When I started applying for Phd programs I had big dreams and goals on working on certain topics and spending lots of time in the field. I also had in mind some location and universities but I was flexible to some degrees on the university/location. It took me about 1 year to find a program I was (am) excited about and got accepted (top 10 US institution). Along the way I turned down possibilities with good funding because it was not my focus topic of interested.

Now after a year at my current program there are no funds in place and I am considering moving to programs that have already funding in place but in topics that are not my main interest because there is generally more money in these other topics. I am wondering at this point if I should settle for any topic that fits my skills and falls somewhat in my interests or stay in this roulette situation not knowing when I can really start the research I am interested in. I want to get started on a project and work on my thesis but I also am concerned of doing something that might set me on the wrong track or compromise too much (less interesting research field, worse PhD program, less known university, no fieldwork).

Given the current funding situation especially for certain fields, do PhD students these days have to lower their expectations on pursuing their topic of main interest? . I mean these days people struggle to find a regular job. I would like to add that I am also flexible on the questions I want to pursue within my field, I have flexibility but the funded projects are rare.

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    I find it rather surprising that you can have entered a PhD program and only be told after 1 year that they don't have funding for you. At US institutions you can often get paid through research assistantships or teaching assistantships, so are you referring to lack of specific funding for the research that you want to do? If you are open to changing research directions, why must you change programs? Can you not find another research group from the same department? Sep 3, 2014 at 9:58
  • I currently have funding only through a teaching assistantship. This is a very limiting situation because I have no money for fieldwork or lab experiments, and I cannot take time off to go to the field during the semester nor I can visit any other lab in another place. It also takes a lot of time off doing research. Even if I might find funding for the research itself I would also find funding for my salary so there are 2 layers of funding to be achieved. Sep 3, 2014 at 10:10
  • Personally, I decided that I would only do a PhD if the topic itself really interested me. It is really hard to motivate yourself to continue if you aren't that interested in what you are doing. I know for a fact that I would have left my PhD program in UK a couple of years ago had I not found the topic really interesting (mainly due to my relationship with my supervisor).
    – emmalgale
    Sep 3, 2014 at 10:20
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    ..."it also takes a lot of time off doing research". But in most universities, when doing a PHD you will required to do some work that is partially unrelated to your research (supervising undergraduate theses, preparing deliverables for the grant that funds you, working on a project).
    – Alexandros
    Sep 3, 2014 at 10:27
  • @emmalgale but if you don't find a topic of interest what would you do? Find any job and keep applying to programs until you get the topic you want? How many years could that take? Sep 3, 2014 at 10:37

1 Answer 1


If you know precisely what you want to do, I am impressed---but not as impressed as the person who will want to hire you! Instead of applying for programmes near what you are want, why don't you write to people in the appropriate discipline and sound them out. Funding can often be found for a bright, enthusiastic student. That isn't to say you are likely to get a big grant, a corner office and be left to your own devices. But with the right supervisor you might be able to get support to design your project.

However you should not really expect things to pan out as you plan them. otherwise it wouldn't be research.

Finally it is not unusual to have a period of "meh" or "second year blues" as we used to call it. So think very carefully before jumping ship.

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