Switching from phenomenology Masters to machine learning PhD

  • #1
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I am doing a Masters in theoretical physics. It's been half a year since I've begun my Masters.

Recently, I find myself intrigued by machine learning and would like to do a PhD in machine learning after I finish my Masters in theoretical physics.

I am rather afraid to break it to my supervisor that I plan to move into machine learning after my Masters. I am also afraid how he might react if he finds out that I am taking courses in the Computer Science department. I plan to work with machine learning profs to get two recommendation letters, but I guess I must have a third letter from my physics supervisor. I am afraid that he will not write me a good letter for PhD admission into machine learning.

What should I do?
 
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Answers and Replies

  • #2
Vanadium 50
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So you are withholding information from your advisor that he has a right to know - and is likely to find out - and are afraid this will come out in your letters? ("He wasn't honest with me, but maybe that's OK - he might be honest with you. Can't really tell, can we?") You're right to worry, but I am not sure what we can do about it.
 
  • #3
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Okay, I guess I will have to tell my supervisor immediately that my interest has shifted to machine learning.

He might get angry with me for having taken me in as his student, as it's been only six months into the program and my focus has shifted.
 
  • #4
Choppy
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You're not the first student who's interests will have shifted between a master's degree and a PhD. I don't know what the career prospects are in phenomenology, but machine learning is a reasonably hot topic right now with a lot of potential applications in terms of practical projects and it will allow you to develop more marketable skills that will help you through your career. So it's not like this is a completely arbitrary switch.

Most supervisors know that students interests change and will not get upset when they do. They can get upset when the student makes a commitment and then doesn't follow through with it. So tell your supervisor that you intend to complete your master's project. Do the best job you can on it. If you want to add icing on the cake, make sure that he's aware that you're grateful for the opportunity to work on it in the first place, even if in the long term you want to move in a different direction.

The other thing to keep in mind is that supervisors generally don't like being kept in the dark about their students' intentions. If you're taking courses, your supervisor should know about it. He can't properly keep up his side of the student-supervisor agreement if he doesn't.

I realize that having such a conversation can be difficult - particularly if all of your interactions up to this point have been predicated on the fact you intend on continuing on in your current field. Book time for a face-to-face meeting and tell your supervisor that you want to talk about your long term academic aspirations. You never know. It might turn out that he has some kind of connections that can help you out, or at least advice on how to transition into that field.
 
  • #5
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Thanks for the advice!
 

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