I approached a supervisor about a PhD application. At this university, you must have two supervisors, so after a meeting, he invited the other "supervisor" to discuss the topic. Honestly, this new supervisor doesn't suit my topic. In fact, he proposed some topic changes that I am not happy to do. However, for the rush of the moment and the nervous, I said yes. After, I checked the credentials of the new supervisor. He just graduated last year and I would be his first PhD student. I received the offer letter and this last supervisor was appointed as the main supervisor. I received a scholarship from my government (not from the university), so no funding is attached to the supervisors or topic. I haven't "officially" started the PhD.

I will have a meeting soon and I was wondering how I could ask to change the main supervisor? I will argue that I want to focus on my original topic, but what to do if they say that I can change the topic, but with the same team? Is it wrong that I would like to have a more "experienced" supervisor as the primary supervisor?

Thank you.

  • Could you please specify the country or geographical area? The relevant procedures and expectations can vary a lot between different countries
    – Yemon Choi
    Commented Jul 31, 2018 at 13:37
  • Sorry, the PhD is in the UK. I will formally start in October this year. My PhD is not linked to a project of the supervisors.
    – Matt
    Commented Jul 31, 2018 at 14:44

2 Answers 2


Your wishes and concerns are valid, but your options are limited. You say you agreed, which was not your best choice. Of course you realize this, but maybe too late.

Unfortunately this is more of a personal relationship issue than one for rules. I know how bad it can be to have an inexperienced, ill-matched, advisor, especially if you aren't enthusiastic about the topic.

One option is to go elsewhere for your degree - an extreme solution that will cost you time and perhaps, money.

A possible solution, depending on personalities is to go back to the first professor, with whom you seem more comfortable, and lay out the situation, in essence begging to work under his/her direction instead. Don't open with the suggestion that you may need to withdraw if your request can't be granted and think about whether that is actually what you would want to do. But your possible withdrawal might be a last resort argument. It is a bit dangerous to use, however, if made in such a way that anyone, especially this professor, thinks less of you as a result.

One outcome of such a meeting might actually be that the professor can convince you of the correctness of the current situation (with the new advisor and problem), based on his/her reading of the state of the art. It is useful if you have a senior professor keeping a bit of a watch over you and a junior professor as the process unfolds, so maintaining a good working relationship is essential if you intend to continue.

  • Thank you for your answer. I forgot to mention that the scholarship from my government in linked to the university, but not to the topic-supervisor. Your advice to talk to the first professor was my option, but once again he send me a reply copying the "primary supervisor". So now the meeting is once again with the three of us.
    – Matt
    Commented Jul 31, 2018 at 14:39
  • People have told me that this is the correct time to ask the change, as my PhD will start in October, because I have heard that really to feel identify with the supervisor background project is really important.
    – Matt
    Commented Jul 31, 2018 at 14:43
  • 1
    @Matt, it is too late to correct, but I meant a face to face meeting, not just email. If you have a meeting, you want to avoid offending the person who may wind up with primary authority. But you can still bring up your interest in the original problem and listen to what they both have to say. But this three way meeting really needs to be in person. It is too easy to minimize your concerns (and passion) if you try to communicate remotely. And yes, you need to settle it before you start. Hard choices. Good luck.
    – Buffy
    Commented Jul 31, 2018 at 14:47
  • Yes, this meeting will be on person. Originally I sent the email to ask for a meeting, it is not that I'm trying to do evrything by email. He add the new supervisor to the meeting (even my intentions were to only disscuss this with the first supervisor). I really hope everything goes well. I will focus in the importance to keep my topic (that honestly requiere a different supervisor)... Hopefully, verything will be change to the best. Thank you!
    – Matt
    Commented Jul 31, 2018 at 15:00

One issue that you may not have considered is that this is an administrative and faculty development issue rather than one that directly affects your day-to-day research.

Remember that for faculty to secure a long-term position, one of the requirements is that they show an ability to mentor students through the PhD process. It is very difficult to do this if they are not officially assigned as the main advisor of PhD students. For a senior faculty member who is already in a permanent position, this is likely not as significant a concern.

Basically, I would just ask in this meeting what are the supervision duties they plan to have rather than what's "official."

  • 1
    Yes. I was meaning to add to my answer that the senior professor's intent may have been to mentor the junior professor in advising. If that is the case then it should resolve cleanly, other than the question of the research topic.
    – Buffy
    Commented Jul 31, 2018 at 20:31
  • Thank you both for your comments. I totally understand the challenges that face young academics to earn a "permanent position". And that somehow in the future I would like to have the change to supervised students. However, I feel that things haven't occurred en a very "transparent" way. I approach one supervisor because I feel that he could really support me, but I ended with some else, doing his topic (that I'm still having doubts).
    – Matt
    Commented Aug 1, 2018 at 17:35
  • As you mention, I need to clarify the roles of both of them. In my home country, a young supervisor starts as a secondary supervisor with the first PhD student and not as primary. But, if here they told me that they will be equally involved, I could be more relaxed.
    – Matt
    Commented Aug 1, 2018 at 17:36

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