Thinking about changing university after a few months of studying


Hello, I'm a PhD student in UK starting on 1st October 2021.
It's just 2 months of my PhD life. I accepted the offer without carefully considering if I suit to the university and my supervisor or not.
Consequently, we didn't have meaningful meetings since he is very new to the field. My current progress is still like the first week I was starting the PhD. The research group I was assigned doesn't relevant to my field. In the meetings, I'm the only one that knows nothing about what they are doing. I tried finding people in this field in the uni but I found none. I am worrying it would not be good for the rest of 3-4 years if I stay here.
Therefore, I'm getting very stressed and anxious now.
I'm also looking for a lab in another university that really suits my field, but I don't know if it's too early to give up here.
Any suggestion for my situation?

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Hi eliteape,

Two months is very early to judge and the grass isn't always greener elsewhere. I can sympathise with you, as no-one at my university has any experience in my area, not even my supervisor really. My research group is for bioenergy but I am the only one using biomass while everyone else is wind, batteries and hydrogen, so they are not that helpful. However, I have nearly finished my PhD with several publications, after effectively teaching myself everything.

My advice, is find a relevant paper that you think you can replicate and do it. It doesn't matter if what you did is novel because once you have a method that you think works, you can iterate from it with confidence. Taking baby steps with regards to methodology is a lot easier than big leaps when you don't have much lab support. As when you start doing some experiments you learn what parts are easy or difficult which enables you to design better experiments.

Granted, I think I have a good supervisor. I am her first PhD student and at the start of my PhD she was useless. I think it took over a year until we both figured out what we were doing. So give your supervisor some slack and think what are they good at. My supervisor doesn't understand chemistry and can't help with the theory or most experiments. However she gives decent feedback, has helped me massively improve my writing and she deals with all the paperwork/bureaucracy. There are no perfect supervisors but you can adapt to use your supervisor's strengths.


There's a difficult transition in a PhD from being told what to do, to identifying what to do and leading on it.

It is often tempting to think a better supervisor would simply tell you what to do and you'd go paint-by-numbers and get a PhD. This is not necessarily untrue, in that especially in lab-experiment heavy fields - ironically at better Unis - PhDs can be treated as technicians then discarded with the bit of paper but no real skills or prospects beyond pushing buttons on a machine and writing down results.

Irrespective of field, you'll have better prospects as an academic if you can develop the skills to lead on investigations with your PhD, since in a postdoc role you'll be expected to lead on grants, papers, and projects. A supervisor telling you exactly what to do might feel more comfortable, but is not necessarily in your best interests.

It is better to lean on a supervisor for their general experience, rather than specific 'do I test hypothesis A, or hypothesis B?' type questions, since the nature of a PhD means you'll be expected to become an expert with a better answer to that question than they would have. I realise this might mean it seems like supervision is poor, cheap, or lazy; but in general it's the norm for you to be expected to identify what you want to do and go do it, with the supervisor providing oversight of any obvious errors rather than explicit direction.

A good reason to move is you see more funding/networking/career opportunities with the group you're moving to. Supervision alone is, imo, a bad reason, since supervisors can leave and, irrespective, ultimately you need to take ownership and leadership of your research.