Quit PhD to go back for a Masters, then retry Phd?


Hi everyone, I hope to get some feedback on my difficult situation:

I finished my Bachelor's in physics from a good university in Germany last year. I planned to continue for a Master's at the same place, but got an offer to do a PhD at a university in Hong Kong (with very good funding). Finally I came here 8 months ago.

As you might know, there has been quite a lot happening in HK recently, endless protests, threats to freedoms by China, therefore closures of universities. Then the Corona virus hit HK first, more closures, online lectures etc...

On top, the atmosphere in our group is really bad, senior members who were told by the professor to introduce me to certain techniques, methods and equipment only reluctantly do so and talk behind my back to other people how much they dislike to help and think that I'm not following their advice, therefore they won't help anymore at all.

Also, after these first couple of months of reading papers and observing others, I'm realizing that at my group here probably the topic is not right for me. While in general it is interesting still, the Professor left it very broad, but we do not have the right equipment for some measurements I'm interested in and I realize there are other fields of physics which now sound like might be much more fun for me.

I started to look at what options I'm having. I looked at universities in Canada, a lot do require a Master's in order to apply for a Phd. In Germany, where I'm from there also is usually no admission into a Phd without a Master.

I was thinking if it makes sense to return to Germany for a 2 year Master, look at groups and topics that interest me and start over again. Also to be more sure on the topic. However, do you guys think this works? Will anyone take me after this history, or would that be the end to my academic career?


I think your idea is a good one, as it can potentially solve your problem of "this history". You'd make new links (or reestablish old ones) , have new references, and get a masters and more valuable research experience.

Another possibility could be to go straight to another PhD. I think it depends on whether you think the Masters would be useful and/or necessary.

A lot of people discover things aren't as they had imagined or hoped, and its OK to switch (as long as it doesn't become a recurrent theme of course, which it shouldn't unless you're really unlucky!)


Tudor_Queen, thanks for your comment!

That's what I was thinking as well. I might have the option to do one more year here and then get a Master's from HK, but I'll have exactely the issues you mention: Who would write my reference then, what network of ppl I have then to inquire about a PhD?

I could go straight into another PhD, however same issue with references. And also I might want to try a different topic for which it might be useful to get some prior research experience.

However, do you think it'd look worse on my CV to get a Master's first instead of going straight for another PhD?


I'd cut your losses and leave. You sound unhappy and given the political situation in HK is likely to get worse not better,you may be better off elsewhere. Do you think you might want to work in Germany / EU in the future? If so will not having a masters be an issue? I know from working there myself that they expected your education to map onto the Bologna system in job applications, but luckily I'm a social scientist so we've had to do a Masters before the PhD for decades anyway. It might though be worth doing a masters anyway to have a clearer idea what area of physics you want to work in, as it sounds like you're still unsure.


Quote From jasonger:

However, do you think it'd look worse on my CV to get a Master's first instead of going straight for another PhD?

Definitely not - a Masters is always a good thing to have on your CV! Plus there are the other advantages you mention.


Hi, I also did my undergraduate in physics in Germany, and although I left I did explore a lot of graduate options there. I'd say only that whether you leave your well funded position in HK is up to you of course, but if you return to Germany then consider doing your PhD there as well. The funding opportunities and research are amazing compared to many countries and because you will have completed your pre-doctoral studies in their system, the application will be straightforward for you.

Use the time during your masters to attend seminars, summer schools, conferences etc at other universities and you might find the right group for you.