I'm an international student. Last year, I got into a research programme and started working with a supervisor. I had a great relationship with this supervisor, and he encouraged me to pursue PhD studies in his lab. He helped a lot with my application and I got accepted with funding despite some personal challenges. I do like the university, the group, and the supervisor, so from this perspective, everything is great.

The problem is that I now realize I don't want to stay in this country for five more years. I've been here for several years already, have not managed to learn the language very well, and I'm always the "foreigner" in any situation. I wish I had thought about this last year, but I didn't.

I told the supervisor that I plan to decline the offer, but he is encouraging me to accept it. He has promised that I can master out after two years, or he'll support me transferring to another PhD program if I want to do that.

Is this a good plan? I am concerned that entering a PhD program and then leaving without a PhD will look bad. On the other hand, I don't have any other offers right now. And I'm worried about alienating my supervisor, who is well-known and whose recommendation later is important for me.

  • Please don't vandalize your post; now that people have taken the time to write answers, it is not fair to do this. On the other hand, if you are concerned about privacy, you are welcome to edit the post and remove some of the super-specific details; those are not necessary here. I've taken a stab at this for you.
    – cag51
    Oct 28, 2022 at 13:42

4 Answers 4


The expectation will be different for different countries. I am studying at an European university, and my supervisor has no problem with me applying to other universities after graduation. I always told him about my future plan.

There are also some places where supervisors will "force" students to do M.Sc and PhD at the same university under their supervision. I am strongly against this idea, but for this aspect, I think you know better than anyone else here as it is culturally-dependent, or if you don't know, you should specify the country here.

I cannot imagine myself doing Bachelor, Master, PhD at the same university for many years, but that is just my personal opinion. I know many excellent professors who studied at the same university for 10 years, and later became faculty there. Clearly, there is no right or wrong answer. For some places, students are encouraged to go to other universities for graduate study for a different perspective, and I think it is a good idea.

However, I also believe we can not always get what we want. Sometimes, we are given a good opportunity, and we should take it. Your life, my life will not stop after getting PhD, but there will be other opportunities as well. PhD is a great challenge. It will not get easier if you transfer to other places. You have to do the risk-benefit calculation yourself carefully. Either you choose to stay or you choose to move, you will somehow regret that.

But, no matter what anyone else tells you, your mental health, your happiness are important things that no academic achievement or grade can compensate. If you still think this place is not for you (mentally), you really should leave. You should spend some time for yourself to rest after making the decision. It will refresh your mind, helping you have a better perspective for the next application.


As cliché as this sounds, you need to do what is best for you and out of respect for S and their funding, research group and university you need to make this decision soon and final.

The worst thing you could do is go there half-hearted and not live up to the funding and universities expectations from a funded PhD project. They would desire, although maybe not expect, a return on their investment in you. If you do not think you can give them that through genuine and legitimate reasons about the culture, language and city then the best thing you could do is give them (and you) certainty.

Accepting and doing a masters over two years would just lead to, "well you've invested two years, why not another two?" and that argument is really persuasive, it sinks many a gambler!.

Do what you think is the best for you, let the correct people know this as soon as possible so they can advertise the position, reallocate places or funding etc. and set in motion what they need to do.


Given all the informations you gave, you are a very important pawn in the dynamics of the group, probably it has to do also with the fundings for your professor (there must be some blockage of the fundings for the project to starts only when PhD position is filled, therefore your professor is pressuring you) and your contribution in the groups (you are probably downplaying your contributions), too.

First: your mental health is of uttermost importance.

Second: is not unheard of people working fully remote, even in the academia, even before Covid.

As a recent graduate, I assume money is an issue and you cannot stay out of work for more than 3 months. Therefore, I see the choice between being unemployed, broken and depressed, or employed, less broken and depressed (but I may be wrong).

I suggest you to accept the position, you already made very clear to your professor you want to leave, or better, that you want to live somewhere else, you are accepting their terms, but they are also accepting your terms.

You have a lot of bartering power on your side, you may find an agreement in moving to another institution (anywhere in the world, as a visiting researcher) while at the same time being formally affiliated at the current university.

It may not be that the professor is willing to do that, but if you come up with a reasonable plan (i.e. finding a supervisor at the foreign uni, scheduling in-person meeting 7 to 8 times per year with your current group) you may have green light.

If, on the other hand, you can stay without work for 3-6 months, take the opportunity, it is a great opportunity to "take a break" and the older you get the more difficult it will be.


Your topline question is very general. But the answer to that is actually irrelevant to your case. What is common isn't universal and the only situation that matters is yours.

But, my best guess is that you are overthinking it. Yes, you can probably transfer, but it seems to me like jumping into the abyss. You say you are the "foreigner" always and haven't mastered the language, but you seem to have done well enough to have impressed your advisor to the point that they are strongly advocating for your continuation. I don't think that is rare, but I do think that it is a very important consideration. Many questions here on this site are about conflicts with advisors. I don't guess that you will find a more supportive advisor if you move.

If you do stay, your language skills will likely improve and you will probably "fit" better into the local culture than you feel you do now.

I wouldn't suggest throwing away what you have unless you can first find a better situation elsewhere. I don't think that will be easy.

However, I also think that it is likely that the supervisor would actually give you a strong recommendation. Their opinion of you sounds, from what you write, as very positive.

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