There are a number of questions here about . Those are mostly about how common it is, how it affects future career, or whether a move from X to Y is feasible (example 1, 2, 3). At any rate, it does happen — I have come across people with background in particle physics, astrophysics, or space science, who were all in postdocs in atmospheric science. A frequent motivation may be to resolve the two body problem. And some fields have a higher ratio of jobs to PhD graduates than others.

But if someone with a PhD in particle physics, astrophysics, or space science, applies for a post-doc in atmospheric science, how do they overcome the competition with candidates who do have PhDs specialising in (the right subfield of) atmospheric science? Wouldn't a potential host quickly dismiss candidates who show neither experience nor interest in the relevant field, even if they have spoken the person, when other applicants are pre-trained "locals"?

2 Answers 2


Some of my best hires have had virtually no direct or recent experience in HPC, but have demonstrated a number of other extremely desirable features including:

  • A passion for learning and doing
  • A clear track record of success in their related area (including publishing, mentoring, grant-writing, etc.).
  • An strong awareness of their own limitations in the field and a plan for dealing with them
  • A strong understanding of our needs based on researching our mission, goals, website, etc. and a plan for how they fit into that.

Based on this, I've taken a flyer on a researcher or two who wasn't a perfect fit but was too passionate, engaging, and obviously successful to pass up. A ridiculously strong reference is also helpful.


Speaking as someone trying to change fields, the main problem is people judging by your cover (department, classes taken, title of thesis). Even if you have learnt a lot on your own, if it isn't encoded in something more formal, it's hard to show via email that you know anything.

The most important thing is to meet them in person - then (of course, provided that you do know basics of the field you are applying to!) it is much easier to show that you actually know things in their field. To arrange such meeting, if you need their reimbursement, contacts may help a lot (both in terms of "a friend of your advisor" and recommendation letters, even if informal, putting the emphasis on your skills or interest in the target field).

Then, people hire based on their needs. Sometimes they care more for a different background (e.g. more computational, more mathematical, more statistical...), and it can be your advantage.

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