Transferring to another university


Hi everyone,

I am in need of some advice about transferring universities. I am currently completing my PhD at a Russell Group university. Toward the end of my first year, I began working with a professor at a very highly ranked university. As my PhD has progressed, I have moved toward their research area and become more isolated within my department, which does not specialise in that field. I raised these issues with my main supervisor recently, who was extremely understanding and proposed a couple of options. The first is to spend the remainder of my PhD at the other professor's university as a visiting student. The second is to look into transferring my registration to that professor's university and completing my PhD there.

The second option seems to make sense. If I am being primarily supervised by this professor for the remainder of my PhD, I would think that being awarded a PhD from their university is sensible. It would be a considerable step-up in terms of "prestige" and the perceived value of the degree. But I also worry that I am being given an inch and taking a mile, so to speak. I really like my current department and my supervisors have been nothing but supportive - it just isn't a good fit in terms of research environment. Would I be betraying their goodwill by pushing for a full transfer?


Avatar for rewt

hi giveittomestraight,

It sounds like you have an unusually healthy working relationship with your supervisor and external supervisor. Congratulations on somehow making it work and I wish you all the best.

Though have you asked the new university about funding? I would make sure the new university has agreed to fund you before doing anything. If you don't want to betray your old department/supervisor; offer them joint affiliation and names on all publications. Even if you leave you can help your old supervisor by putting their name on your publications. Also, if they stay as a co-supervisor it counts towards their PhD completion stats. Leaving on good terms is always difficult but if you give them something for their troubles it can help.


As Rewt says, a big chunk of this depends on where your funding comes from.

If your current supervisor/university went to the effort to secure the funding, and provide you with a stipend, then it would be a generous supervisor (they do exist!) who'd happily put your interests first and accept what 'the University' would view as a failure (you didn't complete with them), to support your own best interests.

Funding rarely transfers; if you're not self-funded you should expect the University to walk over your supervisor and cut off any funds if you're not directly registered as their student.

If you *are* self-funded, this is a clear win and I would not hesitate to move your registration if you have sufficiently impressed not only your own supervisor, but a leading expert in the specific field at the best University for the topic that you're an asset.

It's a much trickier question if it's stipended-post here vs non-stipended post there. But in general do not be worried about 'offending' people in academia as a PhD or postdoc. The vast, vast majority or academics know the bad deals that are given to PhD students and Postdocs and will immediately wish them well if they find a more secure, or more well-paid post.


Hi rewt and abababa, thanks for the advice. I think you're right that funding will be a big consideration. I am currently on a programme that is funded externally and the funding wouldn't be transferred to the new university (that's clear in the funder's guidelines). My potential new supervisor is still talking with his university about transfer options, but it might come down to a choice between full funding at old university vs no/lower funding at new university. That will be a tricky choice, as I still have 16-18 months left.


Definitely, then, a tricky choice.

I'd wish your supervisor all the best in negotiating a transfer of funding, but I know from experience there will be a layer of management in the Uni that will, at the very least, resist this, and if it's not permitted by the funder they've already won. For someone external to the academic aspects, and viewing it as 'do we lose a PhD student and funding' vs 'some academic argument', it will be really unlikely for them to do anything but resist.

For you personally, if you look at it financially, the ~15k you'd lose is a significant amount of money. But it might be offset if having the PhD at the more prestigious uni means you get a job immediately, rather than in 6 months, after graduation.

Cynically, what you'd perhaps want to look at is the connectedness of the various institutions and supervisors. What % rate do their PhDs go on to postdocs? How many postdocs in the group also did PhDs there? There's a counter-argument that this top-tier prof is hoping to poach a 'free' completion on the back of someone else's funding and effort by leveraging their university status.

It may make sense to stay in your current post, and stay well connected with the new institution, with a view to moving to a postdoc there once the PhD is completed. If they're enthusiastic about you transferring there and working/completing for free, but have no idea what will happen after then, it's a warning sign. In my experience at the top unis there's a curious 50/50 split of fundamentally excellent researchers that don't play the game, and fundamentally terrible researchers that are excellent at playing the game. I could argue that someone of the former category would be far more interested in co-supervising you effectively than formally moving your registration. As an emerging expert in your field you'll be better placed to assess this in your own case than I am. Ultimately a PhD is good research or not; if you're getting excessive pressure you should move somewhere, I'd suggest carefully evaluating if you're getting told that because it's in your best interests, or someone elses. As I say, it's a tricky question with no straightforward answers, but as you're currently on a stipended PhD that's going well, you're in a really good place - just make sure if you trade, you trade upwards.