In the next few weeks I will embark on a multi-year research program to partially fulfill the requirements of a master's degree and possibly a PhD. I have an adviser whom I'm excited about working with, a low-risk source of industry funding, a specific and impactful topic, and lots of industry experts willing to assist me.

Based on my initial meetings with my adviser, it looks like the approach to my topic will be intricately connected to his areas of expertise (at least at the outset), which is reasonable and seems normal. Again, I'm excited to be working with him on this topic and more than happy to pursue his approach; I currently don't see any reason why we wouldn't work well together long term.

However, I come from industry, where bosses, colleagues, leads, and mentors move around continually. Often, there is only one chance—right about now—in the life cycle of a project to set it up for success in such an environment without a lot of rework.

But perhaps that industry experience won't be as relevant in this case. Tenured faculty tend to move around much less than corporate employees and enjoy more latitude in what they can choose to work on within their current position (I think—maybe there is data on this?). Nevertheless, it nags in the back of my mind that my adviser could at any point unilaterally chose to go somewhere or do something else. So, to the question, should I be concerned about setting up my research program for a possible adviser change even if I have no reason to believe that there will be one? If so, what are some ways I can do that?

Note: "Come from industry" isn't exactly accurate: I'll be maintaining my day job while working on academics consistently but part time. It is highly unlikely that I would uproot my career to move to another institution along with an adviser.

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    How about if you just ask your advisor once a year if s/he has entertained any fantasies of going somewhere else? // Often when a professor makes a move s/he takes the students along. Commented Apr 23, 2018 at 2:06
  • @aparente001: Your second sentence revealed something I needed to make explicit in the question. I've added that information. Commented Apr 23, 2018 at 2:16
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    Once you've finished the basic coursework and passed your basic exams, you don't have to be on campus. So you could still go with your advisor after a change of location. You'd be collaborating from a distance in that case. Commented Apr 23, 2018 at 2:25
  • I've seen many cases of advisors changing institutions halfway through someone's project, so you're smart to think about how to deal with it if it happens. Not really sure what you can do to prepare though, beyond looking around locally for who could make a decent backup advisor...
    – nengel
    Commented Apr 23, 2018 at 10:58

1 Answer 1


It is really your advisor's responsibility to make provisions for you. That's not to say that you bear no responsibility, or that they couldn't leave you in the lurch. But in general, it is reasonable for students to expect that their faculty will stay in place for the duration of their PhD, unless told otherwise. If the advisor does leave, they should work something out with you -- collaborating remotely, traveling with them, switching to another professor, etc.

Still, it can't hurt to ask about it. In your case, you are not willing/able to follow your advisor to a new university, and there may not be other local professors that could adopt you. So, it's reasonable to express your concern about getting stuck if they were to switch universities. Based on this conversation, you can decide if you want to change your research direction.

My guess is that he is planning to be around for at least the next 2-3 years (or he wouldn't have hired you); if he moves 4 years from now, you should be far enough along that you can finish up independently and check in via e-mail.

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