I spent a year with a Phd. supervisor. I am not happy from both aspects: relationship and academically. Is it ethical to change the supervisor? Should I explain the reasons for change in details to the prospective supervisor or just be brief? How to avoid getting the impression that the student is trouble-maker (if I explained details of problems) vs. avoid give the impression there is no real reasons for change or that the student is not serious enough (if I am brief)?

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    It's all in your question already, avoid going into details that could make you look like a troublemaker, and do specify real, preferably academic reasons for the change. Make clear why you see your PhD work in the potential new supervisor's research direction. Oct 22, 2017 at 19:42
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    "Is it ethical to change the supervisor?": It's not an ethical problem. If the relationship with your advisor is compromised, it would be hard to complete a successful PhD, and it's better to change advisor. Depending on where you are, though, this could be more or less difficult.
    – Massimo Ortolano
    Oct 22, 2017 at 21:15
  • Just say it wasn't a good fit. Leave it at that. Oct 24, 2017 at 3:16

2 Answers 2


You didn't say in what situation you need to explain this, which may change the answer.

If it is merely coming up in passing in a conversation, "It was not a good fit" is a good neutral way to give the general idea and leave it up to your interlocutor whether to pursue the topic or not.

If you are specifically asked for your reasons for leaving, a condensed 2-3 sentence version should be enough in most cases. Try to avoid placing blame, it is not a trial of who is right or wrong, you or your advisor. E.g. "our research interests do not align, I would really like to go more into topic B" rather than "he keeps making me do grunt work on things I hate". If you have academic reasons you probably don't need to go into the personal reasons at all, but if you do want to bring it up at some point, frame it as something like "our personalities do not mesh well". Stay carefully factual when recounting details. (This doesn't mean downplaying the issues. Think of a way to formulate it neutrally but still exposing the crux of the issues barefacedly.)

Generally, potential other supervisors will see themselves in the role of your current supervisor, so they will imagine that you will talk about them in the same manner as you will talk about your current supervisor.


You should definitely look to change supervisors, but you may need to consider the politics of doing so. Academia is a small world and it's possible that you'll run into your old supervisor again some day, or that they will talk to others who you work with, so it's generally better to be tactful.

My department had a Postgraduate Coordinator who was there to assist all the PhD/MSc students. Mine was very helpful when I needed to drop one of my co-supervisors because our working relationship had broken down. If your university has such a role, I'd strongly encourage talking to them about it; they may be able to help you smooth the waters with your old supervisor.