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Although I am primarily interested in studying pure math, for certain personal reasons, I had to ask such a question. What I fear now is the mismatch that'll be noticed between my Personal Statement, where I intend to write about my interests in pure math and this query which clearly exhibits the fact that I have as yet not made up my mind. Even if I re-do my personal statement to reflect an interest in applied math instead of pure math, the fact that I wasn't sure at this terminal stage of the application process might go against me. Is there any way to rectify my mistake?

For reference, this question is with regards to a university in the UK.

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    "Although I am primarily interested in studying pure math, for certain personal reasons, I had to ask such a question." Sorry, I don't get it: what do personal reasons have to do with this? (My intent is not to pry into your personal life, but to try to answer your question in a meaningful way.) Commented Dec 18, 2014 at 22:42
  • My personal reasons have to do with my financial status. Since this is a one year Master's program, the university will not be funding me. So, while pure math is what I am interested in and an academic is what I aspire to become, I feel compelled to re-consider my choice based on my constraints. So, while I am sure that a degree in pure math can fetch one jobs, I feel that a focus on the applied side might position me better to repay my source of funding. In any case my inquiry was meant to buy me time to make this decision, once I had all my cards in front me after all the admissions results.
    – AdamK
    Commented Dec 19, 2014 at 9:27

3 Answers 3

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Assuming your personal reasons are sound, a polite conversation cannot hurt you. Explain your reasons, and keep an open attitude. It is very common for people to change sub-fields (and fields) after their PhD, or even postdocs, so it will not strike as an big oddity.

Now, if it is possible or not, depends mainly on where does your funding come from; and if the university regulations allow it. This will be brought up in the conversation.

If your reasons for studying applied maths are your desire to clone green dogs, well, it will look bad.

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  • Thank you for your response. While I agree with you that a change of mind is not uncommon, I feel that the fact that I have explicitly conveyed my doubts regarding my choice jeopardizes my credibility, because I plan to focus on my interest in pure math as the core of my personal statement. The people that make a switch generally tend to do so after they have experienced either of the side's and feel that it is not a fit for them. But me raising such concerns before even sending my application, might make them question the conviction behind my choice, which will not look good.
    – AdamK
    Commented Dec 19, 2014 at 9:27
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    @AdamK I am confused, have you been accepted? Wanting to eat is, in my opinion, a perfectly reasonable reason; but then you are focusing on the wrong side. What you should say is that you want funding, and you are willing to change to applied math, if that helps.
    – Davidmh
    Commented Dec 19, 2014 at 9:32
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Although I am primarily speaking from my experience in the US, my experience is that nobody will hold you to what you have written in your personal statement during your application. It is not a contract. You'll be lucky if anybody even remembers!

The point of the personal statement is (a) to show that you can think and write clearly about your research and preparation and (b) to ensure that your interests overlap with available resources in the department including both funding and faculty.

If you want to switch to something that the department (or individually faculty member admitting/funding you) can advise and support you in doing, people will likely not have a problem. If you want to switch to something that the people admitting you cannot supervise you effectively on, the problem is much more serious that you "looking bad" because you will either be supervised poorly or working on something you do not love.

If you heart lies in an area other than one you suggested in your personal statement, you should raise the issue before you say "yes" to a program so that you don't end up in a program that is poorly suited to supporting you in following your interests.

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It will not go against you. I shows that you have an enquiring mind and are willing to change your mind as new opportunities open. To continue in a subject that is not right for you will be a really bad experience for you and may end up in failure - that's not good for you, or the institution. Go ahead and ask the question, but frame it as a positive decision, rather than a negative one.

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