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Is it okay to apply to a PhD without knowing precisely what you want to achieve? I heard advisors have projects, so would it be okay to state that you are interested in one of those projects without necessarily being an expert in it?

If so, how much knowledge do you need anyway? and in the statement of purpose letter, how do you state your interest in a specific project efficaciously giving that you are not fully aware of it?

Now you may ask, why would someone be interested in working on a project if he is not fully aware of it, right? But the thing is, some research topics are claimed to be HOT, at least that's the word on the web, some claim that certain topics have great potential in the foreseeable future. So, who does not want to work on something desirable with a future!

  • Thank you all for your kind and genuine advice. Truly respect tactful professionals. I love this platform, especially when I come across great people just like you all! I take my hat off – Ronnie Aug 19 at 17:09
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What you describe is often the common case for a PhD. But, in a letter and also in real you should have some related interdisciplinary or methodological background. Starting as a complete novice a PhD is very risky. An expert you have to become during your PhD, no one is one at the beginning, this would be a pointless odyssey. But a background is necessary, otherwise everybody could start a PhD without educational requirements like a bachelor in natural sciences/engineering when looking for a STEM PhD.

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You better think 1000 times. I am going through that case and I wasn't enough smart to succeed, I would say. New materials, but no real knowledge about them so far - and I found myself useless without theory but some experiments. Now I am trying to finish my PhD thesis and hope that I can defend it.

If you engage in new field, you shall be truly motivated to work way harder than before.

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I would advise against choosing a completely unfamiliar topic for your Ph.D. While the topic might be hot and help you with the job search after graduation, it would also put much more pressure on you. First, the required learning curve would delay your progress and possible publications. Second, you have to work double to get what comes naturally to others. I've seen many Ph.D. students in my department that have a limited grasp on basic concepts and sometimes even reinvent the wheel. Finally, you must really like your Ph.D. topic and eventually live with it until your graduation (and sometimes even through your whole academic and/or professional life). Choosing a topic with which you're unfamiliar could be risky as you might not like it after getting to know it completely.

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I think it is extremely important to differentiate between:

  • Option A: a desire to work on something [that is claimed to be] desirable in the future;
  • Option B: choosing to do a Ph.D. in the topic [that is claimed to be] desirable in the future.

There are many ways to proceed with option A, and doing a Ph.D. certainly should not be the one if one does not possess some background.

Therefore, the simple advice would be to gain that experience, confirm your desires, increase your knowledge about the subject, and only then (and only maybe) proceed to option B.

Most of the time, the lack of any background and hand-on familiarity with the potential Ph.D. topic signifies that one is not ready to pursue a Ph.D. in it. There is nothing wrong with trying to get that experience and then apply the next year.

  • Thanks Anton! On a different matter, I noticed your personal website, it is very sweet looking - my compliments! I am wondering though how did make it? Also, roughly speaking, how much would it cost to keep it up running? – Ronnie Aug 19 at 18:59
  • @Ronnie, I use Faculty theme for WordPress which is relatively cheap. + you have to find the hosting that allows WordPress, the price could vary a lot. – Anton Menshov Aug 19 at 19:02

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