I am doing my Ph.D. (physics) in a country where there is a countrywide Ph.D. entrance exam. I appeared for the entrance exam and got into (arguably) the best institute in my country. This was 3 years ago. The problem is that the institute decides our department before the entrance exam. After my 3 years B.Sc, I did not know any better and applied for the Experimental High Energy Physics Department. After joining, I realised that I did not like HEP that much and wanted to change my department. But my institute would not let me do that.

I finally found a supervisor in our department who works in a lot of different topics like Optics and Quantum Computation. I joined his lab and worked with him for the last one and a half year during my coursework. Two months ago, I registered for my Ph.D. under the same supervisor.

Recently, the conditions in our lab deteriorated a lot. There is a general feeling of depression and anxiety among the other students. Work is going really slowly because of the following reasons:

  1. All the students are working in individual experimental project that have no overlap with one another.
  2. The supervisor is a big-shot and has his own research interests. And he is not particularly interested in our work. (This is a feedback I got from all my lab seniors).
  3. We have to do all administrative and engineering work related to our project by ourselves.
  4. There are no publications from our lab in the last 5 years. I was made to believe that it was the students fault that there was no publication. But the more I see, the more I realise that this is the rule and not the exception. I mean, all the students can't be at fault. I know that this should have been a red flag but as I said before, I was made to believe something else.

I am realising now that staying in the lab is not an option. Even my seniors are contemplating on leaving the lab. I have two options now.

  1. Leave the lab and join someone else in the same department. Note that there is no one in our department who works on a similar field.
  2. Leave the institute altogether. Then I have to do a one-year M.Sc thesis project before leaving. There is only one other group in our country that does a similar work and they are already full. Also, it is really hard to get into the labs in other countries even with my research experience.

I am planning to follow the first option and join a different group in our department. This group works on a field that is neither HEP nor my present field.

So my question is; Is it wise to change the field mid Ph.D.? Or should I risk it and leave with M.Sc and apply for Ph.D. abroad? In either case, I will have to start from scratch and my one and a half year of work would be for nothing.

TL;DR: Due to problems in our current lab, should I leave our lab and join another group who works on entirely different subject or leave my institute altogether and apply in universities abroad (which is difficult).

P.S. I have about 4 years of institute funding left, if I plan on staying in the institute.

  • 4
    "There are no publications from our lab in the last 5 years." Run, Forrest, run! – lighthouse keeper Nov 6 '17 at 8:10
  • We can't really tell you what to do. (Well, we can tell you probably shouldn't stay in a lab where no one has published in the last 5 years!) You seem to be well-informed about the upsides and downsides of your choices, so what's left is a personal decision that really depends on your tolerance for risk, or your tolerance for working on a subject that's not your core interest. (Although I don't know your country or your field, so I can't say if your perceptions are accurate - maybe you want to change your question to that?) – nengel Nov 6 '17 at 10:45
  • 1
    @lighthouse keeper: In case some here don't recognize your reference, which I liked by the way --- Run, Forrest, run! – Dave L Renfro Nov 6 '17 at 11:09

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