Transferring while in a PhD program

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Catria
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Transferring while in a PhD program

Postby Catria » Sun Mar 01, 2015 1:58 am

I'm not inquiring about transferring because I actually intend to transfer out of the program I'll enroll in, just as an insurance policy against some situations that could come awry, such as, say, supervisor death, loss of funding or a sudden change in research interests.

Other than being careful about not whining or making up excuses in the personal statement, what else should one do differently if one wants to transfer or is forced to (versus a first-time PhD applicant)?

Also, how common is it to transfer from a physics PhD program to another?

I understand that transferring is a painful and costly decision to make, however.

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RonaldoMcDonaldo
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Re: Transferring while in a PhD program

Postby RonaldoMcDonaldo » Sun Mar 01, 2015 7:17 am

Catria wrote:I'm not inquiring about transferring because I actually intend to transfer out of the program I'll enroll in, just as an insurance policy against some situations that could come awry, such as, say, supervisor death, loss of funding or a sudden change in research interests.

Other than being careful about not whining or making up excuses in the personal statement, what else should one do differently if one wants to transfer or is forced to (versus a first-time PhD applicant)?

Also, how common is it to transfer from a physics PhD program to another?

I understand that transferring is a painful and costly decision to make, however.


Transferring is basically impossible. It's not actually impossible but you should basically act as if it is. Even in the case of an advisor death or something like that the department will still generally just help you find another advisor and/or project in the department. Graduate school doesn't work like undergraduate. You can't transfer course credits or test results between universities. Basically if you feel the need to leave your program for another, expect to have to go through the standard application process all over again and re-enter into the new PhD program as a new student. If you're lucky, you might be able to skip a couple of the intro classes but don't even count on that being particularly likely.

Catria
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Re: Transferring while in a PhD program

Postby Catria » Sun Mar 01, 2015 12:19 pm

Is it harder to get into top-20 (or top-10 even) schools as a transfer student than as a conventional applicant?

For some reason, I can't shake the feeling that some jobs obtainable with a physics PhD (research and non-research alike) would favor graduates from Ivies (although a PhD from Dartmouth is not the best idea if one wants to continue doing research afterward) than from non-elite schools.

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RonaldoMcDonaldo
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Re: Transferring while in a PhD program

Postby RonaldoMcDonaldo » Sun Mar 01, 2015 1:12 pm

Again, you should abandon this idea that you will be able to "transfer" into another program. It's already near impossible to do this and even more difficult to transfer to a top 10-20 school. Additionally, if you leave your original institution it will likely be even harder to get into a top 10-20 school than it was the first time. You will have to have a VERY good excuse for why you're leaving your first program along with VERY favorable recommendations attesting to the reason you're leaving. Leaving your first program is usually seen as a red flag that you failed to succeed in your first program and top 10-20 schools have no shortage of applicants without any unknowns for them to worry about.

In terms of jobs and reputation, I think it probably depends on which jobs you are referring to. I've never worked for a government lab (e.g. JPL) so I can't comment on whether they care about the reputation of a school. However, I have worked for engineering companies and private industry jobs who hire physicists and they don't seem to care about the reputation of your program at all. Every person I met in these companies had degrees from mediocre state schools. Nobody I met went to an Ivy League but I met a lot of people from places like Montana State and George Washington University.

TakeruK
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Re: Transferring while in a PhD program

Postby TakeruK » Sun Mar 01, 2015 2:13 pm

I agree with RonaldoMcDonaldo. Transferring graduate programs is a misnomer. It's really quitting one graduate program and starting over again at another. The only time it might actually work as a "transfer" if your supervisor moves schools and specifically negotiates the terms of your transfer as part of their job offer (and even then, that is rare--usually students move physically to a new school with their supervisor but will actually still receive their degree from their original school).

There is no need to worry about this as an "insurance" because that's a waste of your time. Sure, supervisors can die, quit academia, move to a new school, or you might have personal circumstances come up that make you have to be in another location. That's life. It happens. There's so many different outcomes that depend on the details that you do not know yet so it is best to worry about that when it happens, not now!

Yes, for academic jobs, it does matter where you do your PhD. Professors at top schools also have PhDs from top schools. Every prof at my top 10 program has a PhD from a top 10 program in my field. It's generally known that profs at second tier schools generally have PhDs from first or second tier schools; profs at third tier schools generally have PhDs from first, second, or third tier schools etc. That is, in academia, you generally go to a school that is equal to or lower ranked than your PhD school.

