Grad student, interrupted
July 15, 2017 11:46 PM   Subscribe

Due to circumstances beyond my control, I have come quite close to finishing my master's degree but will not be able to do so before going on the job market. How do I accurately represent this to potential employers? (This is an MSc, and the jobs I am interested in are within my field of research.)

I am grad student who is nearing the end of my master's (in the middle of writing up), originally intending to finish and defend my thesis by the end of August. Long story short, my supervisor has fallen seriously ill and will not be able to provide me with the support (both on the research and the administrative side) to push me over the finish line before my funding runs out, even with the help of the others on my committee. I have spent quite a bit of time looking at other funding options and I am already working with my department's administration to somehow eventually get my degree, but for now please take it as a given that I will need to look for a full-time job without a clear idea of when I would be able to officially finish.

I have already sent out a couple CVs with my original "Anticipated August 2017 Completion" on them, but it maybe seems a little disingenuous to do so at this point (it is, isn't it?) How would I explain this to a potential interviewer without making it sound like I just flaked out on my program/am looking only for part-time work, and without going into details about my supervisor's situation (which is obviously none of anyone's business)? Past that, if I manage to get to the point where someone wants references, how do I explain that the absence/lack of responsiveness of the person with whom I've worked the closest for the past 2 years (due to their frequent hospitalizations/low energy levels)? Please hope me that I haven't worked super hard these past two years for nothing. Thank you.
posted by anonymous to Work & Money (3 answers total)
Suggest you script a succinct and factual explanation for the hold up because much as your supervisor's health is nobody's business it is reasonable to state that their present inability to supervise is causing the delay and here is plan b, which will see you complete this by (time) and you may need x days off at (times) to make this happen. This is also why supervisor is not listed as primary reference although feel free to reach out to them but the person you are working with to complete (and who will be most responsive) is x, who can also corroborate if required.

It is nice that you want to be considerate but your education facility had better be able to help come up with a plan that includes alternative supervision and reference because they are in the business of educating folks and these two aspects are part of them completing their obligations to you. And the way you overcome this in an application process is to demonstrate that you have worked with the institution to overcome this in a professional way and have a plan that is being executed as you sit there interviewing.
posted by koahiatamadl at 12:57 AM on July 16 [11 favorites]

How awful for everyone! I want to question the premise that it's time to get a job in your field, especially if it entails leaving your university's locale. Once you start work, the risk that you'll never finish your degree rises, especially since the school's strategy to replace your supervisor seems murky. Meanwhile, the job will be tiring, new distractions and friends will be absorbing and all your degree work to date will continue to age. And once a new supervisor is found, your plan to chip away at your degree requirements while holding down a job sounds tricky, particularly if you have to do more lab-based activity. If you're not around, the department's commitment to helping you may flag too; it's unfair, but you're going to wind up being a reminder of bad times and a source of guilt. If you leave school, you make it easier for them to forget about you and to stop feeling like they need to help.

What if you got a job near or at your school that enabled you to keep pushing for a solution and your degree? Could you wrap everything up in one more semester? Two? Either way, it's quick in the scheme of things, and you wind up with a better story. If so, then get a job as a security guard or bus tables or whatever to pay the bills, but keep your eye on the real work: resolving this unfortunate situation so you can get credentialed and move on.
posted by carmicha at 7:29 AM on July 16 [1 favorite]

Anticipated completion: August 2017 (hiatus due to supervisor illness)
posted by DarlingBri at 2:01 AM on July 17 [2 favorites]

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