I am an international grad student in a middle-tier mathematics PhD program in the USA. I am still in my first year. Soon after joining the program I realized there is no active faculty who works close to my interest. Also I don't like the city, and one of the reasons is there is repeated incidents of crime nearby

Now I know it does not make a good impression to change PhD programs but I don't want to stay in this place for obvious safety reasons. So I want to apply to other PhD programs in the next cycle. I have good relationships with my professors and I don't want to make the impression that I am taking advantage of the program.

As I need recommendation from my current program to reapply, can anyone suggest what should I do in the meantime to make my profile stronger? Also should I tell my letter writers now that I intend to leave?

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    Does this answer your question? Is transferring to another university an option for an unhappy PhD student? Commented Apr 25, 2022 at 0:39
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    It seems very unusual to want to leave grad school in the US because the city is unsafe. To me, this suggests that: (1) you have a very strange decision making process, or (2) you were the victim of a crime and are having some distress as a result, or (3) this is a "convenient" reason to justify leaving, but not the actual reason you want to leave. In cases #2 or #3, you may prefer not to share all the details here, and that's fine; I just mention this because others (in real life) may have similar reactions if you frame your decision as you did here.
    – cag51
    Commented Apr 25, 2022 at 1:15
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    @cag51 really? To me it seems unusual to want to be in a graduate program at an unsafe location. I have visited several highly ranked US universities where my local hosts gave me stern warnings not to stray from a small area around the campus due to crime and safety issues. (In one case these warnings were voiced at an official orientation talk at the beginning of a conference, where the organizer stated euphemistically that since we are in an “urban campus” certain precautions are warranted). This was a huge turn-off for me personally. And I’m a person with a fairly high tolerance for risk.
    – Dan Romik
    Commented Apr 25, 2022 at 2:50
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    Sure, I can understand taking this into account when making your decision of where to attend. But leaving in the middle, when you like the program and everything else is going well? I would suspect that there are additional undisclosed reasons. For this question, that's fine, the reasons are irrelevant. But I hope OP is making a well-reasoned decision and is able to communicate that reasoning to people they want to maintain good relationships with.
    – cag51
    Commented Apr 25, 2022 at 3:20
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    @cag51- Its is entirely possible that OP didn't know/comprehend the magnitude of crime before joining and weren't suitably warned. Have you come across cases where such concerns were misused for convenience? Commented Apr 25, 2022 at 3:45

3 Answers 3


You may want to do some research before you choose another program. Many US University campuses are in unsafe places, unfortunately (there are several reasons for that). And do not go to the University if there is nobody to work with. Your explanation of the desire to change is quite valid.


There is no need to agonise over the strategy to do this --- just be candid with your supervisors and seek a recommendation based on your existing work. If you are not enjoying yourself in the city, cannot find an appropriate faculty member to supervise your topic of interest, and are anxious over crime problems, these are perfectly good reasons to move to another program in another city. Your present supervisors (or the graduate program director if you don't yet have supervisors) should be able to give you some kind of basic reference based on your work in the program so far (e.g., have you been doing required things, completing milestones, etc.).


I agree with the others about doing your research before applying and being candid with your advisors. If you want to go somewhere else, you have to tell them and hopefully, they will be kind and supportive. The best way to ensure their kindness is by giving them a warning and having open communication. If you are not you will know you have made the right decision.

Personally, my advisor has told me that if I end up hating it at my current institution I could leave after my master's (I am in a masters-PhD combined program) and his kindness is honestly what made me choose him as a professor in the first place.

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