I am currently in a PhD program where I have it good. My adviser and my group are both about as good as one could ask for. My adviser is patient, helpful (albeit sometimes unclear), and happy to mentor grad students. My group is supportive and cohesive. However, I have recently come to realize that I really do not like my particular area of research.

My particular area (my adviser's specialty) is kind of a sub-sub-specialty of my field. Think of it like:


My adviser's group is part of a larger group of a handful of faculty studying the sub-specialty. My research interests initially fell in a different sub-sub-specialty, but funding/openings pushed me to accept the offer to my adviser's group. I never really took to it early on, but I decided to stick it out for a while believing I might grow to appreciate the research problems once I learned more about them.

However, I feel that at this point I have given it a fair chance, having worked on a few projects and published a paper, but I still really struggle to fake a passion for this work (along the lines of "fake it 'til you make it"). At this point, I think my best option for success--both in the short term and down the road--is to switch to the other sub-sub-specialty. The tricky part is that the handful of faculty who work in the sub-specialty all work together frequently, and the groups are intermingled throughout the lab space.

So, my questions are:

  1. How to I even broach the question of switching without committing a major feux pas?
  2. What other options are there if there are no opportunities to switch? (Currently I'm fully funded by my adviser)
  3. Assuming I can switch, should I expect heavy pressure to succeed immediately? That is, will the assumption be that in a "better fitting" research area, I should be well outperforming my previous work?
  • The funding issue pushed you to study your current sub-sub-specialty in the first place. Will you have funding issue if you switch to another sub-sub-specialty? – scaaahu Jun 30 '16 at 3:53
  • Did you consider mentioning this to your advisor? If the groups are intermingled, then switching your research project should not be a problem. – user18244 Jun 30 '16 at 3:58
  • 3
    Do you really need to switch advisors to work in the new area, if all the professors in the sub-specialty really do work together frequently? You may be able to keep working with your current advisor and collaborate with faculty in the other area, or even bring on a co-advisor from the other area. – ff524 Jun 30 '16 at 4:43

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