UPDATE: My program is Computer Science and Engineering.

I chose the current advisor for mainly three reasons:

  1. I'm interested in a general research area, and he's in a group doing the stuffs.
  2. He has good publications in top conferences and journals in recent years.
  3. Applying for other graduate schools is exhaustive, and I didn't search for other programs.

Here are some reasons which make me consider changing an advisor:

  1. I have no regular individual meeting with him. In the first semester, I had no idea about what I should do to find a research topic. Then in the second semester, I only talked with the post-doc in our lab, who graduated with a thesis in another area very different from the general topic in our lab.
  2. In group meeting, we present our works to him and he gives some advice (for me, you don't understand the paper you need to redo it; for others, this paper was not published in a good conference/journal...). I think he doesn't try to understand some meeting contents, because he's even not focusing on the it, doing something else. Once he left early because he thought the presentation was not interesting.
  3. I wrote weekly report, and he forwards it to the post-doc for how I'm doing.
  4. We are not doing the research that attracts me. And no one in our group knows how to do it.

But I still have considerations to change advisor:

  1. I have few options in choosing a new advisor in a related research area.
  2. I don't have a target group I want to move to.

Could you give some suggestions on how I could handle this situation?

  • Have you organised any meetings, one to one? If not, what else do you expect?
    – Solar Mike
    Jul 7, 2019 at 16:54
  • @SolarMike He said once in a meeting, that junior student should go directly to the post-doc or senior students instead of him. I asked for a meeting two weeks ago and tried to explain what I'm doing. He said it is not meaningful but I could explore it in summer. Before this meeting, I sent my summary and also papers I mainly referenced. But it seems he didn't read it. Jul 7, 2019 at 17:03
  • Applying for other graduate schools is exhaustive, and I didn't search for other programs — Perhaps you should start now.
    – JeffE
    Jul 7, 2019 at 20:11
  • @JeffE Why to find another program is better than changing advisor in my current situation? Jul 8, 2019 at 4:23
  • I didn't say one option was better than the other. But in general, having more options is better than having fewer.
    – JeffE
    Jul 8, 2019 at 14:32

2 Answers 2


There are some students who don't need a lot of direction and can find and analyze their own research problems. There are others (many others) who need more direction and even suggestions about problems. Likewise there are advisors who want to give a lot of direction, sometimes too much. And their others who don't, or who prefer to work only with their most advanced students. It can be a problem if there is a mismatch.

The two ways of curing the mismatch are begging for help and hoping that the advisor responds positively, and finding a different advisor who is more helpful at the point at which you currently are.

Perhaps your advisor depends a lot on those senior students and postdocs to give direction to the newer members of the "team". If you can find and exploit that help there, you can probably be successful. Otherwise you should consider your options for another advisor.

Don't spend a lot of time hoping it will get better. If you, or someone, takes some action that seems to be moving in a positive direction then you may be able to see what happens. But if nothing does, protect your options and your future.

  • I was given one paper to understand in the first semester and I tried really hard to understand it and some related works. And my advisor said to me "Your research progress was very slow after the first semester and I didn't expect you could explore something from it" and he commented on my presentation in group meeting as "You don't understand the papers". I asked him how could I understand the papers better, what I got from him is "It takes sometime." Jul 8, 2019 at 4:31
  • I also struggled to read papers and find a research topic. Tried to read more papers that linked to the paper given, and I discussed what I found with the post-doc. But unfortunately he knows no more than I presented to him and information given by another student who works on a similar topic (Yes, this is not my advisor's expertise, neither). I also tried to explain my topic in details and high level idea to my advisor, but I couldn't get directions from him ("You should improve it more than blahblah, if not no one else will look at it."). Jul 8, 2019 at 4:37

It is not uncommon for advisors at R1 schools (especially in experimental sciences) to really serve as funders, recruiters, and very absent managers. But not "advisors". You should look to yourself and see if you can just figure things out and run an experimental campaign. In many cases, the answer is yes. But some students are weaker.

What I am saying is try to be a little contrarian and just ask yourself "do I even need an advisor" or is a lab bench and an expense account to buy reagents and equipment enough. Particularly if I can use my own initiative to get help from other grad students, postdocs, out of group members or out of group professors when I have a very particular blocking point.

I mean, yeah maybe it sucks that you don't get this wonderful apprenticeship. But honestly, that is a huge myth (in my experience and my friends). But the real world is fine. Do your own thing. Heck, I honestly wouldn't want the old man to have messed with my plans. Just get out of the way and let me do things my way.


"4. We are not doing the research that attracts me. And no one in our group knows how to do it."

Now this is a problem. Don't do his program. Do your own. Believe me, you will probably get attention when you just blow him off. You think I'm joking, but I mean it. Throw a little pepper in the stew. See what happens. Make him have to come here for advice about how to handle the situation. ;-)

  • Heck, I honestly wouldn't want the old man to have messed with my plans. He said he cares only about results but I really need to discuss what I find and make sure it is a good research problem. "4. We are not doing the research that attracts me. And no one in our group knows how to do it." I talked with him on general topic interests me, and he thinks it should be put as a mid-long term plan. Jul 8, 2019 at 4:45

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