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I am interested in areas of theoretical physics/mathematics which simply don't exist in my institute. I tried 2 or 3 different groups here which were not in my interest (but I felt I had some transferable skills) and it didn't work out.

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    This depends on many factors, such as your current situation, your ambitions, ... As it stands, this question seems impossible to answer. – Marc Claesen Apr 29 '14 at 7:30
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    Are you expecting an answer like, you should do it if you were 22 years old and you should not do it because you are already 27 ? – scaaahu Apr 29 '14 at 8:41
  • @MarcClaesen I am currently in a top-notch grad-school in the US just that it simply has no group in anything that interests me and my attempts to shift interests have failed. Any other data that you would want? – user6818 Apr 29 '14 at 10:04
  • Age discrimination is illegal in the US. By law, nobody cares how old you are, except maybe you. – JeffE Apr 29 '14 at 16:26
  • Are you asking if your age is a problem in terms of an academic career? – Bitwise Apr 29 '14 at 18:22
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There is no age limit for graduate studies. People are free to apply at whatever stage of life they choose, if they feel it's the right move for them.

As an example of this, a very good friend of mine was a social sciences major as an undergraduate, and worked in Washington, D.C., for a number of years before leaving politics and starting a PhD program in medical physics—and he did this in his mid-thirties. I've worked in the same department as other postdocs who made the career choice even later—they were in their early fifties!

So I would not look at your case as hopeless at all. If you find something else that inspires you, go for it.

  • @aesmail The problem is if the selecting committee looks down upon the fact that in my current grad school I wasn't really attached to any specific advisor but was floating between different groups doing small projects in each. Will this be trouble? – user6818 Jun 14 '14 at 16:17
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    It depends on how long this went on. The longer you were there, the bigger a challenge it will be. – aeismail Jun 14 '14 at 17:30
  • @aesmail Yeah..first year I was doing courses - and then 2 years more I shifted between 3 groups - doing small projects and trying to get myself interested (wrote a small paper from one and another result from another) - but all the while only feeling more frustrated that I wasn't getting to do the subjects I really wanted to! Finally I decided to try moving out! – user6818 Jun 14 '14 at 17:48
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    Three years? That's going to be a tougher sell. But you've accomplished something. If you have the support of the professors for whom you've worked previously, you've got a shot. – aeismail Jun 14 '14 at 19:58
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As your question stands, the only honest answer is it depends but probably yes, it does.

Your question is lacking in essential information for a definite answer. Are you currently doing a masters or a phd? What is your background? Do you want to make a career in academia, ie. research oriented, or in the industry? Are you self-motivated? etc...

I would not rule out changing grad schools based on your age alone as there's no age limit to right a wrong. However, use common sense: be pragmatic and take time to analyze your options. Perhaps your advisor would allow you to collaborate with groups from other universities? Or maybe you could even do an exchange program? Is wrapping up what you have and moving on to something you're more interested in an option? If your project has been given a grant, ponder carefully the implications of leaving your current grad school.

If you feel that changing grad schools is your only option, then unless what is hidden behind starting again is that 400 lb gorilla, I see no obvious reason why you should not live a more fulfilling academic life.

Final note: if I were to review your application to a new grad school, I'd like to understand the reasons that brought you to your current grad school if no group was seemingly doing something that you're interested in.

  • what is the gorilla that you are expecting? – user6818 Apr 30 '14 at 6:44
  • @user6818 it's that overwhelming and invisible thing in your head that keeps you from doing what you truly want. – VH-NZZ Apr 30 '14 at 6:54
  • If I am generous to myself, I would think that it was a stroke of terrible luck that I ended up at so-called top-notch institutes but never where there are people in my areas of interest. [..often its just so hard to explain to anyone the problem since from outside people tend to think that I am merely whining although I am at the "big" places...I have a hard time telling anyone that being at a "big" place is hardly a thing when the departmental focus is so different from what subjects excite me!...] – user6818 Apr 30 '14 at 15:08
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    @user6818 I answered because I've been there myself: top-notch dept. in a top-notch university and on an insultingly high stipend. The kind of conditions for which 95% of grad students would easily kill each other without hesitation. Yet no amount of rational thinking like think of how lucky you are, grad students next door are in the basement and hunt for free-food will ever make up for absent/lost passion/excitement. I mistakenly down played my average interest in the field and realized that you cannot fool yourself through a phd. Through a masters, probably you can. Research is different. – VH-NZZ Apr 30 '14 at 15:28
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    @user6818 The moral is but simple: everyone makes mistakes, no bigger deal than that. The fact that yours occurred now and in this form makes it all the bitterer. But look at the facts: you got into a top university once. You can and will probably do that again. This time around though you'll be a little less rookie with yourself and hopefully know better what dazzles you, and what doesn't. Find your arena and fight like a lion. – VH-NZZ Apr 30 '14 at 15:43

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