Graciously Backing Out of an Undergraduate Research Position
March 15, 2011 10:06 AM Subscribe
What is the most gracious way for me to back out of the undergraduate research I said I would take up for the upcoming fall semester, given that I've spent two semesters working in the lab already? I don't want the people I worked with to have a bad impression of me because of the fact that I demonstrated so much interest in and commitment to their field only to quit prematurely.
posted by anonymous to Education (12 answers total)
Short background: I entered college as a double major in Fields A and B, not because both fields would be useful for my career, but because I hadn't yet decided which of the two fields was really the one for me. Second semester freshman year, a professor in Field A invited me to join his research lab after being impressed by my performance in his introductory class the first semester. I hesitated because his particular subfield of Field A was not my favorite, but I accepted the invitation because he was my favorite teacher (a really wonderful teacher) and such a leader in his field that the opportunity to join the lab was too good to pass up.
I continued in the Field A research lab for a second semester, the fall of my sophomore year. Despite my great experience in the spring semester, the fall semester experience turned out to be less rewarding because I could not come up with my own research project idea, hard as I tried, and the prof did not want to provide me too much direction. One of his grad students, though, was very kind to let me "tag along" on his own research project. The grad student made me feel very included in the research project, even going so far as to spend several hours introducing me to his computer programming software.
At the end of the semester, I told the prof and the grad student that I hoped to return to their lab for a third semester to finally begin my own research project (related to the grad student's) after my semester of study abroad in Europe. That seemed like the best possible arrangement at the time. However, during the winter break before my study abroad, I was doing career research and had a series of epiphanies. Though I won't elaborate the reasons here, I finally realized that the best plan for my future was not graduate school/research in Field A, but rather K-12 teaching in Field B. Whereas I had been filled with anxiety thinking about my future in Field A, I was filled with excitement and satisfaction thinking about my future in Field B. But in order for me to graduate with a teaching degree in Field B, I will have to drop my major in Field A entirely.
Now that I am currently studying abroad (the study abroad experience, incidentally, is related to Field B), how can I best go about informing the prof and grad student who worked with me that I do not intend to return to their lab in the fall, despite what I previously told them? Will sending them one combined e-mail be enough, or should I send individual e-mails, or do I need to do more? How can I properly express my gratitude to them for taking me under their wings? Where can I find the balance between giving them too much vs. too little information about the reasons for my change of heart about continuing to work in their lab?