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This Category: > PhD Advice / Support


Switching from PhD to Masters? What do I do?

User: I_am_a_fish - 07 June 2010 13:13

Hello, I'm new here. I've been doing a research PhD for the past 2 1/2 years, and I'm meant to be finished in the lab in September but things have been going very badly. I've been struggling with the lab work since I started, and the constant repetition and failure really got to me over the past couple of years. I don't enjoy the work any more. I struggle to get the motivation to work the long hours required because when I do, my experiments still fail. It probably doesn't help that I live on my own, didn't know anyone here when I moved and am 300 miles away from my (close) family so I feel pretty isolated.
I've been off work ill a heck of a lot recently, and at a pretty critical time for my project - stress-related illness, who would've guessed? Last week I had a meeting with my supervisor and my supervisor suggested I submit for an MPhil. It's a measure of how badly the whole thing's been going that I don't have enough data for an MPhil yet, so no matter what happens I stil have a lot of work left to do. Supervisor has suggested this because they think there just isn't enough time for me to get the data together for a PhD, and if I submit directly for an MPhil it won't show on my records as "I failed to get a PhD", as I'm not on a studentship/ student grant. My cynical side tells me that it also won't show on the records as my supervisor's student failing to get a PhD, but I don't think this is the main reason (if it is a reason at all). I don't think she'd suggest it if it were possible for me to get a PhD in the time I have left.

Has anyone else here done something similar, and submitted for an MPhil instead of a PhD?

What worries me is that, with an MPhil, I'm not going to have the same opportunities as I would with a PhD. I could apply for a PhD in a different lab later on, but I couldn't go straight from where I am now to another PhD, I don't think I could hack it. I'd like to do something that would help bring my confidence up,something I'm actually good at because right now I feel like there isn't anything. I'm told I give good presentations but that's no good if you don't have any data to present! I don't want to be a teacher. I'm told I write well, but again it's not much good if you've nothing to write about. I fantasize about quitting science altogether and becomming a Famous Artist, but I don't fantasize about going to art school or living dirt poor so I doubt that will go anywhere.
I've talked to my parents about it yesterday but theconversation was just really awkward on the phone, and they don't haveany experience of university-type stuff. All they know is I've been talking enthusiastically about doing this PhD in this lab for the best part of 4 years, and yes things haven't been going well but it's probably nothing that a good lot of hard work won't sort out, and I shouldn't just "give up" when everyone's supporting me. I don't know what to do at the moment. What do you do with an MPhil?

User: UnderVerse - 07 June 2010 13:38

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Hi Fish, I faced a similar situation recently where things didn't work out for me on the PhD programme I was enrolled on (18 months into my degree). For very different reasons, I had to decide between quitting altogether or working really hard to get the MPhil. I asked around and opinions were very divided about the MPhil. The old-school view was that it looks like a 'failed-PhD' on a CV, whereas the progressive view was that it is a prestigious research degree equivalent to a superior/second masters. The old-school view is premised on the fact that the MPhil was awarded to people whose research was not quite up to PhD level; the progressive view, on the other hand, is premised on the fact that some of the country's most prestigious institutions are now beginning to offer 'MPhil' as a stand-alone degree for those who do not want to become academics, but do want to have research skills and in depth research knowledge of a particular topic - this may then be used as a platform for further research work as 'Research Assistant' working for the public or private sector, or as a platform for beginning a PhD at a later stage. So, from what I've heard the opinions about the MPhil degree are beginning to shift (not the least because no one can any longer rubbish a degree which their department is now offering as a stand-alone degree; otherwise rubbishing it would amount to admitting that they're offering something not really worthy of students enrolling onto! It would be self-defeating). Also, you can argue to future employers that it has been an excellent way of gaining research skills and transferable skills such as project-management, etc. It also shows that you did the most with your funding, and came out with something in the end and hence funding you was worthwhile - this will put you in a good position should you one day decide to start all over in a new PhD programme and apply for funding. As long as you've got a very good reason to explain why this degree didn't reach the PhD level, then no one will hold you're having an MPhil against you - it just can't be "I didn't finish because I couldn't be bothered" or "I haven't got what it takes to be a research student", otherwise it'll reflect negatively on you by indicating that you're not a student worthy of being funded and invested in. If you do decide to do a PhD after your MPhil, you night not be able to just tranfer straight into the second or third year of another programme - you might need to start from scratch. This will depend on what's standard practice in your discipline, and the particular institutions you'll want to join later.
For these reasons I decided to stick with the MPhil and finish it no matter what it takes. Then again, I do have aspirations for becoming an academic one day and doing a different PhD. Hence it all depends on where you want to go; but if you've come this far, and if you can bear it, it might be worth doing the MPhil just so you can keep your options open for the future.

