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I am in a very rough situation. Non-US PhD program.

I already have a research MS from US. I came back to grad school a good time after my MS (I worked in industry and Academia in between for around 5+ years) because of my PhD supervisor. I knew the research area/prior work well before coming in, and my supervisor was quite knowledgeable in the area.

During my 2nd semester - I took a parental leave. The week after I came back - my supervisor died suddenly and unexpectedly - quite young for his age. Everyone was stunned and had difficulty processing it. I was working with a postdoc and my supervisor - and the postdoc was already scheduled to leave the week my supervisor died. So suddenly, I was faced with a new project I just came onboard, had very little documentation and support and no-one to turn to.

We were quickly assigned alternate supervisors by university and I focused my 3rd semester to deal with the supervisor death fallout (finding new supervisor, sorting out held up funding, understanding which project to work on). My new supervisor is a good one - same research area but different topic/thurst. Attended a course with him to understand if I would change research direction, but he advised me to try and work on the old project and stick to that area.

Honestly, I am struggling. Resources are scarce and not finding enough help or support, let alone the psychological fallout of the loss of supervisor.

If I decide to discard the last year and apply for another grad program this year - can death of PhD supervisor be considered as a valid reason to find a new PhD program? Do I talk about my situation in SOP? How would this be viewed? Am I likely to get support for this move from those in my current department?

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    I think this is a valid question but I almost lost the thread here. I am going to suggest an edit - feel free to reject.
    – Dawn
    Commented Oct 18, 2022 at 3:29
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    I pulled out the options because the key question we could answer is how this information would be best presented/strategy for moving. We can’t tell you which of those options would be best for you and your situation.
    – Dawn
    Commented Oct 18, 2022 at 3:33

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If I were on an Ph.D. admission committee and received an application from someone already enrolled in a Ph.D. program, I would want to know why the student wants to switch. Your story would make complete sense to me. The value of the Ph.D. is linked intimately to the status of the advisor and losing the advisor is a good motivation to look for someone better than the replacement provided by the institution. In your case, you would need to make clear who you would like to work with. You can try to identify possible advisors and contact them, relating that your motivation is the loss of your advisor. (They might not answer emails because they receive too much "admission spam" and your message is lost.) Alternatively, You can write a very clear letter of purpose and go through the normal application process. (This costs money and time.)

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    Yes. It is a perfectly valid reason to switch programs as there may be no one suitable at the current institution. Students switch programs successfully for a lot less essential reasons. And "assigned" supervisors are seldom the correct solution to such problems.
    – Buffy
    Commented Oct 18, 2022 at 12:26

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