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Complication on graduation and starting a new program


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Hey guys! I need some help/advice here!

 

I'm now in the transit between graduating from one (M.A.) program and starting a new Ph.D. program in another university. But something went on (illness during writing the thesis) and I couldn't graduate from my M.A. program on time. I could drop from my M.A. program and start my PhD program without the MA degree since it is not a necessity for enrollment; or I could defer admission from the PhD program to the next year and finish my M.A. first. But I'd prefer not to do either way. I don't want to give up my M.A. degree since I've put a lot efforts in the thesis project. More importantly, dropping out from the program will disappoint (more possibly piss out) my advisor, and will affect my academic reputation at the beginning of my career, which is terrible. I don't know if it is possible to defer admission from the PhD program. Even if so, the funding originally set for me must be rearranged and I'm not sure if I could still be funded next year. It seems either way my academic reputation will be damaged..

 

One way to resolve it is to speed up my graduation. Our program does not require an oral defense. Not having an defense could save a few weeks. I wanted to negotiate with my advisor about the possibility of not having a defense, but I doubt she will accept it or even get angry with me. so I haven't (dare not) talk to her about it. I also haven't told professors in the PhD program that I haven't graduated and may need to defer admission. I was hoping I could do it on time without they knowing it.

 

So, what should I do now? Should I talk to my advisor first? Should I inform the PhD program now? Should I give up the M.A. degree or should I defer admission from the PhD program despite of all the risks I mentioned above? BTW, I'm an international student, which means I need to have my F1 transfer from one school to another. Anyone knows if I can work on my thesis in one program (with the F1 in this school) and meanwhile start PhD study in another school (and transfer F1 to this school after I have attended to this school)? I have asked this to the PhD school, and there is a deadline for late transferred F1 on early September. I don't know if I couldn't manage to graduate and transfer my F1 before that, what will happen. 

 

Is it a rare case that one hasn't graduated from one program before starting another? I assume since there are a lot of people running after schedule in their supposedly-five-year PhD programs, it should not be uncommon for one to do the same thing in the two-year MA programs...What people usually do in this case? Anyone has any idea what I should do? Any opinion is appreciated!

Edited by quickoats
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I can't answer most questions here, but I think based on what you say the first thing that needs to happen is for you to talk to your advisor so you can have a clearer sense of how far away you are from graduating from your MA program. Are we talking a month, or a semester, or a year? Those make a big difference. Once you know what needs to happen before you can graduate, I think the next step is to talk to someone in your PhD program -- the chair, DGS, or your advisor. Explain the situation, lay out your options, and ask for their advice. Since we're talking about a delay due to illness, I don't think this should give you a bad reputation. I'd simply tell them where things stand, what you think the options are (and what you prefer out of those options) and ask whether they can support your plans. This all probably needs to happen fairly quickly, since I assume your program will start very soon and you may need to make arrangements relating to visa, housing, funding, etc. wherever you go, and the schools need to know about your decision soon, too.

 

Things are somewhat complicated by the visa situation, and I don't want to give advice on that since I don't know the details of the F-1 transfer and the status of MA students. This is something you need to talk about with the international students office at your school, and the sooner the better. This is too important to just ask about on the internet. Assuming you can't graduate in the few weeks remaining before the beginning of the semester and get the visa situation sorted out, my guess is that there are two viable options, given your status: one is that you take an extra semester, or year, and finish the MA, then you start the PhD program. Another is that you quit the MA program and start the PhD this year. The third option, which I would otherwise lean towards -- start the PhD, work hard during the semester and during breaks to finish the MA concurrently with your first year in your PhD program -- is probably not possible because of your immigration status (but it's certainly something to ask your ISO about!). Personally, I'd only defer and finish the MA if your admissions and some sort of funding are guaranteed. It'd be a shame to lose your spot or funding to finish a MA that's not even required for the program. 

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You also need to triple check with your PhD program that having a MA isn't a pre-req. We were told that they accepted us under the assumption that we would have a master's. Also, our master's graduate dates were June or September, and my program started in August. When I asked, I was told that I had to officially graduate by the June date. Even if all my requirements were finished by July and the graduation was just a formality in September, that would void my enrollment in the PhD program.

