Doctoral advisor moving universities
June 9, 2014 1:40 PM   Subscribe

My doctoral advisor is moving universities. What do I need to know? What are good questions to ask?

Based on some personal and professional decisions, my doctoral advisor is changing universities.

Here's the situation:
I will be ABD (fingers crossed) by the end of the summer session. My advisor and mentor (she has really been a true mentor and we have an excellent relationship) will officially resign her position from my current university on September 1st, 2014. She will still be in the area and tying up loose ends through fall semester and will leave in January 2015. She has offered two options both described below.

1) My advisor would co-advise me from her new university with one of my current committee members at my current university. My university allows me to have two outside committee members. Although, she may not be able to "hood" me in this case, but her co-advisor would.

2) She would take me with her to the new university. This would require more work because I would keep some of my original committee members, however, I would need to find at least one new committee member from the other university. I would also be offered a research position.

Some more details:
My current program is top in my field and she's also top in our field in my research area. The second university is not very highly ranked, but also has a good reputation. My current committee and I have a good working relationship. I would have more funding through option 2, as well as the research position that I would prefer. I would have less funding through option 1, and a teaching position which I don't mind, but is more time consuming than the research position.

I am heavily leaning towards option 1 mostly for personal reasons, but also it seems easiest academically. However, I want to make sure I'm not missing important questions that should be addressed. So my questions are: What do I need to know? What are good questions for me to ask?

posted by lullu73 to Education (14 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
Before you take option 2, make absolute damn sure that University 2 would accept all of your pre-ABD stuff for credit for graduation. If they have different graduation requirements they may not allow you to just transfer all your University 1 stuff in and let you do a dissertation and nothing else. Don't take your advisor's work for it.

That said, I had a bunch of friends who did option (1) (and one who tried to do Option 2 but got screwed by what I said above), and it worked very well for all of them. They were able to stay and not lose continuity, they got a new advisor that was mostly advisor-in-name-only, and kept great working relationships with their advisor that had moved. If you're leaning that way (and you have an advisor at current U willing to take you), I think that is the better choice.
posted by brainmouse at 1:47 PM on June 9, 2014 [6 favorites]

I'd do option 1.

Do you REALLY need the hassle of learning to work within a new academic structure at this late date? No.
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 1:48 PM on June 9, 2014 [6 favorites]

Pretty much everybody I know who had to make this choice went with option 1, particularly if they were already late in the program. People who selected Option 2 were basically in their first few years, or people whose advisors were moving to a highly ranked university.

Problems with option 2 include whether or not your exams will transfer (qualifiers, prelims, etc.), course requirements, and assembling a new committee.

Also, usually when somebody sets up a new lab, there is a 3-6 month period where stuff isn't being done quickly, if at all, which can delay your graduation.
posted by Comrade_robot at 2:01 PM on June 9, 2014 [2 favorites]

This essentially happened to me (her move wasn't permanent, but it was for the duration of my degree). I did option 1, but what ended up happening was she was so busy with her new department/class load/move that I made little progress with her leading, so I had to "demote" her to just a regular committee member and rely on my new advisor. It was a pain, but it was the best decision for all involved.

So, I would do option 1, without hesitation. I know students who did option 2, and their progress was slower, because even with the very very best advisor, their advisor's new life was hectic for a while and their old students, unfortunately, were the first to suffer.

Make sure your co-advisor is someone who is fully on-board with where you intend to take your dissertation. Schedule lots of meetings between now and your current advisor's departure. If I were you, I would pick the member of your committee who is also the easiest to get through with. Now is not the time to pick the best-known name, unless they are also the one to create the fewest number of hurdles.
posted by umwhat at 2:02 PM on June 9, 2014 [1 favorite]

Seconding that you need to check with other people besides your advisor, especially about what would transfer if you take option 2. I used to work in a registrar's office and it was awful to have to help deal with the breakdowns that ensured when someone right on the edge of their degree got screwed because their advisor had breezily assured them something was fine. CHECK WITH THE REGISTRAR. Check twice.
posted by Wretch729 at 2:23 PM on June 9, 2014 [1 favorite]

If you feel almost ready to "move on" -- into a postdoc or whatever you plan to do next, stick with option 1. As an "orphan" at your current university, there will be more institutional motivation to help you wrap up and be finished.

If you feel "undercooked" and like your job prospects will be much better with more time in the degree, then this is the only real reason to move. Most other aspects of moving will be problematic (as covered well above).

TLDR(?): Decide if you want substantially more time as a PhD student (there are reasons to do this.) If you want to finish faster, stay where you are.
posted by u2604ab at 2:37 PM on June 9, 2014 [2 favorites]

I did option 1. Yes, way simpler most times.

One problem I had was getting all the committee members to agree on a date for a thesis defense--new commitments and travel back restricted my advisor's availability, and when it all came together I suddenly found myself with about 14 hours to write the last bit and edit my thesis. In part this situation came because I was trying to meet a date to start my postdoc and thus crunched for time. So my long-winded point is to stay way ahead on planning anything that requires your distant advisor to do more than make an email or phone call.
posted by stevis23 at 2:43 PM on June 9, 2014 [1 favorite]

You only want to take option two if the new university is much higher status than the old one. Especially in the humanities (your ABD statement sounds like the way a humanities person speaks) the university/program you come from matters a lot when you're looking for a job.
posted by overhauser at 3:02 PM on June 9, 2014 [1 favorite]

I have been really leaning towards option 1 because it just seems so much easier and for personal reasons.

My committee is eager and willing to help in any way they can, and I have multiple options for co-advisors. Also, I already have a good system with my current committee, and they are all engaged with my work (some more than others, but they are definitely a solid committee). As far as status, university #1 (my current university), has a higher status. Plus, since my advisor won't be leaving until January, if I work incredibly hard I could have a lot done before she leaves.

Thanks for the advise on making sure that scheduling regular times with her after she's gone, we'll make sure to do that. Also, thanks for the advice on scheduling regular meetings with the person who will be co-advising before she leaves. Maybe all three of us should have regular meetings before she leaves to make sure everyone's on the same page.

The funding situation would definitely be better with option 2, but I'm not sure if I really want to uproot myself and possibly get behind being this close to completion.

For Option 1:
Outside of questions about how the co-advising will work logistically with the university, is there anything else I should be asking about?

Thanks so much for all your comments and thoughts everyone!
posted by lullu73 at 3:43 PM on June 9, 2014

Option 1 is the most popular for everyone I've known who did this especially at the ABD stage. However, is new University (option 2) more prestigious and/or gives you opportunities to work with new and better networked faculty members? If so, consider it.
posted by k8t at 3:47 PM on June 9, 2014 [1 favorite]

For option 1, do you still have to register for classes that she "teaches" (like research credit), and will those still be available to you? For your teaching assignment, will you lose priority somehow (eg, does she teach a class that you TA for), or which assignments would you get going forward? Who signs your forms, etc., once she is no longer faculty?

I'd talk to your department chair just to double check - ask him or her how this has gone in the past, and what problems and solutions s/he foresees.
posted by Dashy at 3:52 PM on June 9, 2014 [1 favorite]

What (general) field are you in and how far do you think you are from graduating?
posted by juliapangolin at 3:57 PM on June 9, 2014

If you take option 1, does your adviser have funding for you to travel to the new university for a couple of weeks to meet in person?
posted by matildatakesovertheworld at 7:12 PM on June 9, 2014 [1 favorite]

Thanks everyone for all your thoughts and ideas!
posted by lullu73 at 10:20 AM on June 10, 2014

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