Aug 26, 2015
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Hello-

I applied to Clinical Psychology PhD programs last year, and was accepted into three. I have two main research interests, which unfortunately could not have both been satisfied at one institution. Two of the programs I was accepted into were very prestigious, in metropolitan areas offering research that significantly overlapped with one of my main two, but lacked the clinical training I thought I really wanted. The last school was at much lower-ranked program is a small city/rural area, with a very well-known advisor in one of my research areas. This school came highly recommended from my prior university. I, painfully, chose the last option because of the higher quality clinical training, despite sitting on these offers for months. I thought the in-house clinical opportunities were rarer, and more important.

I'm here now, and really struggling. The location is a much bigger issue than expected (I'm an older student, who was dead-set on moving to a big city and want that in my future) and the program/school is disorganized. My quality-of-life feels low. I also feel out-of-place, because I'm realizing my other interest isn't being fostered here. Having that interest nurtured was a bigger need than I had thought when I was making decisions. I have the double-edged sword of coming from an elite university that was well-organized, valued diversity in its education, and offered tremendous resources and a sense of community, and knew there would be challenges moving to a state school with a different MO and way of operating.

In short, I feel like I picked the wrong school. It seems I made a rational, narrowed decision, as opposed to listening to my gut. I feel sad and deeply unhappy, despite it being only my second week here. I'm struggling to reconcile myself with the supposedly common belief that grad school is hard, no school can meet all your needs, and you just have to tough it out for XXXX (LONG) years. Life feels too short to not be truly happy, and just "manage" or "get by."

Has anyone felt similarly? If so, have you transferred? What did that process look like? How/when did you know it was time to go? Are you happier now? I'm hesitant to do so, since my advisor is a big name in his field, and I'm concerned questions or flags would be raised if I applied to a program presenting myself the same way. I just wish I'd chosen one of the other schools.

Any help (empathetic or otherwise) would be truly appreciated. PMs work as well.

Thanks.
 

Therapist4Chnge

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There really isn't "transferring" between doctoral programs. You will need to re-apply to programs, and if you are accepted the program can review prior classes, thesis, et al. and consider accepting all/some/none. Programs tend to want to train their own, so waived classes tend to be minimal.

Best of luck.
 

PsychPhDStudent

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Questions for you that may help others provide advice:

1. What social support do you have locally (significant other, any friends)?
2. What's your end-goal?
3. What does this "disorganization" look like?
 

cara susanna

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You said it's only your second week. I would hesitate to make a strong judgment at that point, since you haven't really had a chance to get "settled in." I remember how overwhelming the first few months of a clinical PhD program can be. Also, I would imagine that you haven't really started to get into clinical training that much (since it's a PhD program), and you said that's the primary reason you chose that program.

Like you, I came into grad school with two interests. Also like you, the program I picked didn't have a lot of opportunities in my second interest. I was really frustrated at first and often regretted my decision for that reason. But as I went through grad school, I sought as many opportunities related to my second interest as I could, and even in a few instances created opportunities related to it. I became known in my program as the go-to student for things related to that area. And, despite my lack of formal training, I was competitive enough in that area to land internship interviews related to it and eventually a post doc that was also related. Did I look at people in other programs who had much better opportunities with envy? Definitely. Did those people in other programs maybe fare better? Probably. Did I still have occasional moments of regret? For sure. But it is workable.

As for geographic woes, I can relate to that as well because my program was in a not-so-desirable area. I'd suggest trying to make the most of it. I'm living in a big city now as a post-doc (and lived in one as an intern as well) and although I think there is so much that is awesome about big cities, there are things I miss about my program's location.

I'm not saying definitely don't transfer because maybe you really will be unhappy, it's just that two weeks seems like such a short time to decide. Either way, I hope this helps!
 

futureapppsy2

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FWIW, I have two primary research interests that have a lot of overlap conceptually but are very rarely studied by the same people. I "chose one" when applying to programs but quickly realized I missed the other one a lot. To compromise, I've collaborated with people in that second area, both at my university, my former position, and other places in order to keep up fairly strong profile in the second one. This may or may not work depending on the methodologies you use, but it's just a thought.

Also, you mention that one of your main reasons for choosing the program you did were clinical opportunities. First year PhD students get very little, if any, clinical exposure, so it's possible that you could feel much better about your program once you get to utilize the resources that were such a big draw.

