Transferring Grad Schools Because of Relationship?

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Transferring Grad Schools Because of Relationship?

Post by nm6dd1 » Tue Oct 02, 2012 9:37 pm

Hello all,

I am currently a first year grad student at University X. Classes are going well and I am very involved already, but mixed in with the good aspects are a lot of negative ones. I am quickly finding that I am unhappy here and even though it is a top 15 ranked physics program, I find myself wanting a change for a lot of reasons.

One of the reasons why I would like a change (besides my general unhappiness, which is probably better described as not feeling like X is a good fit for me), is my girlfriend. My girlfriend is also a first year physics grad student at University Y, which happens to be very closely ranked (one spot) but also was one of my top two choices of schools (I was rejected). So far she has really enjoyed her time there and seems to be making the most of it. In addition to her attending University Y, I have family and good friends from undergrad in that area. We have been in a long distance relationship for two years now and while things are not at the level of seriousness that would involve career decisions (you all know what I'm talking about lol), we are very committed to each other and are obviously continuing the long distance into grad school.

For anyone who has done long distance before, you understand the predicament…it is very stressful when you are separated from your significant other for long periods of time (you basically get 48 hours every 3-5 weeks if you're lucky) and having this separation lasting indefinitely is very hard to deal with.

My first question: Is a significant other reason enough to transfer grad schools? I know that transferring grad schools is usually frowned upon, but this isn't me doing it because I'm bitter over not getting in, it's because I want to be with this person and don't want to have to be long distance indefinitely (without compromising my own career). I am worried that if I ask the professor that I am doing research for at X for a letter of rec that he will write a bad one because he is insulted or word will spread about me potentially transferring and people will not want to take me as an RA (if he gets rid of me at the prospect of transferring) if I do decide to stay (if I don't get in or something changes)

My second question: What are the odds of "transferring" being successful (transferring is a bit of a misnomer because it would essentially involve me reapplying this year)? As I said before, this is a top school that I was already rejected from once…not much has changed in my application except that I have started to do volunteer work that relates to physics outreach. Is there someone that I should talk to at Y or anything specific that I should do to aid this process?

Anyways, I am sorry for the long post…you can probably tell how much this is stressing me out lol. Thank you for your responses in advance!
Last edited by nm6dd1 on Wed Oct 03, 2012 7:59 am, edited 1 time in total.

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Re: Transferring Grad Schools Because of Relationship?

Post by twistor » Wed Oct 03, 2012 6:53 am

I don't see how you can transfer to a school that rejected you.

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Re: Transferring Grad Schools Because of Relationship?

Post by TakeruK » Wed Oct 03, 2012 4:57 pm

To respond to your first question: Yes, I think a significant other (or similar "family" reasons) is a good enough reason to want to transfer schools. For example, students might want to transfer because they need to be closer to a family member that is ill, or it turns out that they really cannot stand living in whatever city/place they're in now. I think being happy is very important to being productive and successful. However, you would definitely want a good (or at least positive) LOR from your current department/advisor for your application to school Y. So you will have to judge what is the best way to "break the news" to your advisor and department. If you feel that your advisor/department will "frown upon" your relationship, then perhaps you could consider not fully disclosing why you want to leave. You can cite "personal reasons" or whatever -- but it's likely that the more you are able to share with your advisor/department (within reasonable limits), the better/more support you'd get from them for the transfer (assuming that being able to share the information implies a strong rapport between you and the department/advisor as well as the advisor's/department's wanting to see you happy and successful).

For the second question: you are basically applying to the same school again, with what sounds like an almost identical application. Applicants change from year to year so maybe you could be accepted this time around. The fact that you are leaving a current grad program is probably going to reflect poorly without justification. In your shoes, I'd make it clear that School X is not turning out to be a good fit and you would really like a second chance at School Y. Personally, I'd contact someone in the department at School Y before submitting my application. But I'm not sure that is necessarily helpful -- it depends on what the people at Y are like! I think a situation like this warrants a "live" (phone or skype?) conversation to explain why you are leaving School X. I'd be sure to not mention "transferring", because you are not doing that -- you are basically quitting School X and applying to start again at School Y.

