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Programs Starting a PhD in the spring, a predicament I'm facing

  1. Nov 7, 2012 #1
    I am looking for some academic career advice from someone more experienced than myself. I apologize for the length but I'm in a real bind. There was a school which I really wanted to attend for my mathematics PhD. Call it "A". Relevant: "A" is on the east coast. "A" was accepting spring applicants for the spring of 2013, and so I applied. There are about 8 other schools I wanted to apply but they did not take applicants until the fall of 2013. Those applications are underway at the moment but I won't hear responses from them until spring 2013.

    To my surprise, I was not only accepted for the PhD program at "A" to begin in spring 2013, but I was given full funding to attend this school. In fact, they seemed very excited about me as an applicant. This was really exciting for me as I'd been interested in "A" for a long time and to be honest I'd feared forever that I wouldn't get accepted in to any program.

    However, two problems arise.

    (Problem 1:) I have not had a chance to hear back from any other schools about the fall 2013 admissions. This fall I have submitted some more research that I think have a strong possibility of getting published and I think my application is stronger than it once was and I'm wondering if I'll get accepted in to a better program.

    (Problem 2:) This is the major problem and it just came up. Just under 2 weeks ago my dad died. This was a very sudden and unexpected death no one could have anticipated. It really shook me to the core. I only have one family member living now and they are in San Francisco. I now have the urge to be in the bay area now so I can be near this family and also because I want them to have moral support after my dad's death and also they are getting old. So my priorities have shifted a little and I desire a university at least on the west coast. Like I mentioned, "A" is on the east coast, really, really far away.

    I had been contacting the department at "A" back and forth quite a bit over the past few months, but nothing was official and I was starting to think the funding and acceptance would fall through for the spring. I thought, no big deal, you know, I'll just begin in the fall somewhere and until then I'll move out to SF. However, two days ago to my surprise "A" sent me an official acceptance and awards letter for the spring. I feel like I'm really in a conundrum now. The possible solutions I see

    (Solution 1:) I could tell "A" I'd like to defer and begin in the fall. Problem: If I do this, I'm worried they will be really, really pissed off. I think they went to a lot of trouble to award me the spring assistanceship and also I seemed so enthusiastic about beginning there in the spring and now suddenly I'm a flake. I'm worried they won't want me in the fall and I will have burnt that bridge entirely. If that happens and I don't get accepted in to any other programs or any programs in the bay area, then I am screwed and would have messed up all chances for PhD at a school I feel strongly for.

    (Solution 2:) I can accept the offer at "A" for the spring, and begin the PhD program there with the knowledge that I might possibly transfer to another school. Reasons for this: it eliminates the gamble I mentioned for the first solution (deferring and pissing them off then not getting accepted anywhere. This way if I don't get accepted anywhere else I'll still be in a PhD program I want, and I'll move to the bay area when it's done) but more than that I really, really want to begin my PhD especially now that my dad has died. I want to get my mind off the death and just engross myself in studies. To be honest, I am desperate for this. Math is how I deal with hardships. Furthermore, I am on a roll right now, I'm inspired and working harder than I have in years and producing a lot of research (it's not great, but I'm just working my *** off and have ridiculously high motivation). I don't know how long this will last and I want to keep on this track. Problem: I have never dealt with PhDs or anything but something tells me this would be unethical. I don't want to hurt the department by saying I'll do my PhD there then leaving. A potential solution to overcome this I thought is that I could work super hard and over the top and produce and submit some good research in the spring, that way it would "make up" for leaving if I decide to leave. Of course I can't guarantee I can produce good research, but I mean at least I can try really hard, and also try to be an outstanding TA so I will have not wasted their money.

