Changing supervisors at 14 months.......


Over the last year I've had to take short periods of time off three times due to stress, and have basically spent the year feeling awful. I'm 99% sure it's due to my supervision.
I feel like I have no support and are at it completely alone, I'm doing new techniques which neither supervisor has experience in, and when I ask my main supervisor for help with experiments (I'm in the lab) troubleshooting he never has any answers (we also don't have any post docs in the lab to help me), leaving me to work everything out for myself, I understand this is expected as a PhD student, but I've been in this situation since day 1 and feel like I'm drowning. I also don't get any positive feedback, my reports are always " in shape to send off" etc, but nothing to boost my confidence, I already have low self esteem and it is now rock bottom, As a result I've been pulling out of presentations and other things I know I should be doing/able to do as a PhD student.

My main question is can I change supervisors at all (14 months in) and if so can this be done peacefully? The studentship was awarded to me not the PI, however, I don't really want to give up my topic, so I don't see how I could take my main supervisors research away to someone else without causing problems between department members?

Any general advice on dealing with supervision problems, or how I could actually approach my supervisors with this problem would be much appreciated! I have no idea how to tell them that I'm beyond frustrated with my situation without sounding rude, or getting angry and creating more problems for myself. I don't want to leave my PhD, this is all I wanted for years but I feel as though its gone terribly wrong and I'm so lost.



sorry to hear that you are going through lots of trouble. I have no experience in changing supervisors, but some in academic collaborations ;-). Do you have anyone at your university who is familiar with the methods your using? If not, who else in the field is working with the method? Can you talk to your supervisor about some time in another lab to learn the method/troubleshoot? Do your supervisors have any helpful contacts?


Hi, very sorry to hear what you are going through.

Could you get an additional supervisor on board who could give you the extra support? My friend's third supervisor is the one who gives all feedback and most support to him.


You really do need to talk to your supervisors about how you are feeling too. Try to do this on a day when everything is going good so you are not frustrated or emotional, as this will not come across well. You could make a list of things that you want to mention and practise saying them to your supervisors so it doesn't feel strange when you discuss with them in person.


Hey, I am also at my 14th month and trying to change.. high five! ;)

I agree with the suggestion of talking to someone, although I am avoiding to talk about it directly with my supervisor.

I, personally, only started talking about my problems with colleagues. This, hoping they may direct me towards some new project/supervisor. And then, in case I find something, I will speak to my supervisor of my problem. I prefer to avoid messing up with my supervisor without any "backup" plan.


I changed supervisors 18 months in after massive problems. It did set me back a bit as I had to write a summary of my thesis and where I was up to at that point for the potential new supervisors, but this actually helped me to refine the objectives of my thesis and explain them to a fresh perspective.

It was a scary move, but the best decision I ever made.

I would definitely try to tell your supervisor your concerns, even if just through email because that covers your back and the first thing your head of dept will suggest if you do decide to change, is to talk to your current supervisor.



I have changed my supervisor two months ago after being 15 month into my PhD. I have to say it wasn't the nicest part of my PhD and it was quite stressful for me becauseI had to go to my second supervisor and tell all the bad things (although true) about my first supervisor and there were quite close collaborators. I had to write official complain and prove that his supervision was not with university standards. So I have gathered all the email I have send to my supervisor asking for help or advice (that he had never replay to) all comments from him on my reports (4 month, 9 month, annual report), all other kind of email from him that I have found quite offensive, basically anything that could prove that he is not a good supervisor. So the complain was like 'a story' describing how his supervision look like with appendixes (emails, reports, paper). In my case there were also other student form my group who wanted to do the same, so it was a bit easier. Although, it was still difficult because my second supervisor was trying to keep me working with my first. I ended up going straight to head of graduate school and head of institute with the same complain and finally after talking to all those people I had my supervisor changed. Of course when Head of Institute spoke to my past supervisor he was saying that we os amazing, spending loads of time with us and did not see a reason why we were complaining.

The were also consequences... Because I have chosen a different supervisor, I had to write a proposal what I want to do next and how it's gonna match up with what I was doing during first 15 months. I have spend around 4 weeks to plan that. My old supervisor is now trying to make my life difficult (my and other people who have left his group), trying to block our research. He has even email my new supervisor saying that I'm unprofessional and he is actually happy that I'm not in his group anymore! He did the same to my friends! This is not nice, but we are all supported by Head of Institute and our supervisors. For a surprise even my second supervisor is now supporting me completely!. So everybody now can see through his lies

It's better to change supervisor now, then regret it till the end of your life. For me that wad the best decision that I have ever made.

I your supervisor is one of 7 type that I have described on my blog, change him as soon as possible!


I didn't change supervisors during my PhD, and with hindsight I really wish I had (or at least made more efforts to resolve the problems). I struggled badly to make progress given the lack of guidance and feedback and am now facing having to resubmit my thesis, and it has altogether been the most frustrating, demoralizing and isolating experience of my life.

I guess what I'm saying is don't ignore the problem and hope he will change -- people usually don't! If you don't feel you can talk to your supervisor about it, or if you've tried this and it hasn't helped, can you go to someone else in the department? There should be a Postgraduate Tutor or director of studies or similar, who should be able to help explore your options and give some advice.


Hi. Sorry to hear you're having these problems. I changed supervisors just under 2 years in to my PhD and it was the best thing that happened to me. The end of my PhD was so much more enjoyable than those first 2 years.

I'm not sure about the amicable bit though - mine came about as the result of a number of different circumstances, so isn't really comparable to your situation. But it was such a relief afterwards. PhDs are meant to be hard, but a supervisor can make all the difference between insurmountable and manageable.

Good luck!