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Summer PhD research or quant internship

  1. Feb 15, 2013 #1
    I've put myself in a sticky situation. One of my friends referred me for a quant internship in NYC and just for fun I went along with it. He already works there full time but he's also already finished his PhD. They flew me out last week for an interview and I recently got the offer... The main problem is not too long ago I picked my adviser and ever since he has been talking about how this summer would be my "bootcamp" for the research that I'll be doing. He never went into too many details of what I'd be doing this summer because we're still both busy with classes. This semester is the last of my classes so regardless of what happens in the summer I'll be able to focus on my research in the fall.

    I don't think I can pass up this internship because it's such a big opportunity but I also don't want to upset my adviser the first summer together. Normally, these type of situations wouldn't bug me but it's the timing of the matter that's the issue. Of course, I will have to tell him soon but I would like to know if anyone else has been in this type of situation before and what they did to control the damage. Also, my adviser can't kick me off his research, right?

    P.S. - Money isn't an issue at all so please don't bring that up.
  2. jcsd
  3. Feb 15, 2013 #2


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    Actually, money IS an issue here. For example, is he paying for your education, i.e. are you receiving an RA'ship? This you never clarified.

    If he's not paying you anything, or have not promised to pay you over the summer, then you can simply indicate that you need to earn some money over the summer and have decided to take up a summer internship. Even your advisor would understand that you can't simply go on for 3 months with no income and working for free for him.

    However, if you and him have an understanding regarding financial support, etc., then you have dug yourself a very nice hole.

  4. Feb 15, 2013 #3


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    One of the things about committing to a PhD program is that it's just that - you're making a committment.

    Of course your supervisor is going to expect you to start working on your research project right away. That's what PhD students are supposed to do.

    But now it turns out you have an opportunity to do this internship. It happens.

    Your best strategy, I would think, would be to explain exactly what's happened to your supervisor. Tell him that you may need an LOA to pursue this opportunity and that you understand that it will push back your PhD work. He may not be happy about it as he is likely expecting the project to move forward, but as I said, these things happen.

    Be aware that he can decide to drop you as a student though, just as easily as you can decide you want another supervisor. Generally this isn't done because a PhD project is a committment from both supervisor and student, but you can't expect that he will uphold his end of the committment if you aren't holding up yours. That said I would be surprised if this actually happened though. Students disappear for the summer sometimes and they have to live with the consequences (bad and good).
  5. Feb 15, 2013 #4
    You need to ask your advisor first- if he says 'no', its a non-starter anyway.
  6. Feb 17, 2013 #5
    Thanks for all the replies.

    As of right now, I would not be getting paid for this summer doing research. What I meant was my decision isn't based on paid or not, because I worked prior to going into grad school and have plenty of funds saved up.

    I chose this adviser because he has great industry contacts and almost all of his students get very nice jobs. I guess I'll find out if he supports his students getting work experience in the summers or not soon.
  7. Mar 11, 2013 #6
    In my case, I'd 100% do the internship.

    Unfortunately, I'm not sure how relevant my advice is. My advisor is very hands-off and would not have complained if I had disappeared for a summer. He's also notorious for not getting funding for his students. So, I suppose the best answer depends on the advisor and his/her attitude towards PhD students.

    This post was a few weeks ago - I'm curious, did you decide what to do? I imagine there might be many people on this forum with similar dilemmas.
  8. Mar 18, 2013 #7
    I did take the internship. I talked to him and everything is fine, he's happy for me. Since this semester I'm finishing all my classes, he actually told me that if I decide to leave the program completely I can get a terminal Master's degree.

    My contact did inform me that this company could offer me a full-time position at the end of the summer if I do a good job. That will be a hard decision to make because this job requires a high level of computational work which the whole reason I'm going to grad school anyway; to get a number-crunching job..
  9. Mar 18, 2013 #8
    I don't understand, why is that a hard decision? You were looking at spending years of your life working for very little (and postponing your career) so that you could get just such a job. What's the downside in skipping the schooling (which may or may not be very helpful in the long run) and jumping right into the work?

    Apoligies if I'm misreading something.
  10. Mar 18, 2013 #9
    You're right that it appears that this might be the job the OP was looking for all along. However, I myself had a difficult decision whether to get an MS or Ph.D. (I'm an engineer) since my final job wouldn't be much different.

    I chose a Ph.D. for two reasons. 1. It allowed me to get a really broad base of technical knowledge (in industry they pigeon-hole you as soon as they can) and 2. It allowed me to do original research. How do to research effectively is not trivial and it is not something you typically learn on-the-job.

    I believe I made the right decision, but I got lucky (of course). I gave up about 4 years of good salary to get the degree, and a Ph.D. isn't required to get an engineering job. However, because of the skills I got in my Ph.D. I've been able to have opportunities that would have been hard to get without one. The "piece of paper" hasn't given me the opportunity but rather the very broad skills I acquired while getting the "piece of paper". I now am in a position I wouldn't be in (I don't think) if I didn't get the Ph.D.

    In engineering, a Ph.D. student has to do everything pretty much for him or herself. So, the student learns how to do A LOT of different jobs. This is very valuable in some organizations. So, that's one thing it gave me. I assume it's similar in Physics.

    Also, there is a nice feeling of accomplishment I have for having extended the state-of-the-art in my tiny little niche of a field.

    So, yes, I would say it IS a hard decision.
  11. Mar 20, 2013 #10
    carlgrace pretty much summed up why it would be difficult decision for me. The reason I really want a PhD is because I want a job related to physics somehow and I'm fairly confident I would get one because my adviser has a lot of industry contacts. But the quant jobs would be a nice fallback career which is my reason to taking this internship.
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