Leave sooner or leave later?
September 29, 2017 12:56 AM   Subscribe

I am a grad student (master's) who will be defending and finishing my degree soon. After finishing, I had been intending to stick around for a couple more months to tie up a few loose ends. Now: my supervisor has died, I'm feeling pretty down on the whole research thing (see previous point) and I've received a job offer with a flexible start date. What now?

The apparent options I have at the moment are:
1. Stick to my original plan, try and work long-distance with Other Collaborator (OC) to prepare a conference presentation/paper (for which our abstract has already been accepted) and possibly a journal paper from my thesis work. Submit the paper and go to the conference. Start New Job in early 2018.
2. Bail after I've defended and submitted my thesis. Start New Job in November or December.

Additional details:
  • Funding: If I choose to stay, my department is willing to fund me for an extra couple months and cover travel costs.
  • I won't be staying in my current field of study. I did a bit of a pivot to get to my graduate work, and with New Job I will be pivoting back toward what I was working on before, which I am okay (not elated, but okay) with.
  • New Job is 100% okay with either start date. (It's a research staff position at a different lab in the same university, so I won't exactly be going far)
  • Other Collaborator (OC) is the closest I have to an actual supervisor at this point (and indeed functionally was my supervisor for a few months over the summer), but is now located on a different continent and swamped with their own grad students, teaching, etc so support has been limited. I haven't been able to find much help from within my department (my topic is a bit of an oddball in the department)
PROS for staying:
  • Conference is one of the big ones in my field, being held in an interesting place I've never been to before. Could be interesting, and since this all started with me going, "could be interesting", it seems like a fitting way to go out.
  • Presenting all this stuff I've been working on might help ameliorate this feeling that everything I've done these past couple years will vanish into the ether the minute I hand in my thesis
  • I fulfil my obligation to OC, who is/would be a coauthor on all of this stuff mentioned above. OC has already said that they would understand if I didn't want to linger on after my supervisor's death (but that they still hoped things would work out). It's just another month or two - part of me still feels like I should still try and go through with it.
CONS for staying:
  • Since I already have a job in a different field I will be going to afterward, I don't know if I will be motivated to get much from the conference (I find conferences disorienting and networking awful). Playing hooky and wandering around outside after giving my presentation, while tempting, seems ethically murky if the department is paying for it?
  • While working on my thesis I've been struggling with isolation and lack of external support, and I'm not sure I'm up for another month (at least) of that. I don't really feel like I have the confidence to go my own way (I've only been doing this for a couple years, really more like one year of actual research work). This lab and my work, to a certain extent, is a persistent reminder of the unhappy circumstances that led to me having to make this decision in the first place. Part of me wants to just get out and do something else.
Does anyone have any thoughts on this?
posted by btfreek to Education (8 answers total)
It doesn't sound like you really want to keep working in this area or environment at all. It doesn't even sound like you want to go to the conference much. You haven't mentioned whether having this paper will be valuable in the rest of your career and I suspect not. Just start your new job after you submit and defend.

I fulfil my obligation to OC

You have no such obligation. OC has their own grad students and will be fine. If you have no intention of publishing an article or conference paper on this work, the best thing would be to be very clear with this to OC, say you would be happy if someone else finished the work and took the principal authorship position, and would help them with any details they need to do it. If OC really needs the paper done, they will do it themselves or get someone else who is hungrier for the paper to do it.
posted by grouse at 1:13 AM on September 29, 2017 [4 favorites]

You feel like you should want to stay on longer, but you don't. Move on.
posted by Trifling at 1:33 AM on September 29, 2017 [1 favorite]

Unless you have any intention of eventually returning to the current field of study and having presented at the conference and/or having published an article about it would help future you out, it sounds like you should move on with your life after you defend.
posted by Candleman at 5:47 AM on September 29, 2017 [4 favorites]

I worked in a university lab where the supervisor died suddenly. While the students, post-grads, and lab techs tried to keep everything going for a while to finish up projects, it all fell apart really quickly. Everyone realised there was no future there (no supervisor, no funding) and started abandoning ship. Leaving was the best thing and everyone was much happier once they were out of there.

If you have no intention of advancing academically in your current field (pursuing a PhD) and you have no interest in doing a paper or conference, let it go. I defended my MSc thesis and ended up bailing afterwards, abandoning several papers for personal reasons. I felt really guilty about it at the time as my MSc supervisor really wanted me to finish them. In the end it was the best decision for me and had no effect on my career, which is in the field I was studying.
posted by fimbulvetr at 6:49 AM on September 29, 2017 [4 favorites]

Response by poster: Huh, yeah, reading over my question again I think it's pretty clear that I don't want to stay, as things stand now.

I don't know if I want to leave this field for good. I think that my supervisor's death has left things a little emotionally fraught and it would be best for me to take a step back and reevaluate after some time. When this new job came up it seemed to me like a good way to do so (still working in a research environment, on a project with a finite end date, with the chance to pick up some interesting new skills).

If it turned out that, in a few years' time, I wanted to return to my current field and pursue a PhD (in which case my starting point would probably be reconnecting with OC), would the benefit of having that extra bit of publication history be worth sticking it out?
posted by btfreek at 11:03 AM on September 29, 2017

It absolutely would. Especially if you do not otherwise have first-author papers from your master's. Personally, I am very unlikely to offer a position in my lab to someone who has already done a master's elsewhere but has no papers from it.
posted by grouse at 11:28 AM on September 29, 2017 [5 favorites]

If you derive any benefit from staying the month, then I would say stay (one-two months is not a very long time in the grand scheme of things). But if there's no benefit to you staying, then don't.

I think you will be fine either way.
posted by mskyle at 11:52 AM on September 29, 2017 [1 favorite]

I transitioned from a MSc to a PhD lab (different labs) right away; took some time off between the PhD and the postdoc.

Definitely recommend taking a little time just for yourself between positions.
posted by porpoise at 2:46 PM on September 29, 2017

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