I'm currently a PhD student at a US University. The relationship between my advisor and me is extremely hands off, and she only contacts me to help write grants and to review papers. While she does try her best to fund her students (including me), she doesn't respond to my emails, doesn't give me any feedback on my research updates, doesn't give any feedback on my papers, and doesn't appear to care about my career. I've had to strike it on my own on everything I do, and it's honestly getting exhausting.

I want to switch advisors but am approaching the end of my third year without any major conference papers and feel that it's too late to change my advisor. All of my paper submissions have so far gotten rejected, and getting any feedback from her is impossible. That, plus the fact that the coronavirus fried up the job market in tech just makes me feel completely powerless and desolate. What do I do?

  • 3
    How many years is your PhD expected to take? If you're in the third year of three, it might be tricky to switch. Third year of five or six, it's worth doing. Do you have a second supervisor you could talk to? Department head? It seems very unfair that she contacts you only when she wants something from you (grant writing and reviews). How does she act towards her other students? Commented Jun 2, 2020 at 7:57
  • 1
    Her students usually take around 6-6.5 years to graduate, but she's kept some students around for 8 years. I currently don't have a second supervisor I could talk to. A department head would be worth talking to. Her behavior with other students is the same as with me.
    – user124851
    Commented Jun 2, 2020 at 8:17
  • Does she help other students? Is she tenured?
    – Buffy
    Commented Jun 2, 2020 at 11:57
  • Do you have access to other more experienced researchers, such as late stage PhD students or postdocs, that can provide you with mentorship and feedback?
    – kjacks21
    Commented Jun 2, 2020 at 14:53
  • @Buffy she's tenured
    – user124851
    Commented Jun 2, 2020 at 21:50

1 Answer 1


Its never too late to switch labs/advisors if your current trajectory isn't going towards where you want to see yourself in the future. Every advisor has their own way to guide students, be it "Hands-on" or "Hands-off". From my experience, I believe early career researchers who are just tenured or people who are in the process of putting together their tenure package could have a lot of things on their plate. That being said, here are a couple of things you could think of doing, but this is just an opinion and it is up to you to figure out what works best in your situation.

Talk to Senior students/Alumni from your research group

Talking to people who have had the experience to work your advisor could inform you a lot about how and why your advisors respond to you. If there is a certain work ethic/pattern that is preferred, you would have to adapt to it given that you want to continue in this field of research. Most theory/experimental labs that are larger force the advisors to adopt a "hands-off" style. But, in most of these cases, there would be a support system in the form of smaller sub-groups where Senior students and post-docs work with junior students mentoring them on their projects. In such a scenario, advisors usually are concerned about broader questions about the research direction and mostly rely on senior students to train you.

Have a frank conversation with your advisor

Its never too late to communicate your needs to your advisor. There would always be some room to accommodate genuine requests. Manier times its just the communication gap between advisors and students that leads to problems. Coming out clear about each others' expectations could help you build a healthy relationship with your advisor. Because, if you plan to be around in academia for a while then you should know that student-advisor relationships go far beyond the regular 5-6 years Ph.D. time. In some cases, this could also lead to some amicable solution with your advisor where you could possibly move to another lab.

Changing Research Advisors

Being a 3rd-year student, I believe you would have already taken your qualifiers(become a PhD candidate). This would also mean that you already have your research-committee that would have been set up to monitor your progress. In some cases, you could benefit a lot more by talking to members of your committee or senior professors in your department to get feedback about your work. But, you should definitely reach out to your advisor about your needs. If you don't get a positive response from your advisor, you should be reaching out to the research committee and then the Graduate studies committee. It is their responsibility to intervene in case the mentor/mentee relationship begins to go south.

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