that whole story is that I learned that it's that it's far better to say something than not. You will feel much better with that weight off of your shoulders, regardless of how he responds. I still remember how light I felt that day after I walked out of his office. I no longer felt like a fraud! So yes, tell him that you are planning on applying to other programs as well. If he has any sort of integrity he will understand. If he should treat you poorly after you tell him this, then cross that bridge when you get to it. Whatever his response, it can't be worse than committing yourself for several years to doing research you don't like at a program you don't like.

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thanks for all the great replies. Really helped. I agree with pretty much everyone here, I think come Fall for applications I'll make it clear about my intentions just to apply widely, without going one way or another about returning. That sounds like the best option, rather just coming out now and potentially worsening my time and future with this professor.

 

Who knows, just may drop out before then anyways...

 

Thanks again for the great advice!

Edited by HYHY02
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  • 2 weeks later...

thanks for all the great replies. Really helped. I agree with pretty much everyone here, I think come Fall for applications I'll make it clear about my intentions just to apply widely, without going one way or another about returning. That sounds like the best option, rather just coming out now and potentially worsening my time and future with this professor.

 

Who knows, just may drop out before then anyways...

 

Thanks again for the great advice!

 

I was in the exact same position last year. Both my PIs asked me to continue with a Ph.D at my current university in Colombia (after finishing my M.Sc). Luckily I have a very good relationship with both and I just told them that how I trully felt. I did both my undergrad majors (ChemEng and Microbiology) and my M.Sc at the same university and I really wanted to experience my PhD at a different university, if only to get to know different technics, skills and research approaches. They both respected and understood my arguments  (they actually ended up agreeing with my choice to not continue with my PhD there and encouraged and advised me to apply to specific grad school) and we continue to have a very good rapport, we are currently working together and they gave me excellent LoRs (I ended up accepted in Harvard xD). My advice for you will be to be honest with your current PI and more importantly with yourself. Applying to multiple grad schools is very common, but I think that it may only  serve as a temporal solution.

Best luck with your decision and with your applications.

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