Don’t give up, make a change!

Are you dissatisfied with how your adviser is advising your dissertation? This article outlines three arguments for changing your adviser.
Kyle Glenn via Unsplash

Between 14 and 19 per cent of PhD candidates are not at all satisfied or highly dissatisfied with their dissertation advisers, according to the Bundesbericht Wissenschaftlicher Nachwuchs 2017 (Federal Report on Junior Academics). No matter whether they are dissatisfied for content-related, methodological, organisational, or personal reasons, changing your adviser is always better than dropping out of your PhD programme. My experience has shown that changing advisers may even be advantageous.

1. Turning a crisis into an opportunity

By changing advisers, you can turn a crisis into an opportunity. Deciding to make a change can combat feelings of anger or helplessness. It is a good way to be active and make your own decisions to get yourself out of a negative situation. By changing advisers, I was able to put the focus back on my own ideas, needs, and expectations, and concentrate on my actual goal: the PhD. Often, others around you will also perceive the situation as stressful, and your department may even be happy you have made the change.

2. A way to reposition yourself

I needed to update my dissertation synopsis. I felt like I could use the opportunity to reposition myself mentally and in terms of my approach and methodology, because I no longer needed to be bound to the regulations or the mentality of my old department. I also felt clearer about what I expected a good adviser to do for me. Investing time in thinking about how to structure your new student/adviser relationship can pay off.

3. Network!

By looking for a new adviser, you can activate and expand your network. I presented my project to multiple professors from Germany and from abroad. By doing so, I not only found two advisers, but also got lots of valuable feedback from experts in my field—along with multiple rejections.

My conclusion: Changing advisers should not be taboo, and it can be advantageous for everyone involved in a difficult situation. Of course, if you are dissatisfied with your adviser, you should try to meet with them and clear up any problems first. If this does not improve the situation, it is important to understand what you expect from a good adviser. Brochures from the Qualitätszirkel Promotion (PhD Quality Circle) can help. The group offers two surveys you can use to find out whether a potential adviser will be able to fulfil your expectations and needs.