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My supervisor is going to leave to work at another university before I finish my thesis. I'm not sure how this process works. Will this cause problems with me graduating?

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    Your supervisor should be willing to help you facilitate the change to another person in the department, possibly his replacement, or another staff member who is already established.
    – Compass
    Jun 25, 2015 at 15:40
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    ... or finish supervising you from the new place. In any case, he should have an idea how to transition his current students.
    – xLeitix
    Jun 25, 2015 at 15:44
  • @Compass there's is no one in my department whose research is even close to my supervisor's area.
    – user119264
    Jun 25, 2015 at 15:49
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    @user119264 That depends on the rules of your university, of course.
    – xLeitix
    Jun 25, 2015 at 17:29
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    And how did your supervisor answer this question?
    – JeffE
    Jun 25, 2015 at 22:24

2 Answers 2

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This is a fairly common situation, but there are lots of ways in which it can be handled. A lot depends on the specifics of your situation and how well your advisor and your current department are getting along.

One important issue is the source of your funding. If you're currently funded by your advsior's research grant, and that grant is moving with your advisor to the new institution, then it is may not be possible for you to continue being funded through that grant as a research assistant at your current university but it might be possible to continue with that funding at your advisor's new institution.

On the other hand, if you're currently funded by institutional or departmental sources such as a departmental teaching assistantship, you might be able to keep that funding where you are but it would not be possible to take it to your advisor's new institution. However, it might be possible for you to obtain some kind of institutional or departmental funding at your advisor's new institution.

There are three common ways in which this handled:

  1. The student continues at the advisor's old institution and the old institution allows the advisor to continue to supervise the student as an adjunct faculty member of the old institution. The student ultimately completes the degree at the old institution. This works best if the student is close to completion and has funding that is independent of the advisor's grants.

  2. The student transfers to the advisor's new university and completes the degree at the new university. This typically works well if the student is supported by the advisor's research grant and if the student is not very far along in the graduate program. The new university would have to agree to accept the student into their graduate program. The new university may have different course requirements and the student might have to repeat prelim exams or a candidacy exam. Foreign students would have to get a new student visa.

  3. The student remains where they are and switches to a new advisor. This works best for students who have departmental or institutional funding and aren't very far along in the graduate program.

You should talk to your advisor about how he or she wants to handle this, and you should also talk to your department chair or the head of the graduate program to get the department's position. You'll also have to think about what you want- what's best for you may not be what your advisor or department wants.

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  • Funding is not really an issue since my research is in mathematics. My funding comes from being an adjunct tutor/teaching assistant. I think the first option would be best for me. Because I'm almost finished and the research I do is wholly unique my supervisor. Besides, the new university he is transferring to is across the world and wholly inconvenient for me as well.
    – user119264
    Jun 25, 2015 at 16:03
  • Is it possible to mix options 1 and 2, where you add a co-advisor at your current institution but continue working with your original advisor remotely?
    – Roger Fan
    Jun 25, 2015 at 16:08
  • @RogerFan yes, that might be an option. Jun 25, 2015 at 18:13
  • Transferring from one program to another doesn't necessarily require a new visa; it requires a transfer of the SEVIS record to the new institute and a new I-20 form for the student
    – Drecate
    Jun 25, 2015 at 18:51
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    @Drecate yes, that's a more specific answer. The point is that this isn't a completely trivial process and it could delay a student. Jun 25, 2015 at 19:57
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Will this cause problems with me graduating?

First, I recommend to discuss with your supervisor how their departure might affect you.

Things to bring up:

  • Whether s/he can (and is willing to) continue supervising you after transferring to another institution.

  • The process for identifying replacement supervisor: Whose responsibility is this, and will your supervisor assist in some way? Can they recommend one or two colleagues they think would be a good fit for you and interested in your thesis topic or research area?

  • Potential difficulties you or the supervisor anticipate that could increase your time to graduation, and steps you could take to prevent such issues.

The answer to your question also depends on some of the following:

  • How far along you are in the program and into your thesis, and whether the new supervisor is receptive to the work you have done already

Note: This assumes current supervisor is unable to continue playing this role from another institution. This may not be the case, but some programs require that the committee chair/supervisor be a member of the same department.

  • Whether the new supervisor will be receptive to your thesis ideas, methods you have or plan to use (work done so far), or if they have some concerns that would involve re-work.

  • Personality fit with new supervisor: This is an important factor. Think about people with whom you had or can easily imagine having some conflict or communication difficulties, and try to avoid getting them assigned as your new supervisor.

Instead, think of who you see yourself working well with in terms of their work ethics/supervisor style, e.g. would they micromanage you or expect perfection, will that benefit or impede your progress, etc.

Lastly, I encourage you to think beyond graduation itself. The supervisor can be a key resource for furthering your career upon graduation. If you are in Master's program, their connections can decide your fate in terms of where you end up for your PhD, should you choose to go for doctoral study. If you are already in PhD program, their connections and your relationship with them could play an important role in securing a job after graduation (perhaps even one of your top choices). So I encourage you to think a little longer-term and consider how that person can contribute to your professional development not just to the extent of graduating but becoming a potential mentor for years to come. Good luck!

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