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Transferring after a year or two


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I'd appreciate some advice from students who have, or have contemplated, transferring into a different PhD program after a year or two at a first PhD program (in philosophy). 


I ask because, although I am very happy with my application season (3a/2w/9r, with one acceptance at a top-10 PGR), that *one* school got away. It is a school that is attractive to me for its faculty interests, reputation, and location. 


I expect to be happy at the departments at which I was admitted, but there is a voice in the back of my head that says, "But maybe you can transfer to University of X next year, and everything will be perfect!"


I'm sure there are many complications to doing something like that. The first to occur to me is the awkwardness of asking people in my department for recommendations after I've only been there for a few months. This is not only awkward, since it indicates that a few months was all it took to drive me away, but it potentially reflects poorly on my commitment *to philosophy*, it is potentially rude, and they might not have much to say about me yet in a recommendation letter. 


Anyway, I could go on, but I think it would be more productive to hear from somebody who has been through this before.




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I haven't been through this, but I agree that it might be weird to ask for recommendations a couple months after entering a program. You could always apply out after two years instead, giving you more time to get to know the faculty, maybe teach some courses and build your experience to increase the likelihood of getting into the better school. Also would give you more time to develop the best possible writing sample and get a lot of feedback.

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I'll be perfectly honest, and I hope this doesn't come off as overly harsh. I think it is a little disingenuous to enter a PhD with the intention of transferring out after a year or two. The program went through a lot of effort deciding between applicants and offered you admission because they think you'll do well in their program and they believe they have a lot to offer you in training you in your stated areas of interest. They are going to be putting a lot of resources into training you. It seems a little unfair to them to accept that with the intention of jumping ship to your dream school, and asking for recommendations along the way.


Of course there are some valid reasons for transferring out: your adviser leaves or is too difficult to work with, your research interests change and no longer match with the department's strengths, you are not or cannot thrive in the city you're in, etc. In these cases it is perfectly understandable to leave the program and I think your professors would do everything they can to help you do so. But I don't think that transferring out because you're not in your dream program falls into that acceptable category.


You don't know that everything will be perfect if you get into your dream school. It's very likely that the grass may not be so green once you get there. If you really feel that you have to get into that school, I think the most responsible and fair way of doing it is to turn down your offers and reapply next year, but that carries a huge risk as there is no way of knowing if you'll get in anywhere next year. But I think it's unfair to use one of the schools you were accepted to as a stepping stone, and I don't think you'll be able to rely on getting good reference letters. There is also the possibility that if you ask for them and tell your professors that you're trying to transfer out to the one that got away, solely for that reason, you risk burning some bridges and having them turn sour on you.

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I think what's most important is the reaction that faculty members will have, which is an empirical question. Contra above, from the number of people I've known who have transferred out after one or two years from an MA/PhD program, they've all had positive reactions from their professors.


Obviously if you go in day one talking down the school and your peers, acting as though you deserve to be at a higher ranked PGR program with smarter peers and professors... then you'll burn some bridges. Otherwise, I haven't heard of anything happening. So my advice, is to ask your professors, how they would react to a student wanting to transfer out, and what their suggestions are on how to handle this. (I've known some students who went in day 1 and told professors they were ultimately looking to transfer out after two years, and received the department's full support in doing so. I've also known students who "held their cards", and instead a year later told the department that they felt they would be better suited at a different department)

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