I have had an admission for Spring semester (2019) with funding for PhD in Physics at a USA university. In my application, I mentioned that my area of interest is biophysics and experimental condensed matter physics. However, if my area of interest got changed (Assume for high energy physics or Astrophysics etc.), what happens then? Do the first two years for all PhD Physics students are the same in USA universities?

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    And your funding is from...? – Pioneer83 Oct 28 '18 at 1:27
  • Did you get admitted into a standard PhD program, or did you make further arrangements, such as skipping courses, or working with a specific advisor, etc.? If you have an offer for a standard US program (which is usually 5 years), you're probably not bound to what you mentioned as your area of interest. – nra Oct 28 '18 at 1:58
  • @anucex I'd guess from the university, as it's the norm (at least in Sciences) for most all US PhDs at the entry level – nra Oct 28 '18 at 2:00
  • I'm not from this discipline nor did I study in the US, but I'm only imagine that if the funding is not from a project that requires work on a predefined area, change wouldn't be impossible. Though, I concur with Buffy that it's highly advisable to check directly with the Department. – Pioneer83 Oct 28 '18 at 12:30

Since you've been admitted to what's presumably either a single institution, or a small number of institutions, it's probably more useful to try to figure out how things are handled there than what is typical. I would suggest scouring department websites, and maybe contacting your graduate coordinator, or graduate student representatives first.

That said, if you care for generalities, here are a couple. First thing to note is that the stated research interest is unlikely to be binding. If you can find an advisor to work with, that's all that matters, regardless of field. Changing interests is fairly common, but perhaps not between two extremes. However, the selection of admitted students tends to depend on the available funding, which varies with field. Thus, being able to switch to e.g. astrophysics isn't necessarily easy in practice, particularly if it's a small department. (Now, if you come in with your own funding you can do whatever you want, at least as far as the department is concerned. Of course, whoever granted you that funding might think differently...)

Second, there tends to be a number of mandatory courses for all students, and also field-dependent mandatory courses, and elective ones. (Obviously, biophysics and high energy require very different courses.) Due to these electives, and being able to take classes in different orders, the first two years would not be the same for everyone, but time isn't necessarily wasted if you change interests either. Further, a lot of students find their advisor during/after the first year, and would start their research during the summer semester and second year.

Yet, as I said, that's just a quick rundown of the typical situation. You'd most likely be better served looking up the rules and options for your specific situation.

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In Math or CS this would probably be no problem at all as you haven't yet chosen an advisor. In Physics or Chemistry, however, in fields that require a lot of lab work, you may possibly already be assigned to a lab. If that is the case you might have some difficulty switching after you start.

I think your best course of action is to raise this issue with the institution to see where you are precisely and what your options are.

While I think it likely that without an MS you have some flexibility at entry, only the specific department can give you the proper advice. Talk to them.

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    I know of exactly one chemistry or physics department (out of hundreds) in the US in which entering graduate students are already assigned to a lab, and even that one I'm not sure of. I can't imagine what you're basing your answer on. – Raghu Parthasarathy Oct 28 '18 at 2:33
  • @RaghuParthasarathy, other questions here seem to indicate that it happens elsewhere in the world. I though it best to recommend checking rather than making an assumption. – Buffy Oct 28 '18 at 12:00

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