I also have a question for you! You say your relationship is not at the level that would involve career decisions. However, what you are considering here is definitely a major career decision. Sure, you might be unhappy at School X for lots of non-relationship reasons, and School X may well not be a good fit for you. But how do you know School Y will be?

I think it might be worthwhile for you to consider what you would do without the relationship. Would you still leave School X? If so, where else would you apply to, other than School Y? More importantly, if you are unable to consider/make a decision without factoring in the relationship, then it might be important to discuss it with your partner and re-evaluate the statement that your relationship isn't at the career-altering level, to make sure you are on the same page! Sorry -- I don't mean this to be harsh, just direct and hopefully helpful.

It's still relatively near the beginning of the year, and I know that many students, including me, experience self-doubt about the school choice and so on. So maybe after some more time, you'll find your fit in School X? Application season is approaching, but there's still a good ~2 months left.

Finally, many people (students and faculty) seem to give or have the impression that it's a bad thing to make career decisions based on "personal reasons" (e.g. family, location, significant other). I don't think this is a healthy attitude towards life, in my opinion. So I would encourage you to not feel guilty/shameful/bad/whatever on your decision to leave School X because of a relationship that you feel strongly about. I put equal weight to personal reasons and academic reasons when applying and choosing graduate programs and will continue to do so for all future career decisions. But you should be aware and be prepared for those that will "frown upon" students who choose personal reasons.

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Re: Transferring Grad Schools Because of Relationship?

Post by midwestphysics » Wed Oct 03, 2012 7:08 pm

You're going to have to be very very careful with how you word anything to either school. I'm one of those people who would not view a relationship as a favorable reason to switch school's. Especially since you say it's not, well, serious enough to warrant life changing decisions. What if you stop seeing this person, would being in the same program be an issue, especially if it ended badly? A bunch of different factors would be playing in my mind if you were to cite that as a reason for transferring. Now, if you cited academic reasons I might be able to see that. However, that is a minefield as well. You have to be very very sure that the situations that take place in one program aren't also taking place in another program. Other grad students may not be the best to advise you on that either. What the faculty envisions their program as and what it really is may differ. So you may be stating to someone reasons to leave one program and they see those exact same things as reasons you would leave their program. It's ugly anyway you look at it, and I think it will come down to luck. Maybe you'll say the right things to the right person and they'll empathize. Then again, having been rejected previously definitely doesn't make the situation any easier. The relationship thing is extra baggage if you ask me, in general I can only imagine people making an exception when you are highly sought after to begin with. I'm not knocking you as a physicist, just pointing out that from program to program different individuals can be valued very differently. One may want you bad, another not at all. I just see this as a very unlikely scenario in terms of playing out the way you want. You may end up right where you were before, except this time with less willingness of others to work with you. Nobody wants to work with someone who doesn't want to be there, and they don't want to take the chance you'll bail on them midway through if the opportunity arises.

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Re: Transferring Grad Schools Because of Relationship?

Post by bfollinprm » Wed Oct 03, 2012 7:51 pm

I'm sorry to hear about your long-distance troubles. I know they can be a real bummer.

I think most transfer students end up at a "lower-ranked" program when they transfer, so I'd have other choices at the ready. If it really is for the GF, then try to find other schools in the area with a lower reputation, if it isn't for the GF, apply to other programs across the country you feel are a better fit (though I have doubts, without details, that you could possibly know if a school is a good fit after less than a quarter). Your question as posed seems to be not very well formulated; you want to transfer to Y and your justification seems to be your GF is at Y, but you say you aren't making your decision for your relationship.

First year of grad school is pretty bad for a lot of people, and it has little bearing on how the rest of your life as a grad student will be. If you don't feel a good fit with your program, maybe you need to find a new adviser, or pursue a different subfield of physics that catches your interest more. If that doesn't seem to address your concerns, maybe it's time to admit this relationship is more important to you, and take it to the next level, whatever that might be (to first oder, it will mean possibly accepting a lower-ranked program to get closer together).

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