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I have been admitted to a Math PhD program in US. The school is ranked in the top 60-80 range. I started school this August. I'm, however, considering the possibility of re-applying to a different program, based on the following reasons:

  1. My undergraduate background is in physics, economics and mathematics. I'm a late comer to the subject (mathematics); therefore, my application wasn't as competitive as it could have been if I had studied the subject for the full four years. This was reflected in the number of acceptances/rejections that I received.

  2. I would like to move to a department that focuses on inter-disciplinary research. Unfortunately, such options aren't available at my current department.

  3. I may have an issue picking an adviser in the future. I will skip the details over here.

  4. My job prospects would be quite bleak in academia (Math) if I choose to stay over here.

Based on a combination of academic and non-academic reasons, I believe I would like to take another shot at applying to different schools. I’d appreciate if you could put this issue in perspective by commenting on:

  1. Whether this is a possibility in the system in place in the US? Are such issues frowned upon?

  2. How does generally view such issues? What’s the overall perception of academics in math departments?

  3. What would be the best way to tackle this issue? For example, what would be the best time to discuss this issue with faculty? I don’t want to antagonize anyone, but, at the same time, I’d like to discuss my aforementioned case with someone in the future so I can consider the possibility of re-applying.

Any suggestions would be appreciated.

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    It feels like I've seen this exact question (with the exact wording) a few days ago. – Vladhagen Nov 5 '18 at 4:36
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Most programs will not fault you for wanting to change disciplines. If you can obtain the necessary application materials (letters of recommendation, specifically), changing programs will likely not be a massive issue. Be clear in your statements of purpose that you are interested in changing disciplines. If you are open as to why you are changing programs, I do not see application committees being overly turned off by such a decision. (I personally would not be at least. If a candidate is a good fit, I will pursue him or her). Explain the situation much like you have in your question. Emphasize that you feel that you could be a more successful researcher in a research program that is more inter-disciplinary. (Your background is likely to be more well-versed for an inter-disciplinary program anyway it sounds like).

Do not obscure the fact that you are looking to start a new program. You have nothing to hide as far as I can tell. (This will obviously be contingent on potential complications you may or may not have fully disclosed).

One comment I will briefly add deals with the "grass is always greener" aspect of graduate studies (and life). Make sure that changing programs will actually be a better situation than remaining with your current program. I would have a contingency plan in place for the event that you apply to new programs and are accepted into none of them. (Or maybe your plan can be to apply to one or two schools you know you will get into). There is the old adage "A bird in the hand is better than two in the bush." Make sure that if you put down the bird you have in your hand that the one in the bush is actually going to be a bigger, better bird.

Because you provide no details about why choosing an advisor will be a problem, I am not going to be able to give any advice in that regard.

As for career prospects, an inter-disciplinary PhD in math can be a blessing and a curse. My personal anecdotal experience has been that academia prefers more of a focused "single discipline" PhD (although this is changing to a certain extent) and industry prefers inter-disciplinary studies.

As for what you need to tell your department right now, I would figure out first how you are going to get your letters of recommendation. If you feel that you have three people who will write you letters (and then maybe one backup), I would then speak to your graduate coordinator about terminating any support you have. Make sure that you close out any financial considerations that must take place. This will go a long way in ensuring you do not burn bridges when you leave.

Some students invariably will leave a graduate program from time to time. Any admissions committee knows this. Declaring your intentions sooner rather than later will make your current program significantly more willing (and able) to help you find the best fit for your future studies. I would not be too concerned overall with trying to apply to other programs as long as you are open with your current program.

  • I have in mind two people with whom I'd like to work over the next year. Hopefully, they will be able to write letters for me. I can always ask my undergraduate adviser to write the third letter for me. Let's see if I am able to find additional letter writers. Why would you say I should talk to the graduate coordinator about terminating any support I may have. I'm interested in applying at the end of Fall 2019 (next year), and I hope I'm able to graduate with a master's degree from my current institute in Spring 2020. I'd move from this place only if I get accepted somewhere else. – user82261 Nov 5 '18 at 5:47
  • In this case, I'm not sure if I should ask for my support to be terminated? Or is that something that you didn't mean? I was thinking of declaring my intention to apply afresh, and continue with the department as a graduate student by the time I complete my master's degree, and prepare applications for the next round. – user82261 Nov 5 '18 at 5:48
  • @user82261 I see what you mean. Your plan to get a MS then move schools is an even better one. That slipped my mind. I'd look into getting the master's degree then starting a PhD at a new program. Maybe talk to the grad coordinator and see what type of a plan he/she can draw up for you. You do not need to stop being funded in this case. I thought you were looking to immediately move. The idea of getting the master's degree is a good one I feel. That should work out fine. – Vladhagen Nov 5 '18 at 6:18
  • Perfect. I suppose I'll talk to the relevant people (professors, and graduate program director) when the time is right. Maybe next summer. – user82261 Nov 5 '18 at 6:39

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