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Social Science PhD student (in the US) here. My advisor does not meet with me (met twice in a year, did not meet the entire summer, took 2 months to reply to email). I feel extremely demotivated. I see other students in my program meeting with their advisors weekly, working out a dissertation topic, finding datasets and co-authoring. Should I change advisors? I am concerned because that would mean I'd need to change my research area and faculty can always put the blame on me and question my performance. I am 2 years into the PhD program, about to take comprehensive exams.

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Yes. You are early on in the program and you should begin to work on changing advisors if you are not thriving under this advisor. When talking to new potential advisors, you can ask how they would handle the question of evaluating your performance given the switch. They can help to “go to bat” for you with their colleagues if questions come up about your performance. They may ask you to wait until after comps to officially switch if there is a chance that the switch could affect your passing. Usually, provided you pass comps, your performance is evaluated mainly by your advisor so this should not be a big issue.

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    Hi @Dawn. Thanks, this is very helpful. I will definitely ask the potential new advisor about rating my performance. The catch is that I need to change before comps because comps list is prepared in consultation with the advisor and my current advisor thinks they cannot create a reading list for what I am proposing to do although I do not see the topic to be too much outside what they do. However, I understand if they are not up for advising me on that topic but given their track record of (not) providing any guidance so far, I think it is best to change. Thanks again for helping. – kiku Mar 8 at 20:27
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This is hard to answer. Some people do well under such a system. Others actually need more frequent advice. It depends on how much progress you are making. But if you are still yet to take comprehensives, I don't see a particular issue as your dissertation research is still, I suspect, mostly ahead of you.

But this may also be the right time to switch if you think someone else will be better for you. Ask around.

In the US, it is pretty often the case that an "advisor" is assigned at entry to give advice on coursework and such as you go along. But also pretty common to switch at the point of starting comps. I chose my own dissertation advisor after finishing comprehensives and asking around for a bit to get ideas about who would be good. I didn't have to change sub-fields, however, as I had a few choices.

If this is the US, don't feel like you need to stick with an assigned advisor. Other places, I can't say, maybe it also works out.

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  • Thanks @Buffy, for your quick reply. When did you change to the new advisor? – kiku Mar 8 at 20:28
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    Some time in the sixth year, I think. But my old advisor was very unhelpful and I got very unmotivated causing initial problems with comps. He was untenured and so involved with this own stuff. I actually switched institutions as well. I finished in about six and a half years overall. The new advisor was very senior and a bit gruff, but very helpful with guidance. – Buffy Mar 8 at 20:33
  • Hi @Buffy, thanks for sharing this. I am an international student which adds to the complexity in terms of finishing and finding a job in my home country within a reasonable amount of time so this situation has become the ONLY reason of anxiety resulting in my inability to be productive. Thank you for sharing your story. It is good to know that there is still hope of changing advisors or institutions even in the sixth year. Also, for context, I am in the US. – kiku Mar 8 at 21:17
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    I would focus on what you want the new advisor to do, rather than on what the previous adviser failed to do, as the latter could be perceived as bitter and come back to bite you. Returning emails within a reasonable amount of time (unless your advisor is Donald Knuth) and meeting with you regularly is such a standard expectation that you don't necessarily need to mention it explicitly. But you could try an open-ended conversation along the lines of "How frequently do you typically meet with your advisees? How often, and in what form, would you like me to give you updates on my progress?" – Max Mar 9 at 3:40
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    @Max, thank you so much for this example conversation. Half the times I'm confused how to frame a sentence. There have been times when I had to tell faculty that english was not my mother tongue and so my statements didn't always convey what I tried to say, which I never thought would be required. I will update how it goes. – kiku Mar 9 at 5:31

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