Quitting current PhD project after a year and trying to apply for new project at different Uni



I would like to ask if it is ok to quit my current PhD project and apply another project at different university after a year? Also, how would I convince the prof from other university that I am not a quitter?

Here are my reasons. My current university's research facilities such as lab equipment and lab itself are unsatisfactory. I am working on watertreatment project and require HPLC to analyse the samples, however the department does not have it. So, I have to go the pharmaceutical department teaching lab and use it, but I couldn't use it whenever I need of course since it is teaching lab. I am allowed to use 3 days a week. So, I am supposed to keep my samples in fridge before I can analyse them. Here again, our engineering lab does not have fridge again. I put up with those despite the lab conditions and facilities for the sake of getting PhD. Hoping that I will be fine if my supervisor is helpful.

However, recently, I found out that my supervisor is incompetent and lack of basic knowledge for the research. She did not help me intellectually or getting assess of the equipment from other department. Since, the start of the project, she told me she has four kids and busy person, so she cannot be at uni all the time. She never participate in discussion during weekly meeting, apart from listening to what I have done so far. In the last meeting, I showed her the experimental results, which have high error %, and told her we need to optimised the condition. She told me the results are fine and tried to lead me to different direction again rather than sort out the current issue. To me she clearly does not understand simple data analysis. Also, whenever I asked to order things like HPLC virals, she asked me to order less and wanted me to wash them and reuse them again. All in all she does not help me in anyway, even lab demonstration opportunities.


I have to say that I don't think you have the healthiest of attitudes.

You have access to an HPLC and you can buy a mini fridge for £30 from Argos if it is that important to you. If you need a bigger fridge, buy a cheap second hand one and get your maintenance people to approve its use in your lab.

The less said about your last paragraph the better I think.
It astonishes me how many first year PhD students feel capable of judging the competence of their supervisors.
You shouldn't need to be seeing yor supervisor once a week at your level either. How many kids she has is totally irrelevamt and frankly none of your business.

Proving to a new supervisor you are not a quitter isnt your problem. Proving that you can be creative and adaptive when faced with difficulties might be the main problem.


Hi Theint

It is certainly possible to do this. I have a friend who switched PhD and uni after about three quarters of a year. I think the thing to do is move quickly. Have you found another potential uni and supervisor? This is the most important part. You might have to elaborate on why you want to come there in a bit of a creative way, as it will not go down at all well if you criticise the previous place and supervisor (even if they are are valid criticisms - just keep them to yourself and it'll be better).

Also, have you considered other options? Do you think that it is something you could adapt to? I mean, personally I wouldn't know what to do I think, if my supervisor kept telling me to do things that were clearly wrong (are you sure?), and wanted to meet with me weekly for basically no reason. That would drive me mad. Is there a supervisor in the same place who you could switch to working with? I know you've described important limitations of the lab itself, but perhaps those could be rectified. We sometimes receive school wide emails where someone is requesting to borrow equipment from other departments/labs.

All the best and sorry to hear of your plight,


I have to agree strongly with pm133 here. It sounds like you're not even attempting to work independently and are looking for reasons to blame your supervisor, and your attitude - from your post - sounds terrible.

The only issue I can see here is one of sub-optimal lab/equipment conditions - of course, not ideal, but not uncommon either, and as has been pointed out this is something that should be relatively easily rectifiable. Yet your first response is to try and jump ship without even trying to sort it out?

PhD study is in very large part about independence and overcoming obstacles. If you can't manage that, you might transfer somewhere else but you'll still struggle, because you're looking for ways to pin the blame on others. Once a week, as pm133 points out, is above and beyond the regularity with which most PhD students meet with their supervisors. You shouldn't be needing that level of support.

As for your bizarre allegations of 'incompetence' and 'not understanding basic data analysis' - not to mention the kids part - sounds like you're salty about being supervised by a woman. Perhaps you're not, but that's how it comes across in your post.


What pm133 said. You're describng the reality of a lab based PhD. Get on with it.


I'd write the same, except that I saw bad bosses, good bosses and the instances when the fairly good boss clashed with a fairly good student on personality issues. And this case is not clear cut.
Before making any sudden decision, I'd talk this through with another lab member. I'd also get their help to do my part of the job the best I can, following their advice and the boss's advice. If, all of a sudden, things start working after getting such an approach, it was you and it is avaluable lesson. If the boss continues to look not very competent, there are other signs to look out for: does she let people go to conferences? How are the papers in the lab going? Are the opportunities for ex-lab members better of worse than in the other departments? Can you carve out your piece of research and go with it anyway?
Remember that the PhD advisor is not just there for you as your mom; she's running a lab and it should be on you to get 15 minutes from her, and choose a right moment to do it. Also, always present your results throroughly, because she can't remember everybody's work in the lab, that is not possible. That is why she hires smart, independent people to run their projects.
Some bosses are good with postdocs, and not so good with PhD students that need strong guidance - in this case find another lab member to guide you, just be sure that they don't clash with the boss and the boss knows where you're getting help.
Also, her extracurricular activities should be not of your concern and vice versa. She might have four babies, or a rock band, or be a world famous author and the only important thing is to get the job done in the lab, and this is also a message for you.


Quote From Theint:

I am working on watertreatment project and require HPLC .......

As someone who does quite some analytical chemistry, I don't really see the problem with storing your samples in a -80 or -20 before analysis. We do that with all GC/LC/HPLC related samples simply because there are a lot of people in the lab and not everyone can run samples at the same time. Find out if there is another lab with a -80 or -20 fridge to store your samples in. That is usually no big deal. 3 days a week sounds fine. I sometimes have to wait 2 weeks before I can run my samples.
I think you can explain to her that recycling of vials is a bad idea if you make good points. Most professors try to save money wherever possible, so that is a rather common issue that you probably encounter in many labs.

Quote From starryeyed:

Some bosses are good with postdocs, and not so good with PhD students that need strong guidance - in this case find another lab member to guide you, just be sure that they don't clash with the boss and the boss knows where you're getting help.

I find this to be a very important point. It can be a bit frustrating if your bosses are extremely hands off, because there is not always another lab member that can provide guidance, especially in labs with a very broad range of different projects. A PhD student should be independent but there are definitely supervisors who use this as an excuse to get out of student supervision altogether.


Another thing that can happen is that the supervisor can be there too much (weekly meetings are quite frequent in my view...) and kind of holding your hand but not... so that you are not feeling fully able to take control of your research and full responsibility for it... because they're always breathing down your neck. And yet you NEED to, because although they're there and wanting to meet all the time and give advice etc, you are still the one that needs to be in the drivers' seat and powering it all ahead. That can be so hard when at the same time you have this person trying to hold your hand and breathing down your neck (some find it reassuring - for others it can be crippling).

Maybe a bit of that is what is going on here, and Theint would benefit from asking to see the supervisor a little less often, so that he/she can just get into it and take full ownership. This is not a criticism of Theint at all, and I hope that it is not read that way. I had a situation myself where, as an extremely independent person, I ended up with a supervisor who liked to meet way too often for my liking. It sort of felt like although I was expected to do the real work, it was actually her PhD. So I had zero motivation and wasted a lot of the first two years of my PhD. If Theint has issues that can't be worked around in this situation, whatever they may be, then I strongly would advise changing supervisors (maybe easier than trying to go elsewhere at this stage). The right supervision for you is so important. I learnt this the hard way and my only regret is not changing supervisors earlier on. End of the 1st year is a good time to do it. Diplomacy is important!