 

I know you don't want to tell anyone, but this is a situation where it will suck to tell people but you need to. The faster you know the rules and options, the faster you can problem solve and make things happen.

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As long as we're telling personal anecdotes, I started my PhD without finishing my MA. It's sort of a long story but the short version is I did all of the coursework but didn't finish the thesis. I asked my PhD school whether this would be a problem and they said they didn't care. I put my MA on hold and left (in case something didn't work out and I'd want to come back and finish it later, which I never did btw), and by now I've graduated with my PhD and been on the job market so I can tell you no one ever asked about this "issue" on my CV. I list it as "MA student in Linguistics" where it's clear from the way my BA and PhD are listed that I didn't actually graduate. The CV was attached to all my applications. Of course I can't know it didn't get me an immediate reject somewhere but I'd be very(!) surprised if that were so. It never came up in any interview, not mentioned ever even in the case of fellowships that required transcripts from all my schools (which never happened for actual TT job, btw, only fellowships). Once the PhD is done, that's really all anyone cares about.

 

So I think the bottom line here is OP, you need to figure out the requirements and specifics of your case. It may be unpleasant, but without knowing all the information you can't make a decision. 

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  • 2 weeks later...

My own PhD program required proof of the BA degree if you had graduated one year or less prior, but didn't require an MA.  I did have to send them a copy of my diploma (which the rest of my cohort found amusing, since the next youngest person had finished their BA 3 years before) but someone in your situation wouldn't be penalized for not finishing the MA.

 

That said, I think you need to get over your fear of your advisor's response and talk to her.  You're an adult, she's an adult, who cares if she gets angry?  You have to approach it from that angle.  You are attempting to move onto a PhD program, and her holding you up would be petty.  If it's pretty common for MA theses in your department to not have an oral defense, then you're not being outrageous.  BUT it sounds like the oral defense is only one, potentially small, component of the delay.  It doesn't sound like you are actually finished with your thesis, and that that's what's holding you up from the MA.

 

Personally, I would not consider deferring the PhD admissions, since the MA is not required for your PhD program.  My steps of action would be this:

 

1) How long do you need to finish your thesis project?  Who's holding it up - you, or your advisor?  If all that remains is writing and editing, and you are nearly finished, this may be something you could bang out in the first semester of your PhD program before your research requirements ramp up too much (although there will be many sleepless nights and work-filled weekends).  If you can accurately assess how long it will take you to finish and your MA advisor agrees with that assessment, set a hard deadline and get to work.  Only after that can you negotiate the oral defense thing - it may turn out that you can postpone your oral defense until, say, December after finals are over or early January or whatever, and since it's September you can schedule it far in advance.

 

2) If your thesis project will take more than a semester to finish to satisfaction, personally I think I would just cut my losses.  You really need to be able to devote your time to your new PhD program, getting involved in research and scholarship there.  You can probably pick up an MA in your PhD program if you don't formally get it from your original institution.  Your advisor may be a bit disappointed - or she may not be.  She probably won't be pissed off, as it doesn't really affect her personally.  Your unfinished thesis may affect any letters of recommendation you'd want to get from her, so you'd need to work around that.

 

In either case I don't think you need to tell your PhD program unless the MA is required for admission (which you said it's not).  In the first case, you just need to make sure that your thesis work doesn't interfere with your coursework and work for your new PhD - which is why I am telling you to limit work to one semester at most, since the first semester has the most flexibility and understanding.

 

The F-1 transfer issue you should ask about at the international student office at one of your institutions.  I recommend asking the original one if it is possible for you to still earn the MA if you submit your thesis in December, if you don't have F-1 status there anymore.  That will also help you make the decision.  If they say that they can't award an MA to students who don't currently have F-1 status at their school, that's another vote for simply dropping out of the MA program, because it's frankly silly to jeopardize your funding and reputation in your PhD program to complete a largely unnecessary MA.

