I'm currently in the first year of my MSc in an European university and as time goes on I'm thinking of what to do afterwards. One of the options is continuing on to a PhD and so I find myself from time to time browsing arXiv or some other journals in my field of interest, hoping to see a professor/group at a university doing something that interests me. While doing this I came to the realization, that in almost all cases, I have absolutely no idea what the papers are about. This isn't really surprising to me (I checked with my peers and they feel the same way), but it leaves me wondering how exactly I'm supposed to find out what topics in my field could interest me.
To hopefully explain the problem a bit better I'll take myself as an example, but I'm pretty sure this applies to a lot of other disciplines as well: I'm studying physics, most of my subjects focusing on theoretical aspects of physics. There are obviously several sub-fields in theoretical physics, but all of them are really broad and today's research seems really far away from what is thought in university classes. Most of the classes are only introductions to theories that have been refined for the last 50 years or more, leaving a huge gap between what I may be working on in a couple of years and what I know of today. So how exactly am I supposed to asses how interesting, challenging, etc. a direction in a particular sub-field is, when I almost know nothing of what is relevant in that field today? And, maybe even more importantly, even if I exactly knew what I wanted to do, how do I exactly single out the people who work in that area?
Some remarks about things that I've tried so far and the situation at my university:
- There are almost no research opportunities at my university for students in the BSc and even in the MSc category (at least in my field of study).
- The contact between the students and faculty is almost non-existent. I maybe have spoken to like three professors in the past 4 years for about 5 minutes (not counting the exams). I speak to PhD's a lot more regularly, but to no-one who has more experience in the academic world. I asked them more or less the same question, but the answers range from "you just kinda slip into a PhD program" to "I already knew in year one of my studies that I wanted to do XYZ, so I can't realate."
- I talked to the "Students-Help-Office" of my university, which is basically a senior researcher from my university. His comment on the question was that he doesn't think that planning that far ahead is useful... Is this true, is one to two years of planning ahead to much in this context?
- I've also seen this question here, but the top answer reads kind of like it's searching for the "best" place to do your PhD and less for the "best-fit". I'm not so much concerned about going to one of the best places in the world as much as I'd like to find a topic and adviser that actually fit me (obviously the other way around as well).