Background: I obtained a PhD in Theoretical Physics/Mathematical Physics in 2015 and have been working as a post-doctoral researcher in various institutions since. In the past few years, I developed a strong interest in Linguistics which I have been self-studying in my free time for about a year (mostly syntax, semantics and pragmatics), including delivering introductory talks to a study group about what I learned. However, I feel limited in my self-studying by my research work in Physics-which doesn't satisfy me as much as it used to-and so I have been thinking in quitting Physics to start study Linguistics full-time, with the goal of getting a PhD in Linguistics.

Question: My question is, is it possible for me to "capitalize" on having a PhD degree in Physics to somehow get faster to my goal (PhD position in Linguistics) or should I start from scratch?

I guess there are two sub-questions:

  1. At the study level: To what extent is it possible to transfer competency from Physics to Linguistics? (I tend to feel that having a strong mathematical background is beneficial when studying the most formal aspects, like formal languages, formal semantics, etc. but probably would be of no help whatsoever for more applied subfields).

  2. At the pragmatic/academic level: Very concretely, would it be possible to join e.g. a Master program/graduate school in a Linguistics topic without producing a Bachelor degree/License in the same field? Are there some specific formations that accept students with wider backgrounds such as mine?

  • It seems like you are talking about Europe, but better make that explicit. In Europe there is no general rule requiring that you must have done a Bachelor's in a given field before applying for a Master's, but of course you need to convince the admissions committee that you have the necessary background. Anecdotally, I studied both a Bachelor's in Physics and a Bachelor's in Linguistics and there was no transfer of knowledge or competency whatsoever at that level (or it was so slight that it's not worth mentioning). Of course, in specific subfields it might be a different story. Dec 17, 2022 at 15:23
  • You are switching fields, not majors…
    – Jon Custer
    Dec 17, 2022 at 15:41
  • @JonCuster Thank you, you're right. I edited the title. Dec 17, 2022 at 16:00
  • @AdamPřenosil Thank you for your input. About Europe vs US (presumably), I haven't made a decision yet so I would be open to input for both situations. Dec 17, 2022 at 16:02
  • 2
    Related, partial duplicate: (How) Can I switch from field X to field Y after getting my PhD?
    – cag51
    Dec 18, 2022 at 5:33

1 Answer 1


You are proposing a big jump. I'll suggest that taking a long journey should probably be undertaken in small steps rather than one gigantic one that might fail, leaving you nowhere.

Suppose that you could find yourself in a position in a physics department (long term) at a place that also has a good department of linguistics. You could use the existing position to make gradual moves toward the other field by first speaking to people there and working toward some collaboration as you learn.

While the two fields are very different, both can be quite theoretical, implying that your thought processes already attained might be helpful in a new field.

But, I'll guess that it would be very hard to make a single jump and also that it would take a long time to try to get some credential in linguistics before you jump, leaving you in a kind of limbo that might not be necessary.

Neither of these is my field, but I'm also guessing that interdisciplinary work isn't very likely with these. You are in a better place to judge that, but if it is possible then it might be a good path to follow.

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