I am a first-year PhD student in statistics, but plan to apply to computer science graduate programs in the fall. Two of my recommenders, however, are professors who I would like to advise me if I were to stay in my current program. Because I have a limited computer science background, there is a decent chance that I will not be accepted to good programs and will therefore stay in my current program. I am worried that this will make it difficult to work with these professors if I do end up staying.

Is this likely to be a problem? What's the best way to obtain a letter of recommendation while keeping the door open for that person to be my advisor if transferring programs doesn't work out?


  • Let me just make sure I understand. The target references are people who know you as a student well enough to serve as references? Are you saying your concern is that a target reference might feel you view him/her as second choice for the advisor role? // How well do you know these two professors? Does either of them know you well enough to look at the whole you? Commented Mar 16, 2017 at 10:13
  • My concern is not only that the target reference will feel I view them as a second choice, but that they will aware that I had tried to leave statistics altogether and therefore will be hesitant to advise me. I don't know them very well right now, but I hope to have done enough work under them by the time I apply in the fall that they will know me well. Commented Mar 16, 2017 at 17:32
  • I guess you could preface your request with something about wanting to apply for a variety of programs for the fall, in several different geographical locations. If you leave it rather vague then there's less risk of backing yourself into a corner and saying more than you intend. Commented Mar 18, 2017 at 13:58

2 Answers 2


Professors are human too. If you stayed within the current program those professors may doubt your level of interest/motivation since you tried to transfer out. I would suggest that you apply only if you're absolutely sure you want to transfer.

On another note, anecdotally, computer science graduate programs are quite welcoming of people from different backgrounds. In your case, having a statistics background might make you an attractive candidate for machine learning professors. So I would say apply to a broad range of programs including the top programs, you never know what will happen.


I would make sure the professor of interest has enough space and funding for you. If so, then I would ask to rotate with them. If after the rotation they are still a good choice and you both have a good relationship, then it should be easy to ask to join their group. Otherwise, you can just move on with your life without having the pressure of committing to work with them for 4+ years.

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