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I am currently hired as a PhD student in the lab for 8 months and I would like to look for another PhD position. The main reason is that my interests don't fit the research focus of my current lab. The project I was recruited for is a collaboration with another group (and I am much more interested in their field of research). However, the project seems not to work out. I have another project in parallel, which fits research focus of my current lab, but I am not that excited about it. My current PI is not an expert in the field I am excited about.

I understand now that it was sort of a strategic mistake from my side, to accept an offer from the PI, whose research interest does not correlate that much with mine. Therefore, I consider to apply for other PhD positions in the field, I am more interested in. And I have doubts, how to make the application process smooth.

I understand that it would be better to talk to my PI and explain him my concerns and why I want to change the lab. However, I am afraid he will not take it positively and I might loose current position before I find new one. So it might make sense to keep it confidential before I find a new position.

My question is: when applying for a new position, should I mention in the CV the name of the PI, in whose group I am working now? I know, I should not hide that I already have a position, but would it be better to describe project and techniques I learnt so far, but without contact information of PI and name of the lab? Or should rather I give this information in CV and simply explain my reasons to change and ask in motivation letter to keep confidential that I want to change the lab?

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First you might want to assume that you can't actually guarantee that it will be kept confidential. Senior people in a given field tend to know one another. If you make that assumption you will act in a way that it doesn't harm you if/when it comes out.

Many will, however, honor a reasonable request to not contact some other group if you have a reasonable explanation.

Additionally, most people, those who aren't abusive, can understand that some people need to move on so you may have unfounded fears about what will occur if (when) they do find out.

If you have a good relationship with your current PI then talk with them about your needs. Perhaps they will even give you a good recommendation. But if you have reason to fear their reaction, such as a poor work environment or retaliation against someone else, then put a note in your application that you would prefer that your current employer not be contacted initially. Later, if it looks like you might get hired in the new place, then they will probably need to make contact, of course, but you should be farther along in the process by then.

But it would probably be a mistake to hide the identity of your current institution/project. You don't need to name the supervisor, I think, but the project at least should be named. Otherwise, people might wonder if there is a problem that you aren't being straightforward about.

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  • Thank you for your answer! Do I understand correctly that, in your opinion, if I want to keep my application confidential initially, I can mention in the CV the institution and name of the project, but not specify the exact lab and PI name? And in my cover letter I should explain my reasons to change and ask not to contact my current PI at the beginning, at least before they consider hiring me?
    – Jekki
    Mar 18 at 6:55
  • That sounds about right.
    – Buffy
    Mar 18 at 11:06

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