Disclaimer: I am asking on behalf of my friend, so I can not give many specific information. Still, I hope the information provided will be enough to give advice.

Let's say that a person got a position as a PhD candidate in a ok lab in Europe a bit less than a year ago. After a few months, the person realized that the current PhD project is not a good match for her (language barriers, communication problems, different work approach and pace from majority of the lab...).

After considering the situation, the person decided to apply for a few a different PhD projects in North and South America where the topics are a better fit, and where it is less likely to have language problems (the person found some open applications and researched them on her own time, while still working normally for her current position).

While finishing writing the applications and cover letters, a dilemma emerged about at which point should the person mention (if at all) the current involvement in a position as a PhD candidate? Fully aware that lying is not an option, the basic dilemma is weather to mention it in the cover letter or the first interview (if it comes to that). (The CV format required for most applications is such that the current PhD position is not readily apparent).

Basically, the questions would be:

  • whether to mention the current position as a PhD candidate in the cover letter / application, or at some later point in the process?

  • when mentioning the current position as a PhD candidate, how much detail about the current position (and reasons for looking for a new one in order to leave the current one) is the right amount of detail?

  • 2
    "PhD position" as being a candidate working towards a PhD degree? Or being a PhD working on a job that requires a PhD? Feb 6, 2014 at 14:22
  • 1
    @Penguin_Knight I suppose the former is meant.
    – gerrit
    Feb 6, 2014 at 15:32
  • @Penguin_Knight "PhD position" as "PhD student" or "PhD candidate". Sorry
    – penelope
    Feb 6, 2014 at 16:31
  • I can't imagine why it would be a good idea to not mention your current position. It's relevant experience. Is it because you might be seen as "jumping ship"?
    – Irwin
    Feb 6, 2014 at 21:46
  • @Irwin Exactly. Well, jumping ship, or starting a job you didn't finish / are giving up on. It's not looking for one position after another, it's about looking to stop the current PhD project and move to a different one.
    – penelope
    Feb 6, 2014 at 22:07

1 Answer 1


Just be forthcoming about the reasons why you're switching. If you have evidence that you have a track record of success (grades, publications, etc.) in your former PhD program, there is little reason to believe that mentioning this information will count against you. Even if you don't have a particularly "good" track record, it's important to be forthcoming about your experience nonetheless.

The key to a successful transfer into a different PhD program is how you justify changing programs. This falls more into the category of your personal statement, rather than your CV. If it is because you realized that you have stronger research interests in another field and wish to pursue research with a top professor in that field, then I don't think any institution would frown upon this regardless of your track record.

I'm not familiar with your track record, and I don't want to make any assumptions about you one way or another. Thus, I want to address one more key issue: If you are changing programs because to avoid "impending failure" at your previous PhD program, this will most likely be interpreted as "jumping ship" and institutions will not look highly upon this. If you happen to be failing in your PhD program, you need to do some introspection and ask yourself some tough questions. If a PhD is what I really want, why am I failing? The more open and forthcoming you are about these questions in your personal statement, the more strongly you can justify your reasons for pursuing a PhD in another institution.

  • Hey, nice answer. Just to clarify, there's no "impending failure": it is going average-to-good as far as productivity is concerned, it's just that the subject and the environment didn't quite match to expectations and interests. It's not that it's impossible to finish the PhD project up to the end (although currently the person is less than a year in to the program), just that it's in a slightly different field that what the person was doing before, and even tough the person taught the project would be enjoyable, it is just not.
    – penelope
    Feb 8, 2014 at 15:40

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