Leaving a fully funded PhD in a US institution as an international student


Hello, I am an international student from Spain and I started a fully-funded Ph.D. in molecular biology 5 months ago at an institution in the US. I have a studentship and the university Pays for my tuition and fees and I get paid a salary, and in exchange, I work as a Teaching assistant. I am really considering quitting. I will explain you my main reasons and I would love if you could give me your advice on what to do as it is really stressing me out.

I started and I was very passionate about this new experience but this past few months I just realized that the research I am doing is not something I am really passionate about. 1 week ago I received an email from a faculty member of an institution in Hawaii asking if I was interested in joining them as a Ph.D. in the zoology program for next year. I was in contact with this faculty member several months ago as I informed him about my interest in his program but unfortunately at that point, he did not have any funding available, so he was not able to accept any new students, but now he has. Working in the Zoology and wildlife conservation filed has always been my dream since I was a kid and I have checked the program and it is everything I am looking for. I am passionate about this field and I feel that I can really make a difference in it, so I am really considering quitting my actual Ph.D. and accept the offer in Hawaii. If I fully explain the situation do you think I would have any problem leaving the program? Do you think being an international student will play against me in this situation? I really do not want to leave in bad terms and this is stressing me out a lot. I wanted to see what do you think about the situation and what would you recommend.

Also, I wanted to ask just in case any of you know anything about it, as I am on a fully-funded Ph.D. with a studentship if I quit would I need to give back any money.

Thank you so much in advance



Hi Javier

On one hand, I imagine it feels like a horrible situation (awkward etc) - but on the other hand it is very positive that you have the opportunity to consider moving on to this other position if it is what you want.

Re wanting to leave on a positive note... If you decide to leave, it will probably be really hard telling them, and you have no idea how they will react (could be negative - are you willing to take that risk?). I can't see it causing any longer-term negative effect though, as your future references etc would be in Hawaii (assuming that works out!). They may even be totally fine with it - people do change their minds and leave from time to time. Do you have a handbook or is there a website or similar where you can find out where you would stand with regard to having to pay fees back? Maybe you wouldn't mind paying back 5 months fees even if it came to it? Also, you would need to make sure that the US embassy allows you to change your sponsor on your visa. I can't see it being a problem as long as you have a sponsor, but maybe try and find out before making a decision.

Also do you know for definite that there is a funded place for you there? I wouldn't make any moves until that I knew that were 100% going to be able to happen.

I hope this helps.