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Hi I am a currently enrolled PhD student who is looking to exit before the end of the 1st year. I give the gist of the issues of my impending exit.

  1. Advisor states that I am working hard and constantly coming up with ideas but due to our differences in the direction the work should take, we might be held back as the project duration is really short (3 yrs) and it is better to identify this now and for me to take a call. (Apparently in my university this is normally acceptable)

  2. Since this is a funded project I cannot ask him to switch me to a new project with him (Could be unadvisable also due to not matching working styles)

  3. Due to slow progress as a result of conflicting early expectations, I feel severly depressed and disheartened with the current PhD, which is also in a completely new area compared to my previously published work (As master student and as a research associate).

I am now looking to apply for a new PhD position as early as possible to start working afresh. I could look for new positions in the same university or apply elsewhere. Which would be recommended? I hope that my exit should not be looked at unfavorably in other places that I apply to, seen as my lack of commitment even though it is not the case here and I will not get an unfavourable recommendation from my current advisor.

  • Country please. In particular, the amount of flexibility in PhD length and how closely a PhD position is tied to a project/advisor varies greatly by country. – Alexander Woo Jan 6 '18 at 2:34
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I would look for new positions at your university. There's no need to sound the alarm. It's pretty common for students to rotate around different labs during the first year and then make a decision at the beginning of the second. Where I did mine, they had a soft requirement that you had to do a rotation in at least 2 labs before you were allowed to decide.

Getting involved with the right project is (arguably) the single most important decision you can make to set yourself up for a successful PhD. If it takes you an extra 6-8 months to find the right project for you, then that is absolutely worthwhile. I had a friend change labs after 2 full years of working on a project. I thought he was crazy but he was able to find a different project in another lab and received his degree, just the same as the rest of us.

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My guess is that changing earlier is better than later. However, being flexible is a big part of being a PhD student. Me nor any of my PhD classmates ended up working on projects that matched up with our prior research and work experience. Most of us just adapted to what our advisers and/or programs needed at the time. I feel lucky in that I flexed to a project that did not match my desires exactly, but I still enjoyed what I worked on, but like I said I was lucky. Best wished to you!!

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Be flexible, especially since you are funded. The best dissertation is a done dissertation. Once you have your PhD you will have plenty of time to do the research you enjoy most and will have an opportunity to mentor others that may need the same flexibility.

  • I would love to get a fresh start. In hindsight I see that missing to ask some early stage questions and taking too long to land on an experimental protocol were some obvious errors I would not repeat. I really wish to restart more to wipe the slate and start afresh. – In Crisis SOS Jan 5 '18 at 13:11

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