changing supervisors?


Hi, i've posted before about my troublesome supervision (minimal meetings with no written feedback) but would like to ask, out of curiosity how can one change supervisor? can one also ask for an extra(possibly more flexible timewise) supervisor?

what about tranfering unis? is it common?



yes u can change supervisor. Yes you can also ask for a co-supervisor, but after discussing with your (first) supervisor. Sorry I dont know about transfering units.

My last supervisor was a nice person but she did not reply emails and was of minimal help when I encountered research problems. Instead, she told me I was pressuring her. But I had a deadline to meet and being an international student also affected by visa deadlines, meaning if I did not finish on time I would have to renew my visa, and I could not renew this without any further justification of funding, whcih was already finished (at that time). To find my supervisor, we (other students also did this) had to hang outside her office and keep watch, to see when she was coming. Because her "busy-at classes-meeting" schedule posted on her door was never updated. Like she could be sitting in the office with the sign outside saying "In a meeting". We were also too polite to tell her off. It was very difficult.

Speak to someone from your graduate research school.


yes i get the same exactly, pressure stories included! although i am very diplomatic and simply ask when we can meet....but seems like one should just wait and hope instead.
I keep copied of all the emails and have shown people who were not impressed.

has anyone tried changing such behaviour succesfully?


I would be very reluctant to try to change your supervisor's behaviour, it may lead to more profound problems, as they may see it as a 'personal' attack on their professionalism. When things got bad with my old supervisor (no meetings, or meetings arranged then cancelled due to her poor time management), I tried to contact her and say that if possible I would prefer a more structured timetable. Her reaction was not pleasant. I then suggested that we bring a new co-supervisor in to assist when she was busy; and this was effectively the final straw and she tried to blame me for causing the problems, saying that she was doing all she could but that I had issues taking criticism therefore she was reluctant to have meetings with me. (My current Sup has no such problems).

To be honest, this is just their style of supervision, and that is partly a reflection of their personality. If you are struggling as much as you seem to be, its time to swap supervisor, and as recommended you need to speak to someone senior from your dept or research college.


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I agree with a couple of the others, you'd have to speak to whoever is responsible for PhD students in your dept. It sounds like you could justify changing supervisors or adding another person in terms of the negative impact this situation is having on your work. If you can support this with anything from records of meetings, feedback notes, emails or whatever, even better. If you can show that you're being held back by this person and it's making you have serious concerns about your progress and subsequent ability to complete your PhD successfully, then it's a perfectly valid issue to raise with your uni research admin people. It seems odd to get no written feedback, it seems such a basic part of doing a PhD.

It might be easier for you to add an extra supervisor rather than get a replacement. Can you think of anyone else at your uni who other students work well with, who you might be able to have as an additional supervisor? It seems to be a bit embarrassing for departments to be forced to admit that they appoint really unsuitable staff to supervise PhDs, as it shows they've got it wrong by changing them, as if they don't know what they're doing.

I changed my second supervisor early on in my PhD because she was a nightmare to work with and I was seriously considering chucking it in. I had to justify to our research administrators why she was academically wrong for me, and was advised to emphasise that my project was going in a different direction so her input was no longer relevant. It seems to have been the most acceptable way for the uni to change someone, whatever the real reasons were. I suggested someone else who I thought was a good possible alternative because of his own research interests. Getting rid of that woman took nearly a year and the process only really got moving after a panel meeting that several other of my occasional advisors attended, so they saw how she behaved and were suitably appalled. I'd got so disillusioned by then that I'd said I wanted to leave and go elsewhere, so maybe another dropout in the uni retention statistics would have been more problematic for them than just changing a supervisor. If you like your subject and the uni, I think it's worth persevering in trying to get a supervisor you can work with who actually does the job!

Good luck with it!


thanks, but how can a panel understand thata a supervisor is unsuitable? i mean especially if the supervisor says your work is no good or you are lazy...?

you would end up having to use emails as proof, making it abit nasty and giving you a bad rep...

or not?


It is not an issue of who is to blame, it is the fact that your supervisor works for you. If you cannot work with that person (for whatever reason), then you have cause to change.


There are two types of PhD supervisors in this world: Those that supervise and those that don't!!

Yes you can change and I am pretty sure most department would allow a student to change rather than having them drop out. Do you have a new supervisor in mind? what stage of your PhD are you at? Have you talked to your supervisor about these problems yet?


