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Wrong Grad School Decision

  1. May 12, 2013 #1
    I will be starting a Mechanical Engineering PhD program at a highly ranked university this upcoming fall.

    When I first made my decision where to attend, things were fairly turbulent and I was still very unsure what I wanted to accomplish with my research. The entire application and decision process was rough, but that's aside the point.

    However, as my senior undergraduate year winds down, I've been better able to focus on what I appreciate in life and come to realize I made the wrong decision on where to attend. Rather, I should have attended a school of a similar caliber but with faculty much stronger and more distinguished in the areas I would prefer studying.

    Neither school is particularly large, so the flexibility to tune research agendas by changing faculty is limited when compared to, say, a large state university.

    I came to this realization quickly and called the graduate admissions office of the institution I should have attended and was told it was too late to change course.

    This realization has badly inhibited my ability to focus on anything in front of me at the current moment (finding housing, undergraduate research, finals...) and I'm falling into depression over the possibility I may have just badly stunted my lifetime career potential.

    This problem has been haunting me for a month now. This length of time tells me it is more than buyer's remorse (I've never had buyer's remorse for more than a week, even for major decisions like my undergraduate institution). I've been ready for change for years so it can't be nervousness over starting something new. I've been confident and become more confident in my decision to attend graduate school, so I don't think that's the problem either. As far as I can tell, I really have mad the wrong choice.

    How should I proceed? If future goals anything, I don't yet know if I would prefer industry or Academia post-grad and would rather leave my doors open to when I have more perspective.
  2. jcsd
  3. May 12, 2013 #2
    There's not enough information there to give you much guidance at this point. That is, HOW invested are you in this school you thought was a mistake (school A)? Did they already issue you your grant/scholarship/student loan money and you spent it, etc? Or is it just too late to redirect and get into the desired school (school B), I assume for the fall quarter. We need more info.

    Going with the second scenario, one option is to just put a freeze on school A as far as admissions/finanacial aid, etc., and then "redshirt" it for a year, like the athletes do, and apply to school B. So maybe you'll have to take a break for a year, so what? It seems as though you have some soul searching to do anyway. Maybe it won't take a year, you get in for the winter or spring quarter.

    However, IMO, unless there's a huge difference between the schools, just go and get your PhD. I mean, if you're already in and accepted you. I think your employment prospects when you get out are going to based more on who you are than the trivial difference in the faculty you mentioned. This is especially because there is a certian risk to redshirting, especially if you need to work while you're waiting to switch schools, if you know what I mean. If you don't, be careful.
  4. May 12, 2013 #3
    I disagree strongly with DiracPool regarding employment prospects. At the Ph.D. level employment almost almost always a "family and friends" affair, where new grads usually go to work at places with contacts with the lab and often with previous lab graduates on staff. That was certainly the case with my lab, and every lab I was familiar with. The most important decision is your advisor... that trumps what school you went to. I am considered "Prof. X's" former student now as much as I am considered a graduate of my institution, if that makes any sense.

    I had a very similar issue. I chose the wrong graduate school as well. I can't tell you what to do, because it of course depends entirely on your situation, but here's what I did. I went and met with the professor I would have worked with (and who recruited me when I was a Senior in undergrad) and the school I turned down but now wanted to attend. We discussed my options and he indicated he could arrange for me to be admitted again the next Fall. I then dropped out of grad school and got a job for 6 months until the start of the new academic year.

    So, basically, I lost a year, but ended up on a much, much better place for me. So, in my opinion, get in touch with the other school BEFORE you drop out and "redshirt".

    Good luck.
  5. May 12, 2013 #4

    Yeah, carlgrace makes a good point, especially when I went back and read this line:

    What puzzles me, though, is how it wasn't an obvious choice to attend this school B to begin with, if you already knew that this is where the distiguished profs were. I think that's where I got tripped up. My overall sense of your post was that you weren't 100% sure of what you wanted to do and wanted to leave your options open. That makes an advisement proposition a bit harder to pin down.
  6. May 12, 2013 #5
    It's possible the advisor he or she intended to work with has rescinded the offer (that's what happened to me). It's also possible the research is turning out to be different that the poster expected. I'm be curious to hear.
  7. May 12, 2013 #6
    I literally just received my Electronic ID this week and haven't activated it (although it needs to be done ASAP as the deadlines for important forms is coming up at the end of the month). All I have done is accepted the offer for Fall and talked to some faculty about potentially working in their labs.

    I actually called the admissions office and was told it was too late. I gather its a university where admissions flows from the top down, so departments tend not to have much power over whom they admit. For what it's worth, I have asked a faculty whom I would like to work with if he would like to remain in contact (nothing more and nothing less) and he agreed. That said, its not as simple as it seems for reasons mentioned below.

    That is almost exactly how it worked. Neither school actually assigns an adviser until later in the program. The University I am signed up to attend has broader areas and I felt at the time that it would be easier to take advantage of the opportunity to experiment a bit before committing to a long research program. There also was (and still is) some uncertainty over whom my adviser might be.

    That's probably the real take home lesson. I've tried getting into industry to experiment (which I'd consider stronger than some hunch as to what I want to do), but have always gotten one of two responses: "You really should go to graduate school and apply to a place like a national lab" or "We'd like to hire you but we only really take graduate-level students." Point is, I have serious doubts about my ability to work in any relevant industry right now and delay.
  8. May 12, 2013 #7
    Here's my piece: Your advisor is important, yes, but whether or not you get a job will not certainly be based on who your advisor was, especially in industry or federal employment. Most people working in physics were able to obtain employment because of their strong academic and research background.
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