Finally, like @cara susanna said, it's a big adjustment and only your second week. Chances are that you're frazzled from the move and stress of starting your program and also that everyone still has a bit of their "interview mode," "new semester panic," and "imposter syndrome" faces on. Once you get settled in, you may well feel better.,

ETA: One other thing--there really are pros and cons to any program and any location and thus a lot of "grass is greener" feelings all around. I know that I still feel that way sometimes, and it's easy to idolize some place that you aren't. I was excited to move to the area where I go to grad school, and although some of the pros I was expecting have indeed been pros, there's also been some major cons that have made me, at times, really, really dislike where my school is. On the flipside, I've also made friends and gotten experiences here that have been very positive but that I never could have expected. I've never known anyone to go to grad school and have it end up exactly how they planned when they chose their program, usually both for better and for worse.
 
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OP
L
Aug 26, 2015
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Questions for you that may help others provide advice:

1. What social support do you have locally (significant other, any friends)?
2. What's your end-goal?
3. What does this "disorganization" look like?
1. None. Swapped side of countries.
2. Not sure. Probably more clinical, but want to keep academic option open.
3. Don't want to say too much, lest I give away the program.

One option is that I have a truncated schedule this semester, and have plenty of free time. I'm close enough to major metropolitan hub I could see myself moving to eventually, but don't have connections there now. I think exploring/engaging with my city might help me feel more grounded, but I'm not sure what I could do there that was related to my degree.
 

Member1928

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What's your relationship with your mentor like? Maybe you can talk to him/her; it's possible that if you're experiencing this so early on that your mentor has had this come up with other students. Also, especially if your mentor is 'known' for being a great mentor in a disorganized program, I bet he or she will be a great resource.
 
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Second week of your new career with no social support. Scary as hell. The anxiety could lead to a lot of irrational thought processes. I felt that way two weeks in and I was able to come home to my wife. My experience has been that this process pushes us to the breaking point and when we learn to cope with it, we develop strength. Does the school have any free or low cost psychotherapy options? I have heard it rumored that talking to someone while going through a difficult time can be helpful.
 

AcronymAllergy

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I loved my program and even I had reservations and thoughts of switching paths through my first year or two. Probably wasn't helped by a senior student (not in my lab) griping that they wished they'd gone to med school.

My (very vague and general) advice would be to try to stick it out for at least the first year. I also attended school in a fairly small city/rural area, although it sounds like that wasn't quite as much a concern for me. However, once I'd had a chance to make a few friends both in and out of my program, my quality of life and overall enjoyment of the area increased pretty markedly. I've even had transient thoughts of heading back that way since.

Like smalltownpsych mentioned, having a local social support network can make a huge difference.
 

PsyDr

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My experience:

I briefly (2 weeks) attended a PhD program. Dropped out because the research was very different than what I had thought. Attended a PsyD program. I would highly recommend against it. All programs considered me a "risk", which was understandable.

For the first year of grad school, I was miserable. New part of the country. Lots of stress. Exactly 0 friends. I didn't even like my school. But I took it upon myself to find interesting clinical and research opportunities, which are still paying off. Got some friends out of the deal. By the end, I mourned having to leave.
 
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bmedclinic

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I moved half way across the country for both my masters and phd. The move for the masters was fine, but the move for the doctorate was not. I didnt like the location (had only been there once prior to interview!), the culture of the area, which I personally find detestable, and town which was too small for me (smallest place I've lived by a multiple of 5). Also, the program had some dysfunction largely because it was relatively new at the time. I really didnt like my advisor for the first few years, either. However, I was on a mission. I knew I started it and I didnt give a crap about those other people. I knew I was a major risk to leave and not finish what I started, so I stuck it out. I ended up liking my last two years there, and ultimately moving. Now, I value my degree and education much more and like where I get to live!

TL;DR: Push through. You'll be fine.
 

futurepsydoc

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I think that it is normal to feel overwhelmed, unsure, wary, and confused during your first year, asking "what did I get myself into." In a lot of ways, I liken it to culture shock that occurs at the lab level, program level, institutional level, and the community level. Each presents its own new and unique set of challenges. I think the impact is greater when you move to a location vastly different from what you are familiar with, something many of us do or have done (i.e., by choice or by limited options), be it for school, internship, post-doc, or work. The competition in our field makes this an occupational hazard, especially those in academia.

