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I am a physics student who completed my bachelor's degree at a US university last year. I got accepted into 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 join their PhD program later this year.

Though I'm excited to return, my interests have shifted to a different field (field B) compared to what I initially mentioned in my PhD application (field A). However, no professors at the university specialize in field B. I'm currently taking classes in field B during my master's program and have realized I need to deepen my knowledge in certain physics and math modules to better prepare for studying it. My plan is to return to the PhD program, strengthen my foundations, potentially master out, and then reapply to other PhD programs.

Here are the reasons I think I want to return to my undergrad university:

  1. I don't have any other PhD offers at the moment.
  2. Taking a gap year crossed my mind, but securing a relevant internship as an international student is tough.
  3. The coursework in my master's program is quite challenging, and there's a risk of ending up with a transcript reflecting poor grades. I believe I can have better academic performance if I return to my undergrad university.

But I'm wondering if this plan is feasible and if having two master's degrees in physics might negatively impact my future PhD applications to other universities.

Thanks for the help!

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  • What do you mean by the different fields? Both subfields of the same overall field? In other words, covered by the same university department, or completely different?
    – Buffy
    Apr 20, 2023 at 16:05
  • @Buffy Thanks for the comment! A and B are both subfields in physics, but they don't overlap. B is completely new to me, but I found it really interesting during my master's degree.
    – IGY
    Apr 20, 2023 at 16:07

2 Answers 2

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No, having two masters won't be a negative, but it won't really be a big positive either, especially if you return to your undergrad university. They accepted you with no masters at all. The rest is gravy.

Universities tend to treat subfield choices as tentative as long as they are covered by the same department. But a switch from math to physics, for example, would almost certainly require a separate application.

But if the switch of fields is within a single department, such as physics, you will have plenty of opportunity to catch up within the program, not needing an additional degree.

US doctorates normally start with advanced coursework leading to comprehensive qualifying exams. Choice of a dissertation advisor and a subfield normally comes later. An additional masters may not get you closer to passing exams, depending on its structure.

I'd guess you would do best by just getting started as early as possible.

You could, of course, ask the university whether there is any impediment to such a field change and what the implications might be. I'd guess that there are few issues.

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  • Thanks! By 'getting started as early as possible', do you mean getting started in the qualifying exams?
    – IGY
    Apr 20, 2023 at 16:18
  • Starting the program,actually.
    – Buffy
    Apr 20, 2023 at 16:35
  • Thank you! If I am considering master out from my incoming PhD program and pursue a different PhD afterward, should I inform the department as soon as I join their PhD?
    – IGY
    Apr 21, 2023 at 16:49
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You sound like you are mixing economic stabilitiy issues with your own personal egos (your research interests). Is either one or the other, I'd say go to your already accepted PhD program and do what they say finish asap get a job and then when you become senior you might have the chance to follow your 'interests'. anyways is good that you have realized your interests, save it and use it later

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