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Leaving PhD Program with M.A, Applying to Another Discipline (History)



Hello All. Long time lurker, first time poster. I hope to contribute from now on. I'm going to lay out my entire dilemma and specific questions I have. Feel free to answer to all or parts of my post. 

I am interested broadly in the history of Catholicism in America. I applied to graduate school last fall after wrapping up two years of teaching in an inner city school. I applied to a hodge podge of programs. I received admission to Harvard Divinity (MTS), Vanderbilt Divinity (MTS), and a PhD program in American Studies at a medium sized midwestern Catholic university. I ultimately chose the PhD program in American Studies. Obviously Harvard and Vandy are much more prestigious, but I made the choice on the following basis: I received a fellowship with full funding (tuition, insurance, -stipend) and no work commitment, and I really wanted to work with a particular professor in the program. I also thought American Studies, being interdisciplinary, would give me a lot of freedom to look at religion.

This is my first semester, and over the past few weeks I have been thinking about getting the M.A in American Studies, but applying to more prestigious PhD programs in history (or maybe one or two religious studies programs that match closely with my interests). I'm not necessarily miserable/unhappy at my program, but I am considering leaving for the following reasons:

1) Courses offered/Intellectual environment-Although the professor that I came to work here with is awesome and has interests that align with mine, I am essentially the only student in the program interested in religion at all. Because there is no demand, the department rarely, if ever, offers any courses on religion. 

2) Prestige-This is superficial but true. Its an ok program, and some grads have gotten jobs at small schools. But I think I can shoot a bit higher. I got in with a mediocre GRE score (82nd percentile Verbal) from when I was an undergrad. After being in grad school, and studying again, I think I can get into the 90th percentile on the verbal section.

3) Not being pushed by other students- I feel like the first years I'm with aren't pushing me to be better. I'm no genius, and have much growing to do myself. I've had my struggles and have had to learn to read better, speak better in class, etc. However, I want to be in an environment were I feel like others are pushing me to be better as a scholar. They are bright and diligent enough to carry conversation in class, and obviously get into the program, but there's a bit of complacency. Many people just want the degree and do just enough to get credits. I want to be somewhere where I'm pushed by others. 

4)The discipline-while Am. St. is interdisciplinary, and I CAN look at religion, I've gotten the sense that very few people withing the discipline care about religion. 

I'm in a bit of a fortunate situation. I am funded and came in with only a B.A. I could in theory get the M.A and apply to other programs while I'm at it.

My questions are the following:

1) Do I have anything to lose in not finishing my PhD and only getting the M.A and applying to PhD programs in another discipline? Will I burn bridges? Does it look bad? Obviously I would communicate my intentions with tact, so that if I don't get in anywhere I am still in this PhD program and can finish out.

2) Has anyone done something like this before?

3) Is it better to just stick with it?

4) Does it look like I'm quitting? In my mind, I'm not quitting the PhD program (there's nothing binding). Rather, I realized my heart was elsewhere, finished an M.A, in American Studies, and now applying to PhD programs in other disciplines (mostly history, maybe 1 to 2 religious studies). But does it look to my professors and other admission committees like I'm quitting?




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