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Suppose that a student joins a graduate program with supervisor A. The supervisor has a bad reputation in the research group with a history of not caring for his students, e.g. professor goes to sabbatical on a regular basis and does not skype with his students, replies to emails from students in 5 minutes, does not help students with their coursework, expects students to comment on his research work, expects students to be independent, etc.

Incidentally, after a few months, he becomes more interested in the research interests of supervisor B in the same research group.

In this case, it is standard procedure for the student to be officially co-supervised by both supervisors A and B even though the student's projects are all supervised by supervisor B.

Now consider an alternative scenario. The student becomes more interested in the research interests of supervisors B and C.

In this case, is it standard procedure for the student to be officially co-supervised by supervisors B and C? In other words, does the student leave supervisor A completely?

How common is the second scenario in graduate programs?

Does the switch leave a bad impression of professors (in the research group) on the student?

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    Don't worry about this, I have a peer who has changed two supervisors. At the end, at the third supervisor, he found his way into an experimental physics group, and has enough strong publications(Physical Review Letters) to defend the thesis and to advance his career. – Nikey Mike May 18 '17 at 10:22
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    professor goes to sabbatical on a regular basis and does not skype with his students -- Bad. -- replies to emails from students in 5 minutes -- So he needs a life. -- does not help students with their coursework -- Good! -- expects students to comment on his research work -- Good! -- expects students to be independent -- Excellent! What is this about not caring for his students? – JeffE May 18 '17 at 14:37
  • There is no standard operating procedure for the group set-up you described. Why don't you have a chat with B? B is the element in common here between (A, B) and (B, C). As Nicole said, don't complain or refer to rumors or reputation, just show an interest in a specific project or set of projects. – aparente001 May 18 '17 at 18:26
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The idea of a graduate (or PhD) program is to form the student into an independent researcher. This normally includes the liberty of the student to choose his own projects and research. On the other hand, the student also has to learn about funding, e.g. it might be that he only gets money if he works in As lab at least XX hours a week. This also counts as learning experience: If the student wants to work elsewhere, he might need to acquire new funds for it.

Regarding your question what of it is standard or not, that highly depends on field, country, university, even institution. Thus it would be best to ask your advisor, other students,... about how it is handled.

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First, I'm a little confused by some of the complaints about supervisor A, such as "replies to emails from students in 5 minutes," "expects students to comment on his research work"...maybe I'm missing context?

Anyway, students often change supervisors for various reasons. The key is to be professional about it. To change supervisors and offer basic complaints as a reason will not be helpful in working relationships with professors A, B, or C. I think you need to make a case to the department that your current interests lie more with professor B (and/or C) and ask for a change in supervisor. This gives more professional reasons for the change and also makes professor B (and/or C) feel that you are very interested in their work, rather than just trying to get away from Professor A. It seems like now you have a choice whether you would like to hold onto professor A or make a complete change to B and C. Good luck!

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