Transferring graduate schools

  • As many already know, studying for the physics GRE and getting accepted into a graduate program is not the final hurdle in your physics career.
  • There are many issues current physics graduate students face such as studying for their qualifier, deciding upon a field of research, choosing an advisor, being an effective teaching assistant, trying to have a social life, navigating department politics, dealing with stress, utilizing financial aid, etc.

DramDr
Posts: 3
Joined: Sun Oct 14, 2012 9:36 pm

Transferring graduate schools

Postby DramDr » Sun Oct 14, 2012 9:58 pm

New account to preserve anonymity.

While I'm only a first year, I have already realized that the school I am attending is not a good fit in either offered coursework or research opportunities. At the end of the day, this was my only option and I took it. I know that part of the reason I am unhappy (with the program) is research fit, but some of it also has to do with courses and the overall quality of the program.

My grades as an undergrad were...sporadic. I suffered from heavy depression for most of the time I was an undergrad, and only sorted it out at the very end, once all grades were finalized. It took a while to find a good medication and routine. This definitely affected my grades (physics grades ranging from a lone C- to A's), and I suppose I should have mentioned this in my PS or something, but alas, I didn't and was left with only one grad school option. Some schools even told me I was a great candidate, except for a few notable grades on my transcript.

I am doing much better now mentally, enough so that I can actually concentrate and not feel challenged by my courses--part of my desire to leave.

I realize that above part may have seemed like a self-indulgent rant (forgive me), but I hope this next part ties back in. I wish to transfer to a much more competitive school, and realize my past failures will majorly affect my future opportunities. At the moment, I plan on staying at my current school for two years, enough time to pass quals and be certain that I do not wish to continue research with the professor I've already started to explore research with. How do I best prepare for a transfer a year and a half down the road? I plan on retaking the PGRE to make myself more competitive (plus, old scores aren't sent anymore), and I also plan to heavily research the BEST fit for me (specific professors) and contact them at the beginning of next summer.

I'd really appreciate any advice--I royally screwed up in every possible way the first time through, and I really just want to study the physics that interests me. I am willing to do anything to make that happen this second time. Thanks for reading, and for all of your help--it means a lot.

Best
DramDr

TakeruK
Posts: 815
Joined: Mon Jan 02, 2012 3:05 pm

Re: Transferring graduate schools

Postby TakeruK » Mon Oct 15, 2012 12:42 pm

"Transferring" is not really a thing at the grad school level. I'm not sure if I understand your post correctly, but it sounds like you want to complete all your courses and pass your quals at your current school, then go to a new school and complete a thesis project and finish. If so, this is probably not possible -- the new school isn't going to award a PhD to a student who "just" completes a dissertation with them. Every school has its own sets of courses and other work. The only cases I've heard about for graduate students transferring is when their supervisor leaves their current school and moves to a new one.

But if you already knew that and you meant that you want to stay for 2 years to be 100% sure you want to leave, perhaps get a masters, and then apply to a new school to start over again, then ignore the top paragraph! However, be prepared to do almost all your coursework again -- grad courses are very specific so they will generally not transfer between schools! In addition, many schools I encountered did not waive any credits for a masters degree, and those that did only waived a small fraction of the total courses. You should expect to do at least one full year of coursework at the new school. You will also have the stigma of "quitting" your current grad school when you do apply to new schools.

I hope this doesn't sound like I'm trying to advise you to stay at your current school -- I just want to point out that graduate students don't "transfer". Only you can decide what is best for you. But I would also advise you to talk to your current department about your unhappy research fit. Maybe you can work with another professor, or even just change projects!

DramDr
Posts: 3
Joined: Sun Oct 14, 2012 9:36 pm

Re: Transferring graduate schools

Postby DramDr » Mon Oct 15, 2012 10:29 pm

I am fine with retaking coursework, but I do want to both 1) make sure I want to do other research and 2) rebuild my application from some of the atrocities of undergrad. I know it's not really common, but I've seen lots of mention of it happening if research interests didn't line up, which again would be a large factor if I do.
Thanks for the response!

EDIT: I should emphasize--how can I make myself an attractive transfer applicant? Or at least as attractive as a transfer can be!

TakeruK
Posts: 815
Joined: Mon Jan 02, 2012 3:05 pm

Re: Transferring graduate schools

Postby TakeruK » Tue Oct 16, 2012 12:14 pm

In the best case scenario, you would have the support of your current department to apply to this new, better fit. It will be a delicate balance of having the current department write you a strong recommendation without sounding like they want to get rid of you! But the hardest part is probably bringing up this topic to your current department and advisor and getting them on your side.

Of course, it's not completely necessary to have your current department's support -- if your relationship with your current school goes completely terribly, you can still apply and get into other schools. It will just be a lot easier/simpler if you had the support though!

Also, you should try to have a finished research project after 2 years if possible too. The new grad school would probably like to see that you did learn something and developed more research skills in the 2 years!

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Andromeda
Posts: 127
Joined: Wed Dec 10, 2008 3:17 pm

Re: Transferring graduate schools

Postby Andromeda » Fri Nov 30, 2012 6:54 am

This might be late, but I transferred. I realized I wasn't interested in the city I was living in nor any of the research directions I could take, so I got a M.Sc. and bailed.

I think your best bet is to do something similar, get the M.Sc. and apply again. Mind in US schools you probably also need to contact professors at your other university to line up in advance who you want to work with, yadda yadda, because it's not a normal thing to do it this way (also contact admissions to see if you can get credit for the courses, but be prepared for the fact that you might have to retake some of them). You will definitely need a better reason though than just "I want to move up," such as realizing after arrived that your research interests weren't aligned with your current program (which happens and people understand that).

Should be mentioned btw that if you're ok with going further afield, unlike the US where this is a rare thing to do consider applying to a PhD program in Europe. Here you usually need an M.Sc. before the PhD so you're at a completely normal stage of things to apply- I also liked how in Europe they usually just have listings and you're more applying for a specific project to do, and they're a lot more an emphasis on finishing your project in a certain timeframe than doing any coursework (for example here in the Netherlands I was hired to do one thing, I take no courses, and I need to finish in 4 years end of story- oh and I get paid a normal wage and six weeks vacation). Plus, you know, living in Europe. :D

Feel free to send me a message if you want any more specific advice, and good luck.




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