Applying for a new PhD


I'm 7 months in, completed the literature review and written up as much of the thesis intro and experimental development as I can and completed various courses but things have come to a standstill pretty much now. I found out a new post doc is pretty much doing my project now. I did know about them starting at some point but it wasn't made clear what they were doing. A few months into my PhD I was asked to come up with a number of ideas and was advised that this postdoc would then choose which of these they took up. I did express some concern at this, as I felt I may not get to pursue my preferred ideas, and no more was mentioned of them after. I only heard about their start date from someone else as it had been postponed. I then got informed they wished to use the lab materials I had sourced for my project, then it got made impossible for me to use the lab now - no space, my supervisor being difficult etc.
There have been ongoing issues with my lead supervisor I can only describe as bullying - intimidating behaviour that has left me in tears after meetings, being belittled, information witheld from me about past work my PhD relates to. He seems controlling and doesn't allow me to contact my 2nd supervisors direct, they sit in silence in meetings and take notes at times, I can't meet with any supervisor individually. Meetings are formal, uncomfortable and brief and I have had very little guidance to date, supervisors seemed uninterested in my work. I was advised I would be an assistant to the postdoc. It all just makes me feel a bit used, not respected, not supported and that they don't care about me as a PhD student. I was offered no teaching support work at the department, various opportunities were promised such as this at the first meeting, none have transpired.


I'm unhappy and other students in my area have started isolating me, some will no longer speak to me and look through me when I say Hi to them. My department would not consider a change of supervision, yet we get told we can change supervisors if needed. I made an informal complaint, the department escalated it to a formal one so it could be dealt with outside the dept. Now it is being investigated by the Dean for my area, I expected this to be undertaken by someone from another faculty.
My lead supervisor isn't going to be bothered if I leave as he has someone else to do the work. I've been working really hard and been very engaged. There would need to be a new supervisory team to continue now. I have identified one very good supervisor who wishes to supervise me. I expect my funding may just get taken away though.
I am looking into applying for other PhDs. I would appreciate any advice on how I explain my current situation on an application?


Hi, Cat123,

Quickly leave this nightmare behind. You can change supervisor. It is your right. Never let anyone tell you otherwise. Change asap. Don't prolong your pain.

On funding, please check if you can take it with you. If it is awarded to you eg postgrad scholarship, then it is yours. If it is directly from d project, you may have issues. In that case, you may need to ask for help from Students Union or post grad coordinator. Best to know the status of funding before meeting potential supervisor.

What to tell potential supervisor? Just keep it brief. Things didn't work out, difference in expectations eg you want more hands on, but sup is very hands off, project was different to advertised, funding issues, etc. These things happen, they get it. Don't badmouth your sup. Do you have someone who is an experienced researcher (preferably not your group) who can be your referee for your new potential supervisor?

Stay positive. Good luck!


There is no-one who can give me a reference from my current Uni. The only other option, outside the supervisory team, was the Postgrad Tutor, who should be there to offer independent advice, he won't even communicate with me now. He was communicating with me, expressing his concern etc, then as soon as the dept said I couldn't change supervisor unless I self-funded his support went. My previous uni, where I did my UG course will give a reference again. Feels unfair as this situation really is through no fault of my own. Thee SU Advisor is not responding to emails when I ask for guidance on specific matters, they just want to be kept informed. My current approach is to stand my ground and push for a new supervisor, and in the meantime apply for any other suitable PhDs of interest. I made one enquiry on Monday, had no response.



I'm sorry to hear about your horrendous experience. Personally, I would wait and see how the complaint procedure unfolds and see if you're able to get a new supervisor/s. If it becomes apparent you're unable to get someone new then I would recommend transferring elsewhere. The only thing you'd need to think about would be references (as I'm assuming a new institution would require an academic reference). PhD's are stressful enough as it is, don't allow yourself to suffer any more than necessary!

In terms of funding it depends where you received it? If it was directly from the university it would seem unlikely that you could keep it, but if it was from an external source I can't imagine why they wouldn't allow you to use it elsewhere (providing you kept to the same project it was given for). I'd ask the appropriate people and see what they say about the funding.


Sorry to hear about your struggles. Do you have any idea why this is happening? I don't want to imply that this is your fault, but from time to time I stumble upon stories like that and ask myself what the motive could possibly be? What point is there to hire a PhD student just to leave him or her without work after such a short period of time? Why would coworkers isolate a PhD student even though the tensions between that PhD student and the supervisors don't even concern them? Funding is there, the will to work is there and there is more than one project one could pursue, even if the supervisor changes their mind and decide that the initial project is more of a post doc project (which happens).

As you are not even 1 year in, I would just apply again like you did for this current PhD and use the references you used before. If you are a first year PhD student, you can argue that the initial project changed and that the proposed new project (even if there is none) was not what you wanted to do. Some people apply for a new PhD position because he project was not what they expected. Things like that happen regularly and are usually no problem. If you are 2 years ++ into your PhD it is harder to argue like this and you will be definitely asked why you stayed for so long if the project wasn't for you.


Dunham - I have questioned why this is happening myself. Unfortunately some do jump to the conclusion that I must have done something wrong, the Uni automatically seems to assume this anyway. The only thing I could have been perceived to do wrong by some is letting the supervisor know he had upset me after he first did this, he didn't respond well, and I think he has had it in for me ever since, and maybe thought I might speak about this to someone and tried to cover his back. I have worked hard and progressed well. I found out from some RAs a few months ago that this supervisor has a reputation for treating students as he does, although its felt he went too far in my case. I am the only female in my research group. One problem may be that the lead supervisor took on too many students and postdocs at the same time.


7 months is not a long time. Cut your losses and apply for a new PhD at a different institution. Use your old undergraduate references and either don't mention this 7 months or say something that that doesn't give them a window to think your the problem (which I personally don't think you are). I'm not sure what you could say, maybe lie and say there wasn't the lab equipment/materials advertised or something ( I have heard of that before).
That's my two cents. PhD is hard enough with all this. The only draw back to this plan is that it is a bit of crap-shoot how the next supervisor will turn out to be.

I'm sorry to hear of your predicament. why does academia attract such crazy ego-maniacal socially mal-adjusted losers? ..sigh


So sorry to hear this. Agree with the others. Don't leave it much longer (once you've done it you'll wish you'd done it sooner). Another opportunity will open up.


I sent an email in response to an advertised PhD, with personal statement and CV as required at this stage. I mentioned the earlier unexpected project changes and restrictions to the project not allowing me to fully follow my interests. This is factual, although alone it wouldn't have stopped me doing the PhD. I've been invited to an interview next week, before making a full application.


Good luck, Cat123! Sending you positive vibes... Let us know how it goes...



The OIA might be of interest to you, as you have made a complaint to your university. There is a cut off time for complaints.

The OIA is an independent body set up to review student complaints.
Free to students, the OIA deals with individual complaints against Higher Education Providers in England and Wales.

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Best wishes for a really positive interview Cat123.


Good luck for your interview! Finger's crossed you'll rid of this unnecessary pain!


You have tough times, but you'll get through! When you're applying it's also important to write that you're determined to enter the College you've chosen.