I got my MSc in physics working on a certain subject with my advisor. I'm now starting my PhD studies under the same advisor.

The problem is, there's a tacit assumption that I'll do my PhD on the same subject as before, but I really lost all interest for it, I don't feel the same about it anymore. I really don't know what to do instead and how to find my new path, but I don't want to stay on this subject simply out of inertia.

What's the best way to tell this to my advisor without giving the (wildly inaccurate!!) impression that I lost all interest for physics? He's a great guy, btw, and he listens.

... If my advisor is reading this, I guess that's a way too xD

EDIT: It's theoretical physics and my advisor's knowledge is fairly wide and aligned well with my general interests, so doing the PhD under him is definitely something that I still want.

  • there is a piece missing: have you talked to advisor before starting PhD? did you have some kind of interview, where plans were discussed? have you even interviewed, or got accepted into other PhD programs? We are talking about next 3-5 years of your lives. I wonder why this issue didn't come up earlier Feb 12, 2018 at 23:00
  • Yeah, I talked to him and I definitely want to work with him, he's not the real issue here.
    – lel
    Feb 12, 2018 at 23:21
  • 1
    what does it mean "you talked"? Did you agree to continue working on the project, did you say you want to switch? AFAIK, advisor and project are usually connected Feb 12, 2018 at 23:28
  • I was answering the question in your words, mate.
    – lel
    Feb 13, 2018 at 7:31
  • I am trying to reconstruct the whole picture. If you had pre-agreement that you'll join advisor on the same project, it would change discussion Feb 13, 2018 at 14:48

1 Answer 1


Assuming your advisor is a great person and someone who listens, could you simply say:

I'd like to work in a new direction for my PhD.

Alternatively, if you feel it necessary to give some reason:

I'd like to work in a new direction to differentiate my masters work from my PhD thesis.

Preferably in either case you have at least some idea of where you want to proceed so you can continue the discussion in that direction. A desire for some breadth is a fairly normal and healthy part of the academic experience.

If your advisor questions the change of direction, you can simply say that after working on topic ______ for ____ years you are more interested in pursuing another direction.

It's certainly possible your advisor will be somewhat upset if he expected you to work in your previous subject (and especially if he took you on as a student because of that expectation), but it won't serve either of you to be coy about it or to plod through, not enjoying what you are doing, until you decide to quit. Ideally, however, this should have been a discussion you had before you agreed to work on a PhD with this advisor.

Keep in mind that your new direction should still be a fit with your advisor's work; if your previous project was in ideal spheres and your new work is going to be in falling apples, your advisor may not be qualified to advise you. It sounds like in your case that is not an issue, but if you are receiving any grant funding through your advisor, those funds may be particular to the project you are undertaking - hopefully you have some awareness of whether this applies to your situation.

Note that in my suggestions I was careful to phrase things positively and prospectively: you don't need to say you are sick of your previous topic, only that you want to move into something else. By approaching it this way, you come across as forward-thinking and not at all negative about physics in general, and not negative of your past experience as a masters student.

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