I am a PhD student in Germany and my supervisor has suggested me to change the research group because he has told me I cannot write a good quality dissertation within the time framework of three years. He assumes that the maximum possible time for doing the PhD is three years and this time framework cannot be extended.

Now I want to talk with him face to face, but I don't know what to say. Has anyone had a similar experience? Should I fight to keeping this position or I should find another position in another university?

edit 1: I personally prefer to leave the group because I never felt I'm part of the research group even after one semester. I didn't get that feeling even from my supervisor.

  • 3
    It is not clear wheather you want to stay in the team or not. I would also suggest to add your exact intentions regarding the same.
    – Sathyam
    Apr 10, 2016 at 9:38
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    Independently of whether you feel or feel not able to handle the material, this is a red flag. If you stay, be aware that the supervisor is not going to invest time in you, as you stay against his express recommendation. Find another group to work in, or you will most likely have a miserable time, and 3 years of misery, possibly without anything to show for it, is something that one would expect from a prison sentence, not a PhD. Unless you have enormous talent, indomitable self-confidence and an elephant skin. But then, would you have asked us this question? Apr 10, 2016 at 10:31
  • 1
    The three years can always be extended, but possibly not the money. How are you paid? The professor would have to finance you out of his spare budget, which he probably doesn't have or has planned for otherwise.
    – Karl
    Apr 10, 2016 at 12:54
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    You want to talk but don't know what to say? Why do you want to talk in the first place?
    – Dirk
    Apr 10, 2016 at 18:54
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    @Anon with so little time you are getting next to no supervision at all, there is no point in continuing with that group.
    – Davidmh
    Apr 13, 2016 at 13:48

3 Answers 3


This adviser is doing you a favor. He is telling you at the very early stage of your PhD that you're not cut for it according to his standards. That sounds harsh and that's why I think the funding argument is merely a diplomatic excuse.

Imagine if he had told you the same thing after 2.5 years, or failed you at the defense (if that still happens).

I have no ways of knowing whether he is right or wrong, but that is irrelevant anyway: he doesn't want you to get a PhD under his supervision, hence you won't get it. Your only viable option is to leave.

For your discussion, ask more details about what you could improve, or what other path he would suggest for you. He is in no way obligated to answer but it might be helpful to you. Based on what he tells you, you might get an idea of what can be next for you: switching group, taking additional education, switching field of research, looking for opportunities outside academia, etc. That is not something we can help with without knowing you and your work.


Should I fight to keeping this position or I should find another position in another university?

Ask yourself the simple questions.

  • Fight for what?
  • Will I fight for this?
  • Are my chances to achieve what I need enough for the estimated efforts?

You should find a balance between two fundamental edges. Withdrawing from troubles becomes a very bad habit, nobody should feed it. Even so, reasonable step aside is a wise move. Problem in using this dilemma is measuring the price and prize while you haven't such experience and saw only vague probabilities.

Has anyone had a similar experience?

Probably, nobody had the identical situation with the same people for sharing a solution with you. I'd leave one job because it's become unpleasant because some direct hired manager's doings, and I didn't see enough growing potential there. However, It wasn't a hard choice. I'd ripen to move towards harder and well paid projects.

As you write it, such direct recommendation is almost a silent firing, looks like nothing to seek there. But you can still try to obtain some time, recommendations for moving and information about your next workplace.


Here is what a good supervisor should do:

  • Before hiring you, evaluate your qualifications and abilities in a diligent way.

  • Once he has hired you, take a certain responsibility for your professional developement, and provide you with his (hopefully prudent) advice, in particular in times of troubles and doubt.

  • If you fall short of his expectations, tell you in a non-threatening way and look, together with you, for solutions.

As your advisor seems to do none of this, my advice is to run as quick as you can from his research group and look for another position.

  • 1
    That may or may not be good advice but I don't see how it answers the question. Apr 13, 2016 at 15:14
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    Why not? My answer is: @Anon should find another position in another university, because he/she should not waste time with a bad/hostile supervisor.
    – MKR
    Apr 13, 2016 at 15:27
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    About three-quarters of your answer focuses on what advisors should do, not about what the asker should do. Apr 13, 2016 at 16:12

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