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I an currently finishing my first year in a Masters program in Computer Science / Mathematics and thinking about getting a Ph.D. I'm not really sure, however, that I want to make my Ph.D. with the same thesis with which I'm getting my Masters degree.

I heard the opinion about Ph.D. as "doing interesting (for you) stuff, development your skills and even getting paid for it". But it seems too unrealistic for me, especially in my city/country (Russia). Probably I can think about getting a Ph.D. in another country, but how can I manage to do it without a proper Ph.D. advisor? Probably, I can determine an area of my interests, but how can I determine if it is suitable for a Ph.D. or not? And how can I find the person who can guide/help me with it?

I'm feeling a little bit nervous when thinking about writing to a complete stranger in another country "I want to do PhD under your supervision" or something like this.

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    Complete strangers in other countries are used to potential students e-mailing them, so don't be shy about that! Do you know what you want to do a PhD on? Is that something you can talk with your Masters advisor about? – Gaurav May 29 '15 at 1:09
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    Complete strangers in other countries are used to potential students e-mailing them — ...and hitting the delete key. – JeffE May 29 '15 at 19:28
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    @JeffE, I received several great responses from complete strangers about PhDs, if they are interested in taking a student on and the intro is snappy there is no reason to say they'll automatically delete... – Stephanie May 29 '15 at 22:27
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    @Stephanie My personal experience and many questions here indicate that your experience may not be typical, though. Frankly, this probably also has to do with you being from the UK, while most students who email "complete strangers in foreign countries" are from certain developing countries, who have a reputation for taking a scattershot approach to topic selection ("I take any topic that gives me funding and gets me outta here."). – xLeitix May 30 '15 at 7:20
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    @xLeitix yeah I imagine the quality of the CV/email and reputation of the country has an effect, I'm fortunate enough to come from the UK and not have the same problems. – Stephanie May 30 '15 at 20:41
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It depends on your credentials and references. But having good record enables you to apply to many good schools (e.g., Princeton, MIT etc.) in the US/Europe, via dedicated online application sites. So you do not need to personally contact anyone.

The other option is to use Findaphd.com, and other dedicated mailing lists who solicit PhD applications.

Of course, sending emails to professors, without knowing in advance whether they have the money to support a PhD student, is possible but has quite a low chance of success.

You might also use your existing professional connections within your local academia to seek potential PhD opportunities.

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You may misunderstand how one gets a PhD advisor in a CS department at American universities. Typically you apply to the program, then either get assigned an advisor or select one after arriving. Often, students enter one program expecting to work with a certain advisor but end up working with someone else.

Also, PhD theses usually are different topics from Master's theses. There is no assumption that they will be on the same topic, as your question seems to imply.

Most departments are broad enough to satisfy a variety of interests, although, at this stage of your career, you should at least have one or more general areas of interest, such as AI, systems, theory, HCI, etc. You would be expected to specify areas of interest and experience in your application essays, although it's okay for you to change directions later on.

Good luck!

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