I have seen other similar questions, but this one is specific to applicants with a Masters degree. Because it seems that US PhD applicants with Masters are held to a higher standard.


I have an Integrated Masters degree (Bachelors + Masters in 4 + 1 years) in Electrical Engineering (EE). My Masters specialization was in area X (part of EE), and I have 2 good publications in X.

I wish to apply to PhD programs in Electrical Engineering (in the US). However, I have two areas of interest: X (main) and Y (possible).

X = Microelectronic devices, Y = Electric grids, Renewable energy integration. They're quite distinct, but do come under EE.

Question 1

It is okay for undergrads to have multiple interests. But I have a Masters in X. If I am admitted to a US PhD program, am I allowed to choose my area (X or Y) at the end of my first year coursework, like those with only an undergrad degree?

Question 2

I ask the above question because I see that most universities reduce the coursework requirements for students who hold a Masters. Although I have a Masters, can I choose to do the full coursework? I think this would give me more opportunity to explore and choose between X and Y.

Question 3

Given that I have a Masters and 2 publications in X, does it look bad that I have an interest in Y as well? I intend to write about my interest in Y in my SoP.

However, I have a reasonable explanation. My underlying theme of interest is energy, which I can realize via either X or Y. They have their own merits and demerits, and I like them for different reasons. I just wish to take a decision after exploring both thoroughly in my coursework.


At most US universities, you need an advisor who is willing to work with you. The problem might come from you or from them, but it needs to be a mutual decision.

I suggest that you find an advisor interested in Y and convince them that you have what it takes to begin research in that area. Your background in X may be helpful or not. If not, the path will be longer, but very likely open.

I doubt that many students are constrained, no matter where they start, to continue in the same specialty. But you need that advisor and mutual agreement on the course of study.

And, for application to a doctoral program, few require that you be very specific on the particular research direction. You may need to convince them that you have the needed skills to begin, but not much more than that (beyond general competence/excellence).

  • Thanks for the answer. However I'm not yet sure that I want to work in Y. Are you saying that I need to find a potential advisor before I apply for PhD?
    – QMrules
    Aug 8 at 18:12
  • No. But you need to find one before you start dissertation research. Your first task will be to deal with comprehensive/qualifying examinations. That may take some coursework. Naming a field and some specialization within it is all you need (and maybe not even that). But you will have some time to get acquainted with a few faculty members and find something mutually interesting.
    – Buffy
    Aug 8 at 18:25
  • @QMrules I thought I would mention that, from my own experience as an applicant (in engineering), the requirements vary, but they are normally outlined in the graduate handbooks for the school/specific program. So, my advice is to study the graduate handbooks in great detail (normally, they will contain explicit answers to your questions 1 and 2). Sometimes, however, if you apply with MS in electrical engineering for a Ph.D. in electrical engineering, then your expected time for completion/funding can be reduced significantly (so, watch out).
    – user140322
    Aug 8 at 18:52

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