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I have been accepted to a funded master’s program under an advisor. I already came up with a research proposal months ago with the advisor’s help as I needed one in order to apply. The last time I spoke to my advisor was about two months ago when we discussed courses to sign up for and anything that I should review over the summer. I have since signed up for the courses.

However, I have no idea where to begin with the research and how any of that works. I am thinking of emailing my advisor on Monday to ask her where to begin because I am so lost at the moment. So, in my email, what should I say to my advisor to help clarify my confusion about where to begin with the research?

  • You are not the first, you are not the last. It is Ok not knowing what and how to do stuff three hours after your start. You should, however, know in 6 months. – Oleg Lobachev Aug 13 '18 at 10:03
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For starters, I hope you took her advice over summer. presumably this would be your first research experience, or an early one at least. With no prior practice your lack of knowledge is understandable. Presumably, also, your advisor knows of your state of experience.

Given all that, just be honest. Where should I start? What should I read? I suspect, strongly, that she is experienced in getting people started. Otherwise you wouldn't have been accepted in the first place.

But better than an email, expecting a long reply, would be a request for a meeting, asking for guidance. Don't try to overstate your abilities, and don't think that your current lack is a flaw. Everyone needs to start somewhere and it is good to have some guidance.

But since she has already given you advice (which you took, of course), you want to ask her for "next steps" (rather than where to start) and mentioning your lack of experience in this whole process. It isn't a time for embarrassment. It isn't warranted.


The situations in which this might be contraindicated is where the advisor is extremely busy - too many students, for example. But if she has a lot of students, it might be possible for you to join/start a group of her advisees and see what others know of her expectations. Some professors have weekly seminars for their students if they are working on similar things. Those other students can help you ease in to the process as well.

  • Oh yes, I absolutely took her advice which was just to review a couple of undergrad courses. I'm still working on it, but about 75% of the way done. I do have some experience from undergrad, but I was under extensive supervision and just did what my supervisors told me to do. So I don't have any independent experience. Thank you for your reply, I'm already slightly calmer. I guess I will ask her if we will be meeting up in early September and just ask her where to begin with the research. Thanks! – aspire94 Aug 12 '18 at 14:53
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    Don't push too hard on an early meeting date - just ask to meet. The first week or so of the academic year can be crazy busy. You can concentrate on getting a good start on your courses, and learning your way around. – Patricia Shanahan Aug 12 '18 at 17:38
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You've done just what you should have done. You could probably just show up at school and find out then what to do next. If you want a little reassurance, send your advisor a short email telling her that you've followed her advice and reviewed the material she suggested. You can then ask if there's anything else you should do in the next three weeks before the semester starts. No need to say or even suggest that you've no idea what comes next.

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