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To drop out or not?

Crucial BBQ

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I've made my decision but am hesitant.  


I had applied to this program a few years ago and had pretty good conversation/interview with my POI.  So good in fact that I had literally believed I was in.  He all but outright said so.  Well, until the end of the conversation when he caught himself and said that my admittance was dependent on funding, of course.  This is a Master's program, by the way and he was new to the lab, fresh from a post-doc.  You can imagine my surprise when I was rejected... roughly one week later.  I applied again the following year.  This time to a different lab, yet listed the previous PI as a potential co-advisor.  I was waitlisted... by the original POI.  For those not familiar with my story, my uGPA is under 3.0.  Here is where things start to get strange:

Shortly after the notice-of-waitlist had come in I was contacted by the graduate program coordinator and told that the reason I was waitlisted was because in order for me to be admitted I would need to understand that my admittance would be conditional.  The conditions I would need to meet were not yet known and I was given a week to make the decision.  Of course, I had said yes.  

About a month later he gets in touch and we discuss the terms I must meet.  Turns out the "graduate school" denied me outright, yet, the program itself has ultimate say from what I understand.  In our conversation, he told me that he wanted me in his lab because I have a particular skill set that would be beneficial to his lab and research.  I knew I was not admitted because of my academic ability.  In the least, I had hoped it would have been because of my tenacity.  But this was my dream and I was in.  Turns out he did admit a student that year, just not me. 

As far as MS programs go, this one is not too expensive.  The COL in the area, however, is insanely high.  And I am now broke.  The way this program works is that if your thesis is a continuation of research already being done by the lab, the lab pays for it, which is good.  It is not an RA, though, as the RAs are definitely paid here.  From my perspective, it seems as though he found a loophole:  having me work as an RA without paying me.  I have no proof of this, just how it seems.  Now he claims to be collaborating with another PI on a new project that is "a good fit" for me.  He won't tell me what it is, though.  Or when it will get off the ground.  Originally I was to incorporate my own research into his lab, now it seems like he has forgotten all about that.  

I have brought my financial concerns to him numerous times with the last few being on the verge of "I don't think I can afford this program".  His responses are always along the lines of "Sorry I cannot fund you, but don't worry about it", or, "I'll keep my eye out for funding".  I filed a FAFSA and currently have taken out $20K in Federal student loan (split between the two upcoming semesters).  I have been working part-time at $15/hour, which doesn't cover the room I rent.  Of course. there is also food, bills, books, etc. to be paid for, too.  I need to take out more in loans and/or get a second job.  I have been reaching out to other students with the hopes of finding cheaper housing. 

It is also looking like it will take me 3 years or more to complete the program.  I ultimately want a Ph.D.  

There are a few other items of concern relating to finances.  For one, I am looking at potentially racking up $60K or more in loans (on top of what I already have from undergrad).  At this point, because I am feeling used by my PI and because I face the real possibility of simply not being able to afford it, I am looking to drop out.  I would take a leave of absence and come back when my PI finds that funding but because of my conditional status, I am not allowed.   I have now just reminded myself that because of my conditional admit I am technically not an admitted student (to the university) as I have yet to fulfill the requirements.  Then again I was able to get Federal student loans which I was under the impression where available to grad students admitted on a conditional status?  

I don't want to close any doors here, the program itself is awesome, but the COL is becoming prohibitive and my PI/advisor is no help.  He did respond to a recent concern over the affordability of the program with "...I understand your concerns and I don't want to pressure you into anything..."  Is that his way of saying, "If you cannot afford it and want to leave, I understand"?  Not sure what to at the moment besides rant.  

Edited by Crucial BBQ
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It really sucks that you can't take a leave of absence. I don't even understand the conditions of your admission. Have those ever been put on paper anywhere?

I don't know what your PI meant by that last statement you included but I would ask them directly if you really want to know what was meant. Outside of winning the lottery or finding an assistantship in another department (student affairs? the library?), I'm not sure you really have any choices here.

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3 hours ago, rising_star said:

It really sucks that you can't take a leave of absence. I don't even understand the conditions of your admission. Have those ever been put on paper anywhere?

I don't know what your PI meant by that last statement you included but I would ask them directly if you really want to know what was meant. Outside of winning the lottery or finding an assistantship in another department (student affairs? the library?), I'm not sure you really have any choices here.


