Should You Change Advisors? A Decision Making Tool

Not all graduate or postgraduate students get to choose their thesis or dissertation advisors or supervisors. In the U.S. the practice is more common in the humanities and social sciences than in the sciences, where graduate students tend to be admitted under a particular professor or into a particular lab.

But if you are in a field where you choose your thesis or dissertation advisor, what should you do if you find that your relationship with your advisor isn’t working?

If you are truly in a situation where you cannot progress with your current advisor or are very clearly in an advising situation that isn’t working, I encourage you to explore changing advisors. Advisor match is a significant determinant in graduate completion, and you need to work with someone who will help you do your best work. In fact, I find that many students who face non-functional advising situations are extremely reluctant to change advisors for fear of hurting their advisor’s feelings or because they are concerned about the “political” consequences of such a move. I don’t want to say that there are never repercussions from a student changing advisors, but in cases where there is a mismatch, a change can be a relief for both parties.

Be aware that your new advisor may want to put their stamp on your project or reshape it toward their interests, so make sure to approach prospective advisors with your ideas to see how they advise moving forward. Above all, keep your own work progressing no matter what.

Here is a 6-page decision-making tool you can download to help you reflect on your needs and expectations, explore options, and understand the pros and cons of changing advisors.

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