Having a panel meeting confirmed her unsuitability for my PhD in front of the rest of my supervisory team because they could see first hand what she was like with me (and other students, as it later became clear). Personally, she was verbally aggressive and rude, very bullying. Academically, she picked holes in my project in an unconstructive and very intransigent way. For some reason, she didn't seem able (or just didn't want to) understand the work that drew on a different discipline to hers, making it 'wrong' and needing changing for a successful project, in her opinion. As the rest of the panel came from other academic backgrounds, they could tell she wasn't suited to an interdisciplinary project like mine, which they all regarded as good and they could see that what I was doing was perfectly valid. Her bullying attitude towards me was confirmed when one of the panel phoned me up at home that evening to see if I was ok, as they had been shocked at how rude she had been, and said I shouldn't let anyone speak to me like that.The other panel member echoed these views, so having realised my problem with that woman wasn't imaginary, I started the long process of getting her replaced.

That situation wouldn't work for all students wanting to change supervisors, but for me it was useful to have other academics witness what she was like towards her students. Another student also had to get rid of her a few years later, he didn't know about my problems with her but experienced exactly the same behaviour. At the end of the day, it came down to either changing a supervisor or chucking it in and starting again somewhere else. It's worth trying to do something about it, supervisory relationships are so important and sometimes people just don't get on. A PhD is difficult enough without the extra stress of a bad supervisor.


thanks! well u seem to have had great in my 2nd year and my supervisors dont want to upgrade me but proposed to make my annual meeting a "survival" meeting, which of course i accepted as i have no choice.

they are not very polite and their emails in fact have become other people's entertainment as i forward them to astonished friends(within reason of course).

unfortunately, their impoliteness can only be proven via email as in front of a panel their status will help and their attitude will change as expected...

i can only hope to pass this survival and then discuss with them what to do.

My work is not directly related 100% to theirs either (e.g. i never cite them ) so they dont have direct interest in it or any gains......which is evident since they are generally not really interested in helping but helping with gaining (although they get money); be it reputation, papers or whatever...

my second was passed to me a specialist in the field but is a lecturer and basically obsesses over my structure but has no say on any theory or issues (most of the time).

my first told me he has a "hands off" approach meaning he reads only final drafts once a month with no more interaction and gives no or minimal written feedback, so u have to keep fast notes as he gives u a 25min monologue, along with being quite aggressive (doesnt say hi or even bye generally..)

the only conference i was ever email or told to go to was his own and mostly to work for it and organise and also forcefully present a poster which he had never seen!(for which i one a prize)

i am not perfect, but like this its no wonder i struggle twice as much.


That does sound troublesome! What sort of supervision do the other PhD students in your dept get - are you comparatively worse off than them, or is that the way they do things where you are? It might be useful for you to get an idea of that, then speak to someone senior with overall responsibility for postgrad students, say your situation is having a negative effect on your work and is holding you back.

With the hands-off one that does lengthy monologues instead of written feedback, in the meantime, is it worth you recording meetings with him so you can play back his words of wisdom (!) at your leisure?

I don't know what the procedures are for other universities, but we have to record all meetings on supervision sheets. Copies of this go to various other parts of the dept, as well as the student and supervisor, as records of what was discussed and what workplans were decided for the next meeting. It's supposed to help track progress or lack of, and provides a paper trail if things do go wrong, although bad supervision happens - some academics aren't cut out for it! One student had dreadful supervisors so gave up on them towards the end, but she had help from other people she knew who'd done PhDs, although in a different subject. She ended up passing with no corrections, in spite of her supervisors rather than because of them, but I expect cases like hers are unusual.

I hope you manage to change something so the situation improves. Good luck! (up)


invigilation for others varies....but barely anyone gets less than once a month and all have accessible supervisors. Some meet once a week too.

Sheets are not necessary, you need to record things yourself via email or as you feel.

thanks for the help


* oops i meant supervision not invigilation


Hi, I am planning to ask about this issue and was told you are allowed 1 change of supervisor in your that true?

Is there any chance your supervisor might boycott the change?

I'm wondering how to go about this diplomatically....and who to contact first, the head, the supervisor?


YOu can change supervisor as much as you like (as long as you can find someone to be your supervisor). Its your PhD - you seem overly concerned about everyone else.

As others have already recommended, a number of times, contact the Head of Dept/Head of Graduate Studies for assistance.