I recently asked about the ethicality of staying in a Ph.D. program (first-year) while attempting to transfer to a different university that I had declined previously. Unfortunately, the funding was cut short for said program and I did not get off the wait list for funding.

The main reason I wanted to transfer was due to the fact that I wanted to focus on a more applied math program as opposed to the current program I am in that focuses on bioinformatics/biology. Since the transfer/funding did not work out, I was curious if I could possibly transfer from the Ph.D. I am currently in to the math Ph.D. program. They are both under the same college of sciences. I did my undergrad in both math and cell/molecular biology and I believed I could incorporate enough math but if possible I’d like to just get the applied math Ph.D. and apply it to biology instead of the other way around.

My two options are either to stay in my program and recruit many math committee members or to outright move to the math department. I don’t particularly want to ask my own department yet because I don’t want to be looked down upon or lose any funding because I do want to stay here and will happily finish (eventually) by incorporating more math based individuals.

I was wondering if this has been done before or if anyone has any advice on how to go about this? Obviously I’d like my funding to carry over and I believe since they’re in the same college of sciences it may be doable. I’m worried that I’ll be criticized or judged for wanting to do this or lose my funding. Since my first option of going to the other program at a different university didn’t workout and I didn’t hear about it till a week ago, I was unable to really follow this second option.


Whether it can be done or not depends entirely on the regulations of your particular institution. What is much more likely to say is that you will probably not be able to carry your funding over from your old department to your new one. Funding very rarely can be transferred, since it is usually attached to some project or department, rather than any individual.

  • The only time I have seen funding carry is when it was attached to a project and the PI was jointly appointed by the two departments. – Dawn Apr 27 '18 at 16:13
  • The funding I’m offered is in the form of a GTA teaching labs. Most of my funding actually comes from the biology department and a minority of it comes from my actual department. I’m not sure how they manage that but I assume it has to do with my department being much smaller. – H5159 Apr 27 '18 at 16:15
  • Realistically, in the cases I have seen, the student had a champion in the new department who was able to push the change through. It will also help if your current advisor is supportive. – Dawn Apr 27 '18 at 16:15
  • @Dawn Since I’m just now finishing up my first year I haven’t really decided on who my advisor will be for the rest of my stay here. I have one that is technically my advisor but he’s the individual I chose when applying to do my first lab rotation (I must do 3 before deciding exactly who I want ) – H5159 Apr 27 '18 at 16:16

First thing, unless you got a funding from an outside source to the university, it is VERY UNLIKELY your funding will be carried over (for example, math funding is usually by TAing/teaching as everyone takes math classes, I guess biology funding comes in the form of lab work).

Second, it is very likely that this late in the year, admissions in math are already done deal (and they tend to have limited spots as usually math admissions are fully funded with TAships). I would suggest looking into adjacent fields which are more bio-friendly and less competitive than math, say statistics (bio-stats? experiment design?) or CS (systems biology?).

Now it is evident from your post and the previous one that you are unhappy with your field of study and position, and it effects you and your work. Instead of complementing too much, the only honorable/reasonable way to solve that (and maybe move to other program in math, in this university or another), is to terminate the bio program, on good terms (schedule a meeting with director of graduate studies, shake his hand, thank him for the opportunity, say this program is not a good fit for you and ask him if he can assist moving to math, maybe he's BFF with someone from the math admissions committee, it is clear this step is terminal from the biology perspective, but at least you keep your credibility and won't get bad recommendations from the bio staff), right now, you're wasting time (yours and the bio staff) and money.

Your first option is not very viable one. Most math professors (even the applied one) are not usually drawn to bio (rather than CS/Physics), and they are busy people, I highly doubt that you would be able to convince them to participate in a bureaucratic thing (committee) for a student not from their department. Moreover, as in biology you're tied to a lab, rather than being a more-or-less independent researcher as in math, eventually your research would need to align with the intentions of your advisor, namely a bio guy, and this would give even less of an incentive to the math people to support you.

Good luck whatever you do.

  • Since the time that has passed from that linked post to now, I’ve been able to actually enjoy the field I am in. I believe most of my unhappiness came from the classes I was taking and or the instructors. I’ve been able to take some courses this semester that have re-sparked my interest in the field I am currently in. I am after all in a computational biology program in which many of the faculty do incorporate mathematics (mainly biophysics, which happens to be one of the courses I just mentioned). I don’t think I am wasting their time nor mine. I’m not in a purely bio program. – H5159 Apr 29 '18 at 22:17
  • However I do agree with most of what you said. I think my best bet is to continue the program and pursue what interests me thus far (biophysics etc) and see if I’m able to integrate some more math based individuals into my research/committee. I was assured by the head that he can get me in touch with individuals they have done work with from the math department. – H5159 Apr 29 '18 at 22:20

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