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In an ideal scenario, I’d like to do my (computer science) PhD at university U. I completely lack the credentials, and my MS work is in one of those areas where ~10 people in the world are capable of understanding/appreciating it (and it won’t be published anytime soon). Fortunately, one of those people is Professor X (they contacted me unexpectedly saying that they liked my work, having evidently seen my code-in-progress). Great, right?

Unfortunately, I don’t want to work with Professor X, I want to work with Professor Y, because I want to switch to a completely different field of CS. I have nothing against X or our field, I’ve just gotten really interested in Y’s field, and Y is arguably the best person in the world study under for these interests. So while I feel quite confident that I do want to make this switch, the fact is that currently I don’t have anything to “show” Y (in terms of credentials or research in their field).

Do I have any good angle here?

  • Even if Y is not in your field, this does not mean that they cannot judge whether you are a capable researcher. Go ahead and apply - what is the worst which could happen? – ndpl Aug 19 '19 at 10:37
  • But how exactly? The only research I have is my thesis, which is in a topic arcane enough that it seems ~10 people in the world understand it. – anon Aug 19 '19 at 10:42
  • Wait, how do you 'completely lack the credentials', yet are getting/have gotten a masters in the field? Talk to Y, apply to get in, see what happens. Nobody works on the same problem forever... – Jon Custer Aug 19 '19 at 14:01
  • @anon If you talk to people for a while, you usually get a good feeling about how good they understand things, even if it not your primary field of expertise. In the end, your potential supervisor Y does not want to know if you are good in what you did, but in whether you will be good in what you will do with them. – ndpl Aug 19 '19 at 17:37
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Do I have any good angle here?

That depends on what you want to achieve and how long you’re willing to take to achieve it.

Fortunately, one of those people is Professor X (they contacted me unexpectedly saying that they liked my work, having evidently seen my code-in-progress). Great, right?

Is taking a short-term appointment with X an option? That will offer you a chance to work on your problem and get a reference from a world expert.

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  • However, X might be upset if the OP leaves very soon, as X might (rightfully) believe they did this on purpose. – ndpl Aug 19 '19 at 10:37
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    Well, if they agree ahead of time it’s a 6month/1 year visit then why would anyone be upset or surprised? – Spark Aug 19 '19 at 10:43
  • Can CS grad students do fixed, short-term appointments? I haven't heard of this being a thing, although I did consider asking X about this (candidly of course). I'm not completely enthusiastic about this since it would mean working more in a topic I'm less interested in when I already feel like moving on to something that excites me more now, but I suppose beggars can't be choosers. – anon Aug 19 '19 at 10:53
  • I had five of them over the years. They are often called research assistants or something of the sort. Not all professors have funding or inclination to do it, but it’s worth asking. – Spark Aug 19 '19 at 11:08

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