Right,  the official letter of congratulations from the school states my admittance is both conditional and provisional; the conditional from the program and the provisional from the school.  From email archives, here is how I was admitted:

I noticed through my school's student portal that I had been rejected; I contacted the Director of the graduate school to find out why.  I was told I was rejected because of my low GPA and that I should contact my program to see if they will agree to "the special action".  I then emailed the graduate program coordinator for my program, mentioning the rejection and asking about the special action.  Coordinator has no idea what I am talking about, contacts Graduate School for clarification.  Two days later I receive an email from Coordinator stating that the program will agree to the special action.  The program was scheduled to release admissions decisions one month later.  

Roughly one month later I receive the decision from my program I was on the waitlist and that I can expect to hear a final decision in roughly two weeks on D Date.  I also learned it was the original POI, the one who I listed as potential co-advisor, who waitlisted me.  

The conditions I am to meet were spoken to me over a telephone conversation with my PI/advisor but I do believe that paperwork was involved between my program and the Graduate School.  If so, I have not seen it.  The provisional aspect is on my main student portal (the program has its own intranet with a separate program-specific student portal).  All it states are that "final transcripts and/or documents must be submitted".  

I was told from a few people that my PI will not outright suggest I withdraw from the program, take a leave of absence, and so on.  My current job is at the school library.  This is a State school.  As such, I am a State employee and only allowed to work up to 20 hours/week.  

I went back to edit my OP, yet forgot to add that if I do formally withdraw from the program I want to do so respectfully, of course, and wanting to ask for tips.  I have an extensive paper trail (emails) with my PI outlining my specific concerns that include a few other items not mentioned here.  The financial restraints are the main one, however.  I was paying $1200/month for a room.  Considering it had an en suite and was all-inclusive (cable TV, Internet, utilities), it was cheaper than renting a studio.  

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It is not clear to me - how many semesters are you in at this point?  I can't tell if you already have a year under your belt or you actually haven't started yet.

I would take a leave of absence as rising_star suggests (if you are actually a returning student) or just withdraw if this is your first semester.  You want to make sure that you withdraw soon so you can get the majority or hopefully all of your tuition back.  After you officially withdraw from the school (there should be instructions on how to do this on your school's website), you can write your PI an email explaining that upon further reflection that you would like to attend (or stay in the program - if that's the case), but you can't make the finances work at this point.  You realize that the timing isn't ideal being so close to the start of the semester (or perhaps the semester is already started for you) and that you appreciate all s/he has done for you  You can also throw in something about that you hope to work with him/her in the future (if it's true).

If your PI is at all reasonable - not being able to afford the program it is a pretty straight forward reason why you can't attend and why people drop out.  S/He might be disappointed, but should understand especially since s/he can't fund you.


Edited by ZeChocMoose
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  • 2 weeks later...

This reminds me a little of one school where I applied during my last cycle of applications (the one where I got into the school where I am now). It was a small, not-well-known university that was just branching out into my field of study. During the application process I contacted a few faculty of interest at this university, and asked about their research. I was also contacted by a faculty member whom I did NOT reach out to, who asked to speak to me on the phone. This faculty member obviously really tried to "sell" his lab to me, and from my end it was rather clear that our research philosophies were different and that I wasn't a good fit for his group, but it seemed he didn't see it, or didn't want to.

I got invited for the interview, and went. Almost immediately after arriving, in fact possibly a day or two before (I don't quite remember), that faculty member who had contacted me around the time I submitted the application started to invite me to things, i.e. tours of his lab that weren't on the actual recruitment weekend schedule, things like that. I graciously went at the beginning, but then it started to become very awkward, because I had to cut him off to keep my conversations with him from cutting into time that I had other things scheduled (like interviews with faculty I actually wanted to work for). I heard from other prospective graduate students that he had done similar things with them. In fact, he even did borderline unethical things--like there was this award that each graduate department was only supposed to nominate a small number (I think 1 or 2) of students for, and it turned out this one professor had single-handedly nominated ALL of us prospective students in the program for that award.

On the last day of the recruitment weekend I was invited for a private talk with the director of admissions, but "Mr. Pushy" was either there too, or he was waiting to talk to me again afterward. I was told that I had a really strong application and not only would be offered admission, but that I could expect a very good funding arrangement if I were to attend that graduate program. 

Then, it got near April 15 and I had already heard from the other schools, but I was still waiting to hear on that one. I even wrote the director of admissions, asking what had taken so long because I'd been led to believe that I was one of the best applicants. Finally, almost exactly on the 15th, I was told that I had not been admitted. The only thing I can conclude was that Mr. Pushy had swayed the admissions process to let them only accept people who wanted to work in his group.


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