I am an incoming physics student at a UK university for a 1-year master's degree. I just completed my undergraduate studies at a US university and deferred a year for their PhD admission (currently planning to come back next year).

However, the master's program and PhD program have a completely different focus: the PhD program is in the same area as what I have been working with my undergrad advisor for 2 years. If I come back next year I will likely continue working with him in this area. The master's program, on the other hand, focuses on a different branch of physics in which I don't have previous experience, but I really want to learn something new to me.

A few months ago I posted this question, where I asked about the possibility to decline my deferred PhD offer and then reapply. However, I'm not sure if this plan is mature enough. I want to explore more about the new area that I'm about to study and then I think I will have a better idea of what I want to do for my PhD.

My concern is I want to be respectful to my current advisor and the department. I know in principle I probably should come back next year as I have asked (and been approved) for the deferral, but I still want to keep my options open, in case I really find the new area fascinating with me and change my mind. I don't know if it sounds convincing to talk to my current advisor I want to reapply to the new area in which I don't have enough expertise (compared to the current area I've worked for 2 years with him). I'm also thinking about spending a gap year after the master's program and then making the decision. In either case, I will need his support to write me a reference letter.

What's the most respectful way I can do to let my current advisor know I might have a different research interest, and ask for his advice?

Many thanks!

1 Answer 1


Actually, the most respectful way is just to be honest and direct. A sit down conversation about your future would be a good way to do it. No good advisor should expect that you will follow in exactly their path and should be aware that peoples direction can change.

It is also good, and an advisor should recognize this, that some breadth is a good thing along with the depth that comes from research specialization. In the US, for example, the preliminary/comprehensive examinations are a way to assure that a candidate has the necessary breadth.

A good advisor will support your goals, not limited by their own choices. But a general discussion about your future options and goals would be worth the effort. Among other things it will help them prepare to write you a good letter of recommendation, which is very important for US admissions.

  • 1
    I might wait until spending a month or two on the new area before committing to the shift.
    – Dawn
    Commented Sep 12, 2022 at 18:48
  • That's really helpful, thank you!
    – IGY
    Commented Sep 12, 2022 at 23:49

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