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Similar questions have been asked but my specific concerns have not be addressed.

Like many others, I'm currently in the first year of a PhD program (A) in US and resolve to transfer (reapply) to other programs because of unmatched research agenda here. Last year I was also admitted to another program (B) and, after communicating with the target professor there, I decide to reapply to that. For the re-application this year, logistics are simple because I could retrieve all the materials from last year and I've found potential reasons to convince. Of course, there is no guarantee: I could probably end up being rejected by B. If that happens, I will decide to try again next year.

Now the problem comes. I really hesitate to tell my advisor at this time (before my first attempt). If he knows and I get rejected this year, I might end up nowhere at all. Even if he lets me stay, I think it's hard to tell about the second attempt next year without irritating him.

As in the first year of PhD I focus on coursework and get less involved with his research projects, I do not use his recommendation letter for my first attempt of transfer. That way, it seems safe to tell him only if I get accepted at my first attempt. If rejected, I will simply ignore this attempt and only tell him about my second one next year (also I will need his letter then). What's your advice?


Additional info:

  • I'm in a social science discipline, where it's not uncommon for students to change advisors halfway and/or simultaneously work with multiple professors within the same program. But I still resolve to transfer because there's no other professor in my field within program A.
  • I will be funded through my current advisor's project funding from next spring semester.
  • The target professor at program B knows my current advisor, but when I talked to him about my intention to transfer he didn't discourage me, which is why I feel it a decent step to take.
  • You might want to add a few details about your situation: e.g. your academic field and whether your funding is coming directly from your advisor. In particular, in some fields and for some funding sources a student would never get their funding cut just for applying to other programs, but in other situations this would be a larger concern. – Pete L. Clark Nov 27 '17 at 17:45
  • Also: some academic fields are much smaller and/or more tightly knit than others. In some fields it is quite likely that the information that you have applied to program (B) will get back to your advisor at program (A). – Pete L. Clark Nov 27 '17 at 17:48
  • @PeteL.Clark added some additional info – Bill Duer Nov 27 '17 at 18:09
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Since you've already reapplied, you're best off waiting until you've heard from the other university. There's no point in poisoning your existing relationship, which would have been the net result of telling your advisor you've applied somewhere else, and then not gotten in.

However, have you had an open discussion with your advisor about why you want to transfer? Perhaps there's something that can be done to improve the situation—maybe a co-advising situation, or a transfer to another group at your current institution?

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