People obviously change their mind sometimes. So it is possible that someone starts out with a PhD in a certain field, but may want to switch to another field.

I am wondering, is it possible, or generally deemed acceptable, for someone to receive a PhD in a field, let's say political science, but for the PhD thesis to really not be political science related (e.g. it could instead be a piece of research in economics, or theoretical statistics, without any reference to political science)?

Edit: it seems that it is required to at least relate your PhD to field X. What would one do if one really did not want to relate it to X at all?

  • Given that most political science programs (at least undergraduate - my daughter is in a related department) require courses in economics and statistics, it would certainly seem possible to attack a problem in those areas with a political science perspective. You will need to tie them together.
    – Jon Custer
    Commented Nov 29, 2017 at 13:52
  • @JonCuster What would one do if one really did not want to relate it to X at all?
    – user56834
    Commented Nov 29, 2017 at 14:02
  • 1
    Then change departments. But, really, it isn't that difficult to imaging tying a hard-core economics thesis to political science sufficiently to pacify your committee - they are closely linked at least through policy and practice. Now, if you were in a Physics department and wrote a thesis on Elizabethan theater, that would be much harder. You need to explore just what your motivations are, and why you are choosing (apparently) to draw such bright hard lines around fairly squishy fields (this assumes you are actually in the poly-sci/econ/stats areas).
    – Jon Custer
    Commented Nov 29, 2017 at 14:07

1 Answer 1


It is possible, usually, to work in another field on your thesis at least in the sciences. However, the thesis defense and dissertation will have to relate to the program you are in.

i.e. I had friends in physics PhD programs who worked in biology labs. The research had to be tied to physics for the dissertation and defense (light diffraction, computational modeling using physical concepts, etc.)

There will always be people who look down on specific disciplines, but I would think that usually it is acceptable if you can make it work.

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