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I am currently an international student doing a PhD in mathematics (Top 50 program) in the US. I just finished my first year. Having passed my qualifying exams, I now have to start thinking about my comprehensive exam. Now the problem is, the only person active in the area (financial maths) I'm interested in will be retiring soon and is no longer accepting students.

After some thorough search I have found a couple of programs (financial engineering PhD) that are highly competitive but perfectly fit my interests. My plan is to apply to these programs and leave my current program with a Masters in case I get admitted into one of them.

Now here are my questions:

  1. Is this an acceptable thing to do?

  2. Should I tell my potential advisors in my current program about my plan? I'm actually thinking of asking one of them for a reference letter for my application.

  3. Are my chances of getting into a new PhD program affected in anyway by the fact that I currently in another PhD program?

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If I were on the admission's committee of your "new" program, I would be wondering whether you would lose interest in "our" program just as quickly as you lost interest in your "old" program. (Besides wondering whether you have the skills and motivations for "our" program.) You need to counter-act this by

  • explaining why you want to leave the old program
  • provide evidence (e.g. a letter of recommendation) that you are not leaving because of bad behavior on your side
  • explain why you want to switch from an area in applied mathematics to an engineering area.

You also do not want to burn bridges unnecessarily with your old program. Since Ph.D. programs foster interpersonal relationships between students and professors, you really need to talk with someone in your current program. I would advise you to go into this conversation with an open mind. Ph.D. programs especially in Mathematics are difficult and feelings of the need to leave are frequent, but should mostly not be acted on.

It is common that students change interests within the same program, so I doubt people will be mad at you. Also, you are not abandoning an advisor who might have invested quite a bit into training you. I doubt that there will be hard feelings in your "old" program if you want to leave.

TLTR: To me, it looks like your plan is a good one, but I would warn you against leaving the program without a good discernment.

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  • Hi @tschwarz thank you for your reply. But i need to add that I am not leaving the current program because I lost interest in Maths. I'm interested in Financial and the only person who currently does Financial maths is not available to supervise me. Also the new program I'm looking at are Financial Engineering programs. Jun 15 at 14:09
  • This strengthens your case a lot. You still should talk with someone on your current faculty. Also, being in two Ph.D. programs at the same time??? Jun 15 at 14:19
  • @ChristopherCharles This answer says nothing about losing interest in math, it refers to losing interest in a program, that is, choosing not to complete a program of study you've applied to and committed to.
    – Bryan Krause
    Jun 15 at 14:21

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