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I'm a MS student who just finished his second semester. The lab that I'm in is fairly large (around 30 people) and there are a variety of students working on different topics.

Here in my country (Korea), people usually enroll as MS/PhD integrated students (i.e., enlist with a bachelor's and exit with a PhD, with an option to exit after getting a master's). I had signed up for this integrated program, but recently decided to exit once I get my master's.

The problem is that since I've decided to leave after getting my master's, I find myself being ignored. One senior lab member questioned whether I "wanted to be part of the group" (I thought I already was). Further, no one even approaches me about research anymore unless they need help with something (e.g., English writing - I'm the only English native speaker there).

I feel like this is a toxic environment. I mean, I enrolled as a graduate student to study more and learn how to be a researcher, and I still want to do that. But maybe I'm being naive. So, is this kind of behavior normal? Is it a known issue in my country? What's the best way to proceed?

  • Eek. If you were planning to leave after getting your Master's, I would have recommended you keep this to yourself until very close to the time you have actually completed your Master's... I'm very sorry you are dealing with this. – Morgan Rodgers Sep 10 at 19:58
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No idea about anything specific to Korea, and haven't personally experienced this, but yeah, it seems pretty normal to me. In my field in the US it is similarly most common for people to be admitted only to PhD programs, with a masters degree as an option for people who fail to/decide not to continue.

From the perspective of your coworkers, you've decided to quit the lab. You don't mention why, and it definitely might be the right decision for you, but for people around you it might look like you don't value the kind of work the lab is doing, you're just going through the motions to get the master's degree and move on. You also might be perceived as a bit of a burden: you're opting to skip the years in which you would be likely to be most productive and most helpful to others as a senior graduate student in the lab, and only staying for your first steps into research. Ordinarily, if your goal is to "study more and learn how to be a researcher", the best way to do that would be to complete a PhD program, not to quit with a master's.

I think it's unlikely you'll change this attitude much, so I think you probably have to just embrace your decision, put your head down and get through it. I don't think that's really fair, by any means, and is especially unfair if you're working just as hard as everyone else while you are there, but I can also understand why your coworkers might not feel like you're a full contributor.

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  • Thanks for the perspective, I was curious whether it was like this in the US. The reason why I decided to quit is to go for a PhD abroad (not sure how that'll work out with COVID-19 right now, but I digress). My professor and the other lab members have known this from the start, but I guess now that reality hit they feel differently. I've even contributed before (I have my name on two publications with one more coming) and everyone's writing basically goes through me before submission. Just thought it was weird that they'd suddenly take on this attitude. Oh well! – Seankala Sep 10 at 1:46
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When I was in the US, it was as you say: MS students were not valued. Also, I think most schools do not fund MS students.

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