I just wanted to know if transferring schools during your PhD is frowned upon?

I have spent a semester at school X which specializes in a very specific field in my major. After many classes, seminars, and interactions with profs, I've realized that I just don't see myself doing research in this area. Instead I have found school Y which is much more inline with my interests that have been fostered over the last few months.

Realistically, would it leave a sour taste in the mouth of the people here if I transferred?

And upon notifying my administration of my intentions to transfer (I have received an offer already), would I probably be booted from the program immediately, or would they let me finish the last few months of the semester?

I plan on telling the administration before they recruit for next year's PhD classes so that they have an accurate idea of how many students they can take on-board, given funding and budget constraints.


3 Answers 3


There are many reasons to transfer and only a few of them have any ethical complications. If you have committed to complete experiments in some elaborate scientific field and others depend on you doing that, then you need to deal with those promises. But for the most part, you are free to go and your willingness to inform people early enough that the old institution can make a smooth transition is courteous if not ethically required.

But there is little in life worse than sticking with something that isn't right for you. You only get one run around the track, of course, so make it a good one.

People change as they learn. If they didn't, there would be little point in it. Other people understand that change occurs, so I expect that there will be very little "frowning", unless you are missed. People can be expected to wish you well and, generally, be happy for your growth. You are also early enough in your studies that there should be little impact (absent situations as described in the first paragraph here).

But yes, give people early warning so that your place can be filled. I think that any move to "expel" you early would be unethical and, I hope, illegal. There are a few exceptions, of course, if your studies put you in contact with especially sensitive or dangerous information. Those situations are rare, but in such situations, early warning may be especially needed.

  • Thank you so much for your insight. Luckily no experiments or commitments involved. I hope that it all works out smoothly, but if not, at least I know I did no wrong to anyone. Jan 27, 2019 at 20:43

It won't matter in the long run. There is attrition all the time for various reasons (not liking it, spouse needs to move, etc.)

If you are at all worried about them continuing you through the semester (seems like you are), I would just notify them after the semester is done. Really even the number issue with Ph.D.s isn't the end of the world, since new class is a new generation in a sense and like I said there is always some random attrition. Also, if you wait, then you don't have to deal with any unpleasantness during the semester.


While it's nice that you're thinking about the administrative hassle of you transferring programs, that should really be a second-order concern for you. Students drop out all the time for various reasons, and there will be someone else who'll take up your slot.

If you're not in any hurry to move to a new place, then by all means - stay on and wrap up your affairs. It would be nice to check if any course credits you got in your old place would be transferrable to your new degree, that means a few less classes to take and more time to focus on research.

I would think about what needs to be done for you to settle in your new place. Moving is a lot of work and you need to settle some admin before you move, so it's probably best to take a few weeks before the semester starts to familiarize yourself with the new place. You should also put some effort into contacting potential advisors and start thinking about what kind of research questions are interesting in field Y. If this is not a big factor for you then staying for the semester should not be an issue.

Good luck!

  • Thanks for your response. I have already asked the new school about credits, and am planning on visiting the area at the end of this semester to sort things out in terms of accommodation. Luckily, I'm sort of used to this. To join this current program I had to move overseas, so am well aware of how expensive it can be! I plan on contacting some advisors very soon :) Jan 27, 2019 at 21:43

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