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Advisor leaving school, but not leaving me...

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I'm in a dilemma, and I'd really appreciate advice...

My current university:

I'm in my fourth year of a 5-year PhD program in the US (I have funding for 2 more years). I joined this PhD program straight out of undergrad, and earned an MA along the way. Let's call this school GU (for 'generous-faculty university'). My undergrad was in a completely different major. I learned everything I know in GU, and especially from my advisor who spent a LOT of time and effort into training me. I also have a big, very generous committee: 4 people besides my advisor meet with me regularly and give me feedback. They almost never get along, and one of them has serious boundary issues with me - but aside from some imperfections, they're great.

My advisor:

This last year, my advisor was on sabbatical, which she spent in Europe. During this time, we met every single week on Skype, and talked for over two hours about my work and my progress, she was advising me every step of the way. I also took that opportunity to spend a semester at a VERY prestigious university (let's call it AU - for 'awesome university'), where I met regularly, and got along greatly with a number of faculty members - they were all also very generous, and even had some advantages over those at my home school [not counting my advisor].

My fantasy:

Having started my PhD program straight out of undergrad, I was often jealous of those who had MAs or some PhD work before joining and were "totally on top of things" from day 1, when it took me two years and a LOT of help from my advisor to get on top of things (though, thanks to my advisor, I'm now one of the better students in the department). I often fantasized about getting a chance to start over in my own school, then when I was visiting AU, I fantasized about starting over at AU... but it was just a fantasy, because I wouldn't change my advisor for anyone.

My advisor is leaving GU:

I just submitted the first chapter of my dissertation (which in my school involves an examination process and a defense, the other chapters don't have the same process). After I submitted, my advisor asked for a Skype appointment. During our appointment, she said that she's been offered a job in Europe that she thinks she will accept. She said she didn't want to tell me while I was writing my paper so I wouldn't panic, but that she is NOT leaving me behind. She said she would remain my advisor (insofar as I would like her to), regardless what I do. She also negotiated funding for me at the school she's joining (funding comparable to what I have now: 2 years)

My options:

She gave me two options:

1- Stay put at GU, get another 'formal' advisor, and have her as co-advisor - and she will continue to advise me fully as she is now, just through Skype not in person, and she will give me her full support

Pro: staying put is good! my school currently ranks higher than the one she's moving to, and I keep my committee.

Con: I'd be orphaned in the department with no real advisor to advocate for me: if I'm competing for fellowships, post-doc, etc...

2- Transfer to the new university she's joining, have her as my only advisor, and finish my dissertation with her there...

Pro: I keep my advisor, decent funding means I can go back and meet with my committee even if they're not officially my committee (though I don't know if they'd be willing to...)

Con: I would lose my committee: In the system she's joining, there is no committee, I would be working exclusively with her. Also, GU is a more established department, the one she's moving to is in building [these cons were pointed out by my advisor herself, so I wouldn't be offending her by considering it.]

My advisor is a well established, well known, and well respected scholar. She's also very professional and very generous. Also, I've been very happy at my school, but I think that without her in it, my current university has very little appeal to me. Especially with the one faculty member who has boundary issues with me (my advisor can mark her territory when she's there, if I'm advisor-less, that unprofessional faculty member might do even worse things that she does now - meddling in my affairs). But also, I don't want to transfer to a school that few have heard of, and I don't want to be without a committee - I like having a committee!

Third option:

As I said, I often fantasized about starting over, but it was never an option because I would never leave my advisor. Now that my advisor is leaving, maybe it's not so bad anymore? I am thinking of applying to this awesome university that I was visiting (AU) and try to start over in it..

Pro: I'd get a degree from the most prestigious department in the field. I might be able to convince my advisor to co-advise me there, I'd be competing for a higher tier job market altogether...

Con: I'd spend 3 years longer than planned away from my husband; it's a very intense program so it might be a bit depressing - especially the first two years with classes; I might not end up being able to write the dissertation that I now want to write and that my advisor and I invested a lot of time in developing...

(alternatively, I could transfer to the European program, finish my dissertation there, then try for this prestigious school and get two PhDs - then they would be significantly different degrees because they're from different systems - unlike if I finish the dissertation at UG. But that's an even longer time away from my husband!)

Any thoughts would be appreciated!

P.S. I'm currently 26, I just got married (last week!), and my husband is cool with pretty much anything I do, but with a slight discomfort. Also, my dad just got diagnosed with cancer so I will be spending most of the coming semester or possibly the whole coming year at home (which is neither in the US nor Europe, but much closer to Europe).

Edited by sling
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Wow. That's a tough situation.

First of all, I would nix transferring to AU--better to build up connections, I think, and do a post-doc there (if you're in a field that does post-docs). I don't think starting over is worth the hassle.

We had a prof 'abandon' my department at the end of last academic year. Both of his remaining students (who were 1 to 2 years from finishing) decided to stay on here. They don't seem to have any problems doing their research, and my understanding is that they communicate with him as much as they used to before.

But the long-distance advisor thing doesn't work for everyone. Having just finished a year away from your advisor, you should know what you think of how well it works for you. (Yes, it clearly WORKS, since you got a lot accomplished while she was away. But did you like that arrangement? I wasn't clear on how you felt about it from reading your story.)

