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Programs Leaving with a phd program with masters, or drop out, in this context?

  1. Sep 3, 2011 #1
    I finished my undergrad last year and joined this phd program in fall. I passed the qualifiers in December, and over the two semesters, I have completed all the necessary phd courses, taking no master's courses. Early in the year, I was contacted by a Professor in hep-exp to try out his group, as the group was looking for students. When I talked to him, he said that he would pay me as a GRA in the summers, and at the end we would have an evaluation. If we mutually liked each other, then I would formally join the group for my thesis.

    During the summers I worked on some project. My advisor was gone for almost the entire period, so I worked on some problem from another professor in the group. During the summer, I realized this was not what I really wanted to do. In hep-exp there is a heavy non-physical component that you must work through before getting to some interesting physics; comprising of programming among other things. I am actually quite proficient in programming, and I did the work i was assigned as they were paying me for it, but I decided I would not continue.

    When my advisor came back, he gave me the feedback that the group was impressed by my progress, blah, blah... I told him that I would like to take more advanced courses and it would take some more time for me to decide. He was not really happy about the courses I had registered for, one in Differential Geometry in the Maths department, and another of independent study of Lie Algebras with a phenomenologist outside the group. As GRA I am constrained to taking specific courses whose relevance and importance he could justify to his funders. I thought this was fair, so I asked what possibilities were there to discontinue my funding from the group. He told me to talk to the Graduate Advisor to discuss this, saying that I could switch to theory which has more freedom in terms of courses, or get a GTA if possible, with no research commitments.

    He warned me that job prospects for theorists were weak and the theoretical division of the department was not too strong or well funded either. Basically, he painted a bleak picture of the whole idea. He also said that all theorists in the department were phenomenologists, so the interests I described to him might not really be supported in the department. So I talked to the graduate advisor, and he pretty much confirmed this, telling me there weren't a lot of courses aimed at theorists, and they learn stuff from independent study and through projects. He said that GTA assignments were over and my best bet would be to continue in this group for atleast a semester. He urged me try it out, saying, maybe I might come to like it after all.

    I have put a lot of thought into this. The reality is this place might not offer what I want. I have decided it is best to leave. As I cannot pay out of my own pocket for the courses, being an international student, my options are either to drop out, or leave with the master's degree. If I drop out of a Phd program, I guess my career as a physicist would basically be over. How should I convince my department that I wish to leave with a Master's?
    Last edited: Sep 3, 2011
  2. jcsd
  3. Sep 3, 2011 #2
    I would like to add, concisely, that my advisor stated that I could not find much in the department outside the group. He said his group was the most productive in the department and I might not be doing justice to myself careerwise by leaving it.

    1. I get a better salary, as the group is most funded.

    I really don't care about this.

    2. I get to work full time in a national lab, and an international lab (the most obvious one), for about two years. This is supposed to add to my resume and hirability.

    However, this work would involve shifts in detector operation. I have no interest in this.

    3. This was the most productive and well known group. Not much else might be offered to me in comparision. Two people are really well known in their fields (one of them is my advisor) If I graduate, then I also graduate with the group's presitge and contacts.

    This really doesn't make sense if the job doesn't interest me. Infact, this is the very reason I call it a job. I was recruited by a bank and left that for this as I didn't like the job. The reason I came to academia is to do what I liked.

    The more I think about it, the more resolute I am to leave. But how should I handle this in order to not make any enemies and get decent recommendations.
  4. Sep 3, 2011 #3
    if I were you, I would explain my adviser and graduate adviser the situation - that I want to be a theorist but there are no Professors doing what I want in our Department. And ask for the best option for me which could be:

    1) try to find adviser from another University and continue studies here. (I know at least two cases when people do that. My current adviser told me he had a graduate student from another University)
    2) leave with master's degree and apply another graduate program with appropriate research group
    3) try to make a transfer to another PhD program with appropriate research group

    and, of course, start to search for Professor with appropriate research tasks right away
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