First of all I am a second year M.Sc. Student in Computer science, working on information networks and enjoy my research a lot. In my B.Sc. final Project I had worked on intrusion detection systems, which was actually a computer network protocol related area and irrelevant to my current field.

I should mention that actually I am not frustrated with my current research or topics that I was working during B.Sc. But the problem is that I am also so excited about other nearly irrelevant topics.

For example I have passed about two courses in signal processing and now sometimes I am thinking about continue my PhD in that field. I am also interested in algorithms and CS theory, etc.

I want to know is It OK to have such broad activity in your resume or this can flag me as picky person regard that I finished successfully every project that I had been started and it can be verified in Recommendation Letters and so on.

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    It may depend on place/discipline. But as a PhD student (in quantum information) people were surprised that I had other interests than my PhD thesis (and that I do know anything at research-level on things not related to my thesis). While surprise was (usually) positive it was telling a lot that it's weird for me to know things from other disciplines (and I felt "not belonging"). And I have feeling that anything by smooth transitions between closely-related fields is looked down (for one being non-serious, shallow, etc) and may harm application chances. Commented Aug 8, 2015 at 18:30
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    @PiotrMigdal This is how science dies, people digging trenches around their field, and pretending that outside knowledge is useless. The truth is, the broader your knowledge, the better the chance of making new discoveries and connections. Commented Aug 9, 2015 at 16:21

5 Answers 5


There is nothing wrong in showing interest in various topics, as long as you obtain deep results in at least some of them.

Without having any deep results in some of the fields, it really looks bad, because it looks like that you are unable to advance enough in something to push the topic forward. It more looks like you chicken out of any serious job, because, frankly, in most disciplines the way to obtain deep results is quite painful.

But, as long as you obtain reasonably deep results in your topics of interest, you should be fine. Then, it shows that you are willing to learn new things, able to tackle problems that you don't know for a long time etc.

However, bear in mind that the boundary between the 1st case (no deep results) and the 2nd case can be very thin, and different people may consider it differently. For the sake of a Masters or a PhD, I think that each of them should be quite narrowly focused. On the other hand, it does not harm at all if you have a thesis on your primary field that contains good results, and at the same time you publish something in a secondary field.

Last, but not least, you have to remember one more thing: Who is funding you? Does he mind that he spends his project money on you and you work on something else? Your supervisor should be aware of the fact that you work on something else and should, at least to some extent, approve it.


You may work on different topics but you still at need to specialize on some topic, and there should preferably be some relationships between the various topics.

You basically need a main topic for your M.Sc and a main topic for your Ph.d and you can have another topic after that, but it need to be related.

I will give you an example. I did a master degree related to e-learning and cognitive modelling. During my Ph.D., I still did the same topic but slowly changed to data mining in e-learning. During post-doc, I did pure data mining. And then, now I do mostly data mining and some applications of data mining. As you can see, I have changed topics over time, but there is always some overlap.

It is important that the topics are related because you will probably want to apply for some grants/scholarships and so on, and it may be easier to get grants/scholarships if you keep working on the same topic.

You may also have a few side-projects with other collaborators during your studies (that is what I did), but you should still focus on a specific topic for your main research.

Lastly, I ever saw some senior researcher working on two very diferent topics. For example, a researcher was publishing fundamental papers in Physics and in Computer Science. Although, this is possible, this is an exception.


Having a good knowledge of other subject areas can allow you to think about a project in different ways; for example by making you more aware of some confounding factors or being more able to come up with an explanation of something because of a link to some other area.

However, a PhD is really an in depth study of a fairly narrow research question over a few years. If you go into the application process looking like you want your PhD to be broad but shallow, you will likely look like you don't really know what a PhD involves and probably wouldn't enjoy doing one. It is also good to look like you have a particular passion that you would like to follow.

I think it would be good to say something which amounts to:

"My interests in Computer Science are broad, and I have enjoyed thinking about a range of subjects from A to Z and the links between them. This has allowed me to make a more informed decision about the subjects I would like to continue working on; and I have decided that an in depth study of either A or B would suit my interests."

Ideally A or B are things which are covered by the research interests of the person or institute you are applying to. If the CS department has a wide range of research interests you could also say that you would enjoy being in a place where you can still hear about a range of topics through seminars etc.

Finally, cross-subject and collaborative projects which span research groups are also possible. I assume there are opportunities for this in CS, but I don't have the knowledge to comment on that.


Most in academia say that it is the freedom in research that is the only attractive part to come to academia. Then you enter academia and realize that you are 'supposed' to work on a specific research topic or two, you are allowed to change topics only if they are related to each other, either funding agency or establishments (in the US, read: tenured committees) or both govern your research choices. What's the point of being in academia having low salary and not much (after choosing your first research topic, that is) freedom in research? I suggest you follow your heart and work on whatever you like. Of course, you have to demonstrate your research by publishing in respected journals in those areas. It is your university and thesis adviser who will decide (and guide at various step during the ph.d. of course) if they want to give you a ph.d. Once you have a ph.d. from a genuine university, what others think about 'depth' or 'shallowness' of your thesis etc. are just opinions. If the establishment doesn't support interdisciplinary research, and don't give you a job - well, you have a computer science degree, and you will be easily absorbed in the industry. At least you will have died hard by then without bowing down to anyone. If you find a permanent job in academia, then do support such academic freedom as much as you can.


Adding to the excellent answer written by @yo', I will point out that when you submit a CV as part of an application for something specific, you don't have to include everything you've ever done. It's generally a good idea to have a master CV that has everything in it, including the dry cleaning store you worked at when you were 16, but when you're preparing an application for something that requires submitting a CV, do some pruning so that the version you submit fits what you think they are looking for.

What might help you keep your focus narrow enough to complete your graduate study in a reasonable amount of time, would be to keep a special file or notebook where you jot down areas, projects, and ideas that intrigue you for future use. I believe creative writers do this, to help them finish a book they've started, before wandering off into another project.

It's nice to see you excited about several strands, which may even feed each other at some point. Just remember, you still have many years ahead of you.

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