I am a third year PhD student at one of Universities, say school A, in the USA. I've already taken my qualifying exam and I'm planning to take my general exam next quarter. My adviser notified me yesterday that she accepted and offer from another university, say school B, and leaving my school in Sep.

She gave me two options:

  • Apply for school B. She said "Given the rules at school B, you have to start from scratch i.e., I have to take course and take qualifying exam again". In addition, I have to take GRE and TOEFL and go through the admission process. Still, there is no guarantee they will admit me.
  • Stay at my current school and she continues supervising me. However, my department at school A does not guarantee the funding (in the form of Teaching Assistant).

It is worth noting that I maintained a very good relationship with my department and my adviser and I have a good research record and TA evaluation.

In general, how do you think I need to approach this situation?

In particular,
- does that make sense that school B say I have to start from scratch even if I am a third year PhD student who passed qualifying exam from an equally reputable school?

After pondering this situation for a little bit, I came with a plan. That is,

  • I take my general exam next quarter,
  • I stay at my current school for two quarters (because I have to pass a certain dissertation credits)
  • Move to school B as a PhD visiting student for one or two semester.
  • Get my PhD from my current school

Does this plan make sense?

I would greatly appreciate if you share your thought and experience with me.

  • As for "does that make sense that Northwestern University say I have to start from scratch even if I am a third year PhD student who passed qualifying exam from an equally reputable school?", this depends on the school's policies, and is unanswerable here. The rest of your question is essentially a duplicate of this question: Advisor moving to a different school, should I move with him?
    – Mad Jack
    Commented Apr 19, 2018 at 19:06
  • 2
    Possible duplicate of Advisor moving to a different school, should I move with him?
    – Mad Jack
    Commented Apr 19, 2018 at 19:07
  • The question you referred contains very good information. Thanks for that. However, the nature of my question is different although the title is similar. I want to to stay at my school and do a visiting PhD later with my adviser. And, I want to see the viability of getting internal fund from her from her school as a visiting PhD student. Commented Apr 19, 2018 at 19:20
  • 2
    How can we know if it is possible to use funds that way? That depends on where those funds come from and the local rules and regulations. Moreover, even if that were possible, we have no way of knowing if your advisor wants to use those funds that way. The only answer we can give you is talk to your advisor. Commented Apr 19, 2018 at 19:44
  • 1
    Your comment above tells me that answer to this question strongly depends on individual factors such as a certain person’s preferences, a given institution’s regulations, the exact contents of your work.
    – Nobody
    Commented Apr 20, 2018 at 2:45

1 Answer 1


This situation is very tricky. It is not clear what is your current school level, if it is above or bellow NW (NW is a decent school, but definitely it is not say UChicago).

If you are from a bellow or comparable level school, I would say to go ahead with the transition. The tricky thing in that case would be to get admitted, but as your advisor is moving, unless it is a very steep jump in the rankings, most likely she can talk to the co-director of graduate studies and pull some strings.

Regarding the formalities you've mentioned, in my experience, there is a big difference between plain rules and practice. There is a chance that NW thinks highly about itself and formally will not recognize your credits (again, it depends where you are moving from). Nevertheless, you might get over that. Most likely your studies will be expedited, you will be able to retake generals pretty soon (if you even have to, maybe they'll just setup some committee and you just need to give a short talk to present your research, as you already do research probably), so nothing will be from scratch and your studies haven't been in vein, the nullstellensatz is the same no matter if you are in Chicago,Boston,Princeton or Palo Alto. and you will have the bonus of graduating from a better school, which is a huge aspect if you are considering academic career. GRE should be extremly easy for you by now, and if you are able to do proper TA job, you should pass Toefl as well, those should be very minor problems from your perspective (how did you got into grad school without GRE?).

If you are from a better school, this is kind of tricky, maybe there's another prof. who can step in to be co-advisor? You are only 3rd year, not 4-5th year, probably you invested less than 1.5 years in research so far. Being stuck without funding for the next 3 years (either way, NW or staying, you will probably finish up in 6 years, maybe even 7, sorry about that, not fair, but that's life, this is a major implication over your studies). I don't understand your relationship statement, you didn't know that your advisor is considering moving? The application process for academic jobs usually takes more than 6 months

All those hopes about your advisor funding in NW is wishful thinking that can have really disastrous outcomes. The startup grant most universities give to incoming profs are usually for moving, setting up office and some research visits, those are not in the level of NSF grants (or better - Simons/ERC). NW is located on Evanston - affluent suburb of Chicago, cost of living there is not zero (that's not CAL, but still not epsilon, 1 bdroom can easily go for $1800+), and considering this moving situation, are you sure she will commit so much of her own funds to bring you over? I guess support from your home institution is not a possibility as this are planning on terminating your TAship. Regarding the other funding options, some NSF stuff have strings attached (RTG, or supporting only students from their own school), it is too risky to consider this, especially as you are speaking about events which are probably 2 years into the future.

I believe that for the time being, you should continue with the application procedure to NW and if and when the admittance letter will come, set up a conference call between NW director of grad studies, your advisor and yourself and try to setup a better plan for you. If NW decide not to admit you, all those talks are hypothetical, either you will have funding for a visit or not, but you will need to stay in your own school.


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