I’m a first year grad student beginning this year. My professor was diagnosed with cancer and won’t be in, probably all year, maybe even the entire time I’m in class. He’s a great man, and also a nice man, which are two things that don’t always go together, so I’ve spent a while just being sad, but now I think it’s time to try to figure out what I’m going to do. I don’t want to make it to obvious who I’m talking about because I don’t know if he’s announced it publicly yet, but I am studying an ancient language… So he is the only professor in my program who knows how to read it. My question is do I change my topic of study to match a different professor at the school, or do I continue to focus on what I had hoped to focus on without the guidance of my advisor? Thanks so much for any thoughts you can give me on this topic.
Your best option, in my opinion, is to discuss it with him. You may need to wait a bit until he feels well enough to think about it, but you really need his advice about how to proceed. He may be able to help you in your current studies, or not. Depending on the illness he may also never return to work. But, if you need to change professors and projects, he can probably help you get started with someone else, and is probably the best person to do that.
If you stay with the current project you will need to prepare for the eventuality that you will have to finish on your own. If that is the outcome, you will need to find resources to make that possible. It might be possible for you to continue yourself or not, depending on many things. But the professor will likely have advice on all of that.
I would advise against just making a decision without such advice. It may be that other professors in your department can give you the best advice about how and when to contact him. Good luck to you both.
As mentioned in the above answers as well, I would start with the Professor himself, asking him how he would advice you to proceed during his absence. I assume he would also take the necessary precautions for your research if he decides that he will not be able to continue being your advisor. I would communicate what he tells you to the department chair so that in case something unintended/ unexpected happens you have a backup plan already in place for your graduation requirements and completion of your work, which might include change of topic/ finding advisory committee member(s) outside your institution etc. I would like to add that it might be very difficult to complete the research and study on the language you work without the guidance of an expert on it. You will need to decide for yourself if you will have access to the necessary resources/guidance without your advisor in case that might end up being what you have to do. Hope he gets better and good luck to you!