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Other Switching Research Groups Without Burning Bridges

  1. Aug 6, 2016 #1
    I am seriously considering switching research groups.

    To be brief: I am a graduate student in condensed matter physics who had just passed the PHD candidate qualification exam. I have been working in my current lab for a year. I am unsatisfied with my working conditions in terms of interactions with my advisor and a senior lab member. I do not believe I am getting adequate feedback or direction from my advisor. The senior lab member is very difficult to work with but I cannot avoid working with him.

    I believe either reason alone is enough to start thinking about switching groups, but both combined make it very difficult to justify staying.

    My worries: I already switched once during my first semester, though for good reason. I do not want to burn bridges with my current advisor. How do I do this? Should I talk to the graduate coordinator first? What about my committee?
     
  2. jcsd
  3. Aug 6, 2016 #2

    Choppy

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    I would talk to your graduate coordinator or the associate chair in charge of graduate students. Changing research group or supervisors is not all that uncommon and this person will usually have some experience with this kind of thing and be in a position where you *should* be able to speak confidentially about your concerns. The longer you wait, the more difficult it's going to be.

    One thing that can help is to talk with other potential advisors so that you have a solid project to jump to. That way you'll be seen as moving towards something that you are more interested in rather than away from something you don't like.
     
  4. Aug 6, 2016 #3
    Thank you for the help. I have a meeting with him next week. Do I simply tell him at the meeting that I want out and then start searching or do I start searching then just tell him at the meeting? I just don't get why things would turn out like this. I've been trying my best to be productive: running experiments as often as possible, working extra, all other days prepping, trying to maintain the lab as best I can, etc. and yet it seems like the more effort I put in, the worse things get.
     
  5. Aug 6, 2016 #4

    Choppy

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    I would explain to him just what you've explained here, but maybe with a little more detail - why you don't think that you're getting adequate mentorship, why this senior lab member is difficult to work with etc. Your advisor will probably try to assess whether this is something that can be salvaged, so don't be offended if you get questions along the lines of have you spoken with your supervisor about this, etc. I think it's fine to start talking with other potential advisors ahead of time, or maybe just do some research on your own. Another thing to keep in mind is that jumping into another group is not always easy, depending on the jump. A new supervisor has to have a project or room available and agree to take you on. When a department agrees to take you on as a student though, they have a responsibility to make sure that you end up with a supervisor and a project. Again - all of these details are the kind of things you advisor will know much more about than someone giving general advice.

    Sometimes, despite our best efforts, things don't work out. This can be for all sorts of reasons ranging from conflicting mentoring/learning styles to the basic fact that some people are just plain A-holes. Most of the time graduate students look for PhD projects based on the merit of the project itself and their interests in the field. They assume that their relationships with supervisors and the other people in the lab will be productive, cooperative and respectful. Really - there *shouldn't* be any reason not to assume this, but I think the reality is that labs are just like any other workplace where there are breakdowns in communication, petty gripes, politics and conflicts.
     
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