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TL;DR: I have better “chemistry” with a different professor doing extremely similar research to my current advisor. Is there a way to switch professors without leaving ill feelings?

I have a question similar to this, but I didn’t feel that the answers listed adequately cleared things up for me.

Background

I must declare whether I will work with my university-assigned professor or another professor by the end of the year.

Current Advisor

I am currently working with my university-assigned advisor. This professor was my first choice for an advisor due to their research interests, which align very closely with my own. However, upon spending more time working with this professor, I've discovered that our working methodologies are very much misaligned. My research interests have been moving away from my initial advisor's, though I believe that this could at some level be motivated by my struggle in staying motivated with this professor. I have absolutely no ill feelings towards this professor – in fact, I would say that we are on friendly terms...but this does not help the problems we have in communication. However, this professor was instrumental in getting funding for me for my first year, and also played a large role in my acceptance at my (extremely competitive) university and department.

Potential Advisor

In my first semester, I took a class from another professor in my same department. This professor’s research interests have significant overlap with my initial advisor, but branch out in the same direction that I believe I may be interested in. I achieved the highest marks in the class with this professor, and they inquired about my current research status (i.e. they let me know they had hoped I wasn’t already working with someone so they could invite me to work with them). When they first discussed this with me, my current concerns hadn't arisen yet, so I informed them that I was happy with my situation. However, I took the opportunity to do something akin to independent study with this professor the following semester, and found that our personalities mesh extremely well – I feel much more able to communicate with this professor, and am more motivated in completing work for this professor than my own.

My current professor has much more funding, and has had much more success in publications at our university (including multiple which I have helped author), though they are about equal in seniority.

Concerns

The only things stopping me from switching professors are the following:

  1. Due to how similar their research interests are, it will be obvious to everyone involved that I would be switching mainly for personal, not research/academic, reasons.
  2. I fear potentially losing funding, as the second professor appears to be struggling to attain funding.

Questions

  1. What steps should I take prior to deciding to change professors? The second professor involved does not currently have any graduate students, so I am unable to “confirm” my suspicions with them about this professor’s communication style.
  2. Should I ultimately decide to change advisors, is there a way to approach my professor such that all parties involved are aware that the switch is done for communication/motivation reasons, and not any sort of personal dispute? Or, perhaps, is this something I should even worry about?

I have shared my concerns over our poor communication with my current professor, but despite efforts from both of us, things have not improved. Furthermore, I certainly do not expect my professor to adopt a new advising style; I recognize that we may just not be a good fit.

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    +1 for asking now instead of after the decision "My old advisor hates me, what can I do? Oh by the way I told them they were a worthless advisor and that's probably why they hate me." (we get those questions a lot) It's not clear to me what exactly the extent of your personal disputes are, but it sounds like there are still a lot of advantages to working with your current advisor. What is the relationship between these two professors? Is it a possibility for you to continue working with your current advisor, but obtain some mentorship from the other professor as well? – Bryan Krause Jul 12 '17 at 21:30
  • @BryanKrause Thanks for the reply! To clarify, we haven't had any personal disputes -- we just have trouble communicating clearly. For example, my current advisor will drop me a one-liner email with brief instructions, but I'll have to send them one or two follow-up emails before I finally understand what's being asked of me. The other professor, however, will occasionally drop me a one-liner email, and I seem to always "guess" their intent correctly on the first try. – deckeresq Jul 13 '17 at 2:43
  • @BryanKrause These two professors are very good friends, and even spend time together outside of the office. I already have a situation similar to what you're describing -- the second professor is something of a "shadow advisor" in that when I have questions (research/academic/personal questions), they are my go-to resource. However, the communication issue with my current advisor poses a very large issue at publication time; when we're down to the wire on time, we both get weary of needing extra time to explain ourselves to one another. The solution you describe doesn't solve this :( – deckeresq Jul 13 '17 at 2:46
  • I am unable to "confirm" my suspicions with them about this professor's communication style. — The only cure for not having enough information to make an informed decision is to hunt down enough information to make an informed decision. Work with both professors for a semester, and then make a decision about who will be your advisor. – JeffE Jul 13 '17 at 3:27
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    "I'm starting a project with Professor X." And then later: "I've decided to ask Professor X to be my advisor. Of course I will see my current task with you to completion, and I'd be happy to continue collaborating with you in the future." – JeffE Jul 13 '17 at 18:24
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I'd say try to be up-front about what you're contemplating with both professors, beginning with the current advisor. Unless your current advisor is new to the position, he'll be well aware that sometimes people just don't "click" as you might expect. If you can do some work with the second professor, you should be able to get a better feel for how you two mesh. Definitely be respectful in communications and make an effort to finish anything your current advisor expects you to finish before transitioning. I'd probably also ask up-front about your concerns of funding to make sure you've got the information to make an informed decision.

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