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Here is my current situation: I am a physics student completed my undergrad degree at a US university last year. I got accepted to their PhD program and deferred a year to come to a UK university to complete a 9-month master's program. I have decided to accept my undergrad university's offer and come back there later this year.

However, in my current master's program, I have been studying a different field of physics. Despite the difficulties and challenges I have faced, I find myself genuinely intrigued by this field. In fact, it has become more captivating to me than the alternative of returning to my undergraduate university, where there are no professors conducting research in this particular area.

So I'm feeling hesitant about whether it's a good idea to come back and start my PhD right away for two reasons: one is the possibility that I want to shift my research interest later, and the other is I don't feel I'm quite happy living in the same environment I have stayed for 5 years of undergrad study.

I know it might be unethical if I change my mind now and not coming back. In fact, I think I would like to come back and give myself a bit more time to try if I like the research there or not. However, at this point, I feel like there is a chance I might be mastering out and reapplying for a PhD in a different field later. I don't know if this is the right feeling for an incoming PhD student, because I heard many people said that one should be fully committed and engaged because this will be helpful for productive research. Another question is if I eventually decide to master out and apply for PhD in another field at another university, will that be bad in terms of my application if it shows I have two master's degrees?

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    As currently phrased this question is too dependent on personal factors-- we can't tell you what you should do. Is the question in the last sentence closer to what you want to know than the title?
    – user137975
    Mar 30, 2023 at 1:06
  • @Anonymous M Thanks for the comment! Yes, and I also rephrased a bit.
    – IGY
    Mar 30, 2023 at 1:15

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Personal circumstances change. So, it is OK to choose a different direction at any time --- even after you start.

Regarding PhD and changing research field afterward: Well, that is not always trivial. You worked several years on a subject and became an expert in this field of research. Depending on how popular your preferred field is, finding a post-doc or assistant professor job in a different field can be difficult as other people who worked in this area before will have an advantage.

If you already know that the 'other' field is more interesting, then pursue this one. Luckily, most academics or institutes are very professional and have dozens or thousands of students. So, nobody will hold a grudge against you if that's a worry.

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