I am a PhD student in computer science. My advisor is a Professor in another department and complains that computer science has a poor culture, where people publish lots of rubbish papers instead of a few good ones. My advisor prefers to publish in journal papers rather than conferences, and when my papers have been accepted to (good) conferences didn't want to come to the conferences with me. My advisor has published in computer science conferences in the past but now he seems to have little interest in CS or the CS community.

I am worried that I will not be able to have a career in computer science under these circumstances. What should I do?

  • 76
    Seems that there's a pretty clear solution: change advisors. Commented Apr 20, 2016 at 16:28
  • 21
    I wonder why did you pick this advisor in the first place... Commented Apr 20, 2016 at 17:07
  • 44
    For the record, I think it's common for supervisors not to accompany you to conferences (unless they were going anyway). I certainly went to all conferences by myself during my PhD (in CS). Commented Apr 20, 2016 at 17:56
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    The idea of having an advisor in a different department seems both strange and unhelpful (unless they're a second advisor of some sort). They're not well placed to deal with it if yo're having difficulties, even if they don't have the conflict of interest you seem to be dealing with.
    – Chris H
    Commented Apr 21, 2016 at 8:00
  • 6
    Aren't there any advisors in the department you actually are in? Commented Apr 21, 2016 at 9:03

8 Answers 8


My question to you is why would you have non-computer science advisor if you are in the computer science field? That being said, you should change your advisor

  • One of the professors in the computer science department told me I should work with this guy, and I trusted him without looking too much into my advisor's motivations. His previous papers had some computer science content so I kind of assumed he liked CS. But now I think he wants to stop doing it.
    – user52813
    Commented Apr 20, 2016 at 17:08
  • 6
    @user52813, Dude, just switch advisors. Commented Apr 20, 2016 at 23:42
  • 38
    @user52813 You need to take a lot more control of your situation. "Someone said I should work with this guy" is not sufficient grounds to pick an advisor for your PhD. Commented Apr 21, 2016 at 6:07
  • @ChrisHayes Yeah I guess I was just used to having people tell me what to do. It's made grad school kind of hard for me because people expect me to know what I'm doing.
    – user52813
    Commented Apr 21, 2016 at 19:43
  • Time to adapt and learn from the experience. Commented Jan 5 at 17:44

Speak with your supervisor about his long-term goals, and yours. If you want to do hard computer science and he wants to do X, then you need to find a solution. If he's moving away from computer science, but you would be interested in studying the intersection between computer science and X, then you can probably work something out. But you each need to be aware you the other's interests and of your own.

Note that it's quite common for Computer Science PhDs to straddle two fields. Combining Computer Science with another subject almost always yields interesting research. The people in field X are happy to have someone around who understands computers, and this usually creates new questions, and new opportunities.

The downside is that you have to deal with the conventions of two fields. Do you publish in journals for field X, or in Computer Science conferences? If you have co-authors from field X, what will they think of our strange CS habits? This is all part of the challenge of PhD work, and in the end you will come out with an understanding of two fields. But you have to know whether you care about field X beforehand.

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    I cannot stress enough how tricky this interplay between two fields can be. If your advisor doesn't understand, and respect, these differences, as happened to me, you are in for a bad bad time. Because if you keep him happy, you decimate your chances of getting CS jobs and vice versa. Commented Apr 20, 2016 at 19:03
  • While I agree that inter-disciplinary research is interesting and common within CS, that doesn't necessarily mean your advisor should be from the other field. Even when your research involves multiple fields, it's probably still best for your primary advisor to be in your own field in the majority of circumstances, though you might have someone from the other field on your graduate committee.
    – reirab
    Commented Apr 21, 2016 at 18:05

Well there was this guy, A, saying that B's field is on the way out. Turned out, it was the other way round. B's field is now big, A's field is on the way out. (True story)

Whatever the case: do not take a supervisor that does not want to supervise the field you work in. I repeat. Do not take a supervisor that does not want to supervise the field you work in. Either change field or change supervisor. Everything else is a waste of his/her and your time.


In brief: find a different advisor. If this is difficult, then your department should have a “Director of Graduate Studies”, or some similar title, and they should be able to help you.

Your situation as you describe it sounds odd in several ways. The only reasons I’ve heard of for having an advisor in a different department are if you really want to work with that advisor, or at least in their field. But it sounds like that’s definitely not the case here! So it’s not clear that there’s any good reason for you to be working with this external advisor, rather than someone in your department.

You mention in comments that one potential advisor in your department has previously rejected you. If it was only one, then there should be others to ask, reasonably close to your areas of interest; hopefully, one of them would be happy to take you on.

If you find that multiple faculty members in your department are unwilling to work with you, then the situation is more difficult. There could be many different reasons — perhaps your department has too many PhD students at the moment, so faculty are over-stretched; or possibly the potential advisors feel that your work is not as promising as it should be. But in either case, the director of your department’s graduate programme should be able to help understand and resolve the situation — part of their job is ensuring that no student ends up without a suitable advisor.

  • +1 While it's undesirable, if they can't find an advisor in their own department, it might be time for the student to start looking at other schools.
    – reirab
    Commented Apr 21, 2016 at 18:08

Another resource to go to is the director of the graduate program. Depending on how advanced you are into your Ph.D. program, he/she may negotiate some kind of agreement. I remember a case when a Ph.D. student was being neglected by her advisor. I recommended her to get the graduate director to apply some pressure to the advisor, and it worked (she was pretty close to finishing though).


A brief answer (in disagreement to other answers): Your advisor has the right to hold any belief he or she wishes to. It's completely legitimate to criticize CS or any other scientific culture. I didn't see in your post anything that actually harms your PhD, or your chances for academic success. So I don't see a real problem here: just continue to do good job and believe in your work.

There are a lot of great scientists with "negative attitudes", on the surface. It does not mean that they are not going to help you, or even be a very good supervisor to you.

  • 3
    Criticizing CS is one thing, and I agree it's not inherently a problem. But the OP also says the advisor has "little interest" in CS. If that's true, it seems that it will seriously hinder his effectiveness as an advisor to a student working in CS. Commented Apr 21, 2016 at 20:02
  1. Do the due diligence you should have done with your advisor to begin with.
  2. Get a different advisor.
  3. Work to develop your communication skills so you don’t end up with another similarly unsuited advisor.

Up front, clear communication can avoid these issues in the future. Good luck.


Find someone who is willing to mentor you in the ways of Computer Science.

Life to short to waste on people with negative attitudes toward your field.

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