I just started a PhD at a US top 10 uni on the east coast. I'm studying for my generals in January right now and recently got situated in a research group.

During my applications to grad schools, I intended to go into a certain subfield of physics. I narrowed down my choices based solely on which faculty in that subfield were at which universities and eventually chose my current location because of the brand-name recognition (I intend to go into industry after graduation). When I got to this university this fall, I switched subfields entirely.

The thesis project my advisor has for me is interesting, he is rumored to be an excellent advisor, and the lab dynamic is actually great. But there's something unsettling about knowing exactly how the next 6 years of my life will be. I am getting really anxious about being stuck on the east coast (which I find to be miserable, no offense) doing exactly what I see his current graduate students doing, 2 weeks off per year, in the same tiny shared office and lab space.

I am really getting the urge to transfer to UC Boulder or San Diego where I feel like I can live my life in an enjoyable way outside of the lab while still getting a great training. I also have deep regret for choosing this school based on its faculty for a subfield I am no longer working in. I feel like I would have chosen a uni at a better location had I known this.

I'm not sure what to do. Is transferring the right move? How different will my career prospects be with a PhD from UC Boulder vs Harvard/Princeton/Yale if I'm going into industry? If I wanted to transfer to a different program, would I need to apply for Fall 2017? (Application deadline in one week). Am I expected to explain why I am transferring? What would I do over the summer? Do I need letters of recommendation from my current institution, given that I haven't done much here?

  • 3
    What makes you think that the graduate student life style is going to be any different in Boulder or San Diego? In my experience things are very similar across many university campuses. – Brian Borchers Dec 7 '16 at 14:53
  • 5
    Two comments: as my undergraduate advisor noted about the nice weather at Stanford, "you'll be in the lab all day anyway". And, while at Cornell, I did spend a good deal of time at the Gunks anyway (readily accessible from any of Princeton/Harvard/Yale for a weekend of climbing). So, if you aren't already breaking your 'work-sleep' cycle to backpack (AT, Adirondacks) or climb (Gunks, Trap Rock, ...) on the east coast, you won't in Boulder or San Diego either... – Jon Custer Dec 7 '16 at 15:30
  • 1
    Having spent some time in Boulder and having friends there, I understand what you mean, but I don't think we can really answer your questions because your career prospects mostly depend on you. Thus, I voted to close. – Massimo Ortolano Dec 7 '16 at 16:20
  • 5
    Picking your graduate school based on recreational activities seems like a bad idea to me. There ARE things to do around where you are now, and you've even taken advantage of them. It seems to me this is more about whether you're willing to put the sort of crazy time required into a PhD, because I think most of us would agree that it's not an incredibly fun process. Obviously only you know for sure, but I would be worried that the location question is a way to avoid that tough question. – Jeff Dec 7 '16 at 17:29
  • 3
    @Jeff It depends really a lot on the character: for some people -- e.g., me --the place is much more important than the school. I did a lot of cycling in the past and I wouldn't have chosen a place in which there weren't hills and mountains where to ride after work. – Massimo Ortolano Dec 7 '16 at 19:21

Go for it! Many east coast academics, or people in general even, are not going to understand how you feel. In my experience, for many academics on the east coat, outdoor recreation is not a priority (yeah, yeah, it's a generalization...).

You say:

"either of those places offer me a refuge to break the work-sleep cycle (I am obsessed with backpacking and climbing). At my current institution, I feel very "trapped", like there is nothing here except working, sleeping, and drinking"

100% agree. You can find a way to make grad school and your outdoor passions work together. Just don't expect many of your (east coast) colleagues to understand this. I have found that many academics in the west are very understanding of the outdoor lifestyle. I've worked with researchers who live out here because of the outdoor opportunities. The point is that sharing your honest reasons for wanting to transfer may actually help build connections.

I need to be near, or on, mountains. This is a huge factor in what makes me happy. I grew up in the West, but my undergrad and graduate pursuits were on the East coast because I chose to go to schools with name recognition over location. For undergrad it was okay, but I couldn't stand it in grad school. I turned down some great opportunities on the East coast to move back to the West. Most of my advisors could not understand why. Only one who loves to ski actually supported me.

As for how this will play out in industry, this is hard to say. I am currently in industry in an area with tons of biking, climbing, skiing... Part of the company culture is being outdoorsy, fit, and adventurous. While the name of my school played some role in getting an interview, I think what really made me appealing was that I could connect with my future boss about all the awesome things we do. Now I have a beard, long hair, and go on road trips all summer. Wouldn't be doing any of that out east.

| improve this answer | |

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.