Soon I will be assigned to a project with industry partner X which will start in couple of months and is very loosely related to my major research interests. The project might not be very challenging and time-consuming, but it has close to zero contribution to my actual research, that is why I am not so keen working on it. Also, there is very little potential to get any publications (although unrelated to my topic) from there.

On the other hand, a new industry partner Y is approaching our group. This partner is willing to offer funding for multiple topics, and they work in the field 100% related to my research.

I fail to understand why the principal investigator would assign me to a project with X, while we were anticipating the collaboration with Y, and knowing that the X project will not be mutually beneficial. But, I guess the decision was made just because X approach first.

How can I communicate clearly and nicely to my PI that I would fancy working in project with Y, and make the point that it will be beneficial in terms of tangibles (more research output in an area of interest to PI, me and company Y) and intangibles (more motivation for me)?

I am sure all this is obvious to the PI, but the PI is probably note concerned about anything but the money.

  • By "I will be assigned to a project", does your PI mean you will actually be the one working on it, or does the PI mean the financial logs of the institute will say you were the one funded from the project? Commented Feb 16, 2016 at 23:16
  • 6
    "I prefer a different project."
    – JeffE
    Commented Feb 17, 2016 at 0:47
  • @O.R.Mapper both... Commented Feb 17, 2016 at 8:22

3 Answers 3


Directly and honestly. It's your job to champion your concerns, not your professor's. They might not have realized Y would be a better fit or have some thoughts about X you are not aware of.

Hey Prof. Awesome,

Do you have a few minutes to talk about the recent projects assignments? I'm much more interested in working with Y because of reasons. I also think it would be more beneficial to my research because reasons. Can I stop by sometime this week to discuss your thoughts on X and whether it would be possible for me to switch to Y?


Kristof Tak


Ok, here are my three main points on joining your desirable project and/or change your research area; during PhD and how to communicate with your supervisor about it:

  1. Fantasy or Realistic Expectation: So first we start with your ability. At the end of the day, the supervisor would like you to finish your PhD. So, first examine yourself if you have the enough ability to join the project/group or even new research area. For example, a supervisor might have robotic research going on, however the PhD student, do not have the background on that matter. He/she sees that "wow this is the perfect project for me to join in" but the fact of the matter is, the PhD student does not fit the group; and supervisor does not want you to have too much stress and fail at the end.

  2. Ask Students Involved and Then Supervisor: Supervisor guides. So first, I would suggest you to find any other PhD student that works in that area and see how things are holding up. If the student had a good progress, you can then approach the supervisor and let him know about changing your research.

  3. Don't Forget Your Supervisor Abilities: I see supervisors get the PhD student and have no idea about the research, the students want to work on. For example, there might be a professor in Computer Science, but he/she didn't touch the software testing in years; then, if the PhD student want to work on this, the supervision become a tricky thing and the PhD student cannot get too much out of it; and the supervisor is not that up to date.


Bring it up, courteously.

Be prepared for a blank stare, and being told that you are assigned to project X, or you can opt for the wide door.

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