Changing mentors or advisers

At some point in your graduate career, you might want a new mentor or adviser. The issues can be more complex if the same person fulfills both of these roles for you. Because of the relatively informal nature of mentoring, there is no formal policy for acquiring mentors as there is, in most departments, for acquiring or changing a research or dissertation adviser. Know the differences between the two processes, and the basic guidelines applicable to each. Changing mentors is not an issue if the relationship is an informal one, i.e., the person is not your thesis/dissertation adviser.

Also, changing mentors does not necessarily imply difficulties in your relationship. Your priorities for mentoring may change based on your personal and professional growth, rather than by misunderstandings. A good mentor will support you in your search for others who can assist you.

Changing advisers is common in some fields of study and less so in others. It usually requires that you follow departmental procedures. Changing advisers is easier if your department encourages students to work with multiple faculty members and you make changes early in your career.

  • Try to work through differences with your adviser before you make a final decision.
  • Seek advice from a faculty member or peer to assess your needs and determine whether a different adviser would be good for you, particularly if you are attempting to change advisers towards the final phase of your graduate program.
  • Approach another faculty member about being an adviser for you.
  • Be professional at all times. Focus discussions on your interests and goals and not on negative incidents or difficulties. Avoid doing or saying anything that could have negative ramifications for your future.
  • Practice diplomatic ways to express to your adviser or mentor why you are considering a change.
  • Discuss and arrange a timeframe for completing any remaining work with your current adviser before the change takes place.
  • Complete or update any paperwork that contains information about your adviser, e.g., internship paperwork, thesis, general exam or dissertation committee forms.