I'm a graduate student working on a master's thesis to get a master's degree and I'm quite in doubt if the behavior of my advisor is the expected one.

He proposed a work on the dynamics of extended bodies in General Relativity. Now, the first point: he himself said that he tried to study the suggested formalism in the past but didn't succeed and gave up on it.

Now, on the begining of the work, he just handed me Dixon's papers explaining the formalism, told me to study them, and to present seminars to him and another student of his. He put a lot of pressure, because he didn't want me to get there with a rough idea, he wanted me to really learn by myself to explain them.

After some time I got the impression that he simply had no idea of the contents of the papers.

Furthermore, he never offered support but one single time. And this single time, he didn't know how to help, questioned two things that I didn't know, nor him, and in the end I was the one who figured it out.

Now, as time passed and as I studied the papers, when talking to him, I've noticed that he really doesn't know the contents of the papers, nor he was studying in parallel to the seminars.

He asked my help with a problem he was struggling with his students. After dedicating a few hours to it, I saw that all he was proposing didn't even make sense. The problem boiled down to just conservation of angular momentum in flat spacetime, and he wanted the equations of motion to involve the multipole moments of the body, which are known to appear on the equations just in curved spacetimes.

In the end he said that after thinking he agrees I'm correct and that he was frustrated it wasn't the way he thought. This again suggests me he doesn't know the theme.

So in summary: (1) I have a strong impression that he doesn't know the theme he gave me to work on, (2) I also have a strong impression that he is not even studying it, (3) he's pressing quite a lot for me to learn it all by myself and present the results to him and his students, (4) he doesn't offer much help, and when I try to discuss something with him, I feel totally disconnected to the actual formalism (like the case where he wanted the equations to involve something while it was clear that it wouldn't happen) and (5) many times he complains he doesn't agree that what I'm doing is right, only to find in the end that it is right. By the way, he doesn't tell the right way to do so, he keeps pushing me that I'm the one who should show him the right way.

Now, I'm not comfortable with all of this. I thought an advisor was meant to provide support, not to keep pushing without offering help. More than that, I find quite annoying that it seems he doesn't know the topic he gave me to work on.

So my question is: is this the expected behavior of an advisor? Is it "expected" that the advisor doesn't know the topic and it is the responsibility of the student to learn the topic and "teach him in the process"? Is it "expected" that the student must do it all by himself like that?

Again, I find it umconfortable, but perhaps that's the way things actually work on master's thesis in Physics and I should get used to it. Is what I described the expected, normal and correct to happen in a master's thesis in Physics?

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    One has typically two choices of advisors: advisors that now all better than you do - and you have just to do the "dirt-work" for something they know can be done and they would be able do with more time. And: Advisors that do not know better than you, and only have an interesting direction to pursue. First ones are good for safe work requiring considerable supervision, but also possibly micromanagement, second ones are adventurous, risky and suitable only for students who like the thrill of the chase and their independence. Advisor and student style have to match. Do they? – Captain Emacs May 20 '18 at 21:38
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    @CaptainEmacs: This is closer to an answer than a comment and you should consider posting it as such (pending clarification from the OP). – aeismail May 20 '18 at 21:41
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    @CaptainEmacs I'd rather classify your second ones as "possibly incompetent". – Massimo Ortolano May 20 '18 at 21:55
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    @MassimoOrtolano: My thesis project was in the second camp—they had an idea, but weren't sure how to make it work. I had to turn the direction into something viable. What I came up with was something very different, but still possible, and we haven't fully mined everything that could be done to extend it (sadly, no time and no money). – aeismail May 20 '18 at 22:21
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    If your adviser is an experimentalist while you are (at least much more of) a theoretician, this happens. It's a very problematic scenario if they still want to micromanage your work. If you're not going beyond the Master's though, it isn't the end of the world. – A Simple Algorithm May 21 '18 at 6:19

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