professor wants change of study subject


dear all,

my supervisor suggeste a change of research subject based on a discussion which he had with the professor of the deparment.

Problem is that I have already done several focus groups and this would make these invalid.

I feel angry, yet do not know how to express this. I do not depend on this research, yet have spent about 2 years on it. Any thoughts?

Avatar for sneaks

I know several people who have had the same problem - many of them have used the data for publications, but not for their PhD. Is there any way you can link the subject he is proposing to your current one?


Are you funded? Funding bodies may not allow a drastic change in topic...


What do you think about the reasoning behind this - is it valid do you think? Will you need extra time because of this?


Dear Rick,
Is he proposing a change of focus of the research? If that is the case, you will have to change your research questions and literature review to fit the findings. This type of "reverse engineering" is not beneficial to the student. One of my sups wants me to change the focus of my thesis, and I have already written 6 chapters! How bonkers is that? Who monitors these people?
Keep us posted.


Hi Sneaks,

thanks for your reply. Yes I may be able to use the information that I have got. The issue is that I will need to arrange more focus groups (hard to organise) and that the outcomes of the previous ones will not fit with the older ones. In my opinion it makes the study less valid, in fact I feel that it very unprofessional to approach the project in such a way.

Good point though to use what I have got anyway for publication(s) and to make the changes in the actual thesis.:-)


Hi Thecoastman,

I am self funded, so if I do not like it, I can leave. Fear if I would say that I will just leave the project, that the university will say "Well, fine", as do not think they really care.


Hi Smilodon,


I think the reason behind it is, that a change of subject (in fact it is a subject which it a lot wider than what I have done sofar), will be of more interest for the internal research which is going on in the department.

Just find it hard to accept that goalposts can just be changed.


Hi Hairui,

yes, it is exactly like your situation: "Just received an E mail indicating that there should be a change of focus". Like you, if I do that previous issues will not match, and I will have to re-write and re-research the literature. I would be happy if something like that would be suggested before the start of data collection, not when you are in the middle of it!

I have just phoned my supervisor, indicating that I am very annoyed by this. I find these things difficult as it is not my nature to be very assertive. Although the supervisor was initially defensive, he had to admit I make a valid point. I have clearly indicated that I will stick to what I am doing now. Supervisor indicated that for now we will keep things as they are and I will try and get an appointment with this professor to discuss issues.


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I think you got to be honest in the most polite way possible. Question him on exactly why he wants the change and how this will affect passing your PhD and if there are any links to your previous research. He may be your supervisor, but you're still the one doing the work and getting your PhD depends on this. Maybe he has a good reason for it, such as the research you have been doing might have not brought up the results he hoped for.

Good luck! 8-)

Btw love the spellcheck feature! (up)


Hey Rick,
I've just come out of a meeting with the sups, dean of faculty and PGRT. I reiterated that I do not want to change the focus of the thesis and guess what? The team resigned! I am now without supervisors! Its a long story but I can pm you with the details. What a roller coaster ride. Truly the PhD from hell.


Hi Verypoor,

yes, obviously, you are right: Always good to listen to what the reason behind a suggestion is. Ironically I do not get the impression that I get listened to!

Thanks for your point regarding the spell check! (this feature does not seem to work on my computer).


sorry to hear of your problems.
I wonder if it would be possible to keep going on your own project whilst at the same time getting started on a new project such as they propose? I guess it depends on the expected workload and all. But if this were possible (perhaps prolonging the time for your PhD) you might actually benefit from it. You could decide at a slightly later stage which of the two projects is actually to be your PhD and use the other work for some good publications. Then, when you apply for Post-Doc jobs, you would be particularly competitive, as you would have publications, including such publications that are little related to your PhD; and you would have demonstrated expertise in not only one narrow subject; and you would show plenty of potential, as you would already have proven that you are "more than your PhD".
Obviously, the downside of this plan is: more work, potentially longer until you graduate, and as you are self-funded, a longer time until you actually get paid for what you do.
I guess all I'm really saying is: If you do decide to pick up the suggestions of the new focus, don't throw away all the work you have already done. Make the most of it, even if it does mean some extra work.

From a different angle, you could discuss this with your supervisor from the point of view that: That would be a whole new research project - if they want this done, why don't they employ someone, say for example a research assistant, to do it. For one thing, that should drive the message home that they are really asking a lot of you; and second, perhaps they do actually advertise a post, you could apply for it, do the research they wanted you to do for free, but now get paid for it! Well, you can always dream, but when trying to be assertive, it helps to have an idea in mind of what would be the best outcome, even if unrealistic. Then you can back down to a realistic scenario in negotiation. Rather than starting with a realistic one and then backing down to a quite bad compromise.

Anyway, good luck in sorting this out!



I am shocked to read what as happened to you! So what will happen now? I mean are you able to continue with your project without the supervisor(s)? How do you feel about the whole thing? You must be devastated!

On the other hand I think it is courageous to stand firm and express your views (and very childish from your "support team" to walk out).

What are you going to do?

BTW not sure whether PM work on my system.


Hi Rick,
The options presented by the sub dean of faculty were:
1. Resign from candidature ( I think the real message is "Why don't you go away and die quietly?)
2. Submit without further supervision ( but who is going to appoint the examiners?)
3. Look for a new team of supervisors
Yes, my courage to stand up to them blew up out of the waters. But they pulled rank and upheld the unspoken code of the old boys' club. PhD is suspended again till ? date. Meanwhile, I've been emailing a couple of people and see if they will supervise the write-up. Very few PhDers dare to stand up to incompetent academics. Many have lost their marbles on route. Mine are still intact due to strong support from friends and family.
I will be in contact with my MP and will request for him to write a letter to the VC. Options 1 and 2 are non-negotiable, I want to submit my thesis with supervision. Call me naive, but I want to believe that someone will help. I hope yours is not panning out as disastrous as mine.
Keep me posted.
P.S I tried the PM button but it doesn't work.