I am doing a funded PhD in humanities and don't really enjoy what I am doing (the topic and area). I applied for another PhD and got admitted. The problem is that I need to apply for visa and wait a few months to see if I'll be granted visa. I don't want to leave my current position before I know I have the visa (don't want to lose everything and don't want to be forced to go back to my home country as I'm on student visa here).

The question is when and how should I tell my advisor that I'm leaving?

  • 4
    This is a personal issue that depends almost entirely on your relationship with them. For some the answer is "sure, and soon", and for others, "not a chance". You need to make the judgement yourself. But, don't burn bridges needlessly.
    – Buffy
    Jan 14, 2021 at 21:34
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    What do you want to achieve? Jan 14, 2021 at 23:27
  • I've had this experience as a supervisor. The first I head about it was the student emailing me from the new university. This was not a nice way to be informed that I had wasted considerable time and effort on training and getting funding for them. All they had to do was to tell me that they wanted to move and I would have been happy to write a reference etc. to help them. Good supervisors supervise for the benefit of the student, not their own. The purpose is to train a potential peer researcher. Jan 18, 2021 at 11:12

2 Answers 2


I've had experience with similar issues and in my opinion, honesty is the best policy assuming that your advisor is a reasonable, non-vindictive person. If the issue is just the topic and the area, and not your advisor personally, then they probably want what's best for you and could actually help you out in working out the details (perhaps offering you an interim position so that you don't lose everything, or agreeing on you acting as a visiting scholar in your institution while your admission to the other place is finalized etc.). If your advisor is not on your side, then I would get out regardless, even risking going back to your home country. There's no point in suffering through a PhD you hate.

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    Assuming your current employer is reasonable and telling them that you're leaving before your alternate position is 100% secure is a classic workplace mistake. Right up there with getting involved in a land war in Asia, and going up against a Sicilian when death is on the line.
    – Jeff
    Jan 17, 2021 at 22:02
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    As an advisor I would want to know if my students are facing such severe issues that they’re considering dropping out. I would try to help figure things out with them and if the best thing is for them to switch programs then that’s fine.
    – Spark
    Jan 17, 2021 at 22:36
  • Absolutely, perhaps it's just a balance? OP has already gone through the steps of applying (perhaps even interviewing) to another program. I feel that it might backfire to express what might normally be understood as 'uncertainty' in the form of 'I've been accepted to another program' (not sure if that sentence makes sense). Completely agree though @Spark, ideally this individual would have started voicing concerns to the supervisor before even considering applying elsewhere.
    – bashity
    Jan 18, 2021 at 0:11
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    Sure, communicating over difficulties makes sense. But communicating acceptance to another program and intent to leave is not at all a good idea, until the other program is a sure thing.
    – Jeff
    Jan 18, 2021 at 2:32

TLDR IMO (and based on classic answers of the Workplace Stack Exchange): Never inform your current employer of your intent to leave until your new employment is 100% secure.

Adding to @Spark's excellent answer, I would make a few recommendations based on my conversations with other graduate students in similar situations.

  1. Make sure that your place in the new program is absolutely secure before making any announcement or changes in your current employment. This is common advice on the WorkPlace Stack Exchange as there are innumerable stories of "offer received at new Employer B, informed current Employer A, Employer B now rescinded offer, what do?". This would include accepting the new admission, ensuring that your immigration documents are completed, etc (dot the i's and cross the t's). It would be to your immense disadvantage to make any proclamation at your current program only to no longer have the new opportunity.

  2. Do everything possible to leave on a positive note. For example, in my department the assignment of teaching assistants is often planned one year in advance. It is very important for departmental scheduling to know how many eligible graduate students are available in the coming semester(s). If you have any departmental commitments (or research commitments) that you will be leaving, I would recommend creating a plan as to how you will leave these commitments on a positive note. This may be difficult/impossible if your announcement will be sudden. However, at the very least, make sure you inform all relevant commitment managers and not just your supervisor (if applicable).

  3. @Spark's answer. Honesty and speed are the best possible answers once you have sorted 1 and 2. You should both inform the new university that you intend to come as soon as possible and complete all necessary paperwork steps. Once all of that is sorted, inform your advisor and department as soon as possible afterwards.

  4. This is more for your personal reflection, but see the related questions on this site around other people who have changed PhD programs:

The reason I say this is because it is very normal to question the 'fit' of a PhD program. You likely have entirely valid reasons for wanting to change, and lots of successful people change PhD programs. However, you do not want to find yourself in the same situation two years into the new program. Many people who complete a PhD change their topic of study as a career matures. Ask yourself: is there anything I can do to avoid ending up in this situation in my new program? The PhD is not the be-all-end-all of research. It is but one step in the career.

Hope that helps!

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