Having said that, I think second guessing your decision is quite normal. Akin to what others have said, I also think one needs a larger sample size of time, perhaps a year even, to get a sense as to whether the program is truly feasible or not in the long-term. I will say that I have had some educational/work/training experiences that looked bad early on which turned out to be great once I got bearings, as well as those which seemed perfect at first only to sour with time. It is really hard to know which way it will pan out so early on in the process. Time and experience gave me the perspective I needed to make choices about leaving or staying. The bigger the decision, the more time I gave it, but I always thought of an escape hatch that would minimize the fall out if I decided to walk away. I think one can always leave something, but I think its how that decision is handled that will allow you to move towards your goals vs. serve as barrier to them.

I do think its good to speak with a faculty member for guidance, perhaps even your former mentors who are not onsite, they may have some great wisdom to share. I would also talk with classmates and students in their 2nd, 3rd, and 4th years to get a lay of the land and drum up some moral support. If it were me, I would then give it some time and see how I felt after a semester or two, so as to make an informed decision.

That's my .02

I wish nothing but good luck!
 
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davis127

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Hello-

I applied to Clinical Psychology PhD programs last year, and was accepted into three. I have two main research interests, which unfortunately could not have both been satisfied at one institution. Two of the programs I was accepted into were very prestigious, in metropolitan areas offering research that significantly overlapped with one of my main two, but lacked the clinical training I thought I really wanted. The last school was at much lower-ranked program is a small city/rural area, with a very well-known advisor in one of my research areas. This school came highly recommended from my prior university. I, painfully, chose the last option because of the higher quality clinical training, despite sitting on these offers for months. I thought the in-house clinical opportunities were rarer, and more important.

I'm here now, and really struggling. The location is a much bigger issue than expected (I'm an older student, who was dead-set on moving to a big city and want that in my future) and the program/school is disorganized. My quality-of-life feels low. I also feel out-of-place, because I'm realizing my other interest isn't being fostered here. Having that interest nurtured was a bigger need than I had thought when I was making decisions. I have the double-edged sword of coming from an elite university that was well-organized, valued diversity in its education, and offered tremendous resources and a sense of community, and knew there would be challenges moving to a state school with a different MO and way of operating.

In short, I feel like I picked the wrong school. It seems I made a rational, narrowed decision, as opposed to listening to my gut. I feel sad and deeply unhappy, despite it being only my second week here. I'm struggling to reconcile myself with the supposedly common belief that grad school is hard, no school can meet all your needs, and you just have to tough it out for XXXX (LONG) years. Life feels too short to not be truly happy, and just "manage" or "get by."

Has anyone felt similarly? If so, have you transferred? What did that process look like? How/when did you know it was time to go? Are you happier now? I'm hesitant to do so, since my advisor is a big name in his field, and I'm concerned questions or flags would be raised if I applied to a program presenting myself the same way. I just wish I'd chosen one of the other schools.

Any help (empathetic or otherwise) would be truly appreciated. PMs work as well.

Thanks.
 

davis127

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Stay the course......
 

ClinicalABA

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Major life decisions/changes that have turned out reasonably-to-very well, but I had serious doubts about in the first few weeks-
-Graduate School
-Marriage
-Parenthood
-Home ownership
-Car ownership
-Taking my current job/leaving the previous job
-Basically any major life change- even the good ones tend to be highly dispruptive and difficult, especially during the first few weeks.

Major life decisions/changes that seemed great after the first few weeks, but ended up not turning out too well in the long term
-Choice of undergrad school
-Previous romantic relationship
-Last home I bought
-Last job I took

To sum up- a few weeks of "data" (non-objective, emotionally and physically "clouded", and unreliable data at that) isn't likely to be enough to judge whether or not the program is for you. I'd bet there were many more people who loved the programmed in the first month but later when on to drop out than there have been people who hated it in the first few weeks and then went on to drop out. Stick it out at least a semester or two, get some objective data on whether or not it is giving you what you need to meet your goals, and make a more informed decision.
 
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PsychPhDStudent

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I'd agree with the others who suggested staying the year out -- you just moved somewhere with NO social support, and the thing you selected this program for (clinical opportunities) likely won't be available to you until the next year. I'm also surprised to hear you have free time. Start making some more effort to socialize within your cohort and outside, and consult with a trusted mentor (maybe from previous work) if need be.