I started a PhD project in Europe. However, as the project was going in a direction quite different from what I had expected, I spoke to my supervisor and converted it into a research position for a year. In Europe one does not get to change topics in a PhD as one is technically a temporary employee for a fixed research topic. I am now applying to PhD programs in the United States. Leaving a PhD project is generally looked down upon, but I do want to tell my future supervisor these things. I have 2 options to do so-

Option 1 - Mention all this in my Statement of Purpose. This might be risky as every individual has a different way of interpreting the written word.

Option 2- Mention this in my Statement of Purpose as a research project and if I manage to get an interview. Mention this verbally (online).

Which one shall be looked at as a better option ?

  • You should never lie. But I see nothing wrong with a statement that you had a one-year research position since that is factually correct. I would not even mention that this was originally a PhD position unless someone asked.
    – user9482
    Nov 24, 2021 at 12:59
  • "In Europe one does not get to change topics in a PhD as one is technically a temporary employee for a fixed research topic." That is not generally correct. Being an employee does not prohibit changing your reasearch topic. I assume you received your funding from a specific project and that's why you couldn't change your topic.
    – user9482
    Nov 24, 2021 at 13:02
  • @Roland Yes that is correct. The funding was from a specific project. Nov 24, 2021 at 13:03

1 Answer 1


First, the SoP is not the place to explain the past, especially problems in the past. The SoP should be entirely focused on future plans, both for study and thereafter. It isn't normally a document of unlimited length, so use the available space there to show what you intend to do in doctoral study as well as future career direction.

However, a short phrase of a few words might be used as a lead in to focus on those plans. "Since my earlier doctoral study was interrupted by ... I intend to return ...". You can probably state it better, but there is no real need to explain and certainly no need to make excuses.

Another short phrase about the research project itself might be used to lead in to write about the future. But, I'm suggesting less than full sentences and certainly not a paragraph to explain such things. And the research position is likely mentioned in the CV also.

Be prepared to give a longer explanation in an interview, of course.

Your change and interruption seem perfectly logical to me, but I won't be on the application committee. Note that you will likely be asked to provide transcripts of all previous education, and so the dropped doctoral study may show up there.

For more on doctoral applications in the US see the answer for the United States here.

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