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Tips for transferring to another PhD program?


EvieRue
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Hello all! I was wondering if anyone could give me some tips for transferring to another PhD program?

I just started my first year here at my current program because I wanted to continue working with my undergrad advisor (she moved here a year ago). However, after the past two months of learning and research experience, I find that both the program culture and research focus are not a good "fit" for me.

1. Students are expected to work in their office (a tiny shared office space with no windows) from 8am to 10pm everyday including weekends. Although I know this is part of the impression management process, my productivity has been very low since I work best when I'm alone and when it's very quiet.

2. My current program is in the business school and almost all faculty members focus on either meso or macro topics. I came from a very micro psychology research background, and my research interest is too micro for the program.

3. I was under a completely different impression of the program before I came here. I wasn't able to get much information from my advisor during the application process because she was also new to the program. For various reasons, I thought students were given more autonomy regarding their working style and research interest, but it's definitely not the case. I felt like I was always being micro-managed.

I know it's still too early in the year to tell whether things would get better or not. But I wanted to be prepared just in case I do find the need to transfer. It would be wonderful if you could give me some suggestions and tips. Thank you!!!!!

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Usually transfers at the graduate school stage mean simply re-applying and starting over at a new program. It sounds like you could have a good explanation in your SOP as to why you're leaving and seeking another program (but be careful about how you frame it! negatives may not go over well, even if true and justified). It would be a big help if you still have your advisor's support and if she'd agree to write a LOR for you explaining what happened and still showing support for you. If that's the case, you might also talk to her about what would be better fits for you, and see what her advice is on where to apply and what to do next. 

An alternative, if you got admitted to another program and chose this one instead is to reach out to them again and see if there's a chance to go there next year. No guarantees, but in that case if they still like you, you might have an easier time getting in. This time at your program that you're leaving will raise a red flag, but one that you can explain away, so be sure to do so. Otherwise, usually, there is not much more to it. It's not like undergrad; you actually have to go through the application process again. 

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2 hours ago, fuzzylogician said:

Usually transfers at the graduate school stage mean simply re-applying and starting over at a new program. It sounds like you could have a good explanation in your SOP as to why you're leaving and seeking another program (but be careful about how you frame it! negatives may not go over well, even if true and justified). It would be a big help if you still have your advisor's support and if she'd agree to write a LOR for you explaining what happened and still showing support for you. If that's the case, you might also talk to her about what would be better fits for you, and see what her advice is on where to apply and what to do next. 

An alternative, if you got admitted to another program and chose this one instead is to reach out to them again and see if there's a chance to go there next year. No guarantees, but in that case if they still like you, you might have an easier time getting in. This time at your program that you're leaving will raise a red flag, but one that you can explain away, so be sure to do so. Otherwise, usually, there is not much more to it. It's not like undergrad; you actually have to go through the application process again. 

Thank you so much for the reply! I will be sure to pass this information along to my colleagues who are also having doubts about the program and are thinking about transferring. In fact, I just went to one of my colleagues' office to give him an ibuprofen for his terrible headache. He is afraid that if he goes home and rests now, it might reflect badly on him.... (yes...we are not allowed to work from home even when we are sick...)

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2 hours ago, Concordia said:

In the meantime-- noise-cancelling headphones.

Thank you for the advice! I do have a noise-canceling headphone, but it doesn't help much since my office is surrounded by clinical professors who have students coming to their office for questions all day long...

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As you go through this process, try and visit all the programs you're accepted to and try to speak with the students (even if only through emails). Students can often give a more realistic picture of what the program will be like for you.

 

Hope this helps! <3

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You have an office?

I strongly recommend against mentioning "culture" and "'fit' for me." Such phrasing will send a message.

If possible, give thought to earning a master's degree where you are now and then "transferring." That way, you'll show that you're able to do the work. If you have options (thesis, report, exams) find the balance between which is the least painful for you versus which will look best on your applications to a different program. 

What is your plan if, after transferring, you find out that you still can't do what you want, when you want, how you want?

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Yes, most of the time changing programs isn't so much 'transferring' as it is simply leaving one program and starting over somewhere else.

Usually when you are coming from one PhD program what you need is a strong recommendation from some faculty in that program. This will be doubly true for you since your undergrad advisor is now your doctoral advisor. So at some point, when you're ready and have decided for sure, you will need to tell her that you are planning to leave the program so you can secure a letter from her. It probably would also be good to get at least one other letter of recommendation from someone in your department who knows your work and can verify that you are not leaving the department because you didn't get along well with others or do good work. (The third letter can be someone from your undergrad, but having a third one from your current department wouldn't hurt either.)

Typically when you are explaining why you want to switch programs, addressing fit is fine but the fit needs to be research/professional fit. So you would frame it in terms of trying to find a better fit for the research and professional interests you have - more faculty support in Area Y, more coursework, a special program or concentration in that area, whatever. So basically, a polished up version of reason #2, with parts of reason #2 (particularly the lack of autonomy in your research interests). Reason #1 is a good reason to leave a program but not the kind that you talk about in your statement of purpose. Consistent 14-hour days is a ridiculous and unrealistic expectation.

The way you do it is frame it in terms of what you want, rather than what you are running away from. So if you don't have enough autonomy in selecting your research interests, you say something like "I am interested in Department X because of the flexibility and autonomy that students have in designing their own research programs and interests" or whatever. 

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