I am in the first year of my Ph.D. program and, if everything goes well, in the end I will get my Ph.D. in Civil Engineering.

The problem is that my project, beside finding application to building materials, is way more related to other disciplines, like Physics. In fact, my second supervisor is in the Physics department and physics is also my background. I think that obtaining a Ph.D. in Physics or Materials Science would tell more about the type of research I am doing.

So my question is, do you think it is possible to keep my project, working in the same departments with the same supervisors, but changing the field in which I will graduate? Or is it the type of research that counts at the end of the day?

  • 1
    This question needs to be answered locally, not here. What do your professors and your institution have to say about it? – Buffy Oct 5 '19 at 14:40
  • The answer to the "Should I" part depends on what job you want to get after finishing your PhD. – Anonymous Physicist Oct 6 '19 at 1:26

While we cannot tell you the regulations of your institution on changing departments, I would like to suggest that it's likely to be not worth the bother.

Every department covers a complex network of subjects, and so having a degree that says "Physics" will not really be any more informative than one that says "Civil Engineering." It's also not at all unusual for a Ph.D. to be something that might be reasonably categorized under multiple departments---in fact, it is quite common for research to be interdisciplinary, and especially for the "home field" of a method to be different than the "home field" of an application area. Finally, departments and degree names are not particularly consistent in their names and interpretations from institution to institution.

As such, people will in general pay attention to the content of your research much more than the particulars of your department.

If you actually find some major impediment to continuing in your current department, that is a different matter, but it doesn't sound like that is currently the case---particularly so early in your time as a graduate student.

In short: don't worry about categorization, worry about executing your project.

  • 2
    "As such, people will in general pay attention to the content of your research much more than the particulars of your department." But for many jobs, you "must have a PhD in _____" – Anonymous Physicist Oct 6 '19 at 1:25
  • 1
    @AnonymousPhysicist And those jobs already have to deal with ambiguities in departments (e.g., are "Statistics", "Applied Mathematics", "Mathematics", and "Mathematics and Computing" equivalent?). Most will be flexible enough to deal with interdisciplinary research---or else you have bigger problems to deal with for the institution in any case. – jakebeal Oct 6 '19 at 1:36
  • As a researcher, you can generally get funded for the same research while in different depts (in grants or as a postdoc etc.). But there are definitely plenty of differences in other aspects of the job to consider. In terms of detailed requirements for graduating there may be a big effect. An engineering dept will want your thesis results to be novel for engineering, while they may not be particularly novel physics, and vice versa. For a faculty job, a civil engineer will have a harder time convincing a physics dept they can teach the needed courses. Etc. – A Simple Algorithm Oct 6 '19 at 23:12

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.