    I just got the offer less than 48 hours ago and thought I'd have time to think this over but I got an email from "A" last night saying they need a response right away and I'm just confused what I should say or do. I really really want to start, but if I get accepted in to a much better program for the fall in the bay area, I'd want to transfer. I should state that I don't care about losing any credits in the transfer. I don't care how long it takes to get my PhD. I love studying and research and I'd do this forever if I could. The most important issue is just that I don't want to do anything unethical. Do people start PhD programs with the thought they might transfer?

    I have never dealt with these sort of situations because I stayed at the same university for my undergrad and masters, and it was honestly the only university I ever applied to so I never had to decide between going to different schools, etc.

    Thanks for the advice
    Last edited: Nov 7, 2012
  2. jcsd
  3. Nov 7, 2012 #2
    Have you told A about the personal troubles you're going through? Do that and ask if it is possible to start in autumn, if not, start in the spring semester.

    Seems to me like starting your PhD is a good idea for you, but at the same time family is important. I don't think you should feel guilty about transfering to another school if the need arises, you have a good reason to do it, and you shouldn't really think about that right now. Start your PhD in A and then see what happens, maybe you won't want to transfer, maybe you won't get accepted by other programs, who knows? As I see it, the only thing you need to decide is whether doing a PhD or being close to your family is more important right now and that's a totally personal choice.

  4. Nov 7, 2012 #3
    Thank you so much for reading that wall of text. My family member I mentioned in SF would kick my *** if I turned down a PhD option to work in the industry, and the thing is it's what my dad wanted more than anything in the world was for me to do a PhD, as he never had the opportunity for an education. (It's what I want more than anything as well, I am just so passionate about learning!) I'm just so freaking sad about the timing because I didn't get the acceptance until one week after he died so I never actually go to tell him I was officially accepted and going in to a PhD. :( I mean if it had just been even a week earlier he could have heard the news. Oh well that is life. I think I am gonna go ahead and go to A for the spring and if I get accepted in to a program in the bay area I will transfer.

    I was just so worried because I thought, am I doing something very unethical? But I looked at the conditions of the assistanceship and it is only for the spring, so I suppose I won't be breaking any sort of contract. I spoke to a professor here that I trust and they gave the same advice. So it looks like I'm going to head off to A.
  5. Nov 7, 2012 #4
    People break contracts all the time, and usually there are penalties for that provided in those same contracts. Don't worry about it too much. To me, it seems clear that you should really start your PhD.

    I'm also about to start a PhD, and I wasn't sure I wanted it (I didn't know what else to do, but I had stopped being a student and had to do something with my life, an occasion that calls for some thinking at least). But then I think to myself that I'm actually gonna be able to support myself by studying something I love. An opportunity given to few people, especially when what you love is quatum chemistry/physics (in my case) or math (in your case). How many people have the privilige to studying this abstract stuff in good universities as their main activity in life? Not that many... Doing a PhD can be a lot of hard-work, and it's really not for everyone, but if you really love the subject the way say you do, then you'll have little problem doing it. Plus your dad would be proud.
  6. Nov 7, 2012 #5
    So true! Damn I'm so excited. This has been my dream forever. I can't believe I'm finally here. I thought I'd never get accepted in to a PhD in mathematics. And yes I feel the same way about getting paid to study. Lots of people ask me what I want to do with my PhD or why I'm doing it, but to be honest in so many ways I just look at it as a job that I love to do. I am getting paid to study and do research. I wouldn't want to do anything else!
  7. Nov 7, 2012 #6
    Yes, I'm not sure what I want to do when I become a doc, but I know I'll enjoy the journey. I think that people who think of it solely as a means to some future goal or aren't passionate about the subject make for miserable PhD students. A PhD really is something you do for yourself. You can get paid better by working in industry, and there are really no guarantees that you'll have an academic career if you do a PhD.
  8. Nov 7, 2012 #7
    I'm sorry for your loss; it does sound like you could benefit from immersing yourself in study. Congrats on your acceptance. I don't think your transferring should be considered unethical; I'd consider it pragmatic if you decide to go through with it, especially given your family situation. Good luck with your research.
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