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I began a PhD program last year and found the program to have been misrepresented, whether intentionally or not. I am a behavioral student, and my department has two tracks they admit students to: behavioral and non-behavioral (I'm trying to keep details vague), where the non-behavioral track draws from completely different fields and research questions than the behavioral track and are therefore different fields "umbrella-ed" under a single department. Before joining this program, I reviewed the curriculum for my track that is posted on the website, asked a lot of questions about expectations, courses, etc., and felt it was a good fit. However, during my first year the program changed a bit (I was not told this would happen) and there are no more behavioral courses being offered because of politics in the department and the departure of two behavioral faculty members.

I have thus been receiving training in the non-behavioral track. Needless to say, I feel like I've been duped; I am not getting the coursework/foundational training or research experience necessary to succeed and publish in my desired field. The department head is aware of the issues and unwilling to discuss. Her attitude is, "that's just how it is, deal with it."

How would you handle a situation such as this? I cannot simply leave and go to another program. I don't have the funds to relocate again unless I work for a few more years to save up more money. I'm not so young, so I don't want to push off a PhD much longer. I'm also not sure I should stay either, because I've essentially been forced to get my PhD in a different field and I'm not sure if I will be able to cross back over after getting my degree. Am I missing other potential options for handling this situation, aside from leaving and just not getting my PhD?

  • Does the department still have enough behavioral faculty that would be qualified to teach the courses you wanted? – Nate Eldredge Jun 3 '18 at 1:02
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    By the way, words like "duped" and "misrepresented" imply that the department was dishonest and knew they couldn't offer what was promised. I wouldn't throw around words like that unless you're sure that's the case, rather than unforeseen circumstances. – Nate Eldredge Jun 3 '18 at 1:05
  • @NateEldredge The OP says the program was misrepresented "whether intentionally or not" and he "feels" duped. I disagree that this necessarily implies dishonesty. Feelings, in particular, are what they are. – Nicole Hamilton Jun 3 '18 at 1:30
  • They have enough faculty, which may be why they chose not to fill the positions of the departing faculty, but the remaining faculty does not want to teach the courses due to other projects and "politics," as I've been told. I do have a few "elective" options, but it is difficult to get faculty involved to plan independent studies, so I've been told if I want "value" from my electives, I should take an actual course being offered - and there aren't any I'm seeing that are relevant to my field unless I just keep taking various stats courses. – user93512 Jun 3 '18 at 1:39
  • Can you explain why you can't relocate? // Have you considered having your department put you in some online classes offered elsewhere while they rebuild that track? If your department head won't work with you on solving the problem, you might need to go higher up. – aparente001 Jun 3 '18 at 4:10
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Sounds like there was a conflict between the two behavioral researchers that left and the rest of the department about the direction of the department. The behavioral researchers lost. Such conflicts can be very nasty. The fact that the conflict was "resolved" by the departure of two faculty, points in that direction. In that case all remaining faculty will be very relieved that that is over, and the department is not going to start that all over again to accommodate a PhD student. In that case, you can either become a non behavioral researcher or switch to another department/university. It is unfair, but if my description of the situation is correct then those are the only realistic options.

You can ask the researchers that left if they know a department that fits your interests. Switching departments for this reason is perfectly acceptable, this is not your fault.

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I think the solution for you is to have a clear vision for your PhD program and your career and do whatever it takes to achieve those, without being drawn down any side paths that don't lead where you want to go. I would never remain in the wrong program in hopes that after years of work I'll somehow get back on the right track. That doesn't seem entirely rational.

The program you signed up for is no longer being offered and your department chair is not giving you any hope that this will change. This doesn't bode well for your future at this institution unless you can establish better communication with your chair and enlist that person's support for your goals.

I suggest approaching this coldly analytically rather than emotionally by evaluating ALL of your possible options, whether you like them or not. Brainstorm solutions for obstacles. Identify any deal breakers, but (and this is key for you in your specific personal situation), examine those with an open mind.

Also, focus on long-term goals rather than short-term. Thirty years from now you don't want to say, "If only I had left that university and gone somewhere with the program I really wanted." Things like financial sacrifices and having to move feel more important today than they will be in the future.

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That's an unfortunate situation to be put in, but I'm wondering if - on balance - you can make do with the resources you have and pursue your field of interest.

1- You've said there are still some behavioral faculty left - enough that you can form a dissertation committee out of them? Even if they're not offering courses that directly relate to your field, it would still be good to take whatever classes they are teaching if you want to work with them eventually. Plus, doing so might open doors to work with said professors on those projects that are keeping them so busy. Depending on your relationships with these professors and the nature of their research projects, it might even be worth approaching them, explaining the issue of lack of course offerings, and asking if you could work with them on one of their projects (as an RA, or a second author?) to get more relevant experience.

2- What is your department's/university's policy re: outside resources? Examples: taking relevant courses outside your department (if there are any), or getting committee members from other departments/universities?

3-It's also important to keep in mind that at the PhD level, much of a scholar's expertise is self-taught, especially as you advance through your program (case in point, one of my phd exams and a major aspect of my dissertation has to do with an area in which I never took any coursework). So ask yourself - given the resources you currently have and the goals you've set forth for yourself, what would you have to tackle on your own, and is that something you can do?

At the end of the day, PhD programs don't always end up being the perfect fit we had expected (definitely the case for me). That said, I'm not advocating that you stick it out and try to get through a program that lacks the resources you need. Given the investment you made, I think it's important to get a little creative and see if you can find a way to make it work. If you can, great. If not, then you don't want to waste your time in a program that isn't setting you on the career path you want.

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