Exiting school with a master's

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blighter
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Exiting school with a master's

Postby blighter » Mon Feb 20, 2012 10:06 pm

Let's say the only programme you got into doesn't do any research in your area of interest. Or let's say the place didn't turn out as good as you thought. Is it possible to leave the programme with a master's or are you stuck with it?

asdfuogh
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Re: Exiting school with a master's

Postby asdfuogh » Mon Feb 20, 2012 10:21 pm

I think I saw a response somewhere that if it's a prestigious school, other schools might assume that you got kicked out of the PhD program..

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midwestphysics
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Re: Exiting school with a master's

Postby midwestphysics » Mon Feb 20, 2012 10:24 pm

A lot of places encourage you to apply to receive your masters after you complete quals, and you're in no way obligated to stay until you get your phd. However, if you're looking to go to another school to finish, you are going to need to explain to them why you left one phd program already since the masters wasn't a terminal degree.

It's also not a matter of being kicked out, that can be easily proved not to be the case. It's the commitment issue, and falls in line with the transfer policy of most school which usually don't allow it. It probably won't be as bad as that, but unless it was a terminal masters you need to be very clear and intelligent with the way you handle future apps.

blighter
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Re: Exiting school with a master's

Postby blighter » Mon Feb 20, 2012 11:24 pm

midwestphysics wrote:A lot of places encourage you to apply to receive your masters after you complete quals, and you're in no way obligated to stay until you get your phd. However, if you're looking to go to another school to finish, you are going to need to explain to them why you left one phd program already since the masters wasn't a terminal degree.

It's also not a matter of being kicked out, that can be easily proved not to be the case. It's the commitment issue, and falls in line with the transfer policy of most school which usually don't allow it. It probably won't be as bad as that, but unless it was a terminal masters you need to be very clear and intelligent with the way you handle future apps.


Right! That was very helpful. Thanks.

bfollinprm
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Re: Exiting school with a master's

Postby bfollinprm » Tue Feb 21, 2012 1:04 am

As has been said elsewhere on this forum, if you enter a PhD program you should stick it out unless there are very good reasons to switch to another. In academia, the accepted reasons for transferring are (in order of how acceptable these reasons are)

(1) your advisor left, and you're following him/her
(2) your advisor left, and you want to go somewhere else.
(3) you are switching fields (physics to math, or engineering)
(4) the department fails to fund you
(5) you find yourself publishing papers/working more closely with a professor at the school you're transferring to than with your advisor.
(6) MAJOR personal issues preventing you from staying at your current university: Visa issues, severe chronic illness, major and unavoidable family issues (like a suddenly catatonic brother you have to play nurse for)

Sounds like you have a chance of falling in number (5), but you should really do your best to make wherever you end up work.

asdfuogh
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Re: Exiting school with a master's

Postby asdfuogh » Tue Feb 21, 2012 3:37 am

This is good information to know. :D Sorry for jumping in with bad information.

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Andromeda
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Re: Exiting school with a master's

Postby Andromeda » Tue Feb 21, 2012 5:30 am

I've done it- left with a Physics M.S., now doing an Astronomy PhD. Another university won't think you failed out or anything if you have a. passed the qualifier and b. have letter writers explaining your situation as well as mention it in your personal statement.

Of course anyone who does such a move is really probably under some sort of unusual circumstances- my version is I went into the PhD program I did because it was the only one I was accepted to after undergrad, and while they had a great astrophysics group I realized pretty early on that my interests lie much more on the astronomy side of things (I also really didn't like the city I was in, but that's not considered a good reason on paper obviously). No one minded cause I realized this pretty early on (like pre-qualifier) and was upfront about it so it wasn't like an adviser took me on for a PhD and I bailed on him- instead one had a good few months project that was good for a M.S. research project that I spent 8 months on, and then I went my merry way.

What happened to me also happened every few years in that astrophysics group actually because while they were top notch there were only three labs to choose from. So yes provided that you realize it early on no one seriously minds if you transfer for research purposes.

