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I had started my PHD last year on a topic that has several interesting problem to solve in the area, however I don't find the problem interesting enough to spend 4 to 5 years. As time went by and I came across a new problem through my course work and interactions with various professors. I have started liking a different topic that is not very related to the original.

What would be a wise thing to do in such situation? Is it a common situation (changing topics midway)?

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I did some editing so your question will be useful to other people in different areas. –  Leon palafox Jan 25 '13 at 9:32
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And I modified the last part so that it be a little less “share your experience”… –  F'x Jan 25 '13 at 9:34
    
Are you sure you're not just procrastinating? At one point in my PhD I found cleaning my apartment more interesting, because it was a form of procrastination. ;-) –  Fuhrmanator Jan 29 '13 at 18:38
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If you are in the US, then midway (time-wise) is still only the beginning, because of coursework. How much time have you spent on research? How much time is left? –  Dave Clarke Jan 29 '13 at 19:31

3 Answers 3

First, I've yet to meet a single PhD candidate that actually did what he proposed in his research plan in the first place. Unless he entered for some particular project (and still)

Is not uncommon to look for different topics and think that it may suit you better, and in all fairness, you should be doing something you like, not some topic other person imposed on you.

Now, switching topics, specially if they are unrelated, will have the consequence of delaying your PhD graduation considerably. I switched topics on my PhD 2 year, but I mostly changed the application, while the most fundamental part (in my case, it was the math) was pretty much the same, so I got to use most of the foundations I learned over the first couple of years.

I hope it helps.

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My advice is to talk about it with your advisor (naturally).

When I was narrowing down subjects I, too, was struggling with how much interest I had in various topics. I got some advice from someone who was working at ABB and had recently finished a PhD. It went something like this:

A PhD is as much a long process as it is becoming an expert and contributing in a field. If you pick a topic you're enthusiastic about at the beginning, chances are, you'll become tired of it before you finish. If you pick a topic that seems less interesting, after working on it for a long time, you probably will come to love some things about it you didn't see at the start.

In my case, the latter was true. I was more interested in finishing on time than having the topic of my dreams. But I finally enjoyed my topic a lot, even though at first it seemed boring and not up my alley.

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To me, the only wrong answer to this question would be, "throw everything away and start over", and there may even be some (rare) situations where that approach is justified.

Everything else is basically varying shades of "right", depending on your specific situation.

  • Talk to your advisor about pursuing your alternate interest as a side project, with the ultimate goal of a few publications on that topic.
  • Work with your advisor to identify other labs doing similar work, do a collaborative project with another lab with the goal of publishing.
  • On a similar vein, if your program allows it, do a x-month (x < 1 year) rotation in a different lab that focuses on your new-found interest, with the goal of familiarizing yourself more with the intricacies of that field, readying you for a postdoc or professorship role in that subfield.
  • Write down your ideas as possible ideas for grant applications for the future (postdoctoral tenure, professorship positions).
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