I have brought some trouble onto myself I know, but what can be done by someone in my situation.

I applied and got accepted for a PhD program in Computer Science. I automatically assumed that I wanted to continue the work I did on my Master's thesis and I identified a professor who would be willing to work with me on that subject. When I got there, I reviewed the literature (there had been a few years of gap since defending my thesis) and decided I really did not like the direction the field was going in. I had been developing a new interest anyway, so I changed sub-disciplines. Now, no one will commit to be my advisor, at best maybe co-advisor with some outside expert. Part of the reason is because my school lacks experts in that area. I personally (on a friend basis) know some Computer Science professors, but none are experts in my field. What can I do? No advisor = No PhD, I know that much anyway.

2 Answers 2


Changing a subject during the PHD course is legitimate, and not very rare. However, finding an advisor is a must. I think in that case you'll have no choice but trying to convince professors to be your advisors.

A possible way is to find an expert from a different university, that will be your co-advisor. That way you'll just need to find another faculty in your university that is not-too-far from your interests. You might find someone that will tentativly be your advisor, and once you show some progress will agree to take you under..

But maybe the big question is, why not moving to the place where the "experts" are?

  • 3
    Alternatively: Why choose a research area with no local experts? Are you really completely uninterested in everything your department's faculty does?
    – JeffE
    Oct 23, 2012 at 4:23
  • 1
    @JeffE Does it really make sense to work in academia mainly on a topic one is not interested in? Oct 23, 2012 at 20:15
  • @PiotrMigdal: Nope. On the other hand, does it really make sense to work in academia if you're only interested in one narrow topic?
    – JeffE
    Oct 23, 2012 at 23:02
  • @JeffE I would say I have a passion in what I am doing now, I just did not go down an a la carte menu saying I would like this and that. But, yes, I am not very interested in what the faculty does and they are not very interested in what I do. Like I find robotics cool, but cool does not make a PhD thesis. Oct 25, 2012 at 3:32
  • @RanG. Yes, jumping ship would be great, but I would lose what I have done so far and because I would assume I would have to establish some rapport first and perhaps even have a commitment before I jump ship from someone who would be my advisor. It just seems difficult to get my foot in the door and convincing someone outside my University that doesn't know who on earth I am that I am someone worth working with and in the event of another University that in addition to the students properly admitted that I am worth the time. Oct 25, 2012 at 3:40

I do not think changing topics on a PhD research is totally unheard off. In fact, as Ran mentioned, it's probably more common than one would think.

Now, the advisor is indeed an issue. The problem is that it looks bad on professors if they do not understand what are you doing, and if the field is unrelated to them that might happen. Did you try looking for an advisor in other area, where what you want to do is applied?

Perhaps a nice way to approach the issue is to do a more formal research plan and a good application in mind, that might attract some advisor or at least give a strong case to an outside expert.

In these days distance should not be an issue for a CS research.

  • The applied aspect is a great suggestion and could have worked for me, but in the overlap majors my University also is not so strong. I also like your suggestion about trying to get that outside expert. I am trying to do my own research and pin down exactly what I would propose for my thesis work. Maybe even get published on my own if I can. It feels like such an uphill battle without the support of an advisor, but hopefully I get that advisor. Oct 25, 2012 at 3:46
  • To get an outside expert just google the name of people related to the topic. Try seeing who are the top of their field, and look for recent graduates that just got posts, they are also in dire need of people to supervise to pump their resumes Oct 25, 2012 at 23:01

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