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Suspending PhD foot Residency? Has anyone done this?


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Hi All, 

I apologize in advance for the story.  Context is everything, of course.  

New poster here.  I am a veterinarian by training who took an opportunity to pursue a PhD at a top tier institution.  It has been a struggle, as prior to this I came from an almost purely clinical background, and had only limited experience in bench research prior to this.  The experience so far has been suboptimal, and I have dealt with the common psychological problems that seem to go with grad school, but started seeing a therapist and taking care of myself better mentally, which has helped.  Still, I have issues with my mentor, who is a prominent figure in his field, a powerful figure at the university, and who is paying my tuition (my entry into the grad program was unique; I came in on a postdoctoral fellowship for veterinarians which covered salary, but not tuition costs). The faculty member I initially had identified as a potential mentor bailed on me when the department said I could enroll in the program under the condition he covers the cost of tuition.  I ended up with my current, very well-funded mentor as a result, and he currently pays my tuition.  I did not get to rotate, and I did not feel this lab and level of mentorship would be a good fit for my needs, but I made the Faustian bargain of joining it in order to get into the PhD program.  The result of this arrangement is that it is not practically or politically easy to change mentors, though it could probably be done if I raised enough fuss, but I'm frankly not keen on doing that. 

If I was at a lesser institution, I may have left the program already, but I realize I have a rare opportunity here, and completing the PhD would be beneficial to my long-term goals, which is a joint clinical/research appointment at a veterinary college.  Part of my strategy also aimed to pursue specialization in cardiology, and I had planned to apply for veterinary cardiology residencies after my PhD is finished (which is still likely 3-4 years away minimum).  A residency opportunity is really the only thing I would leave the PhD for, but even then, I don't necessarily want to give up this spot. I am considering applying for a residency in this next cycle, and there is by no means any guarantee I get a position, as they are quite competitive and it is a matching process.  If I commit to the match, I have to accept a position if offered, or I am banned from the matching process for 3 years. 

What I am considering exploring is the possibility of applying for a residency, and, if matching, withdrawing from the program with the possibility of re-instatement following the conclusion of the residency.  The policies of my graduate program allow for voluntary withdrawal with later reinstatement with the approval of the graduate program/advisors, but it's not necessarily a guaranteed procedure, so I feel I would probably have to document consent with them ahead of time.  There is no explicit policy for interrupting a PhD for advanced clinical training, and a "leave of absence" can only last a year, so for a 3 year residency, withdrawal is likely the only strategy. 

Whether or not I would actually return is an open question.  A residency could possibly give me the opportunity to apply for a clinical faculty position if any are available when I finish.  A PhD is not a requirement for that.  What the PhD could do, particularly given the level of institution it is coming from, is set me apart from other candidates and give me an edge in applying, and give me greater opportunity to engage in research and more advancement opportunities later.  Particularly if there are no faculty positions available following a residency, I would certainly feel more compelled to complete the PhD. 

So, I'm torn.  The residency offers me a real opportunity to do what I've always wanted to do, and the PhD is more of an optional addition, but I would really like to have the research training and the prestige on my CV for the skills and advancement potential I know it would offer me.  BUT, if I had to choose a residency now or continue the PhD, I'm pretty conflicted.    I'm basically try to have my cake and eat it too, giving myself a possible exit strategy from the miserable PhD experience while not closing the door entirely. 

Anyone been through an experience like this or done something similar?  Advice or thoughts are welcome.







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