I am starting my second year of PhD (in engineering) in the US after earning Master's degree outside the US. My advisor notified me that he'll be going abroad for leave of absence for at least 1 year, and probably extend it to 2 years.

He told me the funding is available for 3 years but unsure of how much he can advise me closely. Every meeting will be remote for the next two years, and not as frequent as before.

Also, I am now assigned to a different professor as a co-advisor.

He said he is planning to come back after 2 years, but that is also not guaranteed because he said he cannot predict the future.

In this case, would it be wise to discuss with him on transferring to another university?

I would have to sacrifice two years if re-apply for PhD, but if that helps for my PhD I would surely do it.

Also, I would like my advisor to help me transfer since I believe we do not have any conflicts or bad relationship.

What worries me is that I might make him upset for trying to move since he already assured me of the funding. But I am not here just for the funding but for his advice on my graduate career. I am not sure how much I can have that.

Any advice in this situation? Thank you in advance.

  • 1
    Would it be possible for you to go with your adviser for the year or two that he'll be away? If not, would it be possible to set up regular skype or zoom meetings with your adviser? Aug 27, 2020 at 3:14
  • Is there any reason why you can't keep the funding and transfer to another advisor that is actually present at the university?
    – nick012000
    Aug 27, 2020 at 6:00
  • It seems feasible to continue where you are
    – Alchimista
    Aug 27, 2020 at 9:22
  • @AndreasBlass Indeed: Go with the advisor, if viable.
    – user2768
    Aug 27, 2020 at 9:44
  • 1
    Sorry that I'm late with this, but going away for a year or two is sometimes (often?) the precursor to going away permanently. A sort of informal probation period at the new place prior to offering a permanent job. If you haven't made enough progress in the year since you asked this, you might consider a move yourself, possibly to the professor's new institution.
    – Buffy
    Jul 25, 2021 at 11:40

1 Answer 1


It is fairly common that a PhD student change advisors in the middle of a thesis. There are lots of reasons why advisors change jobs, or even interests, and the reasons can sometimes be sudden. The smart choice for the student, though, depends a lot on their situation and their goals.

A student who is in the later stages of writing their dissertation may prefer the relative tranquility of their advisor's absence, and be happiest with a weekly video meeting and an exchange of manuscript pages. A highly-autonomous student may even prefer this from year two. In that case the main interaction continues with the old advisor, with the co-advisor as an institutional backstop.

A student at the beginning of their thesis will generally prefer to have their advisor more available than that, especially if there are skills that have to be learned hands-on. In that case the best choice is to either lean heavily on the new co-advisor, or simple to change advisors. It also depends on how much the co-advisor is invested in the topic; if it is an orphan topic, then choosing a new one more aligned with the co-advisor's interests might be useful.

It also depends on the the informal support group of the research team. In a team with a good esprit de corps the environment is almost as valuable as the choice of advisor. In a small team you need to choose you advisor with particular care.

If your advisor offers to bring you with them to their new institution, which can happen but is not always possible, then it is a seller's market and you should choose what you prefer. At least it is proof that your advisor thinks highly of your work.

I do not recommend going on hiatus until your advisor comes back. I can't think of a single example in the past 20 years where a student came back to finish their thesis after a hiatus of more than a year.

  • 1
    I also don't recommend going on hiatus, but there is at least one example of someone coming back to finish their thesis: Brian May, the guitarist from Queen, worked on his thesis between 1970 and 1974. He came back to Imperial in 2006 and submitted in 2007. Jul 27, 2021 at 21:41
  • 1
    The exception establishes the rule for the unexcepted cases! You can defend your thesis after a hiatus if you are a successful rock guitarist.
    – djs
    Jul 28, 2021 at 7:19

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