For non-academic jobs though, ranking is a lot less important. I think "brand name" is still important a little bit in that you will still get a slight advantage/benefit of the doubt but it's not like academia where there are studies and stats showing that alumni from elite schools make up the majority of new tenure track position hires.

I'm not saying this to discourage anyone, but it's important to know the reality. I think that if someone goes to grad school with the sole goal of being a tenure tracked professor at a top school, then they are very likely to be disappointed. Sure, you might be part of the few that are lucky and skilled enough to accomplish this, but everyone really really should have an alternate plan too.

Catria
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Re: Transferring while in a PhD program

Postby Catria » Sun Mar 01, 2015 2:23 pm

Should I just forgo attending a PhD program if I don't get into UPenn or Columbia this year (knowing that I didn't get into UChicago or Princeton), and then work to the bone for a paper, and apply again next year if that paper materializes?

Or I should just attend Minnesota (or Carnegie Mellon if I make it off the waitlist)?

AFAIK the only jobs that I know about that would favor Ivy League or other elite-school graduates (UPenn, Columbia for instance) over Minnesota, Notre Dame (in a non-nuclear physics context, ND is non-elite) or Carnegie Mellon graduates are business consulting, quant jobs, and other aspects of investment/international banking in the non-research side of the market and, of course, in academia. Perhaps national labs would be this elitist for what I know. Perhaps there are other jobs that I missed that were prestige-sensitive...

Plus I would assume that, for industry jobs, Ivy League graduates (except perhaps Dartmouth) could be seen as more capable to transition from a subfield to another (industrial research jobs usually require changing subfields from a particle cosmologist's part) than graduates from non-elites. After all, graduates from even UPenn or Columbia, let alone Harvard or Princeton, end up working in industry.

slowdweller
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Re: Transferring while in a PhD program

Postby slowdweller » Sun Mar 01, 2015 2:25 pm

I think reapplying is still an option if you haven't spent a lot of time at your new institute. There was a question asked about this on academia stackexchange recently,

http://academia.stackexchange.com/quest ... nother-one

and as can be seen, at least some people successfully went from a middle tier school to a top tier one. I think this would require a lot of planning in advance, as in you would have to go into your school with the fact that you're here only for a year in mind from the start, and spending your time there according to that plan.

People generally tend to play it down, but school prestige matters, both inside and outside academia. How many Professors at reputable schools do you see that have a PhD from Missouri State? Similarly, if you're applying for a job, a PhD from Harvard will almost definitely get you an interview. I'm personally of the opinion that for PhD to be worth it, your school should be at least top 20.

plasmerl
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Re: Transferring while in a PhD program

Postby plasmerl » Sun Mar 01, 2015 2:52 pm

I'm actually in the middle of transferring between PhD programs, so hopefully I can offer a bit of advice on the subject based on why I decided to do it. As was mentioned above, transferring is extremely uncommon, and it is possible only if you have a solid reason. School prestige is not a good reason for transferring and I'd be willing to bet most schools would throw out your application immediately if that was stated or implied somewhere. If the school you decide to attend offers what you're interested in, school prestige is not going to make you do better research, that's purely up to you. For me, grad school is an opportunity to do research in something that you really enjoy doing, possibly making it into a career after you finish. So if you aren't involved in doing what you really want to do, you have all the right in the world to change that.

When I applied to grad school the first time I was unsure of whether I wanted to take the experimental or theoretical route in my area, and the only place that I got into did not have a theoretical/computational group doing the type of research I was interested in. As you can guess, I decided that the theoretical/computational side was the direction I wanted to go, so I explained the situation to my advisor (who was very understanding and wrote me a letter of recommendation in the end), and made the decision to transfer. I haven't heard much news overall, but I was accepted to one of my top choices and will be able to work with someone doing exactly what I want to do. I think the most crucial aspect of being successful here was the fact that my advisor here was willing to write me a letter. So if you think that transferring is a possibility, I would say talk to your potential advisor very early on and explain the situation so that they will be able to offer you some advice (there is a professor at my school who transferred grad schools) and most importantly so that they aren't blindsided by you deciding to leave.

