I am currently enrolled in a PhD programme in a north American university and I am considering quitting my current PhD and applying for a PhD in another institution.

The reasons for me doing this are:

  1. My advisor (Who is excellent in his research area) has very little knowledge in my research topic and avoids technical discussions with me in the group meeting because of this.
  2. Assigned me multiple time-consuming projects. One of the projects is just performing measurements for a company from which he is getting funding. The measurements are time-consuming and the results are not publishable and will not be part of my thesis. Our group is heavily understaffed.
  3. When I mentioned that this project is not a research project and is more of a job and does not interest me, my advisor used my stipend as a leverage to make me continue working on it and that the project brings funds to the group. This was not in my "Research" PhD admission offer. This makes me feel like a cheap labour rather than a researcher which I do not accept.
  4. Asked me to write journal and conference papers with a very little contribution. For my advisor, quantity matters more than quality.
  5. My advisor is not open minded to any ideas I come up with. Forces me to work in a direction that I think will lead to project failure. It takes me months to convince him that the ideas are not valid and do not achieve what is required, and when I make my point clear eventually he still wants me to work on that because he promised funding agencies to pursue that direction. This resulted in more than one heated discussion with my advisor. I also found that some claims in the previous publications of the group related to my research are not correct.
  6. I mentioned that I am interested in working on a certain topic and he used me interest as a leverage, that I need to "make him happy" in order to allow me to work on that topic and that I have to finish other projects.
  7. Poses unrealistic deadlines for which I worked extremely hard to achieve very little and with little return. He thinks by doing this he is making me work harder, however, this led to lower work quality which annoys me.

My question: Are these reasons reasonable for quitting the PhD and starting somewhere else? Will the fact that I left a PhD programme and applied somewhere else in a better alignment with my interest negatively impact my appication? I am motivated and I want do good research and a PhD.

Note: Changing advisor is not really an option. I am not able to think of an advisor with whom my interests align.

  • 3
    Are these reasons reasonable for quitting the PhD? -- Yes.
    – JeffE
    Jun 3, 2016 at 9:25

2 Answers 2


My thoughts on this:

Stay or Go: You said the following, so just by that, it is a big red flag and it is time to move on.

My advisor (Who is excellent in his research area) has very little knowledge in my research topic and avoids technical discussions with me in the group meeting because of this.

Future Applications: Actually I saw many cases like this who doesn't move on quick enough and stay in an unhealthy situation. So it is good that you figure out the situation and want to change that. As long as you can present yourself in an interview with the new supervisor and explain your situation, you should be fine.

Main Drawback: Obviously the time is a huge issue here. Can you financially take a hit and spend 6 months to a year to find another position?

Alternatives: You can either find another supervisor from the same university or even research group, or you can find a supervisor from your old university were you did graduate for your Bsc/Msc.


I will offer a very unsatisfying answer, but having been through similar experiences, it is the best I can do.

Only you can really decide if the above reasons are reasonable reasons to leave. Everyone will give you their own experiences and opinions, but in the end, it is your call. My advice is to present all of your reasons to your advisor and be honest with your concerns. If he respects you and your work, he may allow you some more self-direction.

Take some time off, do something fun, and really think about what will happen if you leave. Are you willing to risk not getting into another PhD? There is life outside academia, are you willing to give it a try? What if you get a similar advisor in your next program?

As for the impact it will have, this is too difficult to answer. If your advisor understands your reasons, he may help you find another program. If he does not understand, you may not be able to ask for a recommendation from him. In that case, find someone else from your program who appreciates what you've done.

People often change PhDs, there's nothing inherently preventing you from it, it just depends on your individual situation.

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