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I'm an international student. I have been in a PhD program in the US for 1 year and this is my second. My advisor informed me earlier this year that he is moving to another lower-ranked school. How to cope when PhD advisor quits midway deals with this issue. This is not what this question is about.

I have not been doing a lot of research and have been overwhelmed with coursework. By the time I finish my coursework, I'll be in my third year already. I also find that my advisor's work (after having spent some time with his group) does not interest me and is very different from what I thought I would be doing. I do research in a very specialized area. My advisor does work in a different area but is interested in how what I'm doing can be applied to what he's doing. However, we disagree on methodology.

I'm also not interested in research/teaching as a career and originally decided to do a PhD to gain more knowledge/training in this very specialized area that is not available in industry. My original plan was to finish my PhD and get a job. However, my advisor's move is making me reconsider this plan. Even though my advisor is moving, he will still advise me remotely until I satisfy my coursework requirements (and then I could move as a visiting student at this point).

By the end of the second year, I can quit my PhD and get a MSc but I see the following issues:

  1. How should I handle this on my resume? Do I say that I'm doing a PhD or that I'm doing a MSc?
    • If I say I'm doing a PhD, how do I explain not getting it?
    • If I say I'm doing a MSc, does that violate an F1 student visa?
  2. How should I handle my relationship with my advisor? At what point should I announce my plan to quit?
  3. Will quitting reduce my chances of getting a job? If I say I'm doing a MSc, then chances are my employer will not seek a recommendation from my advisor but if I say I'm doing a PhD and decided to quit, then chances are my employer will do that and will seek an explanation.
  4. Is it a good idea to get an internship this summer before quitting for a full-time position?

Oct 9 If you have an answer to only one or a few of these issues and not the others, please consider posting it.

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    In any decision, it is always best to be honest - tell the truth tactfully though. – user7130 Oct 9 '13 at 9:14
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    my chances of getting a job Job in academia or industry? – scaaahu Oct 9 '13 at 10:38
  • @UV-D Thank you. This is what this question is about: How to tell the truth tactfully. – user8922 Oct 10 '13 at 2:11
  • @scaaahu industry – user8922 Oct 10 '13 at 2:11
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Honesty is the best policy. It means you should not lie. It does not mean you must say everything about yourself on your resume. For example, you do not need to say where you attended high school on the resume. If you do not have PhD, do not say you have it. If you have MSc, say you have it. You do not need to say you were doing PhD unless they ask you that question.

If and when they ask you whether you were doing PhD, you should tell the truth with brief explanation why you did not get it. This will hurt your chance getting an academic job. Most industry people would not care that much. They are more concerned with your ability to make money. However, you probably will not get an industry job if PhD is part of job requirement.(Some companies do want PhD only)

You need to ask the international student office at your school or immigration office to see the requirement for F-1 visa. They are the authority to answer that question. We are not.

Internship is always helpful. You gain experience which you can put on the resume.

  • When you're applying for a job, you typically do that before you get your degree (MSc/PhD) and on your resume you put the degree you're currently doing. My question is should I put MSc/PhD during this uncertain period? – user8922 Oct 10 '13 at 6:51
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    @user8922 Typically, you list the degree you have and the degree you are certain that you will have. In your case, my advice is that you do not list the degree you are not certain you will have. – scaaahu Oct 10 '13 at 7:21
  • So just list the MSc as long as there are no visa issues? – user8922 Oct 11 '13 at 2:34
  • @user8922 You need to talk to international student office/immigration office about F-1 visa. You need to talk to immigration office/employer/lawyer about H-1 visa. – scaaahu Oct 11 '13 at 7:28
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Your question seems to partly be about how to communicate what you are doing on your resume while the degree is still in progress.

At the point you make a definite decision to only pursue an MSc, you should change your resume to reflect that.

It will be a negative for potential employers if you claim you are working on a PhD, but then later only end up obtaining an MSc.

Even if the employer doesn't care about the PhD per se, this switch might reflect negatively on you: it shows you attempted something and failed to complete it, and also might seem like you were over-selling yourself to get your foot in the door.

Your explanation for stopping the PhD is reasonable, and if the employer believed that you legitimately had a change of plans, it would probably not be that big of a negative.

However, if the employer had any reason to believe you were being misleading (claiming you were working on a PhD when you already planned to get only an MSc), this could become a big red flag. Avoid this by not making claims about a PhD once you decide to get only the MSc.

I'm not an expert on the visa issues. However, if you cannot formally change your enrollment status (for this or other reasons), you could change your resume to make a non-specific claim. For example, you could say "enrolled in postgraduate study of XYZ".

Finally, you should let your advisor know as soon as you make the decision. Your advisor deserves to know about your change of plans and may be able to help you with your new focus. I could imagine cases where this might be sensitive, but I see no problem in this case--the advisor's move to a different institution would represent quite a disruption to your education no matter what your plans were, so he ought to be understanding about this.

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Will quitting reduce my chances of getting a job? If I say I'm doing a MSc, then chances are my employer will not seek a recommendation from my advisor but if I say I'm doing a PhD and decided to quit, then chances are my employer will do that and will seek an explanation.

This certainly depends on the field (if you go for a research-based industry position, notably) but otherwise whether you have a PhD or an MSc will not matter.

The country is important as well. A PhD in Germany is a differentiator. A PhD in France is less important. A PhD in the US seems to be on the lower scale of importance (as I could see in the HR process when I was hiring for US-based positions in the US).

So while a PhD would usually not hurt, having a MSc only sets you at the level other candidates will be.

If this was for a developer or devops position, the practical knowledge you have would be way more important (and interesting). As a matter of anecdote, I recently hired someone who did not have a MSc yet (he was two exams short) competing against a MSc and a PhD. Just discussing with him showed that he has done so many things on his own that he would be a an immensely better candidate that the others (who had a standard set of skills they were not that keen to extend).

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