I hope this is helpful. Best of luck.

tsymmetry
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Re: Transferring while in a PhD program

Postby tsymmetry » Sun Mar 01, 2015 3:34 pm

Of course they are going to favor students from top schools. They have more connections, more resources, and quite frankly the average quality of students is much higher at these schools.

I do know one person who transferred to a top five program, however they started at a top ten program and did not do it for prestige at all.

PathIntegrals92
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Re: Transferring while in a PhD program

Postby PathIntegrals92 » Sun Mar 01, 2015 4:06 pm

I don't think prestige of school matters that much for industry jobs.

It's about your skills! Get past HR! That's honestly the hardest part. After that, whether you mess up the interview or not is all on you. Obviously this depends on the company you apply to and stuff.

TakeruK
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Re: Transferring while in a PhD program

Postby TakeruK » Sun Mar 01, 2015 4:12 pm

Catria wrote:Should I just forgo attending a PhD program if I don't get into UPenn or Columbia this year (knowing that I didn't get into UChicago or Princeton), and then work to the bone for a paper, and apply again next year if that paper materializes?

Or I should just attend Minnesota (or Carnegie Mellon if I make it off the waitlist)?


The first part is up to you--is it worth it to you to spend your time in a PhD program if you are not happy where you are? That's a question only you can decide.

As for the second part, as others said, you will definitely need your advisor's support to be successful at reapplying for schools next year. I agree that telling your advisor early on is very important. What reason will you have to transfer? Surely, you don't plan on telling Minnesota or Carnegie Mellon that you are only taking their offer because you didn't get into another school and will plan to leave them after a year!

I think you are at an important crossroads here, and you need to make a really important decision in the next month or so. But at the same time, there is a lot of information that you don't have yet (CMU waitlist, awaiting decision from UPenn/Columbia). So the most you can do here is make different decisions depending on how the next few weeks play out in terms of decisions.

However, when you make the decision, do not make it with the assumption you will transfer! Treat your choice as your commitment for the next 5-6 years. Will you be happy with a degree from that school? Will it let you reach your career goals? Are your career goals realistic given the options available to you?

If you feel that ranking is important to your goals and that only UPenn and Columbia will let you get there then it makes sense to only attend grad school if you get into one of those two programs. You can try to reapply next year, but I think this is already your second application season, right? I think if you go this route, you need to be prepared for the scenario in which you never get into a top program. You need to have an alternate plan that does not involve graduate school but will still make you happy!

On the other hand, you have offers from decent schools and your profile looks like you are the type of person that will be able to complete a graduate Physics degree. If you feel that a Physics PhD will be aligned with your future career goals (no matter the ranking of your school) then grad school does sound like a good idea. If I were you in this case, I'd wait to see all of the responses, visit as many as I can, and then pick the graduate program that best fits my goals and preferences (in terms of location etc.).

In either case, I really think this is a good time to reflect on your goals and find out what you need to reach them. Do you need a degree from a high ranking institution? It might be more important to think about these questions rather than rare circumstances like transfers!

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RonaldoMcDonaldo
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Re: Transferring while in a PhD program

Postby RonaldoMcDonaldo » Sun Mar 01, 2015 5:46 pm

plasmerl wrote:I'm actually in the middle of transferring between PhD programs, so hopefully I can offer a bit of advice on the subject based on why I decided to do it. As was mentioned above, transferring is extremely uncommon, and it is possible only if you have a solid reason. School prestige is not a good reason for transferring and I'd be willing to bet most schools would throw out your application immediately if that was stated or implied somewhere. If the school you decide to attend offers what you're interested in, school prestige is not going to make you do better research, that's purely up to you. For me, grad school is an opportunity to do research in something that you really enjoy doing, possibly making it into a career after you finish. So if you aren't involved in doing what you really want to do, you have all the right in the world to change that.

When I applied to grad school the first time I was unsure of whether I wanted to take the experimental or theoretical route in my area, and the only place that I got into did not have a theoretical/computational group doing the type of research I was interested in. As you can guess, I decided that the theoretical/computational side was the direction I wanted to go, so I explained the situation to my advisor (who was very understanding and wrote me a letter of recommendation in the end), and made the decision to transfer. I haven't heard much news overall, but I was accepted to one of my top choices and will be able to work with someone doing exactly what I want to do. I think the most crucial aspect of being successful here was the fact that my advisor here was willing to write me a letter. So if you think that transferring is a possibility, I would say talk to your potential advisor very early on and explain the situation so that they will be able to offer you some advice (there is a professor at my school who transferred grad schools) and most importantly so that they aren't blindsided by you deciding to leave.

