My advisor can work on DoD funded project but not at the level of requiring security clearance.

I want to move into working on Applied research in sensitive areas which means any one with direct ties to foreign nationals is banned. I'm also considering leaving my PhD position to work as a civilian contractor and do a PhD part time as it's way more money.

What's the best way to talk about this issue and potentially gracefully leave?

  • Are you in the US? If so, it is certainly an exaggeration to say that you would be denied a clearance (even a higher level one) because your thesis advisor was a foreign national. As for how to talk to your advisor about switching to part-time, it seems like a special case of How should I phrase an important question that I need to ask a professor?
    – cag51
    Jul 3, 2021 at 5:13
  • US. The restricted projects within the university foreign nationals cannot be involved in, in any way. They can't even be acknowledged(formally). This means if I wanted to work on them I would need a different advisor. Additionally if I chose to work as a civilian contractor and continue the PhD part time I would be prevented from integrating my work into PhD involving said advisor. I suspect they would want me to end the relationship completely since he still has ties to PRC university. Jul 3, 2021 at 5:21
  • Oh, you meant banned from the project, not banned from your life. Got it :-)
    – cag51
    Jul 3, 2021 at 5:40
  • 1
    Not quite the same, Jul 3, 2021 at 5:55

1 Answer 1


You seem to have two options. I don't think that leaving your current advisor "gracefully" is an issue. If you want to work on something that they can't be involved with then just tell them that you have to find a different advisor. They will understand that much, at least.

But you have another option, I'd guess, which is to switch to more "sensitive" projects after earning your degree. There is no particular need that I can see to do it immediately if you can build some credibility with your current advisor on working DoD projects. You aren't defined for life by what you do for your dissertation.

So, if you are compelled to do this now, just find someone who can advise you and tell the current advisor why. But think long term about all your options, not just one.

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