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I am finishing the second year of my PhD program this semester. I entered the program directly after my bachelors degree and do not have a masters degree. I am however unsatisfied with my experience so far and am strongly considering leaving. I would remain enrolled while applying and continue to do my research duties for which I am currently employed.

In my second year I have completed many courses and have the requirements (nearly) for a masters degree, so my preference would be to leave with a masters degree. I am not sure whether I will be allowed to receive a master degree however, and to avoid awkward situations with my supervisors, am trying to avoid bringing up my desire to leave until I have an offer in hand. My specific situation is that I have every requirement for a masters degree except for a single course. This course is not relevant to my research, and thus I would delay taking it until the end of my coursework if I were to finish my PhD, or I would have to take it before I left with a masters degree. The other confusing part about the situation is that leaving with a masters requires me to petition to do so, and would require approval from faculty. I believe if I have all requirements, this would be allowed, but I am not certain.

This point brings up my questions: How should I communicate my degree/education to potential employers? Furthermore, if I did get a job offer, it would take one more semester to complete a masters degree since there is one final course I would take before leaving, that I wouldn't take unless I decided to leave. How should I communicate this to an employer, and would they be understanding?

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    With only one semester left to complete a masters degree, I would take that final course and earn the masters at least before making any moves. Why would taking the course and earning the masters be something not to do? – spuck Jan 15 at 18:27
  • @spuck That is a good idea and I considered it. I could also take this class this semester and have all the requirements completed. The problem is that it would be strange for me to take this class unless I was trying to leave my program early (which admittedly, I am). So I am trying to avoid giving the impression I want to leave until I have an offer – user74671 Jan 15 at 18:32
  • For anyone possibly unfamiliar I will also point out that I am not in a masters program but a PhD program. But I do have the ability to drop out and leave with a masters if I have all the requirements for a masters. But since I am in a PhD program, it isn't necessary that I first fulfill the masters requirements before getting a PhD, just that they are all done before the end of my ~5 years there. This is why I do not yet have the masters requirements completed. – user74671 Jan 15 at 18:38
  • Are you worried that your professor would kick you out or something? Could you discuss this with them without offending them? One of my best friends went straight to work on his PhD right after his BS, without getting a masters degree. His research professor changed twice, and he eventually had to drop out for personal reasons. He told me "from the day I stepped onto campus until the day I finally had to leave 6 years later, I was always 4 years away from finishing.". Best of luck, no matter what you decide. – spuck Jan 15 at 18:38
  • Well it would be somewhat awkward to discuss with my professor I think. I feel like the conversation would be essentially me saying I want to leave but need to stay for a few more months while I found a job. Like I think it would be somewhat similar to telling your manager you are starting to look for jobs because you want to quit, which is usually not advised. Thanks for the well wishes – user74671 Jan 15 at 18:45
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How should I communicate my degree/education to potential employers?

If you are still enrolled while applying I would list it as "PhD (in progress)". If you are officially "on leave" (or some such similar state), I'd list it as "PhD (on leave)". If/when you terminate your studies, I'd change it to "PhD-level work", or "PhD course work", etc.

While I can only speak from my limited (and now almost 20 year old) experience in a PhD program in the US, leaving with a masters is fairly common, and I can't imagine there being much friction if you've been successful in your coursework and you've meet their requirements. That said, academia.stackexchange.com would be a good place to ask about leaving with a terminal masters.

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  • Thanks for your reply. I am familiar with the mastering out process, I guess my concern is rectifying the timeline. Basically, if they can wait a semester then I can have a masters degree. If they want me to start sooner, I would not. I feel this complicates the job search process since in one case, I have an advanced degree and am more qualified, in the other case I am just a grad school dropout. – user74671 Jan 15 at 18:23
  • @user74671 - The reason I recommend you to academia... is that it is possible that the yet-to-be-completed course isn't a hard requirement for the "terminal masters". In my limited experience, the requirements for a Masters for an exiting PhD student are not as formal as for a Masters student - the department has some flexibility, given that you've had other opportunities to demonstrate your knowledge. – dan.m was user2321368 Jan 15 at 19:31
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How should I communicate my degree/education to potential employers?

In the education section of your resume you could say "PhD (unfinished)". If they ask for details, then you can elaborate.

Furthermore, if I did get a job offer, it would take one more semester to complete a masters degree since there is one final course i would take before leaving, that I wouldn't take unless I decided to leave. How should i communicate this to an employer, and would they be understanding?

Could the course be taken outside of normal working hours? If so then your employers opinion is irrelevant.

If you must take it during normal working hours... I guess it'd depend on what time the class was going to be. If it's a 3h / week course and it was at 9am MWF then maybe your employer would be okay with you getting to work at 10:30am on those days (10am to get out of class and 30m to get to work from school). If it's at 1pm it might be more tricky as that'd basically be a 2h lunch break smack dab in the middle of the day.

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  • Good point about taking the course while employed. I think that may be possible. Like my other comment, part of my confusion is based on me not knowing what level of job to apply for since it is possible i will have a master's degree ideally, unless they require i start sooner so that I would not have time to finish the final course. My inclination is to apply for positions that require a masters degree since I feel my experience is at that level, and just explain that I need to finish one more course before it is official – user74671 Jan 15 at 18:26

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