I hope this is helpful. Best of luck.


Just to be clear, are you actually "transferring" or are you just starting over at a new university? In my case I'm dealing with the two body problem (i.e. significant other) so I opted to get a Masters at one program and then go through the application process all over again to finish my PhD at another institution. So I'm not transferring but rather applying as a new student. Did you actually apply as a transfer student and successfully get some universities to accept you as a transfer student?

plasmerl
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Re: Transferring while in a PhD program

Postby plasmerl » Sun Mar 01, 2015 6:21 pm

I'm actually transferring, aka I'm not going to be receiving a degree from where I'm at right now.

PathIntegrals92
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Re: Transferring while in a PhD program

Postby PathIntegrals92 » Mon Mar 02, 2015 12:27 pm

Catria wrote:AFAIK the only jobs that I know about that would favor Ivy League or other elite-school graduates (UPenn, Columbia for instance) over Minnesota, Notre Dame (in a non-nuclear physics context, ND is non-elite) or Carnegie Mellon graduates are business consulting, quant jobs, and other aspects of investment/international banking in the non-research side of the market and, of course, in academia. Perhaps national labs would be this elitist for what I know. Perhaps there are other jobs that I missed that were prestige-sensitive...
.


https://thefinancialengineer.net/rankings/

According to this both the schools you got accepted to are top 20 in for mathematical/financial engineering...
I don't think going to an ivy league guarantees much in the industry...if you don't have the skills, you don't get the job.

Why did you to apply to UMinn or UNotre Dame if you don't think you would be happy there ( and if you planned on transferring if you got accepted?)

Catria
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Re: Transferring while in a PhD program

Postby Catria » Mon Mar 02, 2015 2:31 pm

PathIntegrals92 wrote:I don't think going to an ivy league guarantees much in the industry...if you don't have the skills, you don't get the job.

Why did you to apply to UMinn or UNotre Dame if you don't think you would be happy there ( and if you planned on transferring if you got accepted?)


I would be under the impression that Ivies and Ivy-equivalents would make it easier to get the skillsets required in industry...

Back in the days where I filled out the actual applications, I had lower standards, as far as prestige is concerned, than I have today. Only a few months out of the applications can change quite a bit.

Not that I have anything against Minnesota or Notre Dame in sheer physics terms, nor that I feel like I am unable to complete a PhD, but I had this change of mind last week to be exact. When I started this thread, I had the impression that my future would be that much brighter if I attended any of the following 14 schools because I'll have access to a much wider range of jobs at graduation, and that I look for more than a skillset or research I'd like to do in a PhD, since a PhD is the accomplishment of a lifetime:

Harvard
Princeton
Yale
Columbia
UPenn
Brown
Cornell
Dartmouth
Stanford
MIT
Caltech
UChicago
Duke
Berkeley

Choosing schools to apply to from that rather narrow subset would invariably prove to be top-heavy. That said, the only improvement I can see that can be made is publishing a paper before I try again. How much help would a publication be?

However, I know from the onset that several schools are off-limits to me on that list: MIT, Stanford, Harvard, Caltech, Princeton, UChicago, Berkeley, Cornell (that is, top-10s in general, unless, somehow, a paper would allow me to consider top-10s again) so my then-list would become:

UPenn
Columbia
Yale
Brown
Dartmouth
Duke

PathIntegrals92
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Re: Transferring while in a PhD program

Postby PathIntegrals92 » Tue Mar 03, 2015 1:22 pm

Catria wrote:
PathIntegrals92 wrote:I don't think going to an ivy league guarantees much in the industry...if you don't have the skills, you don't get the job.

Why did you to apply to UMinn or UNotre Dame if you don't think you would be happy there ( and if you planned on transferring if you got accepted?)


I would be under the impression that Ivies and Ivy-equivalents would make it easier to get the skillsets required in industry...

Back in the days where I filled out the actual applications, I had lower standards, as far as prestige is concerned, than I have today. Only a few months out of the applications can change quite a bit.