Personally, while I can do long-distance--my advisor was also on sabbatical this year, and I got a lot accomplished--I don't like it very much. I'm very glad that she'll be back soon: 3 more weeks! Hooray! You may feel differently, however...

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I think that you're making things entirely too black and white. Why, if you have 4 people that have been working with you, do you think that you would be left without someone to advocate for you within GU? It's confusing to me because you make them sound supportive at the beginning and then undermine that when you list the pros and cons. And, when it comes to postdocs, where your advisor is won't matter. They can call/email/Skype if they want more information than what's in the letter.

Given what you've presented, I think it makes the most sense to stay where you are and finish your degree. Go to AU for another semester if you want, or try to get a postdoc there (there are some programs, like NSF, where you can write your own postdoc rather than needing to fit into an existing position).

Like UnlikelyGrad, I've seen plenty of PhD students finish without their advisor onsite. My current advisor left several PhD students behind when he took his job here but still talked to them on the phone, read their work, and attended their defenses. Moreover, and this to me is the most important thing, you already meet with your advisor regularly regardless of where she is. I sincerely doubt you'll be able to find anyone else as willing to meet weekly as the person you already have.

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Try to figure out what would happen if you would stay put at GU, who would become your chair etc. My advisor became co-chair for a few left behind students this year and I can see that she tries to make sure that they get every support they need to finish and be successful. I am not sure if AU would take you at this stage of your degree you could very carefully ask around. If an advisor leaves that is a common reason for transfer and I think it is a respected one too, but universities often do not take very advanced students. (it is much easier for you to finish anyway)

You have to really think it over, and maybe find out a. whether they would take you, b. whether it would worth it.

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Thanks so much for all the feedback! This is very helpful!

(Setting my fantasy of starting over at AU aside,) Realistically, after giving it some thought, I think that academically, the best option for me is to stay a student at GU, but be physically in Europe with my advisor for a semester or two: That way I'd remain with my advisor, and keep my committee.

One major problem with this is that if I stay a GU student, my funding is too little to live on in the city my advisor is moving to in Europe (in UK). The stipend I'd be getting if I transfer to Europe is 2.5 times what I get in the US - Not because they're more generous, but because life is MUCH more expensive in the city I'd be in...

One option would be to ask her if I could register in both schools, and be funded by the one in Europe. Remaining registered at GU would keep me in contact with my committee, being registered at the new school would get me to remain under my advisor's close supervision (and quite frankly, I just really like working with her closely, I don't like the long distance thing much) - and then I'd choose to take the funding from the European school, since that's where I will be, physically...

Another option, if the double-registration doesn't work, would be to ask her if I could be a visiting RA with her for a semester or a year (that way I can remain registered in the US, but be able to spend time in the UK without worrying about my US stipend being too little to live on, since I'd be getting paid for RAing for that semester...)

One majorly important thing - she is benig very nice by giving me options (she could have said "yeah I'm moving, see ya", or she could have also decided for me what I would do, but she didn't)... and I'm really worried about sounding like I'm being a picky brat if I ask her about ridiculous-sounding options... do you guys think that the options I'm describing are ridiculous?

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One majorly important thing - she is benig very nice by giving me options (she could have said "yeah I'm moving, see ya", or she could have also decided for me what I would do, but she didn't)... and I'm really worried about sounding like I'm being a picky brat if I ask her about ridiculous-sounding options... do you guys think that the options I'm describing are ridiculous?

I think you're being ridiculous. Why does it matter that you're in Europe with your advisor if you've been in solid communication with her while she's in Europe and have been able to meet with her regularly? I just don't see why it's so important for you to physically *be* in Europe unless it's just that you want to live in Europe.

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I think you're being ridiculous. Why does it matter that you're in Europe with your advisor if you've been in solid communication with her while she's in Europe and have been able to meet with her regularly? I just don't see why it's so important for you to physically *be* in Europe unless it's just that you want to live in Europe.

I guess it's because I really dislike the long distance. It's exhausting.

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I'll just throw this out there... But even if you move with your advisor, you'll probably still get your degree from your previous school. Usually, once you've passed official candidacy, even if you move schools you still get your degree from the school you became a candidate in.

When I started, we had a group transplant from a much higher rated university to our school (top 5 to way less), and all the students that had passed their orals, while officially registered here, would received their actual degree from that top 5 school... And kept their committee at that same school. They just had to go back a few times a year to meet with their committee, revise drafts, and then defend.

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I would suggest telling your advisor that you would like to follow her, that you would like to have enough money to live off of in that city and that you would prefer to get your degree from the original school. Let her figure out what the logistics of that is - where the money will come from, etc. If it sounds like she won't be able to swing that, then ask about doing the visiting RA thing. I don't think going in with detailed plans of money coming from this source, these other faculty needing to be involved and on board, etc will be helpful.

Decide what your wish list is. I think you have already started, but formalize it to organize your own thoughts. What is the absolutely most important thing to you? Continuing to work with your advisor? Continuing to work with your advisor in close proximity? Keeping your committee? Make a ranked list so you know what you want most and what you are most willing to compromise on.

And regardless of what happens, it sounds like you will be in a good situation! You either are in a comfortable, familiar place with access to your advisor and opportunity to strike up new collaborations with other profs, or are going to be in a completely different place/country/system where everything but the research and advisor is brand new. Since your advisor seems to care and is taking your needs into account, I don't think you can really lose here.

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