I'm a PhD student in US. I've been tipped by my advisor that I would be let go if I do not get results by a deadline. I am working on my options:

  1. Switch advisors: I have seen people switching advisors and finishing their program, but I'm not sure how that works. Why would someone take another faculty member's (seemingly red-flagged) student, who is in middle of the program? How to approach with a red flag like this?

  2. Apply elsewhere: How can I apply for another PhD position without my (potentially masters) advisor's recommendation? I want to email faculty members at other universities (as a master student, which is the potential case), but if I state that I have research experience and have submitted abstracts, that would lead to wanting to know more from my advisor. How can I represent myself as a good prospective and raise minimum question?

  • If there is any faculty in your current program that you believe thinks well of you, talk to them first - for advice, and maybe if they can take you in. Going through the formal process of applying elsewhere is much harder given your circumstances. Commented Dec 19, 2020 at 13:48
  • "Why would someone take another faculty member's (seemingly red-flagged) student, who is in middle of the program?" Because the alternatives are worse. Faculty have to compete to get good PhD students - it is not easy. Commented Dec 20, 2020 at 0:37

1 Answer 1


The way to find a new advisor is to ask. Whether they say yes depends on many things, including the known behavior of your current advisor. Are they reasonable or not? Is it you or is it the advisor who is the problem here?

You should also look at why you are having difficulties. Is the problem you are working on just too hard. This can happen in mathematics, for example, and it may take years to get partial results. Or the problem may even be unsolvable at the current state of knowledge, or even unresolvable in theory. If your have an impossible problem then a new advisor with a new problem would possibly work.

When you apply make the best case that you can be a success and get the best letters available to you. Your current advisor might write a good letter or not, but that depends on circumstances. Are you being let go because you aren't up to it, or because the demands of the research program of the advisor demand faster results. That might be the case in some lab sciences.

But in the end, all you can do is ask and apply and make the best case you can. Stress successes you have had, not failures.

It may well be that working harder to meet the deadline is a possibility. That would probably be the shortest path to success if you can manage it.

But any other path will take time. Be prepared for that and examine and evaluate all of your options.

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