Not that I have anything against Minnesota or Notre Dame in sheer physics terms, nor that I feel like I am unable to complete a PhD, but I had this change of mind last week to be exact. When I started this thread, I had the impression that my future would be that much brighter if I attended any of the following 14 schools because I'll have access to a much wider range of jobs at graduation, and that I look for more than a skillset or research I'd like to do in a PhD, since a PhD is the accomplishment of a lifetime:

Harvard
Princeton
Yale
Columbia
UPenn
Brown
Cornell
Dartmouth
Stanford
MIT
Caltech
UChicago
Duke
Berkeley

Choosing schools to apply to from that rather narrow subset would invariably prove to be top-heavy. That said, the only improvement I can see that can be made is publishing a paper before I try again. How much help would a publication be?

However, I know from the onset that several schools are off-limits to me on that list: MIT, Stanford, Harvard, Caltech, Princeton, UChicago, Berkeley, Cornell (that is, top-10s in general, unless, somehow, a paper would allow me to consider top-10s again) so my then-list would become:

UPenn
Columbia
Yale
Brown
Dartmouth
Duke


Going to the schools you listed could be a boost for people who only know those names. Also if you decide to work oversees or take jobs that travel to oversees, I am sure more people have heard of the ivies, CalTech, and MIT, but obviously not all places are going to discriminate by University name (even oversees).

Would you really want to work somewhere that will toss out your application because you didn't go to an ivy? Those places do exist. But there are plenty of places that will give you a fair chance if you work towards having the skill set they want. It's hard to do that if you don't know what types of job you will apply.

Going to Harvard and working towards becoming a string theorist (pen and paper w/ no minimal programming) will not qualify you for pretty much most engineering positions no matter what. It could qualify you for finance if you want that. Ivy/MIT/Berkeley or not, it all depends on the skills. A string theorist will have different skills than a condensed matter experimentalist. The experimentalist will probably having an easier transition into engineering.

If you want to go into the tech industry than I recommend building on your hardware as well as software skills ( probably more important these days). If you want to do finance as PhD physics than better brush up on programming (learn about finance too).


As for the other part of you said. No, going to an IVy or whatever does not mean you will have more opportunities to gain more skills. No matter you have to seek those opportunities. I can list you a dozen schools that will give you just as good skills+leading to pretty damn good job offers.

I know someone, a friend, who went to a top 50 Liberal Arts College who got recruited by Google. My friend has been working there since. I have learned that Google interviews are intense. The stuff you see online does not even do that justice. The interviews told my friend to build some sort of circuit. They give time+the supplies and my friend had to do it all in front of them. After that a whole bunch of questions about coding etc.

My sister's friend is now going to working at Microsoft! Her friend does not go to any of the schools you listed+ the ranking of those school is not even that high, especially for computer science. Skills, skills, skills.

Going to Ivy does not guarantee you any job or jobs at big name companies. I know several who went to ivy leagues who were denied by big name Silicon Valley companies, but got couple of offers at smaller companies. FYI, I prefer smaller companies, but that's just me.

I can keep giving you examples, but I think you might get my point? Skills! You can get them, if you really want them!

Edit: I listed only tech industries. If you want to go into finance/business or wall street, you also do not need to have an ivy league degree or MIT/Caltec etc. Of course there are companies that will discriminate that way, but there are also those that won't. I seem to have more friends in science+tech+engineering, but I know of family friends that are in business/finance. The ones, I know, on wall street making $200K did not go to any of the schools you listed.

Catria
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Re: Transferring while in a PhD program

Postby Catria » Tue Mar 03, 2015 9:27 pm

OK, perhaps I would be better off trying for the schools I listed at the postdoc stage...

woodbetweenworlds
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Re: Transferring while in a PhD program

Postby woodbetweenworlds » Sat Mar 14, 2015 8:30 pm

I'm also in the middle of ''transferring''. As has been stated, there is no such thing as "transferring"; I'm just getting a consolatory masters and applying elsewhere as a first year student, where I will have to start over. I had good GRE scores (perfect quant) and decent PGRE scores. I applied to 8 schools. So far I've been rejected to 6, waitlisted at 1, and I'm very pessimistic about my chances of the last one, and pessimistic about getting off the wait list.

Don't expect to be able to transfer. If you are going to do it, make sure to "transfer" as soon as you can.




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