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Some background:

  • I started my PhD in Machine Learning in April this year.
  • My PhD is fully funded for 3 years, I earn around 2000€/month after tax, working only on research and not doing any teaching.
  • I'm paid by the grant that my advisor got for his project. This grant his paid by the state.
  • My current advisor is a world expert in Machine Learning
  • I already submitted 2 papers with him and most likely submit a third one in a couple of months.

The problem: My advisor just got an offer from one of the biggest company you can think of, to do a machine learning project with lots of different world experts newly hired by the said company. It means that he is going to leave his current position at my university in 4 months.

I can't blame him to take this position because I would have done the same. It's an offer that nobody can refuse.

So in 4 months, I'll have to make a choice.

  • leave my position and look for a position elsewhere but I doubt I'll find something as interesting and well paid. (My advisor can write recommendation letter for me.)
  • to stay at the university and choose a new advisor -> the problem is that my current research is highly technical and nobody except my current advisor (and I) have knowledge about it (he was a new junior professor and the university wanted to expand the CS department). The rest of my group is working on a totally different subject and I know nobody will be able to help me for the rest of my PhD.

My advisor told me that the university will find me a new advisor if I choose to stay but warned me that my topic will most likely shift to adapt to the domain knowledge of this new advisor. It means that I'll have to give up my current topic and to tell you the truth, I prefer to quit my PhD than to continue on something that I don't like.

For info, I read this post how-to-cope-when-phd-advisor-quits-midway but I think my problem is slightly different.

tldr: Is it possible to do a PhD with an advisor that can't help you? Or is it better to just go somewhere else?

  • 8
    my current research is highly technical and nobody except my current advisor have knowledge about it — Nobody except your current advisor and you, right? – JeffE Jul 4 '13 at 23:10
  • Yes of course, I quitted my last job and relocated to this university for this specific PhD because of him and the topic. I edited, thx – Kalmos Jul 4 '13 at 23:14
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    Is there any way your current advisor might consent to staying on your committee until you are done? He could still review your work at his new job. – J.R. Jul 4 '13 at 23:51
  • 2
    Are you sure you won't lose the grant money anyway once your advisor leaves? Is another professor going to take over the project and grant? – mkennedy Jul 5 '13 at 17:22
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    @mkennedy yeah there is no problem here. I have a 3 years contract. I think the problem will be after the 3 years because I'll not have any possible extension. – Kalmos Jul 5 '13 at 19:27
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  • judging nobody knows the area except you and your advisor seems a strong statement to me specially if you just started doing research (this April ).

    I am quite sure there are other folks working on the same topic or something really close to it. Those are your potential advisors.

    Taking into account that you just started and he's a world class expert, I believe the best thing is to approach your advisor asking for help. Ask him to suggest some names to you. He certainly knows other academics and can even approach them asking for a PhD position for you (have you looked to his co-authors list in DBLP for example? ). I have heard several cases where advisors help their students secure PhD positions in other institutions.

  • Take a breadth view over other's research. Attend their seminars. You might see their work interesting as well.

  • DO NOT LOSE YOUR ADVISOR. keep in touch with him and try to be his student even outside academia!

  • 2
    The fact that you have already submitted 2 papers in a few months tells me either you are a super smart student or the subject is pretty easy! So, I am with @seteropere: "judging nobody knows the area except you and your advisor seems a strong statement to me". Perhaps, other professors can guide you for PhD. – user4511 Jul 5 '13 at 3:01
  • Well I began my PhD in April but I was already following my advisor research for the past year. Like I said he was hired to expand the CS department in a specific domain of Machine Learning. Let's say that the rest of the CS department are in HCI and graph so he was the only one doing research in ML. I'm not saying that other professors are not good, it's just that nobody really do Machine Learning. Second thing, my grant is dependent of the uni. I know that my advisor can recommend me to other labs but then I'll be without any grant if I leave my current uni. – Kalmos Jul 5 '13 at 8:15
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    @Kalmos - If you've published papers, you know exactly who (and where) the other experts in your field are. If you are set on continuing your research in this specific sub-field, you may want to consider investigating whether you could switch universities and join their labs. – eykanal Jul 5 '13 at 13:38
  • So the consensus is to start looking at the other labs (even if it means losing my grant) and to not stay with a 'random' advisor. I insist on the money part because I have loan to pay back and I don't want to be crush by debt. I guess I'll stay with my current situation until I find a good lab/grant somewhere else to transfer and continue my research after my advisor leave. – Kalmos Jul 5 '13 at 14:05
  • @Kalmos If you are enthusiastic about this particular topic only then stick with it no matter what the price is. But before that make sure you are really interested only in it. – seteropere Jul 5 '13 at 15:37

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