Post # 1
I’m just finishing up my first year of graduate school in a large, well known university. I decided to get my Master’s to avoid having to spend 5-10 years in temporary jobs to get a nice permanent job in my field (specifically, environmental resources – stage agencies). It’s a common thing to do in that field, and seemed the natural choice for me, as I like academics and taking classes.
The program I am in right now does not fit me at all or the original description of the program at all. I want to study plants and community-lake interactions, and I’m being strongly pushed towards urban stormwater modelling. My program seems to be taking me nowhere and has no sense of progress. Because of this, I decided to try to switch programs. The program I want to switch into is more thesis-based and I can choose more what I want to study.
I cannot get any faculty or staff to respond to me at all, except to recommend me to literally everyone else. I am funded by my own means – my tuition is paid for, and I get a stipend – and there’s a good chance I can get state funding for my research. Even if I don’t, my proposed research is quite frugal in terms of the normal research. I have talked to at least 15-20 professors and most don’t even respond to my emails. Those that do think my project is very interesting but they aren’t allowed to take on another student.
I don’t even care if they say no – but why can’t they just respond??! I give them 1-2 weeks and I get nothing. I feel very stuck in my current program, and I’m now wondering if grad school was the right choice. I’m so frustrated with the college the programs are in right now and I’m trying not to be too upset but I have a deadline in which to transfer, and anything I do right now seems to be a ton of work to get absolutely nowhere.
I have contacted the department chair, who has unfortunately referred me to the exact people who won’t get back to me. I have talked to the general graduate advisor, and he also didn’t have anything helpful. I really don’t know what to do from here, and I’m feeling so, so very frustrated. I’ve hit a brick wall.
Do I quit grad school, and try for a job? Do I stay and hope that someone would want to be my advisor? Ugh.
Post # 2
Have you tried to go and talk to these people in person? It’s a lot hard to not respond if you’re standing right there in front of them. Don’t quit! Figure out what you need to do to get what you want and go after it. You know where you want to be, you just have to put in the grunt work to get there.
Post # 3
That’s the problem – I have. Their offices and office hours either aren’t posted, or they aren’t there when they’re supposed to be. That’s why I’m so frustrated – it’s like I’m putting in so much work to just talk
to them, when I still need to do a whole lot of work past that. I’m doing everything I’m supposed to be doing according to the general graduate advisor, so I guess the rest of it is just waiting for the other end of things to actually occur, but that is super
frustrating, because it doesn’t seem like it’s going anywhere. 🙁
Post # 4
I am in academia as well. Honestly, just keep trying to get in touch with them. Send the emails again, it most likely got lost in their inbox under dozens of other emails and was never read. Most professors are really horrible with email and it’s always this difficult to get ahold of them. You could also ask their graduate students where and when they tend to be around, and/or how best to get ahold of them.
Post # 5
Phone calls, and office visits. Professors are flighty, and you have to pin them down.
Post # 6
You said your original goal was to get a MS so you could work for a state agency in environmental resources. I think you would still be competitive for a state agency whether you do a MS on urban stormwater or on lake community interactions. If you are on track to finish by the end of next year, it might be best to just finish and then go on the job market with the MS.
It sounds like the profs who have written back can’t take you as a student, but would it be possible to collaborate with them as part of your work in your current program? You might be able to do some work together to continue your interest in plants; maybe urban stormwater can affect flow/plant life in rivers or lakes downstream, for instance. Working with someone who likes your research ideas would also let you get a good letter of recommendation from one of them, which will help your job applications. If your current program does not take up your summers, you could also ask if they would hire you as a lab tech during the summer (or even for next year, if they don’t have room for students now). This way, you could build a relationship with them, find out if you like the work they do, and they can find out if they like working with you.
If you really can’t stand your current program and end up unable to transfer within your school, you might be better off switching schools altogether or applying fresh to programs that fit your interests. Unfortunately, most professors would not want to take on a transfer student they’ve never met from a different program who will be in their lab only one year, and I think this is why you are having a tough time finding an alternate mentor.
If you are dead set on transferring programs, it is possible and several of my friends did it in graduate school (they were all PhD students, though). It will be easier to get a reply from professors if your emails are very brief, just a couple of sentences, with your CV attached. The ones who are not replying to you now would probably also fail to communicate with you if you were in their lab — is that really what you want? For a thesis-based MS, you need a mentor who will communicate and is excited about working with you.
Post # 7
I have been emailing them tons…I must admit I feel awkward because I don’t want to harass them. I just want a response!!
For my program, I need an official advisor (who would then fund my research, or be assisting in grants), and then a board of secondary advisors. For the secondary advisors, I’m definitely going to ask the ones who would fit really well but said no as it’s really not a lot of work at all for that. I am planning on ‘restarting’ my degree – I will be around for at least 2 years.
