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TL; DR: I want to switch my supervisor that I confirmed with before beginning my neuroscience PhD in September. I'm officially accepted into the program under this supervisor, signed the letter of intent and everything. But Ive been working with this supervisor for 6 months now and I really don't enjoy the research, and want to switch to a supervisor whose research I enjoy.

I tried researching this but to no avail - I am to begin my PhD in Neuroscience this fall (September 2023) with a supervisor that I got a chance to work with as a research tech starting this January 2023. I initially got my Masters in the Learning and Memory field, doing systems level (circuits) neuroscience, and as I was sending in applications to grad schools for PhD, a professor read my initial application and reached out to me and asked if I was interested in doing research with him. Initially, I thought this was great! A PI reaching out to me is huge! The only caveat was this lab was more of a genetics/neurodevelopment lab, looking at sensory systems at almost the molecular level. Initially I was very interested, and theoretically I still am, in the concepts and ideas of how our nervous system develops (my reason to even do grad school in neuro was to understand how we as humans become who we are, philosophy based). I figured it is a natural trajectory to delve deeper into the field of neuroscience. As I was initially applying for the September 2023 start time, this PI offered me a temporary paid research assistant position from January to September (there was an unfinished project he had no one to finish up), and then I'd officially begin my PhD and my own project in the fall. It's been 6 months now into this lab, I've attended lots of talks, have done a lot of work, and I'm understanding that I really don't enjoy this level of work. I'm not even enjoying the talks and conferences as much as I loved the learning and memory related talks and conferences from my masters.

So essentially, my question is, does anyone have any experience of switching supervisors after being accepted to a PhD program with a supervisor, BEFORE even officially beginning the program? I found a few professors in the same university who are looking for PhD students, for which I reaaaallyy enjoy the research (back to the learning and memory field). Any advice at all would be really helpful, I feel kind of stuck, but if I can switch my supervisor before beginning the program, would that be an issue? I don't quite know how to navigate this scenario, and I tried googling it many, many times, but there isn't an answer for this specific scenario. I am almost afraid I'd be released from the program itself switching so early on (maybe they think I'm indecisive). Should I contact my prospective supervisor first and see if he'd even accept me? So as to not lose my current spot? This is in North America by the way.

Thank you so much ahead of time!!

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  • Is there something like a PhD tutor at the institution? That would be the right person to talk to regarding the formalities, whether this is a standard thing there with standard procedures etc.. Jul 8, 2023 at 23:04

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This is ok to do, but make sure that you secure a new advisor before you quit the current one! Many programs require you to have an advisor, and if you don't have one, they might assign you a placeholder advisor that is not engaged in research. Or you might end up with a worse advisor and a broken relationship with your current one.

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PhD is a long term commitment and will essentially decide your journey. I would recommend that if you don’t like to do PhD in a certain area and would like to switch to another area that’s a good enough reason to switch. Just come out clean with your advisor. Most faculty is pretty understanding that you would like to pursue some other area. You can also go and meet with the faculty you are interested in and just have the first meeting set up to get better understanding about their group. I think this happen often in academia and a simple talk with both the faculty would be an easy solution.

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