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Programs My PhD advisor sucks. Want to switch schools. Help!

  1. Mar 16, 2010 #1
    I applied to graduate schools (for PhD programs) hoping to enter a place where I could be scientifically creative and collaborate with like-minded individuals.

    I chose my current school because they offered me the best package, it had a good location, I was promised an RA position and I thought it would offer more exciting research than other programs I applied to. I enrolled and hastily joined a research group a similar scientific philosophy as mine, thinking it was perfect.

    HOWEVER, as I spent time in the group, I realized that my advisor has absolutely no research experience! In addition he is very unprofessional when it comes to advising my research. The postdoc has to do everything technical and does not have much of a presence in the group. Other students in the group seem to not mind, however. Second-year PhD students in the group have little work to show for themselves. I wish I knew about this before joining but I made a mistake and now have to pay.

    I would switch groups, but no other groups are doing anything in-line with my interests. The solution is therefore, to switch schools. However I have never heard of this happening at the graduate level. Things are complicated because I am in a direct "PhD program" and am being funded. I have considered getting a masters and leaving, but am unsure how and when to put this to my advisor.

    I was wondering if anyone has heard of/had this type of experience and was successful. I made a mistake in my grad school choice and was to try and fix it.
    Last edited: Mar 16, 2010
  2. jcsd
  3. Mar 16, 2010 #2
    I'm not sure about things in America, but in the UK, yes, it happens.

    I would arrange a meeting with your supervisor or course co-ordinator to raise concerns. It would perhaps be best if you were to write down how you feel about things, email to both of them if you're comfortable doing so and ask to meet to discuss how to proceed. I imagine that, if possible, you want to make this work - so will they, so if anything can be done, hopefully it will.

    Otherwise, you can take the masters and apply to other schools - but obviously you'll just need to use a bit of tact when asked to explain why you want to remain in the same research area but at a different school: interviewers will be uneasy if you blame a supervisor and will worry about your ability to settle.

    ps: I would also be careful about the personal information you post on a public forum - I imagine it'd be fairly easy to find out exactly who you are and who your supervisor is, and who knows, he might visit this site..
  4. Mar 16, 2010 #3
    I agree with that last piece of advice; the first thing I thought was how easily I could figure out who you were if I wanted to. I always try to be very vague when explaining a personal situation.
  5. Mar 16, 2010 #4
    Wow that was stupid of me. Thanks for that advice.
  6. Mar 16, 2010 #5
    My feeling is that your Ph.D. work will be your own work, so the things you mention are not necessarily show-stoppers. Yes, you need some guidance and advice along the way, but ultimately, if you are funded and are given access to lab space, you should be able to set your own goals and pace. If people or red-tape are standing in your way, then you have a real problem and you need to discuss with your advisor to remove any obstacles. Otherwise blaze your own trail.

    I'm sure you're disappointed that the environment for interaction was not what you imagined, but who knows if you will find what you want elsewhere. The good thing is that you should stand out as a god among men in this group. Become a leader there, and you may even be able to help create the environment you desire.
  7. Mar 16, 2010 #6
    This is worth thinking about too. I don't want to put a downer on things(!), but since people get so excited about going to grad school and finally doing some work (after all, high school and university might all be building up to this) - oftentimes they are disappointed with what they see. I know I've been there myself as well - it's difficult to make account for other peoples attitudes when you're as motivated as a new student tends to be.

    I guess in this vein, you should consider in what way will your supervisor be harmful to your research, and prioritize these issues then see if you can find a way to salvage it. At the end of the day, the university and research department are spending time and money for you to be there - so they will want you to succeed. It's better to raise concerns once you're sure of them, and see if you can work out a plan to sort things out.
  8. Mar 16, 2010 #7


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    No offense, but have you actually done a PhD? This is NOT how it works. Yes, PhD students are suppose to do their own work to some extent, but it is always under supervision by your advisor. He/she is your boss and tells you what to do (and not to do).
    Moreoever, the work you do is usually part of a bigger project which is coordinated by your advisor. Also, the advisor is also (usually) the one who has the financial responsibility for the project, meaning he/she needs to sign all invoices etc meaning you need him/her to approve all purchases etc which mean you need to keep your advisor in the loop at all times.

    The point is that there is no way to be a good PhD student if you have a bad advisor. So if this is the case you need to do something about it ASAP.
  9. Mar 16, 2010 #8
    No offense taken. Yes, I've done a Ph.D. I did have a good advisor, so I take your point. However, I feel that good research needs to be an individual effort for the most part. At the end of a Ph.D., you should be the world's expert on what you have done. Otherwise, your work was not original and you do not deserve the Ph.D. I don't think of an advisor as a boss, but as a mentor. My advisor never told me what to do, but rather discussed everything with me as an equal.

    I don't disagree with this. Note that I said the following, "If people or red-tape are standing in your way, then you have a real problem and you need to discuss with your advisor to remove any obstacles." If things are so bad that basic things are not taken care of, then yes, there is a real problem that needs fixing, or leaving behind.

    I do agree with this also. I guess I got a different impression from the OP. I felt he was not describing a bad advisor, but rather an inexperienced one, or at worst maybe a mediocre one. If the OP really does feel he is "bad", then there is no need for him to even ask for advice. He knows that he needs to change advisors, or maybe even change schools. I've known a few people who have changed advisors. It does create a little tension, but it's not necessarily a big problem if the people involved behave like adults.
  10. Mar 16, 2010 #9
    1. have you tried talking to your adviser?
    2. have you tried switching to a different group at the same university?
  11. Mar 17, 2010 #10

    Vanadium 50

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    First, if your advisor isn't helping you, you need to find a new one. Full stop.

    That said, some things you say don't ring true.

    I find that very, very, very hard to believe. No research experience? How did he get to be a professor then?
  12. Mar 17, 2010 #11
    Vanadium 50,
    I do not find that so hard to believe because it is a situation I found myself into some years ago. The group leader (my thesis advisor) was clearly not up to the task. She came from a different field from the one where she did a PhD and (I learned later). She was appointed group leader by politicking, pandering, being "friend" etc.
    Once something like that happens, it is very very difficult for the managers of the organization to admit they made a mistake and in any case it can take years. Unfortunately, this happens more often than I thought. Where I presently work there is a high concentration of researchers and PhDs and they all confirmed these situations are frequent. My advise: get your Master, and politely find another place to do a PhD. Possibly spend sometime in the Lab were you are going to do the PhD and talk a lot with the researchers there and try to detect the intellectual level of the people there.
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