I am doing a PhD in the USA. I already have a masters in France and a 5 year bachelor. I didn't think it was a bad idea to take courses again in the US, as I am changing of area. My acceptance was recomended by an advisor who is paying partially my stipend (I receive 73% of my stipend from my government, who also covers muy tuition and partially the health insurance. The local University (not advisor) completes the health insurance cost). This year taking undergrad courses I haven't felt very challenged, and in a paper reading and discussion group I have found some professors with a more interesting (for me) approach to things.

Am I stuck with my advisor even if usually students pick a topic after the 1st year? How can I approach this topic with whom? The graduate advisor? My PI is also the chair of the department.

Another thing is that I know some people that do not have funding at all in this department. I wouldn't want to be stuck in this situation as the rent takes around 2/3 of my income and I have my wife living with me.

  • 3
    I would talk to your fellow students and the director of graduate studies in your department. Perhaps this is known as a “graduate advisor” in your department.
    – Dawn
    May 10, 2018 at 1:30

2 Answers 2


This is ultimately dependent on the policies of your department. The basic issue would be that if you switch to another advisor, the other advisor would presumably be responsible for covering the remainder of your stipend. The big question is if you are free to choose both advisor and topic, or if it's expected you'd stick with your advisor, but have freedom to choose the PhD topic.

The right point of contact is the graduate advisor, who will be well versed in the procedures of your specific department.


I think that the only thing that makes this a difficult question is that your PI is also your department head. My own background had some similar issues to yours. I didn't feel that my advisor was sufficiently supportive because he was seeking tenure himself. I was also only partly interested in the same things he was. Complicating this was the fact that I was, at the time, too insecure to force the issue with the department head (in this case a different person). There was another faculty member who would have been ideal for me in every way, but I didn't have the nerve to ask for a change.

Instead, I changed universities and had a much better experience. But it cost me three years. Worth it in every way, however.

As to the funding issue, you may have to seek an alternative (not absolutely clear). If you aren't currently teaching as a Graduate Assistant that might be a possibility. It is what funded my last three years. Since I was at a large university I was also able to take advantage of very low cost housing intended for Graduate Students. The pay was abysmal, but it was enough, and the housing situation also provided friendships with many others in similar situations, so there wasn't any social isolation. I had two children by the time I finished.

But the most important issue, I think, is that you are comfortable with your advisor and your topic. My advice would be to find the faculty member that you most want to work with and speak to him/her about changing. That prof may have some options for you. You can then approach your current PI/head with a definite plan.

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