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I am finishing my PhD soon. The area in which I pursued my PhD is very challenging as I was only able to publish couple of papers even after spending many years. I want to switch into other research are due these reasons

  1. to attract more students
  2. to be comfortable to do research (along with teaching, I should be able to do research)

Even though I like the research I am doing right now, I seem to be isolated in my university. If ten students join my university for a PhD, hardly one student takes this area. My research area is not like machine learning or deep learning etc, so researchers of my domain are also not that much interested in my work.

The thing is I can work different research area but: Is this the right time? I am heading to a post-doc and learning a new area will probably take several months. Although my switch is not 180 degree, I am still worried.

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    What do you mean by "okay"? – user111388 Jun 2 at 5:54
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    I was only able to publish couple of papers even after spending many years – If this is only because of your field, I wouldn’t worry too much about this. In any reasonable system, you will be measured against the typical publication frequency in your field, not in science in general. – Wrzlprmft Jun 2 at 7:40
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    It's certainly a better time than switching topics just before finishing your PhD. – Peteris Jun 2 at 14:52
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This decision requires a fair amount of courage and planning. In short, yes, it is very much possible to switch your research area. Whether or not such a switch is successful depends on how well you plan it, and on the supportive nature of your future employers. You should be upfront with your postdoc advisor about your intention to switch. Because of the learning curve associated with the new area, expect a reasonable amount time (6 months or 1 year) before you can hope to produce research output in the new area. They should know this in case they are hiring you with the intention of fulfilling some funding obligations/deliverables in short time frames. My suggestion is to see if you could try to find a link betwee your current and intended area. If so, you could use this link as a bridge to move towards your new area, instead of all at once (which can be very overwhelming).

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As you noticed, switching fields inevitably takes its toll as you have to spend some time to get familiar with the new topic. To make this worth it, you need to enter a rapidly expanding field (which does not have enough home-grown candidates that would outcompete you with experience) or your experience in your current field must be an asset for the new one – ideally both. Apart from structural reasons (not leaving in the middle of a thesis or other project), the only thing in favour of a late change is gathering field-specific experience in the old field that helps you in the new one. Most likely, you already have done this and if not, you better hurry, because:

The higher you climb on the academic career ladder, the more experience in the field will be a requirement. The next step are tenure-track positions and similar where you not only need to have a sound research plan, but also have to convince others that you are the best person to enact it and can supervise others doing it – which is at least extremely difficult without any prior experience and something I have never heard of. Therefore the postdoc is the last stage at which you can hope to make a switch. (That is at least before you have the academic freedom of tenure or similar, but for that you first need to get there.)

For whatever it’s worth, I switched fields shortly after my PhD into an expanding field, which is quite a common move for that field.

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