SSM
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Re: Exiting school with a master's

Postby SSM » Tue Feb 21, 2012 8:39 am

You didn't like Cleveland? What a shock.

TakeruK
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Re: Exiting school with a master's

Postby TakeruK » Tue Feb 21, 2012 10:17 am

Not liking the city you're living in is not a good reason to transfer? I got the impression that liking the place you live was important since one of my admissions interview questions was a discussion of how much I'd like to live in their city. Other schools definitely made a point to sell their city to me in their offer letter, or when they called me up to talk about it. I made a comment that my final choice will be an equal balance between research and quality of life and the interviewers agreed with me (or maybe they made a mental note to not offer admission lol).

If bfollingprm's list is true, it's a little sad that the most acceptable reasons are based on something completely out of your control (i.e. your advisor's or department's decisions). Reasons (1) and (2) should be a given, since it's out of your control, it shouldn't hurt an application at all. I think the #1 reason to leave is realising you actually don't like working with your advisor or the department at all so you just want to finish your MS and try something different/better (without having to completely switch fields!).

In Canada, that's why we do a MSc degree completely separate from a PhD (you have to reapply to the school again, even if you're staying with the same advisor) so that neither the student nor the supervisor/department have to commit for 5+ years right out of undergrad. But I was also afraid some schools would think I decided to "quit" my school so I made sure to spend a few sentences in my SOP explaining that.

But I probably don't understand something about the US Masters program. Why would the department feel they have lost an investment if a student leaves (intentionally) with a Masters? They would have only funded that student for ~2 years and during that time, the student was working for the department (I presume some research would have been completed since the student is not leaving due to failure). It's not like the student gets disproportionately more funding in earlier years than later years, is it?

bfollinprm
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Re: Exiting school with a master's

Postby bfollinprm » Tue Feb 21, 2012 1:02 pm

How we'd like it to work and how it does work are totally different things. Schools, especially those outside of the top tier, are wary of students using their PhD program as a stepping stone to better pastures. There are precedents for leaving because of a lack of research opportunities in your area of interest, but (1) these are few, and (2) almost always require you to move down in the rankings, not up.

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grae313
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Re: Exiting school with a master's

Postby grae313 » Tue Feb 21, 2012 1:41 pm

If your goal is to switch to another program, I think by far the most important factor as to whether you are successful in that or not is the letter your adviser will wright you. If you can manage to communicate that you are not happy and want to go somewhere else without burning any bridges and your adviser writes you a strong letter, it's entirely possible to do this without any stigma attached to the process. I know several people who have. If your adviser is not happy with you or you piss people off, you might be out of luck.

Given no other information and leaving with a masters, people in academia will guess you flunked out. But this is not necessarily true for the rest of the world. A good friend of mine decided she'd learned enough physics and left Cornell with her masters and now heads up the west coach branch of a solar panal/alt energy consulting company. For many positions in industry, you could even be a more attractive candidate with a masters than with a PhD.

TakeruK
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Re: Exiting school with a master's

Postby TakeruK » Tue Feb 21, 2012 4:52 pm

bfollinprm wrote:How we'd like it to work and how it does work are totally different things.


I do realise that. I'm not disagreeing that your list represents how things do work. I am not on an admission committee, but based on how interested they are in why you are leaving a school (from application questions to anecdotes of friends trying to do the same), it feels like your list is accurate.

I was just commenting on the fact that it's unfortunate that when a student wants to leave a program, it's often seen as the student's "fault" unless their reason is beyond their control (i.e. advisor moving/retiring), instead of other reasons like poor fit (where students are expected to just suck it up).

I guess only the first paragraph of my post was strictly on-topic (trying to show that grad schools recognize that living conditions are important since they stress that during the admissions process, so maybe it's okay to mention that as part of the reason to be leaving a program). The rest of it was just a comment and wondering why a student choosing to leave after a MS (not failing out) is sometimes considered a failed investment even though he/she would have been productive during their ~2 years there.

Sorry if that was off-topic, then! I felt like it is important for all of us grad students to keep in mind how much power our schools actually have over us, so I mentioned that thought.




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