Jan 24, 2019
Anyone have advice for dealing with a difficult advisor? I don’t want to state too much publicly, but my advisor is the only one doing what I do, so I am stuck with them unless I grossly change my research focus. I’m happy to pm with more details, but don’t want to post. Basically, the advisor and I are not on the same page with some things and our difference in opinion (?) is preventing me from getting all I need/want from mentor ship. Sorry for the vagueness, but happy to give more details privately.


10+ Year Member
Feb 5, 2008
Psychology Student
Late as well. As others mentioned, there are many factors to consider and no simple answer. A couple of thoughts:

If there's another advisor in your department who is very productive, easy to work with, and even tangentially related to your field, you might want to switch. You can always specialize more in your preferred field during internship and postdoc, provided you put out a couple of publications that are loosely related to your preferred field. On the other hand, you can't easily get past an advisor who stops you from doing the things you need to do to succeed, it will hinder you greatly. If you have 10-15 publications with a new advisor with only 3 of them in your field, that is better than only 2-3 total with your original advisor.

It's easy to underestimate how much power you have as a student, especially re: switching advisors. You have little influence, but you probably have more than you think. The program has major incentives not to drop you (looks bad to a number of accrediting agencies, presumably they are just good folks to begin with and want their students to succeed, etc.).

Here are a few questions to consider:
  • How have past students fared while working with the advisor? Have they been unhappy?
  • How have past students fared after finishing with the advisor? Did they do well?
  • Is there a trusted person in the department who is more senior who you can talk to? While you can't ask directly, they can give a history who has worked with this person (and if the advisor is new, at least the history of other people to whom you might consider switching). TBH, the department probably knows that this person is a problem, but they can't say that publicly. That being said, consider carefully if you are contributing to the problem - don't overblame yourself (sometimes advisors are crazy), but consider if you were someone else, would these same issues be happening. If this is true, you can apologize and fix these problems, and probably improve the relationship. That being said, the advisor has much more power in the relationship, and when it goes wrong, I find it more likely that the advisor has tools available to fix the problem but does not use them appropriately.
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