So I am currently a Master's Student in an earth sciences field, looking to get into the PhD program at my university, provided that there is funding. My current adviser likely won't have funding for my PhD. Recently, my adviser told me about an opportunity with a different adviser, working on a topic in life sciences with an influence of earth science, but one which I may be qualified for. If I do this, is it likely that I can find jobs/postdocs in earth science, where my true interest lies, or would I be irreversibly altering my career path for life science?

  • I think this is impossible to answer without detailed knowledge of the field, the exact research topic and other specifics.
    – Bitwise
    Apr 2, 2017 at 6:37
  • 8
    Is there life after a PhD? :-)
    – Massimo Ortolano
    Apr 2, 2017 at 8:04
  • @MassimoOrtolano: Gods above I hope so :)
    – tonysdg
    Apr 2, 2017 at 17:44

3 Answers 3


It depends on the exact topic and what guidance the new research group will offer you. There's plenty of opportunities to develop expertise in life sciences during PhD. Your options after may not be as limited as you perceive. There is a lot of demand for collaborative and interdisciplinary researchers both in academia and industry.

I'm doing an interdisciplinary PhD between stats and genetics. While on paper you do have to enrol in one course and will be assessed on it. In practice, you can lean on the other field. For instance, with the methods I use. My research questions are biological but my methods differ from lab trained biologists.

You ought to still have room to develop your earth science skills in this way, particularly if your new research group collaborates with people in your field that can advise you on those aspects. You should have a wider range of an advisory committee and peers to assist you with work in both disciplines. A PhD is also an independent project, especially near the end, you should be able to build up confidence ants negotiate using some of your current skills if they tie in the research topic cohesively.

In short. Consider it, it may not be a one way track to biology. It's also not too late to apply to other labs.


It doesn't seem you have a choice, does it? Your situation is

  • life science: no PhD
  • earth science: possible PhD

Unless you have other options, this question is meaningless. Because if you want to do a PhD, you have to do earth science anyway, even if it means your career is irreversible.

My suggestion is you should apply for more PhD programs in life science, do not limit yourself to your current university. Applying for a PhD takes time, I heard that it takes years in some cases.

However, if you end up doing a PhD in earth science, remember that:

  • As a Master's student, it maybe too early to decide what you like. People often like what they understand the most, you may like earth science if you dive into it.
  • Andre Geim had changed subject 5 times before getting the first tenured position.
  • 3
    My suggestion is you should apply for more PhD programs in life science Did you mean earth science?
    – Nobody
    Apr 2, 2017 at 8:26
  • @qsp , I think you got the question wrong-as far as I see it, it's probable PhD in earth science vs. sure PhD in life science. Apr 2, 2017 at 10:21

@BarocliniCplusplus , I can totally relate to your problem because I have been faced with a problem very similar to yours myself. When I was in my masters program I had research interests of my own and I managed to prepare an entire research grant proposal even in my masters in a field which was both promising and underexplored. As we use to say in my country "on paper" my proposal seemed like a very unique idea and had great potential to answer fundamental questions about the entire field I graduated in (I'm a graduate in life sciences), if not for all science in general. However, when I had to begin the actual work to build up my PhD thesis and work on the topic I choose I started to face a great deal of problems-both in the "pure" scientific sense as ever more and more research was needed to expand my initially very specific topic and in terms of funding for the experiments I was proposing and finding proper guidance, so in one point in time my initially "top score" expectations turned out to "bog into" an ever more difficult and more difficult challenges-both as scientific problems to solve and the inability to cope with the funding at hand.

It got so hard that I was forced to quit and abandon my research interests because there wasn't anyone in my country who was willing to fund such research even if the prospects were mind-boggling. I wish to give you this as an example as to what can happen if you just "pursue your dreams" and hop into something you know very well and have everything you need to expect you can excel there. Sometimes life just doesn't work like that no matter how good you are and how great are your ideas. If not for the lack of ideas people can stop you for the lack of funds if they dismiss your qualifications. And this happens all too easily. For example, I know for at least two other students in different countries working in my field or similar to it which were "cut down" not for the lack of ideas or prospects but simply because their peers felt it would be better to spend the cash somewhere else.

What I would suggest you is to find some good program you can get in even if it's only "remotely" related to your interest and to get a hold on some field even if it isn't related to your ideas per se. Time will pass and you would come to understand it's the best option right now. If you risk it all because you know your field (I assume you have already reach an expert's status in it) I can tell you from personal experience the chances are higher to drop out, than to actually succeed. And if you drop out you might have very hard time getting back in. It was almost 7 years for me and I still am not able to get back on the research path. I decided to answer you like that because I actually have some personal experience with trying to pursue your own agenda because you have simply grown so knowledgeable that you may know your field better even than your professors, but, please, believe me, knowledge doesn't always "count in" when the actual research in the PhD starts and there are zillions things that can go wrong any time no matter how much you know it. It's just better to be a part of a team of someone who has more experience than you do and to hope his/her advice will get you through the program.

So, my advice derived from personal experience is that you should enroll in the program you know has funding and prospects even is it isn't what you have hoped for rather than getting "stucked" in a field you like but obviously has not enough funds. Even if you turn out to be live scientists, rather than earth scientists it would be better than being no scientist at all! I would advice you that altering your career path is better than not having one at all which could happen if you try to "pressure" (if you even can) the people around you to pursue what you are really good at. Please, take this personal story into consideration.

P.S. In the end I would like to cite the popular saying: "If life offers you lemons, make lemonade." I know it may not seem to be very good choice as you see it now but it's better than nothing which may be what you will get if you try to pursue your own research interests. But, ultimately, it's your life-take a deep breath in and think thoroughly how you want to end up living it risking for a PhD in earth science or getting the "safe heaven" of life science. Nobody but YOU knows the answer. I think this is the best advice anyone can give you.

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