I'm a Ph. D student. I have been fortunate to have an extremely supportive advisor against whom I have only positives and literally no complaints so far. She offers me sound technical guidance, almost always available, refines my problems, never rude, given me several weeks off when I had some personal family emergencies, and of course, helps me get my work published.

My advisor collaborates with a Co-PI from another university (for a couple of projects) who is a few years senior to her. The Co-PI is from a premier high-ranking university, has stellar track record of publications, co-founded manufacturing startups, and is an overall rock star of sorts. Co-PI has several industry connections. I have had few brief interactions with Co-PI, but never worked with him in the projects that my advisor collaborates with.

As I plan to get into industry after I graduate, I would like to further my association with Co-PI in the hopes that : 1. I could get letters of recommendation from him 2. Get contacts in the industry for internships/full-time jobs. 3. Get a peek into how research is done as competitive high-ranking universities.

My concern is, if it would be taken negatively by my advisor if I express my interest to work with Co-PI for a summer/semester. I do not want my advisor to think - "So my student thinks I am not good enough", which is certainly the farthest from the truth. Any advice on how best to discuss the subject with my advisor without complicating things would be helpful. Or if at all its a good idea to work on a different lab for a brief period.

  • It looks sensible what you want to do, and normally it should be understood and even supported by your supervisor. But then human beings are strange animals and we can't know what kind of person she is, which in the first place will determine how she will take this. Nov 26, 2022 at 11:01
  • This somewhat depends on the academic culture of the country you are currently doing your PhD in....and may also depend on the funding source. Perhaps you may want to add some level of detail here?
    – DCTLib
    Nov 26, 2022 at 12:21
  • @DCTLib I am in the US. I do not have exact details on the funding source, except that is through some grants secured by my advisor.
    – Neb Uzer
    Nov 26, 2022 at 18:41

3 Answers 3


My concern is, if it would be taken negatively by my advisor if I express my interest to work with Co-PI for a summer/semester

This seems like a bit of an X-Y Problem. The real problem (X) is broadening your network, since you'll need more than one letter of recommendation when you graduate. Your solution (Y) is to work with this co-PI. But by only broaching Y with your advisor, the conversation may indeed go in an undesirable direction.

Instead, be clear about the problem you are trying to solve. It's perfectly fine to also suggest Y as one possible path forward. But this minimizes the chances of a misunderstanding, and if Y is actually a bad idea for some reason, your advisor may be able to suggest an alternative path.


I do not think this would be a problem overall.

Express your interest in building up your CV for the industry and listen to what she has to say. If you have already zeroed in on the co-PI, you might open with that.

She is great for your PhD, but not as great for some of your future goals, she does not have to feel bad for it and you do not have to be sorry. You get help from her, she gets an industry connection with a cordial relationship and the knowledge she has immensely helped someone on their path in life. All is well.

That said, there is one part in this post that seems to be bothering you and which sounds potentially capable of causing trouble. Specifically, your third point makes it sound like your current research is not "competitive", which is not a great point to make. I would not bring this bit up. Or at least try to reformulate it.

While we appreciate an "overall rock star" as someone obviously doing a lot for the society, the ability to be one is heavily personality-dependent. The history knows stellar researchers who have changed the science forever with a few dozen theorems to their name, and those who did just a couple of really really important things. One is not better than the other; you might indeed want to discover which pace and style of work suits you better. But this is just exposure to different work processes, unless you have something very specific in mind (e.g. "I spend weeks on setting up the working environment for each new experiment and want to see how they do it; clearly, it takes much less effort for them").

Importantly, the statement you want to make is about you, not your advisor. Take caution to not impose potentially incompatible values on her, especially given you are not too sure about them yourself. Be sure to make it clear how everything you bring up is relevant to your future career. And consider asking an open-ended question instead of putting her on the spot with a yes/no question. This I consider to be a more general advice: you get more cooperation and opportunities from people if you let them express themselves instead of asking them to comply with the plans you made up already.


Or if at all its a good idea to work on a different lab for a brief period.

Generally speaking, it is a good idea to work in different labs if possible. You get to know smart people and their approach to solving problems, you learn new techniques or analytical skills, other people get to know you and your approach to solving problems, etc. So it only makes sense to work in a different lab if there will be a realistic chance that indeed there will be sufficient opportunity to benefit from each other. The visit to the other lab must therefore not be too short. What is a good timeframe for the visit very much depends on what exactly you want to achieve in the other lab. I recommend that you think about that first and write it down so that you have some sort of plan which defines what you want to do when, how long each step takes, possible alternative routes when things go slightly wrong, etc. If you have no specific idea about what you want to do, how do you want to convince the Co-PI to accept you as a visiting researcher?

Any advice on how best to discuss the subject with my advisor without complicating things would be helpful.

One approach would be to use your plan to point out how everybody will benefit from your visit to the other lab. This will be useful in discussions both with your advisor and the Co-PI. Is there a fancy technique that you could learn and import into your advisor's lab, or vice versa? Would it be possible to collect data in the other lab that you could not collect in your home lab? Things like that. Your advisor might be more inclined to agree if she also sees how she would benefit. Maybe you could discuss a roadmap how you could make it likely that a joint publication will result.

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