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I am finishing my PhD and strongly considering changing my field (Artificial intelligence in computer games) to a very weakly related field (Bioinformatics). The nice part is that I got a very interesting job offer at a Bioinformatics lab, starting next spring, and I will very likely take it. So my question is a bit different than those "How difficult/common it is to change fields". Since I have no publications in the new field, I will - for quite a while - have to fill my CV with publications from the old field. I would like to know how much do those older publications count in the new field, specifically:

  1. How valuable are publications in a different field when asking for grants (especially EU H2020 and similar)?
  2. Should I be forced to look for a different job after spending a while in the new field, how valuable are the older publications in my job application?

The thing is that I need to optimize the effort I give to my thesis and related publications in the forthcoming months versus preparing (reading literature...) for the new field.

I am speaking about 2-3 very good conference articles, 1-2 reasonably good journal articles and a book chapter (work in progress research included). So far very few citations, but all of the good stuff has been published in the last year or still in progress, so I hope to get some non-negligible citation counts.

I am in Europe (and do not expect to move).

  • Are the publications really weakly-related? For example if you published machine learning algorithms, it would be considered highly-related to bioinformatics. Many people doing bioinformatics belong to CS departments and also publish CS theoretical papers, especially in machine learning and graph theory. – Bitwise Aug 6 '15 at 12:58
  • @Bitwise Unfortunately, they are really only weakly related (I do reactive planning, state space search, interactive storytelling - all applied to video games) – Martin Modrák Aug 6 '15 at 13:03
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I've had a somewhat similar experience, having done my Ph.D. in artificial intelligence / cognitive modeling and then later abandoning that area as I have moved into synthetic biology (my other line of research remained consistent, but that's a different story).

The good news is that you're at a perfect time in your career to make a field transition, and that a postdoc or two is the recommended way of doing so. The bad news is that your prior publications count for pretty much nothing in the new field, and that this is further compounded by the fact that conference publications generally do not count in biomedical fields, only journals.

The reason that your prior publications don't count is simply that they are mostly not relevant evidence of what you can accomplish in the new field. They are evidence of your fundamental technical skills, and since many of those are transferrable, that has no doubt helped with your current job applications. A funding agency, however, will generally want a PI with a clear track record of accomplishment, particularly for highly competitive programs like Horizon 2020 (there's likely no problem including you as key personnel for your skills, though). Likewise, after you've been in the field for a 2-3 years, people will expect you to start having some good journal publications in the new field, and it is these that you will be evaluated on in applying for future jobs, much more than your prior AI work.

Right now, then, the thing to do is buckle down and do good work, which can then fill up the future publication queue. Making a transition is hard, but can be very rewarding, and all you likely need is a few solid mid-tier journal publications or one really high impact publication and you can bootstrap yourself nicely into your new chosen direction.

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This effect of only very weakly related publications is very unstable and largely depends on the personality of the professor, covering the full scale of

  • This person can bring a new competence in
  • This person is competent but I do not see what he could do with us
  • These are strange people; I need a candidate with the straight CV.

All three points of view may be or may not be true and I have heard all three opinions in more or less random proportions. This just means you will need to write more applications, otherwise seems not a problem.

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