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I'm a first year PhD student in Microelectronics. I started my PhD because I was interested in the idea of Neuromorphic engineering, but I've been so confused lately.

The problem is that neither my supervisor nor my colleagues in the group has that enthusiasm or experience in this area, and my supervisor has been suggesting I use the hardcore solid-state circuit techniques to do the neuromorphic stuff (as he's good at circuit design). I feel like I'm stuck in the middle. My supervisor can hardly provide good ideas to my project (while he can do so to his other students, as they are doing the pure circuit stuff), and I feel I'm doing the neuromorphic engineering in a wrong way...

Should I change my direction to what my supervisor's good at? I don't know where to put my efforts right now (circuit or neuromorphic engineering).

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    How did you end up in a lab that does not do what you are interested in?
    – Bryan Krause
    Mar 20 at 22:49
  • @BryanKrause I'd say I regret not finding out sooner. Our team claims to be doing neuromorphic stuff, but they aren't - at least not the kind I thought of.
    – Jack Black
    Mar 20 at 23:02
  • If you think you have your future in what your professor is suggesting go for it. Otherwise, I strongly suggest you change the lab if you are not doing what you want to do in your research before it becomes too late. Changing PhD in the first year is a lot easier than later years. Mar 21 at 0:49

2 Answers 2

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You have two options and probably only one of them will work for you. But there are people who can deal with either one.

The first option is to decide that you are on your own and are essentially an independent researcher. Get buy-in from your supervisor that they think this is a path to success. Perhaps you can use outside discussions with others to firm up ideas. Perhaps the supervisor can suggest some people. Some people are able to handle this as long as the university agrees and can fairly evaluate your results. There are places, I think, where this is the normal path.

The other is to change your research in the short term so that you are a better fit for the supervisor's abilities. This is probably the more common path (many places). You can change research direction once you have the doctorate and some stable position. You can "tinker" in off moments with your desired project, keeping a few notes, while you devote main energy to the project that the supervisor can deal with.

Either of these can be frustrating, depending on the individual. But think long term about your career, not short term. Some things can wait, but find that "acceptable" path. But keeping a "future research" notebook is a valuable thing for any researcher. If you keep one, review it periodically and update it when the opportunity arises.

Don't let the perfect be the enemy of the good.


I haven't yet mentioned the third possibility which is to find a different supervisor, maybe at a different university. This might be less frustrating, but is expensive in time.

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Find A New Supervisor

Or at least seriously investigate that route. As Buffy says, it can be expensive in time. But it can also be expensive to spend two and a half years researching something you really don't like or feel passion for, only to end up burnt out and hating the very act of research.

This doesn't need to be a contentious thing, either. You look around your department, see who else might be doing research closer to interests, and have a few informal and confidential conversations. See where it goes.

Get Committee Members Closer To Your Interests

If for some reason that approach isn't viable (maybe there are no researchers at your institution doing what you're interested in, or they're all full up on students) maybe you can formulate your committee in such a way that it balances your interests with your supervisor's interests. (Remember, there is usually an outside member on a committee.)

This doesn't need to be contentious, either.

Nothing you've said so far indicates that you're having any sort of personality conflict with your supervisor, or that there is any animosity between you. Your know this person-- do you think they will react well to a conversation where the thrust is, "Professor X, I really want to bring my research closer in line with neuromorphic engineering, and I think it might be smart to get one or two people on my committee who specialize in that-- do you have any suggestions?"

Your supervisor should be both willing and able to advise and assist you with this.

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    Instead of replacing the supervisor completely, he could also talk to him about adding a new supervisor if it makes sense. Here in Portugal, we can have more than one supervisor in the PhD. I assume it's the same elsewhere. Mar 21 at 10:01

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