Support for students changing labs
Infrequently, students need to change their thesis advisor and research group during the course of their PhD. Such a change could be warranted or necessary for many reasons, including departure of the thesis advisor from MIT, change in a student’s research interests, or recognition that the student-advisor relationship is not a good match for the training needs of the student. The department is committed to advising and supporting students through such transitions.
If you are considering a change in lab, for any reason, you should discuss your situation with a trusted advisor (e.g., program director, thesis committee member, other faculty member). The graduate program directors, and former directors, have supported many students through successful laboratory transitions, and also through decisions not to change labs. They can speak with you privately, subject only to mandatory reporting rules that surround issues of harassment and discrimination, and will not share your information with your PI or anyone else without your permission. If you would like advice from outside of the department, you can make an appointment with one of the advising deans in the Office of Graduate Education who have extensive experience with students switching advisors.
It is easier to change labs earlier in your training, before you are deeply engaged in your thesis work, but changes at any time are possible. If you are close to completing your thesis research but face a problem with your advisor or within your lab, you should talk to the graduate directors, your thesis committee members, or other senior department faculty members so that we can provide support and help you develop strategies to address the specific issues that you face.
The department guarantees full financial support to all students who are progressing in the program, and this includes students who are transitioning between laboratories. Specifically, the department guarantees one semester of support during a period of lab transition and additional support can be considered on a case-by-case basis. Students will never be asked to duplicate program requirements such as the prelim exam, or to perform extra TA duties, because of a lab change. To minimize disruption to progress to degree during a lab transition, students are expected to focus diligently on identifying a new laboratory and executing their lab switch in a timely manner. There are many people available and willing to advise students and help identify a new advisor.
Changing labs can be stressful and may add time to your graduate degree, but sometimes it is the right thing to do. In particular, if your lab environment or advising relationship is unhealthy, or if you are experiencing bias or discrimination, a change in lab is something that you can always consider and that you should discuss with an advisor.
Bottom line: If you are thinking about changing thesis advisors, for any reason, do not hesitate to seek input, advice, and support to help figure out if this is the right path for you.