I'm a PhD student in my second year and strongly considering applying for a PhD position at a different university (see my previous question).

However, I'm not sure I want to bring this up with my advisor at the current moment (of maybe at all before I have secured another position, this seems to be the general advice over at workplace.SE).

For applying, though, I need to have two letters of recommendation, which will be hard to get not including my supervisor (because I have mostly worked with him so far, so there aren't many others I would consider asking) or maybe even excluding people who know him and would tell him that I am applying elsewhere.

What can I do in this situation?

  • 3
    Does the information in your earlier question apply here?
    – Buffy
    Jul 25, 2019 at 19:34
  • @Buffy It does.
    – user110394
    Jul 26, 2019 at 6:27
  • I'm not sure I want to bring this up with my advisor at the current moment — Normally, I would say "Yes, of course you do", because applying without a letter from your current advisor is a red flag. But in light of your previous question, the situation is already covered in red flags.
    – JeffE
    Jul 26, 2019 at 17:50

1 Answer 1


Have you ever tried discussing your concerns with your supervisor? It isn't very clear from your previous post and this one. As you mentioned in your previous post that you are quite indispensable to his lab, hence, communicating your problems might make him want to fix them. I had a friend who was on the verge of a burn-out while doing his PhD. Like you, he was also handling multiple projects at the same time. One day he walked upto his supervisor's office and told her that he would like to leave the lab because of certain issues and would like her to support her PhD applications elsewhere. She thanked him for bringing up the issues and did provide letters of recommendations in a timely manner. At the end he continued working in the same lab but the supervisor was much more accommodating of his requests.

Now this might/might not happen with you but making your supervisor aware of the issues seems to be the best approach in my opinion. Especially when your field is interdisciplinary and it may be difficult to change departments without bumping into one of his acquaintances. It would save you from a lot of headache and mess if you just tell your supervisor that you are considering changing labs and want to explore a different (positive and motivating) environment for your PhD. Make a draft of what/how you want to say it. It will take some time but will be worthwhile in the long-run. And if you think he might say something and change his mind later on, it might be best to communicate via email. This will serve as a reference to explain your situation to your potential supervisor/grad school.

All the best!

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