I am considering asking another professor to be my thesis advisor. My situation differs from that of other question-askers in that:

  1. I am in a position where I have done enough research to write my thesis and be done in a couple of months.
  2. My relationship with my current advisor, while rough at times, in generally good.

So why do I want to switch?

I feel that my research topic is a dead end. This wouldn't really bother me too much except that my particular topic turns out to be interesting to very few people (the number one complaint by reviewers). The result is that despite achieving good results, we have been having trouble publishing at the general and more influential conferences.

When I began my project I thought it was interesting, but no longer think this, partially because of reviewer feed-back, but more because of my expanding knowledge of the field.

additional context: I also feel that the work is quite trivial in that what I did to achieve good results is what anyone in the hotter subfields would do. The reason that it wasn't done before is that the method wasn't known/understood by my advisor (or tried by others in the relatively small community).

On the other hand, I have worked on another project in one of my classes that is not only more interesting to me, but is part of a much 'hotter' subfield.

I guess I am concerned with attaching my name to a thesis that few people will care about when I can potentially work on something else with much more interest. Not only that, but the latter project is in the area where I would like to do a PhD.

I don't mind that switching would add upwards of a year to my program. Rather, I am hesitant to make this move for the following reasons:

I don't want to do something that will harm my current advisor. I also don't want to piss this person off as they are my main reference for the past two years of work. Is switching likely to have either of these effects?

The professor I would like to switch to is very new and I don't want to put him in a position that might cause him to come into conflict with my current advisor. How likely is this?

Any advice on the above questions would be great. I just don't have the experience to know if my concerns are valid.

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    What are your next steps? When will you be applying for PhD programs? What are you planning to do in the meantime? Might it be possible for you to complete your thesis as planned, and then start work on another project with everyone involved's blessing? Your general field and location also would be helpful to know, as that likely impacts your flexibility. – Bryan Krause Feb 25 '20 at 0:52
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    Thanks for your comment Bryan. I plan on working/interning for a year and then applying for PhD programs for the Fall 2021 intake. I have thought about finishing my thesis and then seeing if the other prof would hire me on as a research assistant to work on the other project with him. My general field is AI and location is Canada if that helps! – 1west Feb 25 '20 at 1:28

Based on a comment indicating OP plans to apply for PhD programs that start in Fall 2021 (that is, 1.5 years from now, with applications likely due around Fall 2020):

What I would suggest for someone in my own field is the idea you mention in a comment rather the one in the original post:

I plan on working/interning for a year and then applying for PhD programs for the Fall 2021 intake. I have thought about finishing my thesis and then seeing if the other prof would hire me on as a research assistant to work on the other project with him. My general field is AI and location is Canada if that helps!

I'd start conversations with that other professor about work over the next year as soon as possible. If they don't have funding there may be other labs that fit you, as well, either at your own institution or someplace nearby. Start looking and applying for those positions now, while you wrap up the work you are doing.

It will be better for you to have a completed project plus some work towards a new direction than to switch directions at this point: you're too close to being finished. You'll have the most options available at that point. It really doesn't matter what your thesis is about, but the sum total of work you've done at the point you're applying for grad schools. You'll have a start on the work by the time you are applying, and if you are interviewing in the spring you'll have more work done that you can talk about.

  • Thanks to you and @Buffy for your answers. It is incredibly valuable for me to recieve this kind of insight! – 1west Feb 25 '20 at 15:52

Switching now seems like a poor choice. You can finish in a bit, you say. And then you can change areas. Your old professor is happy with you. You have a success under your belt. The world is open to you.

Anyone can change at any time. There is no real reason to waste your past work.

You can then take up, somehow, in the new area, perhaps with the other professor. Or, maybe even apply for a doctoral program that will support you in the new area.

Being in an area with only a few people is fairly common in some fields (mathematics, say). It is a tradeoff. There is less competition, for example, though you have to look harder for collaborators.

Don't think that finishing in the current track will lock you in to that forever. You have valuable experience that you can exploit in a lot of ways.

And even if you do switch, abandoning old work, don't make a habit of it. Throughout your career other opportunities will sometimes seem pretty bright. If you chase every one you won't ever accomplish much. Finish what you start unless the situation is so bad as to have negative impacts on your life. That doesn't seem to be what you say here.

  • Thanks Buffy. I added additional context in my original post. Does this change your answer at all? – 1west Feb 25 '20 at 1:29
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    Not very much. "heat index" of fields changes, sometimes rapidly. You can still get in to the other field. You might pick up a fairly easy publication by finishing what you have. But it is the time factor that worries me. You don't know the future, so putting a marker on the board now is worth a small bit of time. And a happy supervisor is a big asset. – Buffy Feb 25 '20 at 1:32
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    It is also pretty common to look back on what you have done in the past and consider its worth less than it really is. That is a sign of growth, not of inadequacy. There may be some of that going on here. The work seems easy in retrospect since you've already done it. – Buffy Feb 25 '20 at 1:35
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    In addition to my own answer, I'd second Buffy in the comments here: don't get too bogged down in the "hotness" or rigor of your field. You're very early in your career yet, at this point you're mostly picking up the skills of how to do research, you still have lots of time to test different ideas about what you want to study moving forward. – Bryan Krause Feb 25 '20 at 1:38

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