Post # 8
Harass them and be persistent (nicely). If they don’t get back to you in a resonable time frame, email them every other day until you get a response. Call them and leave messages. It is ok to respectfully get in their faces and invade their space – it is their job after all. Don’t give up. You can do this.
Post # 9
- Wedding: August 2013 - Rocky Mountains USA
Hey there, I have a MS in ecology/wildlife biology so I’m familiar with this type of program.
I feel you – finding an advisor to oversee your research is a bitch. Most of them either don’t have space in their lab or don’t want to do the specific research you’re proposing, and they’re also super busy with teaching etc. So they just don’t bother to respond. Hate to say it, but if you’re not getting a response from them, it’s very likely because they’re not interested/don’t have room.
All this advice about harassing them until you get an answer is well-meaning, but it’s likely not to work. I don’t think people realize how specific the advisor-advisee relationship is. You’re better off focusing that time and energy on finding someone who does have space in their program and does similar research to what you’re proposing – that person WILL respond to your emails / calls. Are you open to transferring to a different school? If none of the profs in your school are interested/have space, you’ll be pretty limited otherwise.
Ultimately I think it’s really wise to do a thesis-focused program because you want to show you can manage a research project and publish your results. (Ugh, still working on that second part myself.) It’s also wise to focus your research and degree towards the type of job and research you will eventually want to work in. It’s just finding that situation that can be tough.
Is it an option to stay in your current program and do the research there? Even if the program isn’t usually thesis-based? Obviously you need an advisor to oversee and help you design/carry out/analyze your research – is there somebody in your current program who could do so? If you’re self-funded, that makes it a lot more appealing to a potential advisor.
Anyway sorry this response is kind of disjointed, I’m just tossing out ideas… Good luck!
Post # 10
- Wedding: August 2013 - Rocky Mountains USA
PS – I wouldn’t give up on grad school all together. You’re right that if you want to get a permanent “real job” you almost assuredly need a MS. I have many years of temp job experience AND my MS and it’s still super competitive to land those jobs, at least for wildlife biology stuff.
Post # 11
is there a department head or a dean of students you can talk to.
Post # 12
I’m in grad school too, I’m sorry the professors in your department are so hard to get a hold of! As far as pinning them down, we have a secretary that knows their scheules to a certain extent. Or you could look up the course schedules online, and go talk to them right after a class they teach. Good luck!
Post # 13
Does grad school suck? “YES!” But this is just a test of wills to see how you react when thing fall apart and whether you have the moxy to gut it out. Like my mom said to me “They aren’t going to just give you the degree, you’re going to have to fight for it!”
Did I think about quitting? Several times — many, many tears I cried over unreasonable people and expectations. When it got too much, I took a break (just a few days vacation) to regain my strength and composure (home cooked meals with loved ones is also a good choice), gathered my thoughts, and geared up to fight it out some more.
Like PP say, harass them. If you want something and you’re not willing to be ignored sometimes you just have to camp outside of people’s offices and learn their schedule. I won’t admit how many people I’ve had to do that too. And oh they may think your crazy for not giving up and instead sitting on the chair outside their office for hours…but I will say this, “gentle stalking” is highly effective.
If that’s not your thing, the best advice I have is going to paper. Sometimes emails are ignored or spammed; but, a well formatted document with a nice memorable item attached (cookies?, pens? etc.) or in something (ex envelope) so bright and perhaps hideous ( neon pink) that it can’t be lost in a sea of white papers on a desk.
Good luck and never quit — the right one will say yes!
Post # 14
- Wedding: March 2014 - Chicago, IL
Do you have a graduate student union or the like, where you can contact someone that can help get your voice heard?
Post # 15
I so appreciate that you understand why I’m so frustrated – I feel that it really is almost program specific! I can’t actually do research in my current program. It’s a professional-based degree; we have a practicum project instead. My cohorts are great people, but they are all so laid back yet argumentive that we literally have accomplished nothing.
I’ve talked to the program advisor about this, and he just shrugged me off. UGH. I am somewhat open to transferring, but I feel like I would have wasted a year here, and I already signed on an apartment here for next year. I may look at switching colleges within the university though.
Even their secretaries don’t know where they are. *facepalm* I did manage to track down one guy by his posted class schedule. Our computer system is very convoluted, so it’s actually more difficult than you’d expect to even get a course schedule by professor. You can’t search by professor, so you can only figure out that schedule if the prof has posted what he’s teaching.
I don’t think I’m willing to admit how much I’ve cried over the past few months. I really didn’t expect to hate my program this much when I was going into a field I absolutely love. I like the paper idea – especially a neon colored letter! I might have to try that!
Not as far as I know, but I’ll do some digging. I have alerted all department chairs/advisors etc.