I am a first year PhD student in computer science.

The major areas my supervisor is working with are: Theoretical Computer Science (knowledge representation, uncertainty, etc.) and wireless sensor networks (applied Computer Science). I need to select from one of these areas to specialize. In fact I can work in, and have an interest in, both the fields. What I can not figure out is what will be most applicable in a future job in industry (especially as I am not looking to pursue a career in academia).

I deeply appreciate any advice on this from you all.

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    $\begingroup$ I think this question is off-topic. You are essentially asking people to guess future about two topics, moreover the second one doesn't seem to be theoretical computer science at all. $\endgroup$ – Kaveh May 2 '12 at 17:33
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    $\begingroup$ if you generalize the question to be about how to decide between two possible thesis topics, then the question might be suitable for Academia. $\endgroup$ – Kaveh May 2 '12 at 17:33
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    $\begingroup$ Why choose? Why not work in both fields, like your advisor? $\endgroup$ – Jeffε May 2 '12 at 19:29
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    $\begingroup$ ask your advisor! $\endgroup$ – Sasho Nikolov May 2 '12 at 19:35

I would choose wireless sensor networks. Theoretical computer science is exactly what it sounds like - theoretical rather than practical, and not usually applicable in industry. One may claim that a background in theoretical computer science will help you find a job since it's more prestigious, but I doubt it.

Whatever you do, don't try to focus on both fields. By the very nature of focus, it can't be applied to two things at once. Don't forget that there is life after PhD. If you're hoping to build on your speciality, you should spend your time specializing, however tempting it is to have "a bit of anything".

It might be that your supervisor switched from theory to sensor networks - this is just a hypothesis, a wild guess - because it's easier to get grant money this way. What holds true for your professor holds even truer for you.

  • $\begingroup$ Thanks @Yuval. Your answer is really helpful. One thing, do you think PhDs lead to jobs in the industry rather than the academia? (sorry for asking, I am very new as a PhD student). I happen to feel that many end up becoming academics. I was wandering whether this is because they like academia. $\endgroup$ – picmate May 3 '12 at 18:38
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    $\begingroup$ -1 for "Don't try to focus on both fields". All the interesting stuff happens at the frothy interfaces! The trick is to find one thing that draws from and contributes to both areas. $\endgroup$ – Jeffε May 3 '12 at 20:15
  • $\begingroup$ Jeff, you're entitled to your own opinion, but I really think it is wrong to focus on more than one thing when one is just starting. $\endgroup$ – Yuval Filmus May 4 '12 at 4:03
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    $\begingroup$ @picmate, my feeling nowadays is quite the opposite. It is really difficult to get into academia, and so a PhD will almost inevitably lead you to an industry job. $\endgroup$ – Yuval Filmus May 4 '12 at 4:05

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