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Adviser Leaving; what to do?

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Hi there


So I am an active member here, but I have created a dummy account because the situation requires anonymity, at this point.


So let's say I'm a graduate student at university A, and my primary adviser, the individual who I came to university A to work with, and the only individual in my department who does what I am interested in from a literature and cultural production perspective (there is another department with many who work on the topics I do, but it is made up of various professors from different departments, none of which are in the English department and none of which primarily study lit.) accepts a job at university B in Fall 2016. In 2016, I'd start reading for my exams. Should I follow my adviser to university B, a university whose program is significantly smaller and not ranked as high as the one I am attending, but is quickly "up and coming," or should I stay at University A, a program that is much larger, has much more resources, and a better track record of placing graduates. Although my primary adviser would be gone, my adviser expressed a willingness to still work with me, through Skype and such, and there are others at University A whom I have begun to foment relationships with and could possibly serve on a committee, though none of which would be capable of heading it, given my interests. Now let's say my adviser is a pretty big name in the game and well respected. Should I stay at university A and work with my primary adviser at a distance, or should I head to university B, despite the lower ranking, poorer placement rates, and less resources because no one at University A would remain who could primarily head my project? Is it possible that my adviser's name would negate the lesser ranking of university B while on the job market? I understand that I can work at a distance with this person and still have the University resources and this person's supervision, but it seems . . . I don't know the word to describe it . . . difficult, half-assed . .  . doing something from a distance like that. That being said, at this point I'd want to stay at University A and work at a distance, especially given the funding at this school, but I'm willing to listen to university B. If University B can offer a comparable teaching load, funding package, waive coursework, then I'd entertain the idea of moving. Lets say university B does this, what should I do? Advice here please! 

Edited by Ferngully99
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Oof, this is a tricky situation. Have you talked to your current school about how they've handled this issue in the past, and whether they are willing to accommodate you (assuming they are aware your prof is leaving)? Have you had an honest talk with your adviser about what they think the best option for you would be? I'd also try to feel out from some advanced students in your department (and hopefully some more advanced PhD students will chime in here) how much they actually interact with their advisers after coursework and exams are done. 


I would be inclined to stick with your current school for all the reasons mentioned, and also because you're familiar with the environment, presumably like it, and moving to a program you like less overall could be pretty traumatic. That said, I would make sure that the school would be willing to let your current adviser be on your dissertation committee and would encourage some interdisciplinary connections so that you can form relationships with the people in the other department studying things you're interested in.


Some of this also probably depends on how hands on your adviser is and how much you feel like you need someone guiding you along. If you have a hands-off relationship already, or if you plan to be do a lot of research abroad, having a long-distance adviser may not matter much. If you're used to having long, in-person discussions to work through ideas, that may be substantially more difficult to replicate from afar. 


I'm sorry I can't be of more help, but I am wishing you all the best!

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Only you can make the decision, but here are some quick questions to ask yourself and others:


- How closely do you like to work with your advisor? 

- Is your advisor generally accessible and good at answering emails?

- If you remain at University A, could there be a possibility of spending your dissertation year at University B, perhaps as a visiting student?

- What are your career goals? If you want to stay in academia, your advisor's name will open more doors than your institution's reputation. If you want to go to industry, the opposite is the case. 

- Has University A dealt with this kind of situation in the past? Were they successful (=do they know how to accommodate a student whose main advisor is off campus? do they assign you a local advisor who can take care of the admin stuff so you don't fall between the chairs? have others who were in your situation successfully graduated or did they run into all kinds of problems)?

- Are there other professors at University B who you would be interested in working with? You'll need to form a committee there, too. 

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You're better off taking this question over to the Chronice of Higher Ed forums.

That forum is composed of more phd and professors and advanced grad students. I'm sure there are already threads on this topic addressing this issue.

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In a nutshell, I'd work at a distance with the advisor and stay where you are. But, that's because it's similar-ish to what I did. My advisor left while I was doing my dissertation research (data collection) but we continued to work together and he supervised my entire dissertation. Though the official university paperwork lists him as an outside reader, he considers me one of his PhD graduates and always will. That said, there are certain challenges to working at a distance but only you can decide if those are things you don't mind. I didn't mind them but that's because I was already used to only meeting with my advisor 2-3 times a semester. It didn't make my PhD more difficult nor did it make it half-assed.


Another thing you might consider is whether you'd be able to go to University B for a semester or year to work more closely with your advisor while still being a student at University A. It might be hard to swing funding for this but, often you can write from anywhere, especially in the humanities.


If University B is less prestigious, you shouldn't go there, especially if you want to go into academia. You will want/need the resources/recognition of University A to get a job (not just a good job but any job in academia) so don't foreclose that possibility unless you really are okay with basically shutting that door permanently. And, to be quite honest, it is incredibly unrealistic, especially in the social sciences or humanities, for a university to waive all of your coursework and comprehensive exams. Typically, you can transfer in 9-12 credits taken at another institution, which isn't even a full year of coursework.

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