Changing advisors in CSE

Students may change advisors for many reasons: as they solidify their research interests, as they discover their advising needs, or as they realize that a mismatch exists between themselves and their advisor.  In all cases, it is expected that CSE faculty members will support the transition process.  We first describe CSE’s principles, as they relate to the process of changing advisors.  We then outline best practices. 

The document that follows outlines our expectations for how advisor changes will take place, but it is not an exhaustive list of circumstances.  If either students or faculty have experiences that lie outside of these expectations, please contact CSE faculty members, the CSE Graduate Program Office, the CSE Graduate Chair, the DEI Chair, or the CSE Chair.

Our Principles

  1. PhD students have the right to choose whether to continue to work with their advisors. Faculty advisors do not have control over a student’s visa.  Students do not lose their visa or their status if they decide to work with another advisor.
  2. Faculty should be clear and transparent about their expectations when taking on students, ideally through published statements outlining policies and practices in their research group. 
  3. Students should be encouraged to speak with other faculty about their activities and interests in a free and open manner, with or without intent of consideration of advisor switches. Faculty advisors should actively encourage such cross-faculty engagements.  
  4. When switching advisors, ideally, the student, new advisor, and previous advisor should all participate in a discussion about the transition prior to the transition.  When a decision is made to move forward with a new advising relationship, the previous advisor will be informed by either the student and/or new advisor.  In rare cases, the student may not be comfortable informing their previous advisor.  In these cases, the new advisor or Graduate Chair can discuss the transition with the previous advisor.  
  5. Advisor transitions should be handled in a timely manner to minimize delay and disruption to PhD studies.  Transition issues may ideally be worked out cooperatively among the student and their old and new advisors, with facilitation as needed from the CSE Graduate Office or Graduate Chair.  The graduate office will be informed through an advisor change form.

    • [Previous advisor, current advisor, student] The issues to be worked out vary by situation, but may include matters such as status of papers in progress or in-pipeline, completion or handing off of responsibilities for ongoing sponsored projects, and transitioning resources, codebases, etc.
    • [Previous advisor] Advisors may not cut off GSRA funding during a semester based on declared or anticipated advisor switches.  
    • [Student] Continuation of GSRA funding does require that the student continue to perform on the associated project that is funding the GSRA appointment.  See the funding section at the end of the document for more details, including available emergency transition funding when the continuation of a GSRA responsibilities is not possible.
    • [New advisor] When a student switches to a new advisor’s research group, it is generally good practice to allow for a transition period during which the student learns about the group’s research, available projects, and background literature.  This will vary by situation.  
  6. It is important to acknowledge that changing advisors can be stressful and can cause anxiety, which affects a student’s progress, feelings of self-worth, and progress within their degree. Students are encouraged to reach out to any and all sources of advice and support. This includes other faculty members, who should be expected to hold discussions in confidence, if requested (subject to mandatory reporting requirements which may hold for some faculty and some categories of issues). It also includes the CSE Graduate Office, the CSE Graduate Chair, the CSE DEI Committee Chair, the CSE Chair, the CoE CARE Center, and the CoE Graduate office, among others. For certain kinds of conflict the Rackham Conflict Resolution office may also provide a valuable avenue for resolution.
  7. Conflict situations will require more active intervention and mediation on the part of the department or college (or other level as appropriate). CSE recognizes that our processes for addressing these situations have not always been adequate to the task, and we are working to improve our processes through learning lessons and increasing resources available.
  8. Retaliation is unacceptable. If you have experienced retaliatory behavior as a function of switching advisors, or think that you may have, please reach out to the Graduate Chair, DEI Chair, CSE Chair, or the confidential Rackham Resolution Officers.
  9. If you feel like you have experienced something outside of these points – let us know so that we can build off of these points for the future.

Best Practices for Changing Advisors

The remainder of this section outlines various components of the advisor change process and describes some best practices.  It is important to remember that both students and advisors are unique individuals.  Each transition should be thought of on a case-by-case basis.

Statement on the importance of changing advisors

The goal of CSE is to support student success.  An effective advising relationship is central to student success.  Therefore, it is important that faculty accept and support the process of changing advisors when necessary.

