A personal anecdote of my decision to move to a new university with my PhD advisor
Things have been pretty hectic here in the Wollman lab for the past few months, and especially the past couple of weeks, as we pack up our personal lives and lab benches and head north to the other side of Orange County (as my advisor, Roy, likes to say). When Roy first announced to us in May that our lab was moving from UC San Diego to UC Los Angeles in August (only 3 months away) I experienced emotions ranging from excitement to fear to denial. I began to scour the internet searching for advice on whether to remain physically at UCSD or follow Roy to UCLA, but all I found were personal anecdotes of other graduate students in similar situations. What I realized was that the decision to stay or move is highly personal and depends on a number of factors. So, here I add my personal anecdote to the conglomeration of internet information. Hopefully my story will be helpful to fellow graduate students facing similar situations.
So you’ve done it. You’ve been admitted to a PhD program, joined a research group, and are chugging along in the research process when your PhD advisor announces that they are moving to a different university. Ugh. It’s not unusual for professors to change universities throughout their career. However, the mixed student/employee status of a graduate student can make the decision to follow your professor to a new university sticky.
Although many graduate students have a tense or otherwise negative relationship with their PhD advisor, my relationship with Roy has been very positive. He has been very supportive throughout my time in his lab of my goals and outside-of-lab endeavors. I can openly discuss my career plans with him without fear of backlash for hoping to leave academia following graduate school. He is patient with me as I learn new techniques and thinking methods. At the time of his announcement I was at the end of my 4th year of grad school. Two weeks prior we had discussed me graduating at the end of my 5th year. When the announcement came my first thought was “I’ll just graduate faster and not have to leave!”. Being this far along in my PhD meant that switching labs would be impossible, meaning if I want to graduate I need to stay with Roy. I didn’t want to leave behind my relationships with friends and colleagues that I had built for the last 4 years, not to mention my beautiful condo just minutes from campus and the beach. LA has more traffic, LA is more expensive (a big deal on graduate student stipend!), LA has too many people etc. I was upset. I wasn’t ready to leave San Diego. Up until this point I had been the decision-maker when it came to moving: I chose to attend BYU for my undergraduate degree and I chose to attend UCSD for graduate school. Furthermore, despite being accepted to both UCLA and UCSD for graduate school, a variety of reasons led me to choose UCSD. Being forced to live in Los Angeles did not make me happy.
That afternoon I spoke with Roy about graduating sooner. As usual, he was understanding and supportive. We outlined a plan where I could defend my thesis in December and work remotely from September to December after the lab had moved. Since UCLA is only a 2 ½ hour drive from San Diego (without traffic, that is), I could still come up once a week to check-in with Roy and the rest of the lab. The plan was to complete a few key experiments before the lab moved and spend my remote time analyzing data and writing papers and my thesis. Leaving that meeting I felt good about this plan. I already had a first author paper in a notable journal in addition to a first author review paper. I moved my anticipated graduation date up by 6 months and would still be able to squeeze one more paper out of my PhD. Sure, the following few months would be crazy as heck, but that’s grad school right? Most importantly, I wouldn’t have to leave San Diego. And that made me happy.
But, there was a problem. What about after graduate school??
At the beginning of my graduate school career I decided to try and follow the advice some older graduate students had given me: Work your butt off until you advance to candidacy. Then, during your last couple of years, reap the rewards of your hard work and let your research do its thing. Use your spare time to pursue other interests that will build your resume, figure out what you want to do after graduate school, look for jobs, etc. I liked this plan and did my best to follow it. My 5th (and final *crosses fingers*) year of grad school was meant for figuring out what I ACTUALLY want to do with my life and finding a career. Speeding up my graduation timeline would mean giving up the luxury of taking time to find a job, pursuing other interests, and spending time traveling over the summer with my sister (I’ve been in school a long time dangit! I want to take some time off J ). Furthermore, the results for my second paper were turning out to be less exciting than originally anticipated. It would be nice to spend some extra time to finish my PhD project on a high note.
And so, I decided to move with Roy to UCLA. After all, it would only be for a year. I have the opportunity to meet new scientists and expand my network. UCLA is only 2 ½ hours from San Diego. The beach is still close and the weather is warm. And who knows what new opportunities I will find here?!
Officially I am still a UCSD student. Since I have already advanced to candidacy I am not able to transfer to another school. Instead I am considered a “University of California Intercampus Exchange Student”. Basically this means I still have the perks of being a UCLA student, but my tuition is paid to UCSD. Our lab space is completely new and beautiful. My apartment is close to campus. My dogs and I are starting to settle in. So far I’m happy with my decision to follow Roy, even though I miss the familiarity of San Diego. We’ll see what new adventures are ahead!