Who to talk to about switching advisors?


Is it just me, or can talking to the dean of your college seem kind of terrifying sometimes?

When I first started to consider switching advisors in the middle of my PhD, I found that talking to the graduate school administration was one of the first steps I needed to take. This can seem overwhelming and daunting at times, but it’s important to understand the process and get as much information as possible.

But even before that, there were a lot of other people I talked to in the course of making this decision. Personally, I found that hearing other opinions, even if they were different than my own, gave me more clarity and helped me make the right choice for me.

So, who can you talk to about switching advisors?

Friends and Family

I started by turning to my friends and family, the people who know me best on a personal level. Talking to the people I trust most gave me a base level of support that I needed to move forward. Sometimes it can be tough to even start voicing out loud that you want to switch advisors, but talking to the people that love you can be a good start.

Classmates and Coworkers

While I kept my decision under wraps at first, I finally began to confide in several coworkers and classmates before moving forward. Depending on the situation, it can be difficult to talk to your peers about something that might seem sensitive. However, they may understand your situation better than people outside of academia and can help give you a fresh perspective on your decision.

Graduate College Administration (i.e. the dean of your college)

While it can seem scary, talking to your dean or another administration party can be one of the best ways to get information on how your graduate school handles the process of switching advisors. For example, my college had a step-by-step procedure that I needed to follow in order to switch. This can be important to understand your decision, how long it will take, and what you will need to do in the future for the transition to move smoothly.

Your advisor

The final (and most terrifying) step is to discuss everything with your advisor. Some graduate schools may recommend that you find a new advisor before telling your current one. In my case, I spoke to my current advisor before moving forward with the official process. Our conversation was open, honest, and respectful. This not only helped maintain my relationship with my old advisor, but also helped make the transition to a new advisor easier.


Switching advisors can seem like a really daunting process, and will elicit all kinds of advice from different people, with different perspectives. This can be helpful, but overall, it’s important to remember that this decision is about what’s best for you and your future!