Initial conversation

A student should feel empowered to speak to multiple faculty members and students about research areas. We encourage it. It may also be beneficial to discuss advising style and group dynamics.  Students may enter into these discussions with the intention of continuing to work in an area that is similar to their current area or with the intention of transitioning to a new area.  We remind that advising transitions, even those where the new topic is similar to the student’s original focus, will generally extend time to degree.
Ideally, these conversations should proceed in an open and transparent manner, including the student, current advisor and potentially new advisor.  At the same time, we remind faculty that advising relationships do have an entrenched power dynamic.  Students may or may not be interested in sharing their experiences and motivation for leaving a previous group and may ask the potential new advisor for discretion.  Further, some students may not want to inform their current advisor of their decision to switch groups until they have reached a decision and finalized details.

The transition process

Students may transition between advisors at different points within their graduate career.  This may range from just after arrival at U-M to multiple semesters in.  As a result, the needs of the student during this transition process may also vary.  It is important that the new advisor is flexible to these needs.  The student retains credit and prerogative to include their work in their thesis when transitioning to a new group.  If there are questions or concerns, please reach out to the CSE Chair or Graduate Chair.

The benefit of a smooth transition is that it helps to maintain a positive relationship with the previous advisor.  In a smooth transition, the new and previous advisors, in consultation with the student, discuss the transition and come up with a transition plan.  To the extent possible, students should work to wrap up research in their previous group.  This plan may include decisions about the student finalizing deliverables (e.g., software, papers) from the previous grant that funded them.  This may also include research papers that are in the pipeline.  If the research from the previous group was at an early stage, and if the expertise of the new advisor is relevant, and if the previous advisor agrees, it may make sense for the new advisor to actively participate in the old project.  If the paper is in submission (or nearly in submission), the new advisor may see their contribution, if anything, as editing/refinement without expecting to be added as a co-author to the manuscript. It should be acknowledged that some students will be leaving a toxic working relationship with their previous advisor and may not be either willing or able to continue to work on the previous project.  The final transition plan must be clearly communicated to the student.  

Different advisors have different styles for aiding in the transition process.  One effective model is to assume that the transition will occur over a semester.  During this transition, the new student may work on a project with another student in the group to learn more about the research process of the new research group.  The student will read literature in the field.  There are other effective models as well and it should not be assumed that one is appropriate for all situations.

Logistics

Students will complete a form in which their new advisor officially acknowledges the relationship and the financial responsibility.  Ideally, the previous advisor is part of the discussion.  At the minimum, the previous advisor must be informed about the switch before the paperwork is finalized.

Students should not be expected to transition from their existing desk when they change advisors.  Desks are not assigned by group and students need not shift as they transition.  

The current advisor, previous advisor, and the student will work out how infrastructure (e.g., desktop, laptop, monitor, etc.) are handled as this may vary.

Extending time to degree

A common student concern is that changing advisors may cause a delay in a student’s degree progress.  It is important that a new advisor work with an incoming student to minimize delay due to the change in advising, while acknowledging that it may not be possible to completely eliminate the delay.  One way that new advisors can decrease the impact of advisor switching on the new student is by working with the new student to maintain the student’s prior research topic area or, if that is not possible, to potentially incorporate the previous research into the new topic area.  If the switch in area is substantial, it may not be possible to include the student’s previous work in the final dissertation.

What to do if you experience retaliation

If you experience retaliation, or believe that you may have, please reach out to the CSE Graduate Program Office, CSE Graduate Chair, the CSE DEI Chair, the CSE chair, and/or the UM CSE reporting page for anonymous reporting.

Student Funding

It is expected that the new advisor will take financial responsibility for their new advisee.  This funding may include either GSRA or GSI funding.

There may be times when a new advisor does not have sufficient resources to fund a student as a GSRA.  In that case, it is expected that the student will apply for and be funded as a GSI before a term begins.  If it is necessary to transition to a new advising relationship in the middle of a term and the new advisor does not have funding, there are circumstances in which emergency support may be available through the College of Engineering (additional information).