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My husband just got fired, I have to leave my program, what do I do now?

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I hope this is the best subforum to post this. If not, please let me know where would be a more appropriate location.

My husband was let go from his job about a week ago. It was a restructuring move and he got a decent severance package, but now everything is up in the air. I'm just about to start Y2 of my PhD in Political Science but after a lot of discussion, my husband and I decided that the best solution is for us to move out-of-state. My husband had looked into other jobs within commuting distance to us and they are just not there. We have to move.

This complicates my PhD plans immensely. I've run over all possible scenarios in my brain and there's no way I can stick around for another year and a half until my quals. I probably have at least 3 more semesters of coursework and with the way our finances are looking, we cannot afford to do long distance and fund two households. We also have two kids, so splitting up really isn't an option. I've come to the painful conclusion that I have to leave my program.

I need advice on what to do. I really want to continue my doctoral studies and have already started looking into applying to other universities. I've accepted the fact that I'll be starting over and that my classes most likely will not transfer.

Some questions:

  1. I'm leaning towards applying for a PhD in Public Policy instead of continuing Political Science. I can make an argument that my research interests are more aligned to the work being done in schools of public policy as opposed to pure poli sci. Will my time in a Political Science PhD help or hurt my chances with Public Policy programs? I do have an MPP from Princeton and years of professional experience working in state government, and I believe I'm a strong applicant in general. 
  2. Will other departments view my application in a negative light or with prejudice? Will it be harder to get in the second time around? I've read around the internet that admissions committees don't like to see that you have history in other doctoral programs. 
  3. Sorry if I'm being vague about my location and current program, they don't know yet and I don't want to risk outing myself before I tell them. But in general, I don't have anything bad to say about my current department and I'm in good academic standing. They've been really great to me with funding and support, and I think my advisor will write me a decent LOR. But truth be told, I don't love my advisor and the research fit with me and the faculty is off, which is why I can see the silver lining of all this as a chance to refocus on public policy instead of strict political science.

 I've talked to some grad school friends and advice has been all over the place. Your thoughts and feedback would be greatly appreciated. Thanks.


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Sometimes life throws us weird curveballs and we have to adjust everything. I would say to continue in your program for the time being without saying anything, until your husband has a job and you know what you're doing. Even though the job market is picking up, it may take him six months to a year to get a job, depending on the field. Because you have funding, that is some income, together with his severance package. Even when a company shows interest, it takes time for offers to come through. Because you don't have any idea where you will be located, you can't make application this year. That means it will be two years at a minimum before you can restart any program, but get your materials  together in the event that he finds a job right away. Otherwise, just sit tight for this semester and continue as you have been. The semester is relatively short and it would be nothing short of a miracle if your husband were to get a job and be ready to move before the end of semester. When you have something firm to go on, that is the right time to contact everyone. Anyway, for what it's worth, that's my honest opinion. Don't make any hasty decisions that you cannot take back.

I think if you end up applying to other programs, then in your SOP, you are going to have to explain to a certain extent. 


Edited by cowgirlsdontcry
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First of all, let me say I'm so sorry this happened to you and your husband. To commiserate, my husband was laid off a little less than a month ago, and I'm about to start my program in a few weeks (needless to say, there was some freaking out).

We don't know each other, and I certainly can't say what you and your husband have and haven't talked about - but may I ask if you (and/or he) have considered looking for a job that will "get your family by" until you are finished with coursework? I ask because getting your PhD is obviously a really important goal in your life and your career.  Your husband's career is also really important, so in situations like these it's difficult to choose whose goal takes precedence. But, if your husband can find a job that may not be exactly what he wants, but will "do" for now, would it be possible for you to wrap up what you need to before potentially moving out of state to fulfill his goal? 

When my husband got laid off I seriously considered dropping out of my program. But I've spent so many years working toward this goal, and he told me he wasn't going to let me potentially give up what I'd worked so hard for, especially if he might get a new job within a few months.

Not sure if this is at all helpful - I just wanted to add my perspective. Best wishes to you!

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1. It doesn't have to do either, but that is really going to depend upon how you spin it and your letters of support (from your advisor and 2 other professors in your program). If you make a strong case that's essentially "I thought I wanted a PhD in political science, but it turns out that as I spent more time in my program my interests evolved and I realized I was better suited for a PhD in public policy" then your stint at the political science program doesn't have to hinder you at all.

2. Only if you don't get strong supportive letters from your current department, and/or if you don't make it clear why you're leaving (and, to be clear, the reason should not be "because my husband lost his job." I mean, that IS the reason, and there's no need to hide that - but in your statement of purpose and your letters, the clear primary and most important reason should be "because I think a PhD in public policy in YOUR department would be a much better fit for me.").

Your letter writers also need to make it clear that you aren't leaving your program because of some insidious conflict with your current advisor/committee/someone in the department. In other words, make it clear that you're delightful to work with.

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I'm also very sorry about this. I hope everything turns out the best way possible. 

I wanted to throw an idea. I don't know how big your university is, but have you thought of your husband getting a job there? In many cases for some job openings, they look for internal applicants. Maybe if you know some staff they can help you with this. I have a student job but I work with regular staff and because of this I knew of a job opening in Parking & Transportation for a friend who was kicked out of our program with a MA. 

If you have any close mentor in your program, I'd talk to them under strict confidentiality. They may know of more resources and help you make the right decision at the right time. 

My two cents. 

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 @beebeebee I recommend that you talk to the DGS and see if you can change your focus to earning a master's degree at your current program and then reassessing before leaving it.

If you can, please make a point to have woman to woman discussions with members of the faculty. I suspect that they'll share experiences that may allow you to see things from a different vantage point.

FWIW, I don't think that one should be too concerned about being in love with your advisor after one year. As long as you don't hate the person, and he/she is providing an appropriate amount of support and resistance, the relationship has the potential to evolve over time.

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