Best of luck whichever option you decide to take!

User: guitarman - 07 June 2010 17:22

I quit my PhD and completed an MSc instead - best thing I ever did. Don't be scared if it's not right for you.

User: AC1973 - 06 September 2010 13:35

Hi there,
Take a good look at underverse's comments...he/she is absolutely right.

Whats more is it make me very angry to read about the almost complete lack of respect for the MPhil which I myself am doing. It is every bit as hard work as as PhD...have no doubt. Do you know many living in your area with a MPhil? I bet you don't!

See it as a a useful stepping stone to reach the PhD later on.

Parents will support almost anything that you them. They'll be there long after you're finished up with this research. Whats more is that having a PhD is only says nothing about how good a person you are with a good work ethic. Your parents would be more proud of you if you were a good person...believe me.

On another point, be very careful of you supervisor. Generally speaking, they are not as supportive as you'd expect. They are only using you to boost their profile, the minute it looks like you're becoming a liability, they withdraw their support. If you don't believe me, read the other posts.

User: Hector - 31 July 2014 21:36

I have a problem like you. I'm a new PhD student at a 300-400 ranked university in the US. But I want to pursue my PhD at a better university (especially: ranking<20); I have a fully funded position now. Is it possible for me to switch from PhD to master? Is it acceptable work morally?
I know that pursuing a PhD at current university do not satisfy me :(

User: bloodfire90 - 20 February 2018 08:03

I have finished 2 1/2 years of integrated MS/Ph.D. course. Can I switch to MS and finish it within the 6th semester? Will it affect my future if to have MS certificate in 3 years?

User: Tudor_Queen - 20 February 2018 16:50

I don't think it would affect your future. The most important thing (after your health and wellbeing etc) is to have SOMETHING to show for your work and efforts, whether it be MPhil, MS, or PhD.

User: Banksia - 20 February 2018 22:44

I am going through a similar dilemma. I recently applied for a Ph.D. but because I only had a Bachelors Degree I was placed in the Master's program with the option to switch to the Ph.D. after 1 year (the program is in Canada), which has been the plan I've had with my advisor, whose lab I am working in as a student.

I am about half a year into my Masters, however, I no longer think I want to do the Ph.D. here. I'd like to finish the Masters here, but not the Ph.D. a Ph.D. can already be a very isolating experience (all of the writing, data analysis, experiment running), and I am 3000 miles away from home and don't know anyone here. I miss the support of my family and friends. I also feel like it's just time for a change. I have been in this field since I was an undergraduate volunteering in a lab, and just don't know if I feel passionate enough about it to do a Ph.D. on it anymore. I've also found a researcher in my home city doing work that piques my interest that will be accepting Ph.D. students the fall after I finish my masters.

I feel like I have made my decision in my mind, but am having a very hard time figuring out how to broach this subject with my advisor. I have been in this rather small field since my undergraduate years, so I feel like I'm not only disappointing my current advisor but my advisor from my past lab too, who knows my current advisor well.

Has anyone here had to have a conversation like this with an advisor before?

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