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A bit of background: I'm in my late 20s and got my Master's degree about six months ago in Italy. I'm currently working as a research assistant at the same university, building on my thesis work. During my studies, I found out that I like doing research. Professors have been telling me I'm doing a good job, both during my studies (I graduated with maximum marks) and during my period as an RA.

The opportunity to pursue a PhD in Computer Science has come up. Still, I'm unsure which topic to focus on, whether to keep focusing on the current one or explore different options. The problem is I'm still trying to figure out which specific topics I truly love: it takes me much more time than others to figure out what I hate and even longer to find what I like or love doing. In the end, it's not a question of whether I want to pursue a PhD, but rather which topic to choose.

I know it is possible to switch advisors, but I would like to avoid it as:

  1. It can be difficult to start again in another field
  2. For CS, my university has two PhD programs in two departments. As far as I know, having an advisor outside your PhD course or even changing PhD courses is impossible (at least for my university).

My mind is filled with questions like: "What if, in the end, I do not like my current topic?"; "What if I'm not able to research it?"; "What if I get stuck?"; "What if I simply lack the necessary creativity in this topic but possess it for another one?".

Even now, there's another topic that I'm considering in a very different field from the one I'm working on. I'm not sure how to explore this option (both are sub-fields of CS, though). The questions remain the same, although I think this could be easier to work on than my current research topic. However, this topic is very specific and there might be limited alternatives if I fail.

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  • Perhaps relevant: academia.stackexchange.com/questions/203847/… Commented Jun 15 at 0:41
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    @PustamRaut I'm appreciative of your enthusiasm for grammar updates, but there's been a consistent pattern in your suggested edits of also making changes in word choice that seem to me to change the intent of the question. I've improved your edit with rollbacks to the changes that I think went too far in this case as an example. I'm not trying to discourage you from suggesting edits, but perhaps try to stick to changes that you're very sure won't change the meaning of the question.
    – user176372
    Commented Jun 15 at 21:51

2 Answers 2

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Unfortunately there is no way to be certain that you will like the topic, but a PhD will open opportunities for you that skipping it won't. Yes, people get stuck. But most get over being stuck, especially if they have a supportive advisor.

Ultimately you have to make a decision. Any way you make it could be sub-optimal and certainty is not on the table.

Once you have a doctorate you can re-focus your research. You aren't required to follow the same path then that you will during your studies.

Take a chance. Don't let the perfect be the enemy of the good, especially when the perfect is unknowable.

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Building on what Buffy said, I'd also like to posit that passion is sometimes overstated in graduate school. While it is important to care about your overarching goal and topic, in my opinion, it's at least equally important to enjoy the day to day of research in your field. You will also probably pursue several smaller projects within your topic (papers) which gives you the chance to shift focus. Think of it more like moving into your first apartment vs trying to pick a place to live for the rest of your life.

tl;dr Don't worry if you can't seem to find your "one true passion". Pick a topic you like, with a day to day research process that you enjoy and could see yourself doing for years. If you don't feel as passionate later on, there are still opportunities to shift focus.

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    Indeed, it is quite unlikely (and I would find it very boring) to only work on one thing your entire professional life. Lots of cool things out there that you have never heard of (yet).
    – Jon Custer
    Commented Jun 14 at 15:59

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