I joined a PhD program last fall with the idea of working with a particular Professor. This Professor requires their students to pass his research seminar first to do research with him. I enrolled in that seminar, but did bad in the first homework assignment which is given during the first week of classes. The Professor didn't give me permission to continue in his seminar, but told me that I could take it again next Fall and that if I do well he would be happy to take me as his student.

Because of the requirements of my PhD program I have to start doing research this Summer and next Fall. This means that I have to look for an alternative advisor to start doing research with. I've been contacting other faculty of interest. Some cannot take me as their student and others haven't replied yet. There are other three other Professors that I can still contact but I think I don't have the technical tools yet required to working with them (it could take me a while to catch up). So my two question are

  1. How should I approch these Professors whose research I find interesting, but feel that don't have the technical tools yet to completely understand their papers?
  2. Is it a good idea to just planning to find a temporary advisor for two semesters (to comply with the program requirements) to then change to the advisor I'm interested in working with?

1 Answer 1


NOTE: I'm assuming you're in the U.S. due to being able to switch advisors. Specifying a country will help.

New PhD students are not expected to completely understand papers they read at the beginning. Learning to read papers takes works - it's part of getting a PhD.

As for how to find professors to work with. Have you contacted every professor in your department except 3? More details here would be better, but here's some general advice on finding funding.

  1. Which classes are you enjoying most? Talk with those professors after class and see if they can fund you or might know someone who can.

  2. Don't be afraid to work with new professors.

  3. Talk with other grad students and see who has availability on a project. If it sounds interesting, see if they can fund you.

In general, don't send "scatter-shot" emails to professors. They get hundreds of emails a day. Do research and approach a few professors that you feel you'd work well with.

Consider picking another advisor permanently

Your first professor is unwilling to help you improve your skills because you failed his seminar. That's a red flag. Find someone who will help you improve.

Advisors can only advise so many PhD students. It sounds like you were taken out of the running early on with the first professor. You may need to accept you may not be a good fit for the particular professor. That's ok.

Having a good advisor who will go the extra mile to help you can be the difference between a great experience and dropping out.

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