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My own PhD program required proof of the BA degree if you had graduated one year or less prior, but didn't require an MA.  I did have to send them a copy of my diploma (which the rest of my cohort found amusing, since the next youngest person had finished their BA 3 years before) but someone in your situation wouldn't be penalized for not finishing the MA.

 

That said, I think you need to get over your fear of your advisor's response and talk to her.  You're an adult, she's an adult, who cares if she gets angry?  You have to approach it from that angle.  You are attempting to move onto a PhD program, and her holding you up would be petty.  If it's pretty common for MA theses in your department to not have an oral defense, then you're not being outrageous.  BUT it sounds like the oral defense is only one, potentially small, component of the delay.  It doesn't sound like you are actually finished with your thesis, and that that's what's holding you up from the MA.

 

Personally, I would not consider deferring the PhD admissions, since the MA is not required for your PhD program.  My steps of action would be this:

 

1) How long do you need to finish your thesis project?  Who's holding it up - you, or your advisor?  If all that remains is writing and editing, and you are nearly finished, this may be something you could bang out in the first semester of your PhD program before your research requirements ramp up too much (although there will be many sleepless nights and work-filled weekends).  If you can accurately assess how long it will take you to finish and your MA advisor agrees with that assessment, set a hard deadline and get to work.  Only after that can you negotiate the oral defense thing - it may turn out that you can postpone your oral defense until, say, December after finals are over or early January or whatever, and since it's September you can schedule it far in advance.

 

2) If your thesis project will take more than a semester to finish to satisfaction, personally I think I would just cut my losses.  You really need to be able to devote your time to your new PhD program, getting involved in research and scholarship there.  You can probably pick up an MA in your PhD program if you don't formally get it from your original institution.  Your advisor may be a bit disappointed - or she may not be.  She probably won't be pissed off, as it doesn't really affect her personally.  Your unfinished thesis may affect any letters of recommendation you'd want to get from her, so you'd need to work around that.

 

In either case I don't think you need to tell your PhD program unless the MA is required for admission (which you said it's not).  In the first case, you just need to make sure that your thesis work doesn't interfere with your coursework and work for your new PhD - which is why I am telling you to limit work to one semester at most, since the first semester has the most flexibility and understanding.

 

The F-1 transfer issue you should ask about at the international student office at one of your institutions.  I recommend asking the original one if it is possible for you to still earn the MA if you submit your thesis in December, if you don't have F-1 status there anymore.  That will also help you make the decision.  If they say that they can't award an MA to students who don't currently have F-1 status at their school, that's another vote for simply dropping out of the MA program, because it's frankly silly to jeopardize your funding and reputation in your PhD program to complete a largely unnecessary MA.

 

I really think that the "MA is not a requirement" is something that should be triple checked before assumed. I assumed that it was not required for me- as other people in my cohort do not have a master's- but when I talked to our office, I was told that there was an implicit agreement that I would graduate before beginning the PhD program, as I was enrolled in it upon interviewing and that was the premise I was accepted under, and therefore would be required to graduate the MS program before starting my PhD program. Just keep in mind that there may be weird policies or logistics you're not aware of and make sure you're making a fully informed decision. If asked, I would have said my master's wasn't required for enrollment, but I only found out that it was required for me when I asked. Just a warning, as it sounds like the OP never actually contacted their PhD program to confirm.

 

Summary: I'm sure it's not an issue, but you definitely need to speak to the PhD program directly before making assumptions.

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When I asked, I was told that I had to officially graduate by the June date. Even if all my requirements were finished by July and the graduation was just a formality in September, that would void my enrollment in the PhD program.

 

Yipes, that's a pretty hard line requirement and, frankly, kind of stupid. My convocation was 9 months after completing requirements and nobody cared.

 

But as others pointed out, not having an MA could affect your admission even if it's not a hard requirement. That is, having an MA when not required could have been considered a strength of your application and if it's absent, maybe you're now a weaker candidate. It's bad situation anyway, and you need to start asking people about your options.

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