I studied physics for my undergraduate and master's and I've been offered a position in the computing department for my PhD in the UK. The topic is quantum information (hence, the overlap with computing does make sense) and there is no coursework. I'm very happy with the offer and my supervisor. The only problem is that I am a bit nervous about being in the "wrong" department, given my background.

I see myself as a physics student and I can't really picture calling myself a computer scientist. I'm much more comfortable talking about, say, condensed matter than algorithms and data structures. I'm more interested and would probably get more out of a physics department talk than a CS talk.

Should I request a change of department but with the same supervisor before I begin? Alternatively, could I just hang around more at the physics department instead and not care about the official affiliation? Or is this a non-issue that I'm needlessly worried about? In case it matters, my funding is from a university level scholarship, not a departmental one.

Related but different question: Problem of mentioning the department affiliated with PhD degrees

  • 7
    You should discuss your (quite reasonable) concerns with the potential supervisor. One easy solution might be a co-advisor from the physics department.
    – user9482
    Commented Mar 28, 2018 at 8:58
  • 1
    What do you want to do after your degree? Your degree needs to have the right label on it to get you that next job. Commented Mar 28, 2018 at 9:32
  • I suspect the CS label is actually nicer for future jobs but this isn't what I'm concerned about. I'm more worried about maximizing what I get during my PhD Commented Mar 28, 2018 at 9:41
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    a PhD is not like a Masters or Bachelors, what you get from it is research skills and knowledge that you are able to produce. Labels at this level tend to be a matter of formality only, as a lot of work is multidisciplinary and might fall in many departments.
    – Elad Den
    Commented Mar 28, 2018 at 11:18
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    Your degree needs to have the right label on it to get you that next job — [citation needed]
    – JeffE
    Commented Mar 29, 2018 at 3:21

1 Answer 1


Investigate with your potential advisor, director of graduate studies, or chair (in this order, for ease of everybody's life) the possibility of getting a co-advisor from the physics department, provided there is someone with an expertise on the topic. You may even look beyond your institution, but that would require some serious argument.

One of the comments to the question mentioned the issue of "labels" of degree. I don't see it being an issue for industry jobs. Many companies routinely hire physicists and computer scientists alike, and ask them to do similar jobs. If you want to get a faculty position in a physics department, then perhaps you may have an issue if you have a CS degree, but you may be able to play the game by publishing in both CS and physics venue.

  • I wondered why you say that a co-advisor from another institution would require some serious argument. It's pretty standard where I'm from, so am I to understand this is not the case elsewhere? I even know of co-advisors in other countries and continent...
    – Emilie
    Commented Mar 28, 2018 at 12:44
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    @emilie I had to go through a process just to get someone on my dissertation committee from another school. I think the argument is if your advisor is at another school then that other school should be issuing the degree. Commented Mar 28, 2018 at 14:15
  • I am mentioning it because there may be issues with funding (does the co-advisor partially support the student with the coadvisor's grants?) and there is a "let's-not-upset-the-same-dept-at-our-institution" issue": if you have a good expert on field X on campus, you may not want to look for another expert on field X at a different institution, for the peace of everyone involved. Notice that I'm saying co-advisor, not member of the phd committee.
    – Matteo
    Commented Mar 28, 2018 at 14:55
  • @guifa are you talking about an advisor or a co-advisor?
    – Emilie
    Commented Mar 29, 2018 at 12:53
  • @Emilie We don't have coadvisors in my field, so I admit I don't get how it's different from an advisor. But my comment was saying that it was enough work justifying having someone on my committee from another institution, so I would imagine as Matteo said that one would need to provide substantial reason as to why you need someone to be your (co-)advisor from another university as that is a more important role. Commented Mar 29, 2018 at 12:58

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