I am halfway through my PhD (given 3-year contract) and I feel I'm in my worst phase. The PI (let's call this PI X) who recruited me as a PhD student left my institute for a better position somewhere. Before X left, X assigned us (Ph.D. students under X) to a new PI in our department who is not yet all experienced in the work I'm doing. Once in a while X is talking to me through skype but now X seems to be mainly interested in authorship of the work we have done together and also a project we planned to do.

The main problem I'm facing now is, I don't have anyone to give me feedback on the analysis/interpretations I'm making from the data. If I don't get any critical comments/feedback on my work, I'm feeling I'm not learning anything new. And, this will also be a problem in the long run, when I make my work into a manuscript. Our department head, who recruited X seems to care about the situation but I didn't discuss it with him. As I have this new PI (who is also recruited by dept. head), if I discuss the situation with the department head, things will get more complicated. I know as a PhD student, I should be more independent but if I don't get enough feedback on my work, how can I improve my critical thinking.

Any suggestions on how to deal with the situation is greatly appreciated. I can provide any additional information if required.

Thank you.

  • 2
    Why do you think that discussing the situation with the department head will make it more complicated? It may solve problems, and the department head might be able to make sure that X will take proper care of his/her old PhD students.
    – Mark
    May 17, 2018 at 19:11
  • 3
    Isn't it typical to take your PhD students with you, when you change positions (and can pull this off, of course)? May 17, 2018 at 19:36
  • @OlegLobachev, May be, if a PI cares about his students and their career.
    – user92916
    May 17, 2018 at 20:50
  • @Mark, I don't I have a feeling that it sounds like I'm complaining about the new PI. I think (my guess depending on the meetings we had in the past when X was leaving. Head frequently said to X, that you will not be able to supervise the PhD student's projects while establishing your own projects in new lab.), dept. head doesn't want to X to know the projects that are going on with us or he doesn't want to involve X anymore. But I'm not sure what he has in mind.
    – user92916
    May 17, 2018 at 20:55

2 Answers 2


I don't understand why this sentence has the word "but":

Once in a while X is talking to me through skype but now X seems to be mainly interested in authorship of the work we have done together and also a project we planned to do.

Without the "but," that would sound great!

In principle, your choices are:

  1. Transfer to X's new institution

  2. Stay where you are but continue collaborating remotely with X (with lots of email and some occasional phone calls and video conferences).

  3. Allow yourself some travel to where X is for some in-person collaboration (this has to be done with consideration for X's schedule and preferences, of course).

  4. Talk to the department head and ask for advice.

  5. Talk to someone else in your department and ask for advice.

Another thing you can do is basically choose option 2 (and perhaps 3), but try to be more independent than before, so that you don't need to take up so much of X's time. Here are a couple of tricks for doing that:

  • Have a dialogue with X in your mind, where you lay out a question, and then you imagine the discussion that would ensue with X, based on what you know of X. This works best when you're almost asleep.

  • Rubber duck your problem with a good listener, as programmers do when they're having trouble finding a bug. Walk the listener through the background to your question, and the question itself. Often, going through this careful exposition with a human being who at least looks like he's paying attention will get you unstuck.

  • Thanks a lot for your suggestions. 1 is not possible in my case as my fellowship is from my institution. I still have to check with dept. head regarding 3. But I hardly think head will allow that. I'm left with suggestions 4 & 5. Thanks a lot for the last 2 points. That will help to some extent.
    – user92916
    May 18, 2018 at 7:01
  • @user92916 - I wouldn't rule out 3 so quickly. It's remarkably common. // How do you feel about 2? Have you contacted X directly? The worst that can happen is that X says no. May 19, 2018 at 3:01

As a PhD student, you should start building your network of colleagues, and X might be a good person to suggest people you can network with. See this as an opportunity to grow your own reputation and collaborate with others outside of X. You might be able to keep X as an external advisor or your thesis committee, while having an academic advisor at your current institution that helps you more generally with the requirements of graduation. Sounds like you want to get feedback-- and one great way to do that is to go to conferences, present your papers and share your own feedback with other people working in your field.

If you are near graduation, or post-general exams, you should submit to a doctoral consortium where people of your cohort can share what they are doing. Also, the advice that is given at the DCs is helpful to guiding you onto the job market. In my experience, the DCs gave great feedback on what directions they would be interested in for your research, and also notes that might be more generally applicable to the job market that you should keep in mind as you pursue your research.

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