UPDATE: Lost funding and leaving the program. I continued my search and tried to establish contact with around 10 faculty of interest. Most did not even reply to my emails. Contacted gradutate coordinator and could only receive a rejection response after then. At the end of the semester they stopped my funding. To be frank, they did not even tell me that they will discontinue my funding. I heard from friends that they received TA offers. Emalied ask for my funding status to get a reply.

All in all, I realize that this was the best thing for me, as I got rid of that toxic, unresponsive, unsupportive and uncollaborative environment. Program expects me to find an advisor, but how could I get one if I doomed to failure from the day one. It was a mistake to go there. (I dont remember my Acad SE username, thats why updated anon).

I am an international PhD student at a top 50 computer science department in the United States. Due to COVID, I had to start in Spring which was a tough time for everyone. So I thought that the situation might change in Fall. Since then I have been trying to find a PhD advisor, but I can't seem to succeed on this. I have tried to reach a wide range of professors (related to my research interests) in order not to leave any stone unturned. Probably, I contacted around 10-15 professors. Some never replied after multiple emails with a range of more than a month or so between them. Some said they were out-of-capacity. Some were always asking to be convinced, while continuously accepting other students to their lab. Some say that they don't know me. Some vaguely mentioned if an opportunity arises in the "future", but also recommended me to check with other faculty. Here they used the exact word "future" without any certain dates etc.

My GPA in the program is 4.0 and I already have some publications from my Master's in my country. Master students with much lesser qualifications than mine get research assistantships, while I can't even find an advisor. I don't have the network of researchers known to faculty which might be a reason for them to be uninterested. My country is not as developed in research as countries such as India or China with lots of international connections.

I need to find an advisor ASAP because I might get unsatisfactory progress and lose funding. To be frank, I have totally lost my hope in finding some suitable advisor. I don't even mention funding issues and having to serve as a teaching assistant during all of the PhD.

My question is should I leave the program after this semester without wasting more time and energy and getting stuck in the end? Also, if I apply to other PhD programs in the US, will I be perceived badly by the programs, since I could not get an advisor in my current institution? How are students applying from other universities considered? Another option is completely forgetting about getting a PhD.

  • 4
    Isn’t there a Ph.D. program supervisor/director? If yes, sit down with and talk to them about your situation first. If you are admitted and in good standing (everything you share seems to indicate you are), the program wants you to succeed or you wouldn’t have been admitted. If no, talk to a professor you got along with in course work. Are you even out of course work yet (my experience with CS is limited)? Sep 23, 2021 at 23:30
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    Amongst the possible reasons for disinterest is: your topic; your existing publication record (yes, publications may not be at the quality the advisor expects and may turn off potential advisors). Was there any indication you picked a problematic topic/interest? Sep 23, 2021 at 23:48
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    As @CaptainEmacs asks, have you strongly limited yourself, ahead of time, to certain topics? If so, it is easily possible that there are no faculty much interested in those topics, or, in fact, might consider them misguided... Sep 24, 2021 at 0:40
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    "Some were always asking to be convinced" -- did you try hard to convince them? A student who desperately needs an advisor but doesn't seem particularly interested in the group's work will always lose out to students who are very keen on the group's work.
    – cag51
    Sep 24, 2021 at 2:06
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    Well, what I am trying to figure out is whether you already made your very best effort toward convincing them. If you really tried hard to convince them and they are still not sure, that's one situation. If you asked, they said maybe, and that was the end of it....that is a different situation.
    – cag51
    Sep 24, 2021 at 2:28

2 Answers 2


I doubt that switching schools will do you a lot of good. You will find the same issues at that new place. Instead, I'd recommend that you (a) think long term and (b) get flexible.

Talk to some prof who you think would be good to work with and who hasn't already indicated they won't take any student and ask them if they have a suitable project for your dissertation.

No, it isn't exactly what you want, but it is a way to burst through. Better if it is aligned with your main interest than otherwise, but you can, if you finish the degree, return to any thread of research that interests you at some later point. It may take a while of course, but it is possible.

Insisting on a particular research direction, with no known support, is costing you.

I think you are in the dilemma of letting the perfect be the enemy of the good. There are a lot of "interesting" problems out there. But you need an advisor who is also "interested" in working with you.

At the very least, switching will cost you time and might leave you in an even worse situation.

  • I don't think the issue is about the topic. What I noticed is that most profs mostly recruit from overseas via their personal network. So, they already have students lined up. I don't think they will take me even if I choose their topic.
    – abigail
    Sep 24, 2021 at 1:41
  • I can't do a PhD for the sake of doing a PhD. As I said, I have already cast a wide net.
    – abigail
    Sep 24, 2021 at 1:53

Let me extrapolate: you have no one that can vouch for you, so you are casting your net wide. You are trying to contact big names, full professors and the like, without any connections to them.

That approach is bound to fail. They are too busy, they receive too many emails, they can spend 2 minutes on you, if your needs do not align perfectly with their needs in those 2 minutes, you are ignored.

Start small. Contact assistant professor, academic involved in opensource projects related to the tools you would use for your topic, get in touch even with other PhDs and Post-Docs ... and from there try to build your little network.

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