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I'm interested in the research of a particular professor at University 1 (top 5 in my field), which recently rejected my PhD application. I do have an offer from another place, (University 2, top 20) which I now plan on attending.

  1. Can I go to University 2, complete the requirements for a masters, and reapply to University 1?
  2. Would it be possible for me to seek out guidance from (or maybe even collaborate with) the professor at University 1 during these two years who might then want me as a PhD student?

This is all in the US.

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Okay, I've reworded but I think the relative ranks of the places do matter to the question. – user483389 Feb 13 at 18:19
3  
Are you planning to go into the PhD program at U2 and apply to U1 after the Masters or are you going to U2 for a Masters? – Ric Feb 13 at 18:33
  1. Of course you can, and this is probably your best chance to make it into U1 (without any guarantee, clearly), but this involves a risk of straining relationships to your supervisor at U2.
  2. This is a question you should discuss with your supervisor at U2 (after all he/she should give you guidance as well and careful argumentation is needed to explain why extra guidance might be appropriate), but don't be surprised if the professor at U1 would not be seeing a collaboration with you as a priority -- he/she might be busy enough with all the commitments towards his own institution.

Doing what you suggest is all within your legal rights, but I personally think when you have entered an agreement at U2 (possibly involving funding) then you should focus on that and not give the impression that you want to run away at the earliest opportunity.

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It is not uncommon for PhD students to spent a couple of months in another institute as guest/apprentice. Sometimes this is a required part of the program, sometimes it is just encouraged, and sometimes it is discouraged. That depends on the department and discipline. But if possible, then that would be a more constructive way of getting experience with U1, which won't lead to a conflict with your advisor in U2.

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It might be worthwhile to reach out to U1 even if you don't intend on leaving U2. As a PhD student I won a grant to visit another institution for a summer. A few years later I got a post-doc at the same institution, so perhaps that's a viable route for you as well.

In my situation, I visited someone who collaborated with my advisor frequently, and I had no aspirations to transfer (or to apply for a post-doc at that point). Still, I went on my own initiative and eventually collaborated with the professor I visited.

(Again, your ability to do this depends on the field; this was in mathematics, so I wasn't tied to a lab. You also need a decent reason to reach out, in my case, I wanted to learn topics related to my research area, but not commonly used at my university. Another common reason to visit another university is to use some equipment that you can't access at your university.)

Also, it's not uncommon to change universities after a few years to change research topics. If you're not tied to an advisor at U2, then leaving with a masters because you decided your interests are better represented at U1 is reasonable. I don't have any personal experience with this though.

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After re-reading Maarten's answer, I realize my answer is essentially the same. Anyway, take it as evidence that his advice is good :) – bmurph Feb 14 at 15:52

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